Writer and Director Celine Sciamma creates a beautiful vision. I struggle to speak English, and growl at anybody that suggests I’m not working class. Yet the channels I watch most are BBC 4 and BBC 2. Academics in the late 1960s tried to cobble together a theory that showed an erosion of working-class values with a more affluent class of car workers in Luton. Embourgeoisement, aye, maybe, I like BBC 4 a tad too much. Just don’t call me a fucking Tory or think I’d voted for Brexit or that Etonian monstrosity, Boris Johnson.
The good thing about French cinema is they value the arts. We may have lost all our translators to the market (we don’t want to pay you the minimum, but if we can get away with paying less—we will) but on the evidence of this film, they have not.
Simple plot and complex characters gives a satisfying complexity.
In late 18th-century, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) remembers with the help of a painting in flashback— Portrait of a Lady on Fire—when she was commissioned by The Countess (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) on a remote Brittany island.
Marianne must resort to subterfuge to finish her work and get paid by the Countess, who can make or break her. Héloïse, is an innocent sprung from a convent after her sister jumped off a cliff, but she’s aware enough to know that a painting of her is a commercial transaction, and her image will be appraised by a prospective suitor in Milan. She refused to pose for a previous male artist. Marianne pretends to be her companion, who accompanies her on walks.
Since 1970, 1677 school shootings in the US, ranging from pre-school to high schools. 528 deaths and 1626 injuries.
Sue Klebold (Colorado)
Tom, there’s a shooting going on at Columbine. They think that Dylan may be one of the shooters. I heard through the window them saying that there was 25 dead. And if Dylan was hurting people, in the way I thought he was, I prayed he would die (his mother).
It’s hard to talk about the funeral. I think in the room there were only 12 people. I wanted to have the body cremated before I left the premises because I didn’t want anyone to hurt or take him. I remember looking up at windows. Sure that the media were trying to snap pictures of Dylan in his casket or pictures of us (grieving).
He was just there in a cardboard box and they allowed each of us to have a few minutes with him. So my husband, my son and I, each had time with him, alone—to say goodbye.
I wanted to crawl in that casket to be beside him. To keep him warm. I said, ‘Darling, help me understand.’
And I didn’t realise that did become my life’s mission.
That’s what I’ve been seeking for 20 years understanding.
I prayed to him to understand so I could find some path to get through to cope with this.
And I can know what he never said to me.
I do belief that has happened over time.
Jeff Williams (Ohio)
[Jeff William’s partner (after the shooting)] I helped Jeffrey to get out of Ohio and move to San Diego.
Monday morning March 5th, I get up around 6 o’clock. Staff Sargent said there was a shooting at school. I called Andy and it went onto voicemail. Two girls from the apartment complex were there and I said ‘I’m so glad to see you,’ and asked, ‘Where’s Andy?’
They said, ‘he did it.’
It didn’t sink in. I went up to a Sheriff’s deputy. Tapped him on the back and said, ‘I think I’m the shooter’s father’.
On the radio it comes out that 2 people were killed and 13 injured.
On March 5th 2001, 15-year old Andy Williams opened fire with a .22 calibre revolver at Santana High School in California.
Andy was about 4-years old when I separated from his mum. Andy stayed with me. We did a lot of things together. He was like my best friend.
I go to the Public Defender’s Office and they bring Andy in. And we were both hurting. Both crying and I felt so bad. That’s the first time I can remember telling him I loved him, that day.
Once Andy got a bit older, we got separated a little bit. His grades started falling. I’d get occasional phone calls. Things like he was late for class. That kinda ended it. Then I found out Andy was getting home early and erasing them.
Andy had his two buddies he hung about with. One of them was in his late twenties and he’d provide them with booze and marijuana. He’d come home with bruising on his neck and he’d claim they were from skateboarding accidents. I told him over and over I didn’t like those kids. But he stayed with them no matter how badly he was treated by them.
These other two boys, they were supposed to have participated, but backed out. Andy was in that mind-set if I back out, I’ll get picked on even more. It determined him to go in and do the school shooting.
Round me he was pretty much light-hearted. Happy-going kid.
The bullying at school was terrible. The school was supposed to put out a report about it and racism, but when it was published, they blamed everything on Andy.
He did something terrible. But he’s my only son. And I offered him unconditional love. Your job is to support your son, no matter what. I didn’t lose a son that day. I still get to talk to him, and hug him. And get to laugh with him. I don’t know how I’d feel if I didn’t have that chance.
Andy Williams received a 50 year-to-life prison sentence. Reduced on appeal to 25 years minimum.
He is eligible for parole in 2025.
Late in the afternoon, one of the police said yes he is (your son, Dylan, is dead). For months I was in denial. Not only that they killed those people. But they said awful, racist things. I shut that out of my mind. I said, Dylan would not say anything like that. They got so much wrong about the family. I settled into the belief system, they were wrong what Dylan did.
It took 6 months for the sheriff to make a report. He made a presentation. And for the first time, I got it. I saw it was planned. Video tapes they had made. I saw Dylan in a way I’d never seen him before. They were talking about what they were going to do. I saw him with weapons. It was horrifying to see him in that mode.
On 20th April 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire at Columbine High School in Colorado.
It was one of the worst school shootings in US history.
I’d been grieving for this lost precious child. Everything died in my world. God died. My belief in truth. My belief in what our family was. My belief in who Dylan was. Everything was torn apart. The person I thought I was no longer existed. I thought I was a good mom. Who had raised responsible kids. Kind and loving and charitable.
Dylan 17 and Eric 18 went to Columbine with the intention of killing everyone and destroying the school. And if there’s any gratitude in this whole process is they failed to do that. But they killed 12 students and a teacher, before taking their own lives. They injured more than 20 other people. I’d say 24 people were injured and I try to use the broader definition (serious injures such as head wounds, spinal cord).
Everybody was suing everybody else. To hold them responsible. The governor went on national television to say it was the fault of the parents. It was open season on us. Everywhere I went, I was exposed to all the horrible things that people believed. Somehow we were lesser human beings. We were evil people. That did not know how to raise children. There was a world of people that hated us.
Connie Sanders reached out to me. Her father was killed by Dylan.
He went to the prom and had been accepted for University. But the police found in his writing: ‘I’m in agony and I want to die’. He had this hidden life, he wasn’t sharing with us.
While this was happening, I prayed that he would die. I’ve met many parents with incarcerated children and I think, they’re luck – at least they can talk to their child.
I felt guilty for having lost a connection with Dylan, for not knowing that he was suffering.
-let us listen to our heart?
Our job as parents is not to make them feel better, but to make them feel…
To listen, and I didn’t do that.
I’ll never stop wishing, I could have those years (childhood years) again. Never.
If I saw Dylan, face to face, I’d ask him for forgiveness, for not being the mother he could come to, to talk to. For him to come to me and put his arms around me and say, ‘It’s OK’.
I can still see the helicopters. I can still see the ambulances. I tell you, that was the worst day of my life. I tell you it takes a long time to get over a shock like this.
School shootings going to happen again, but let’s do our best to stop them. He’s my son the school shooter and it’s going to stay that way.
Everywhere I went I didn’t know what to do, whether I should identify myself. For a while I went by a different name. I thought I should just leave. But I knew if I’d left I’d be some stranger somewhere and they’d be saying that the woman whose son killed all these people.
I decided to keep my name and stop hiding.
When you have periods of time, maybe thirty minutes when you feel almost normal. You might have days when you forget who you are. And what’s happened to you. Then you feel guilty.
Because as soon as you feel happy (alright) you begin to hate yourself.
How can I feel happy when this horrible thing has happened? How can I feel joy when I know that suffering is going on? I feel somehow it’s unjust for me to be happy.
In the beginning I was trying to understand, our community was trying to understand what happened. I understand now, it was never just one thing. For a variety of things going wrong and coming together. I’ll never understand how or why he did it. But there’s another issue that’s still relevant, how to dehumanise people.
I see it occurring all the time. I see it in politics. I hear on the news. I hear it when people reduce people and bring them down in size. Reducing them down to some aspect of themselves. Focussing anger, hatred and judgement on that. That frightens me because that’s how human beings are cruel to each other.
We’ve got to connect with each other. We’ve got to listen to each other, better.
Dylan Klebold’s ashes lie in an unmarked place.
Clarence Elliot (Virginia)
Nicholas was born in California. Everybody we knew was a mixed community. And we always kept our eyes out on each other’s kids. Our mother and I got divorced. He was snatched out of California. California to Virginia, it was a culture shock.
On 16th December 1988, Nicholas Elliot carried out an attack on The Atlantic Shore Christian School in Virginia. He shot one of his teachers.
He was armed with 3 firebombs, a semi-automatic pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition.
He killed one teacher and wounded another.
I figured because of his age and the situation (bullying). He’d get 5 or 10 years. But the judge gave him 110 years plus 14.
I’m 79-years-old and he’s been incarcerated for 31 years.
Nicholas Elliot was sentence to life-plus-114-years in prison. He has been incarcerated since 1989, and has applied for parole six times. Unsuccessful.
Bob and Marika Tur captured the police chase on the Los Angeles freeways and the arrest of O.J. Simpson as he parked up his Bronco. Streamed live, it was watched by over 80 million- largely-America viewers. They were at the peak of their power. They witnessed the highs and lows of the eighties and nineties in The City of Angels.
It had started off with Bob being just another stringers using police scanners and chasing police cars on the freeway to arrive at the crime scene. Being first was everything. Marika started out as being his front for the footage. She became his wife and junior partner. Every job was their last, and they needed to keep the foot down to make a living.
Even when they had two children, a girl and a boy, the obsessive and consuming nature of their work meant that the children were drafted into their high-speed chases. Bob admitted to big dreams. He’d squirreled away $50 000 and went to look at helicopters. He didn’t have a license, but he learned and got credit for $500 000.
Up in the air, they could be first to accidents and murders and carnages such as a plane disintegrating and coming down on housing. Forest fires brought in the bucks. Floods were good too. Any kind of apocalypse could be monetised in the continuous news cycle.
Bob employed another pilot, Laurence Welk III. He had the right stuff. Business was on the up and up. Marika’s mum ran the office that sold the footage they created to media outlets.
Bob was hovering above the 1992 riots, after being filmed beating Rodney King police officers were cleared of assaulting him.. Shops were looted and set on fire. Traffic was stopped and a man in a truck dragged out and his head kicked like a football. No police were seen, but Bob was. His footage resulted in convictions. He was sent hate mail and a bullet through the post. His children remembered him sleeping with a gun under his pillow, and telling them not to touch it.
But it was difficult to imagine Bob sleeping much. He said he went 90 straight days without a day off. He was an adrenalin junkie. The edge, the excitement, kept him going after bigger and better stories, but his life was imploding. He verbally abused his wife continually. They divorced in 2003.
Another narrative playing in Bob’s head was that he’d turn out like his old man that had beaten him as a child. His father had died at thirty-five with a heart attack. Bob also had a heart attack in his thirties. He admitted to hating his old man, but also of having turned into him. He, finally, took time off and attended The Burning Man festival. That was the place he first met trans-women.
Bob transitioned himself with an operation in Thailand in 2013. Bob became Zoey. He was no longer the big man. She hoped for a quieter life…outside the twenty-four-hour-news-cycle.
This is an old film, with impossibly young actors. But the same old story of corruption and cover-up, we’re more familiar with now. The 45th Un-United States President could say with some justification that he could ‘stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes’. He was partly right, and always wrong. Let’s leave the twice impeached President sliding out of history and return to the Watergate Scandal.
It was a pretty simple story, as Sean Connery’s character growled in his Oscar winning performance for supporting actor in Brian de Palma’s Untouchables—follow the money.
Two Watergate journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) follow the money, Republican Party Contributions that lead them to the bungled burglary at Watergate, smear campaigns, the bugging of Democratic candidates with the connivance of police forces, the FBI and even the CIA. Everybody knows but nobody is telling, or they’ve been got at and threatened. Unwilling to talk.
Strictly, off the record Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) is willing to meet Woodward and advise him whether he’s on the right track.
On the record, they’ve got to convince a grizzled Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) at the Washington Post to print their story. He tells them the story of how he thought he had something on Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. And he’d ran with it as far as he could, and thought he was getting some place. Then the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson had phoned him up and told him he was making Hoover head of the FBI, for life. That was a fuck-you from the President. He didn’t want them fucking up and bringing down his paper.
We know what happened next with Tricky Dicky Nixon. We’re waiting to hear and see what happens with the moron’s moron. Follow the money. Amen.
Most people my age fondly remember Boys from The Black Stuff shown in the early 1980s. Yosser Hughes’s (Bernard Hill) catchphrase: ‘I can do that, gie’s a job!’ The Black Stuff was a prequel to Boys from The Black Stuff. It had the kind of audience figures—I’d guess around 15-20 million—that had cultural resonance in its depiction of working-class life in rundown Liverpool. Ironically, the repeat of The Black Stuff on BBC 4 was preceded by another programme, as it was in real life, Thatcher: A Very British Revolution.
It was the latter, rather than the former that was essential viewing. Alan Bleasdale’s drama hasn’t aged well. At just over an hour and a half it was overlong, and I thought it was shite.
Yosser Hughes was a bit-part player in The Boys From the Black Stuff series, yet he reached iconic status. Here we get the back story. He’s a misogynist wife beater, with a couple of kids, whose wife is cheating on him. His main gripe against Chrissie Todd (Michael Angelis) is that ‘he’s too nice’.
Nice doesn’t get you anywhere in a Thatcherite world. Chrissie even admits to being nice and what’s worse, being happy. He shows he’s being nice by bringing a goose, ferret and some other animal in the work van with him as he drives to the tarring job they got lined up in some new housing estate in the Midlands. They’re staying in swanky digs and he claims nobody will feed the animals.
Chrissie is too nice to be the gaffer. Gaffers are always bastards. Dixie Dean (Tom Georgeson) is fighting a losing battle with Yosser from the start. The men want more money. And even when Dixie gets it from his boss, McAuley, the men still aren’t happy. Yosser demands the men get a five pound a day rise, then when McAuley agrees says they should have asked for an extra tenner.
The only worker Dixie has power to bully is his son Kev (Gary Bleasdale—I guess a bit of nepotism here with the writer’s son getting a key role in the production). They play this for laughs, and was about as funny as Benny Hill.
Kev, for example, ogles a female student in the petrol-station café who is holding a sign for Leeds. Loggo Logmond (Alan Igbon) nicks his food from the counter but finds its display only, not edible, and then nicks food from his mates’ plates. Inevitably, been nice, Chrissie picks the female hitchhiker up and gives her a lift. Yosser gives her a hard time about being a student, and even worse, being female. Saudi Arabia’s got it about right he says were females are shackled to men’s needs. She gives as good as she gets with a feminist manifesto that includes details such as it’s not a good idea to threaten to rape female hitchhikers, while finding time to talk to shy Kev, and make him admit that he too had dreams—but hey, needs must, we live in the real world.
Booking into the hotel, Dixie tells Kev to stop staring at the female customers and gives him money to go to the pictures. Make sure it’s not one of those Emmanuel type movies is his advice.
Chrissie’s worried about old George Malone (Peter Kerrigan) he’s heard him spewing up in the toilets. Old George is about my age now. George says he’s fine. A former Communist, Chrissie tell his fellow workers in a whisper with some admiration and a grudging respect. He needs to work and takes painkillers to sleep.
Kev, in Benny-Hill mode, finds out the hotel has a masseur that does extras. Naturally, there’s a bit of a mix-up. £4 for a masseur, £15 for extras. I found the financial details more interesting than the smutty strand of the storyline, which makes me think, I might be turning into my da.
The major storyline also relies on stereotypes. Here you have a major turning point. Hardcore on a farm laid, but no tar to finish it. Yosser is willing to cut a deal and drag his mates along. But they two Irish ‘gypos’ type. Easy to stiff. Right from the off, the plot goes as you’d expect. If you can’t see the ending then you too must have been on the hard stuff.
I’m sure Boys from the Blackstuff was good at the time. Maybe I should have left it there. You never step into the same stream twice argument. To think I used to watch Benny Hill—fuck off. To think unemployment was around the fifteen percent mark in the early eighties. It’s only five percent now. Dream on. Nobody’s laughing.
I’m old enough to remember this when it was first broadcast 8th November 1979. Peter McDougall’s portrayal of working class life hit a nerve. It helped that large chunks of it were filmed in Clydebank and Drumchapel (I’ve since been told it was Greenock and Port Glasgow). Marathon shipyards featured. Or it might have been John Browns. We’re on the nostalgia trail.
By day Jake McQuillan (Frankie Miller) works in a crane. We see him up there with the seagulls. Toasting his piece of Sunblest on the electric fire. This was a time when Clydebank had shipyards. Titan Crane, was still working and not a museum piece, it and other cranes dominated the skyline. At St Andrew’s school art teachers regularly asked us to draw a crane. We could see it over the roofs of the tenements..
By night Jake McQuillan is a hard man. We first see him in a pub, with his best mate Dancer Dunnichy (Ken Hutchison). I’m sure some of you would be able to identify the pub. Remember when we had pubs? The boys are drinking exotic mixtures, halves, double measures that cost £1.90 for four drinks and you still get ten pence change. We’re in you go out with a fiver and get pissed territory.
Thursday night. Time for a fight. McQuillan can’t be a hard man, unless he’s tested. But he’s getting too old for the game (it’s a Boys’Game) and had put down his blade. When some daft bird nudged into Dancer’s back and they get into an argument. You know what’s going to happen. The shutters are going to come down and blades are going to appear. This is a portrayal of working class life with the chibs down.
McQuillan can put down his blade, but he’s a scalp worth taking. Other boys want a part of him.
Dancer, his sidekick, takes him away from work. ‘I declare Friday, a public holiday’ and into the embrace of booze and the institution of Clatty Bella. Entrance price, one bottle of your finest Eldorado or VAT 69. The Buckfast of their day. Nobody accused monks of making Eldorado or VAT 69 and profiting from alkie’s alcoholic tendencies, especially since that’s got too many syllables. Clatty Bella has no electricity and no bath towel, and the throw over the couch would walk Dancer down to the harbour and fling him in. But she’s one of the good ones. She’s one of us. The kind that Tories loved so they could vote down free school meals.
The backstory of McQuillen not having a mum and dad and staying with his grannie (Jean Taylor Smith) and his granda (Hector Nicol) is a chance to see how working class folk once lived.
Ironically, Tanza (Gregor Fisher) who went on to become Gregor Fisher, Scottish institution, in his autobiography, told the reader how his da (or was it his granda?) used to batter down on the ceiling to tell his ma (or grandma) to get the breakfast on. His Ma did what she was told, without any lip. This is man’s world.
Here we see Grandma running after Grandpa, dressing him, and putting him to bed. Brushing his false teeth and sticking them in his gumsy mouth. Deprivation comes in many forms.
McQuillan is aping the life of Grandpa, who also ran with the gangs and was the hardest of hard men, who killed McQuillan’s da. This is also part of the boys’ game.
Saturday shift. The loveable Dancer and the likeable Tanza are wanting a bit of drunken fun. But they’re drawn into a game not of their making. If you run with the wolves argument. McQuillan springs into life when they’re attacked. Dancer, an innocent, victim.
For McQuillan that’s just the way it is. Tanza, another innocent, bangs the roof of the Panda car and blames the police. ‘Where were you?’
Frankie Miller gets to sing the eulogy and sets himself up for another little number in Peter McDougall’s Just Another Saturday. It’s the same story, but set to the tune of The Orange Walk. Billy Connolly was in it. It might have been called The Elephant’s Graveyard. Can’t remember. Remember, when he used to be funny? Aye, nostalgia gets you there and that little kick.
I’m a bit of telly snob. If it’s on BBC 4 and its got subtitles I’m usually watching it. Part of my hangover from bingeing on Wallander. The Last Wave is a French drama with subtitles, therefore it ticks one of the boxes. Unfortunately, there’s no introspective morbid detective with a booze problem and a non-existent home life, he’s trying to drown out. But hey, hang on a second. There’s a big cloud hanging over the seaside town of Brizan. None of the adults seem particularly happy and their kids are pretty fucked up. So it’s almost Nordic in its promise, but without the snow and ice and grumpy faces. The ever smiling mayor acts as concierge as she promotes the annual surf party headlined by local-bad-boy made good, Max Alcorta (Roberto Calvet) who is one of the top surfers in the world. He’s joined in the water by other locals. Mathieu Ketchak (Theo Christine) is the black guy whose white dad is a bit of a sleaze. He sets himself up as a self-help guru for people with cancer, which he’s also got. Lena Lebon (Marie Dompnier) is also in the breaking surf. She’s the mother of the girl Ketchak fancies and he fancies back, but it’s complicated. Ben Lebon (David Kammenos) is the geeky science teacher in the school, but his daughter, their daughter stays with him, rather than their mother, because she’s been suicidal and left them after the death of a child. It’s not been explained yet, what happened to the kid, but I’m sure we’ll get there. He watches on the beach as his wife enters the surf and you know they’re estranged, but still in love. Thomas Lewen (Gael Raes) is the speccy kid that kicks his heels and refuses to go into the water. Mummy is the town’s doctor and daddy is the town’s developer, trying to cash out in real estate and promote it as the new eco-friendly Biarritz. He has to drag his son into the water. He reassures him, it’ll be OK.
You know what Billy Connolly (the Big Yin) says about sharks, also the Big Yin. Stay out the fucking water. But just like any young virginal looking type with big tits can’t help drifting down to see if Dracula is indeed in the basement, this crowd surf out into the waves.
Where were you when the cloud rolled in? Anyway, to jump ahead a bit because I’m getting bored writing this. Max comes out of the water changed, as they all do. It takes a wee bit of time to find out what their new superpowers are. Max seems to be able to breathe underwater, which is useful trait for a surfer and for fish. The speccy kid no longer needs specs. His mum’s a doctor and she explains to her perplexed husband, that the colour of his eyes has also changed. Dads in my experience don’t notice things like that, but if you fluff a chance at schoolboy fitba they certainly don’t miss that one. Speccy kid now can see through things. Lena Lebon’s powers are more ambiguous. She gifts her ex-husband the horn and they seem set to give back together. The injuries to her wrists, slash wounds, disappeared after her return from the surf, but I’d guess her ongoing gift of the clould is love (generally and not the horn, specifically) or something similar. Ketchak’s powers is to heal. He’s starts with a pigeon and then heals his dad’s leg pain and then one of his patients. Sleazy dad is quick to claim the credit.
I claim credit for treating myself to the first two episodes and would have binge watched all six, but they’ve been rationed. Look forward to more.
Here we have Claud Cockburn’s maxim as a rule of thumb, ‘Never believe anything until it has been officially denied’.
Director David France’s documentary shows clearly that gay lives don’t matter in Chechnya, or in Russia, generally. Imagine George Michael had went missing at the height of his pomp and Margaret Thatcher (Section 28 legislation) came on the telly and told you, he wasn’t missing. And there was no such thing as gay people in Britain, and if there was ‘They are devils, subhuman.’ They should be taken to their families to be killed.
This is the rhetoric not of Thatcher, but of Ramzan Kadyrov, a Vladamir Putin appointed strongman, leader of the Chechnya Republic telling the public how it is in relation to Chechan’s George Michael and gay community. Imagine, instead of George Floyd being choked to death by policeman while other cops watched him die, you had police trophy footage of men and women beaten to death at the side of the road and raped to show they are dealing with the gay plague, the lesbian problem. Transsexual doesn’t register. Kadyrov labelled men that love men and women that love women, subhuman, not human and that’s the way they are treated, a problem that needs to be solved or eradicated.
Anna Politkovskya, Chechnya: A Dirty War 1999-2002 gives us context. Vladimir Putin’s ‘anti-terrorist campaign’ destroyed the Chechnya capital, Grozny in a way we’ve become familiar with television pictures and reports of the indiscriminate Russian bombing of Syria and Ukraine and the targeting of, for example, hospitals. Terrorists are those on the ground. Chechnyans were labelled by Putin a ‘nation of criminals’. In February 2001, Politkovskya was detained and threatened with rape by senior Russian officers when investigating a Russian torture centre. Perhaps she was naïve to think there was just one. Refugees talked of the indiscriminate murder of children, pregnant women, old men. Putin won the war in Chechnya as he’s winning the war in Syria and the Ukraine. Anna Politkovskya had made enemies in high places. On 7th October 2006 she was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in central Moscow. Three Chechens were arrested, but acquitted and re-arrested.
Truth does not need to be subversive, but it does need to be true. France shows how it works in Chechnya. After a police raid around 2017, a gay man’s phone was taken from him and examined. We usually use words like forensic her—forensically examined—for links to other crimes to do with drugs or other offences so the authorities can label them criminal. Terrorist is a popular word choice. What the officers found was gay messages and images. Gay men, or women, were taken to Argun Prison in Grozny and tortured, with many beaten to death, reminiscent of Lubyanka and Stalin’s reign of fear. Victims were forced to give names of other gay men or women that the police could roll up, torture and kill, to get other names. This reign of fear France labels a Gay Purge, which is denied by authorities in Grozny and Moscow, using the logic that such people don’t exist and even if they did, there’s no official notification of it or them. While at the same time, Ramzan Kadyrov promises to ‘cleanse the blood’ of Muslims and eliminate those people that don’t exist.
France’s film follows Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual (LGBT) activists in Moscow, such as Olga Baravov, who have helped Chechnyan LGBT victims escape. We follow, for example, Akmad aged 30, (not his real name). Identities are protected by digital remastering because of a risk of reprisals at home in Chechnya. The rescue of ‘Anya’, aged 21, takes the viewer from Moscow to Grozny and had elements of a thriller. ‘Anya’s’ uncle told her he’d out her as a lesbian unless she slept with him and she had to be smuggled out. LGBT activists helped provide an underground ‘railway’ and safe houses. They try and relocate victims of torture and state violence. Asylum seekers of whatever sexuality are not popular (America, as you’d expect, is not on their list). Canada figures strongly. 151 victims processed by LGBT activists in Moscow, 44 men in women seeking asylum when filming took place.
‘Anya’ disappeared from her safe house. Olga Baranov and her child had herself to seek asylum in Canada after been outed by the Russian authorities. Moscow was not safe with its anti-gay rhetoric and threat of reprisals.
Maxim Lapunov, his real name, returned from asylum and challenged the authorities in Chechnya and accused them of state torture, placing a deposition in the Russian Municipal Courthouse. His digital mask protecting his identity was dissolved. The case was, of course, flung out. For Putin acolytes, gays don’t exist in Russia or Chechnya, and even if they did, they law does not exist to protect the likes of them. Lapunov claimed he’d take his case to the European Courts of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Watch this space, if he’s not disappeared or dies mysteriously, he might just do that, but I doubt it.
George Orwell recognised ‘to be corrupted by totalitarianism’— for example, the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse—you ‘do not have to live in a totalitarian country’, the un-United States of America. We’re all corrupted now. Putin the strong man goes from strength to strength. Ramzan Kadyrov does not have the final word. He does what he’s told. The gay purge hurts no one—that counts—and nobody is counting.
We all know what happened to Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed in the late seventies the Yorkshire Ripper, he was arrested in January 1981 and sent to Broadmoor the high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, for thirteen murders and eight other attacks on women. Although we sometimes hear in the press of him getting fat or going blind with diabetes or being attacked by other inmates – I can’t remember, whether he’s alive or dead, and I guess like many others, I don’t really care – case closed.
Liza Williams re-opens the case and looks at it through a lens in which journalist Joan Smith sum it up as ‘a conversation among men about dead women’.
Listen, to example, this conversation between Michael Greene, a senior officer in the investigation of the murders and a prostitute in Moss Side in October 1977, when at least nine victims have been linked with the Ripper. A police operation costing an extra two million has been given to the police and 150 000 car number plates logged, 4000 cars a night on Moss Side alone.
Greene with a film crew approaches a prostitute on a street corner and asks,
‘Are you on the game?’
The prostitute replies, ‘Yes, I am.’
Greene replies, ‘Don’t you know that’s silly!’
This sounds like something from a Monty Python sketch, but nobody was laughing. You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts, is one response to today’s political shenanigans. There was no amnesty for prostitutes. Arrests of prostitutes increased even as the murders continued. The idea of arresting kerb-crawlers was deemed unrealistic and impractical.
The murder of sixteen-year-old Jane McDonald in Chapeltown on 26th June 1977, we were told changed the mood of the nation. Here was an ‘innocent victim’. There was an open letter from Jane McDonald’s mother printed in the mass media asking Sutcliffe to hand himself in. It followed his usual pattern, hitting the victim with a ball-peen hammer to render them unconscious or incapable or both and stabbing them with a screwdriver and molesting them. This was regarded as an honest mistake.
Prostitutes weren’t regarded as innocent. A fat women from Chapeltown summed it up for viewers, there were bad men she said, but bad women…were a different breed. Them and Us. Jane McDonald was one of us. Everyone else killed was a prostitute and one of them.
Ironically, it was women jurors in the 1950s and 1960s that were far more likely to acquit another serial killer, Peter Tobin, for crimes of molestation, assault and rape, because he was clean cut and the woman brought it on themselves.
Fourteen-year-old Mary Browne was attacked by Sutcliffe at Silsden farm before he began his serial-killing spree. He hit her over the head with a hammer, but a car came over a hill, which disturbed him and her flung her over a wall. She gave a description of him as a dark-haired, with a beard and dark, dark eyes. Later she went to the police, again, after another victim had an identikit sketch of the Ripper and told the officer it was the same guy that attacked her. She was told it couldn’t have been. He only attacked prostitutes was the narrative and the police were sticking to it, regardless of the evidence. Another survivor, a black woman with learning disabilities lost her child after the attack, her description of the attacker was a white man with curly hair and a beard, but she was told she was attacked by an unknown black man.
Joan Smith managed to get a copy of the ‘Special Notice’ issued to other police forces out with Moss Side and Leeds by the police forces dealing with the killer. It was a fishing operation, to find out if other police forces had anyone they might know that committed similar crimes on their patch. Smith noticed a term that kept cropping up in the ‘Special Notice’ was ‘loose morals’. Olive Smelt, for example, a mother that went out to drink in a local boozer, could not be classified as a prostitute, but she had ‘loose morals’ because she was not at home.
One of the first victims Wilma McCann’s son, Richard, who in 1975 was just a kid of five, appears in the programme. One of the things he noticed was the black-and-white photograph the mass media used of his mother, Wilma, made her look like Myra Hindley. For me that had resonance because in my unpublished novel (The Cruelty Man) one of the ways the press mocked the accused and inferred she was guilty was to make her look like Myra Hindley. Misogyny was meat and drink of the seventies cops and red-top newspapers. Innocent until you got your tits out for the boys. At least when we used to watch The Sweeney they got their man. Yet we know Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times by the police. Sutcliffe didn’t have to be very smart. The police just had to be incredibly dim.
The story Liza Williams tells isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a reconstruction of a different kind of misogynist crime, against women in general, in which women also play aid and abet the culprits. It’s a fair cop guv.
The Vietnam War, in ten parts, is the best thing on television. Déjà vu seems quite apt, with the United States divided in a way not seen since those for and against the War and those that voted for the moron’s moron as President and those that hate everything he stands for. I’m not a citizen of the United States, but I’m in the latter camp. President Trump, like so many others, was a draft dodger. The metric used to measure military success against the North Vietnamese was body count. Poor and black Americans had the highest conscription and causality rate in Vietnam, but poor and white was next in line. Military hawks argued what was needed was more men and more resources and more firepower. Napalm, Agent Orange, and blowing everything up didn’t work because the American soldier was 8000 miles from home. Here the North Korean soldiers talk about their experiences and how the Ho Chin Min trail was repaired no matter how many times it was bombed, no matter how many lives were lost. It was their county. For all the talk of democracy South Korean was governed by one dictator after another and neither John F Kennedy nor successive Presidents believed in this war. Nor did they believe in the Cold War rhetoric of not allowing another country to fall into Communist hands, but to say so would make them unelectable. America paid the bills for De Gaulle’s French colonialists to take over their former colony after the second world war. Then they paid for a South Korean dictatorship that spiralled into internecine civil war between factions of Buddhists and the Catholic leadership. Let’s just say we know how this ends – badly.
It’s perhaps also worth looking at Michael Herr’s Dispatches, described by John Le Carre as ‘The Best Book I Have Read on Men and War in our Time’. This is how it is for the grunts. ‘Breathing In’:
Going out at night the medics gave you pills. Dexedrine breath the dead snakes kept too long in a jar. I never saw the need for them myself, a little contact or anything that even sounded like contact would give me more speed than I could bear. When-ever I heard something outside of our clenched little circle I’d practically flip, hoping to God I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed it.
Here we’ve got it first-hand interviews with who are drafted, press men, Pentagon staff, anti-war protesters and soldiers from the victorious North Korean army. Deakon W Crocker (Jnr) enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. His family remember him as being idealistic. Kennedy’s siren call ‘do not think what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’ had him believing in a better world. One which he was prepared to die for. Only he wasn’t. He wanted to live. He was scared of dying. Wanted to go on leave. Wanted out of it. Wisdom came too late. Paul Hardcastle’s British pop number 1 hit, 19, showed the average age of those that died in Vietnam. Crocker was nineteen when he died in a pointless war. Spare a thought for the estimated one- million plus Vietnamese killed.
The draft-dodger President has the world gearing up for another war. One the hawks thing we can win. The North parallel in Korea has around 20 million people in it. All the commander in chief has to do is press a button. Problem solved. All the combined firepower of the second world war in one splinter of a warhead. He’s already boasted about using the biggest bunker-busting bomb. The moron moron’s President’s marshmallow problem. There’ll be no return home. Only grunts.