A Churchillian Hatred

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Davidson and Mundell, Tory twins paid to scorn and block Scotland’s hopes

Things happen in threes, it’s said. Three times in one week I’ve heard the same comment. The first from a friend, an intelligent man, runs his own computer servicing business, the guy you call to locate the virus and install security systems, a staunch independence voter. The second was on an e-mail, the third on a tweet.

My friend said, “It’s all getting too divisive; we voted with the United Kingdom, maybe  should accept the result of Brexit.”

Whatever he said next, I didn’t hear it. I rolled his words over and over in my mind trying to make sense of them. I knew instinctively what he had said was irrational.

I can just about accept his reckoning if Scotland had elected a Labour government or the Tories had the majority, unionist parties both, but I can’t accept his sentiment while the nation has elected a party entirely dedicated to protect Scotland’s interests.

We are democracy

Why elect a party, give it a healthy mandate to make the decisions we expect them to make, and then withdraw when it meets resistance? Our responsibilities don’t end with a cross on a ballot paper. Losing our nerve when the going gets tough doesn’t say much for our resolve.

Being perceptive, my friend took note of the Tory Party in Scotland shamelessly signing up known neo-Nazis and fascist sympathisers to their colonial cause, and was appalled at the situation. Some phony candidates have taken to camouflage, canvassing under the banner of ‘independent’. If embraced by a political party their twitter account is cleaned up overnight, and the Facebook pages locked from public scrutiny. All is well, time for a photo opportunity with Ruthie, or Kezia, history has been Cillit Banged.

This unexpected development was one aspect of local and national elections that had him wonder if accepting Westminster belligerence will somehow disperse the advance of extremists. Well, no; it will encourage the worst in society to do their worst.

Scotland wants to stay in Europe. We wish fervently to remain Europeans with all the benefits that that bestows. We voted No to full autonomy on the promise we remain Europeans part of the European Union. Brussels doesn’t ‘govern’  the UK or Scotland. That’s the smear spread by British nationalists keen to govern Brussels.

Sell your pith helmet

We are witness to a disgusting right-wing resurgence of England as a colonial power, a last dying fart. Not all English are so disposed, not all see themselves riding the back of a camel like Lawrence of Arabia and telling Arabian tribes how to massacre Turks, or shooting elephant and tiger, just those who have power and those who want power.

Flaky Tory MP Liam Fox, international trade secretary, a man who would have sold his incubator had he the physical ability as a baby to advertise it in the Times, describes glorious England as, “A small island perched on the edge of the European continent that became a leader of world trade.”

Cue Edward Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Tory’.

Fox is one of those mini-monsters of politics, a Scot … on the make.

In one sentence he reminds us of English foreign policy made simple: that all other nations are inferior. They should be Anglofied to ensure trade dominance. You see, there it is, the Treaty between Scotland and England rests solely on trade, who prospers by it.

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Churchill’s  savage legacy

Of Englishmen who dominated the British Empire, preeminent was Winston Churchill. Not often cited is Churchill’s infamous boast of killing “savages” in Sudan. He took part in raids as part of his duties, raids laying waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops. He bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages”.

As an MP Churchill demanded more conquests based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph”. As for the unfortunate children of savages killed, Churchill felt they would be  “glad to include themselves within the gold circle of an ancient Crown”.

His doctor, Lord Moran, opined that Churchill had a way of “judging everybody by the colour of their skin.” A British nationalist from his Cuban cigar to his ugly bulldog, Churchill advocated the troublesome little Kapher “Gandhi be bound and gagged and trampled on by elephants.”

He had his detractors. Churchill’s colleagues thought him antediluvian, not fit for promotion to high office, but he still became Prime Minster, and used his considerable dislike of Johnny Foreigner to beat ‘the Huns’ at their own game. It’s our luck Churchill and Nazism arose at the same time. Churchill knew a creed worse than his own.

In direct decendency, May, Farage, and now Trump, encourage us to be thugs. Their intellect is so rancid flies must think them dead. They fear the truth because to speak it will age them decades.

Peas in a colonial pod

Today’s zealots opposed to Scotland’s constitutional progress embody the same Churchillian disdain of  ‘inferior’ nations asserting themselves. Given up offering alternative policies and false choice, they’ve taken to poisoning the waters.

We Scots, we’re told, are so obviously useless at anything, especially governing ourselves Westminster is compelled to rule us. In reality, the attack on our education system and NHS is just a variation of  the racist argument. Our children are poorly educated, they aver, and we cannot heal the sick, because we are illiterate savages.

The blitz on liberal sentiment is cloaked in the moronically repeated phrase, ‘divisive politics’. The preposterous line normal political discourse is divisive, that it breaks up families and sets apart loved ones, requires, to put it at its crudest, kicked in the badoolas.

If those people spouting that  idiocy were a building they’d be condemned.

But there’s amusement in seeing unionists getting hot under the collar while arguing that only Westminster rule keeps people cool, calm and collected. Westminster rule is often callous, inflammatory, and always reactionary.

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Tory and Labour attacks abuse free speech with extreme racist opinions

To ignore racism is to invite it

If readers still don’t see the struggle as democrat versus colonial they should have been present at UKip’s predicable chaotic launch of their racist manifesto. BBC’s Scots-born Laura Kuenssberg tried to ask a simple, straight-forward question and got silenced by jeers. “Learn to speak English!” she was told in no uncertain terms, and from people who pronounce ‘month’ as mumf.

A prime example of the criminal waste of media airtime is the unspeakably repulsive Katie Hopkins. Bile pours out her like molten lava, synthetic, fired up to shock.

She wrote of Scotland’s First Minister, “the Ginger Dwarf from the North,” and the much liked and admired SNP MP, Mhairi Black needed to learn “some useful life skills, like how to talk, write, or use shampoo.”

Hopkins writes this in the wake of Manchester’s horrendous atrocity:

“22 dead – number rising. Schofield. Don’t you even dare. Do not be a part of the problem. We need a final solution Machester [sic].” [My emphasis].

She lost her job as a broadcaster, (but still employed by the Daily Mail) since uttering that calamitous thought, a phrase Goebbels would have been proud to have coined, and probably did.

(Satire on.) How awful – you can’t call for race or religious extermination these days without someone taking offence! (Satire off.)

The fans she incites are not happy that her soap box is getting smaller, but who cares about those dupes? Hopkins is the same who compared migrants to cockroaches.

Scotland has no control over UK immigration. We are witnessing good people forcibly deported, here in Scotland, industrious and hard working people, people integrated with the community. Do we want to submit to that sort of rule? Where is the justice?

Rather than give in and accept her provincial abuse, wouldn’t it be pleasant to live in an nation where her ferocious stupidity was not a paid job? Hopkins has no attachment to anybody but herself. The talentless, thick end of a spatula, Katie Hopkins of this world won’t go away if we cave in and agree to leave Europe and accept Westminster diktat. Only a fool agrees to be a loser twice.

As I try to demonstrate, attacks on Scotland’s integrity are nothing new. They’ve been part and parcel of colonial propaganda for centuries.

If divisive now, they were divisive then, so what’s the problem? We’re still together as a nation, resistant to subjugation. Let’s build a society where those people can’t function.

Our English friends

Not all English are comfortable sharing a colonial outlook.

There is English reserve to take into account; one may think it, but never say it. And there are genuine internationalists. They talk of justice and freedom as easily as we do, only I’ve a suspicion, only a suspicion, mind, those who live among us probably hold the key to whether or not we get those ideals as our own to nurture. They represent in one group more than the five per cent swing in votes we need to win back our freedoms. I hope their internationalism includes Scotland.

Churchill lived to see stalwarts of the democratic spirit regain their lands – charismatic nationalist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, first leader of free Ghana, liberated from the British Empire in March 1957, Aung San in Burma, and Jawarlal Nehru in India.

They used Churchill’s own words and his braggadocio against him, as we will use the insults of today’s divisive racists to bury them and their hostility, once and for all.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 14 Comments

Lost in LaLa Land

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Downtown Los Angeles – often doubled for New York in television dramas

As a Scot visiting Los Angeles for the first time I felt it wasn’t all that far removed from my first visit to Glasgow as a youth except with palm trees and better dental care.

A Glaswegian friend tells of how he paid for his aged mum to visit him and his new home in the City of Angels. She stood on his flat roof sitootery and surveyed the house tops for miles around in heat close to 90 degrees. “What a waste”, she said. Bemused, and in mild disappointment, her son asked, “What do you mean, ma?”

“Whit a waste o’ thi’ weather. Naebody’s hinging oot their washin’.”

The City of Angels is vast, mostly one or two story properties – built low to avoid too much damage from frequent earth tremors and quakes – except Downtown, a carbon copy of New York, often doubled as such by television drama series. The sprawl spreads thirty-eight miles on either side of LA’s backbone mountain range.

Areas nearest the ocean, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Long Beach, are cooled by the sea breeze, sometimes shrouded in morning haar.

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Los Angeles with its snow capped mountains – LA: beaches and skiing

Over the mountains it’s serious desert, dust, tumbleweed, and 110 in the shade: Burbank, San Bernardino, and Thousand Oaks.

Pasadena is the exception, leafy, verdant, topiary gardens, a city within a city, an art deco time warp. Not for nothing does Pasadena house LA’s botanical sanctuary – the Huntington Gardens. It also has one of the best art and design colleges in the world.

Streets and boulevards go on for miles and miles till you get property numbers like 3854 and 5012. My first visit had me an hour-and-a-half late for a meeting. Edinburgh is built on a human scale. You can stroll across its centre in forty minutes. I assumed thirty minutes drive would get me to my LA destination.

There are only two roundabouts in Los Angeles, one in a suburb that the DVLA use to confuse new drivers taking their test, and one at my destination. Being a Scot that drives on the left I took the roundabout into my destination the wrong way. A brace of security guards ran at me waving their hands in the air – “Other way, dumbass!!!”

It’s nice to be recognised as different from the herd.

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A typical old-style Big Blue Bus

The Big Blue Bus

If you don’t own a car in LA you take a bus, a Big Blue bus, now mostly electric. One dollar takes you any distance. There’s a bike rack on the nose, and a gas strut platform lowered for those on wheelchairs. The drivers are always personalities, and without protective screens around them, for all the supposed stories of sin city muggers.

Like everywhere else in cosmopolitan LA you meet great characters on the Big Blue, Californians, Latinos, African-Americans, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russians, you name them and they’re on the bus. Unlike our British reserve, the kissy, huggy nature of Angelinos is rarely made uncomfortable when you sit next to them and your thigh brushes against theirs.

Do it too suggestively and expect a “Hey, you serious, or just joshin’ with me?” followed by a peal of laughter. Women are gregarious. “Hi there, big boy. I just love your accent.”

Angelinos don’t fear nudity, bare skin and near nakedness in the desert heat an everyday occurrence. You can open a conversation with anybody, you dressed only in boxer shorts and trainers. They won’t shy away from you.

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The sub-strata of homeless people who live in the streets

A chicken tale

A poorly dressed guy unsteady on his feet boarded my Big Blue on Lincoln Boulevard clutching the neck of a large bulbous black bin bag. Whatever was inside filled it to the brim and more, and he wasn’t letting go. He was carrying something precious.

He got on the bus, rummaged in his pockets, and bargained with the driver-conductor.

“Man, I ain’t got a full dollar”.

An altercation sprang up between the impoverished passenger and the long-serving black driver who knew when he was getting conned.

“You is tellin’ me you never checked yo change before yo stopped dis bus?” said the driver, glancing into his mirror before pulling away from the stop.

The bag man looked annoyed. “You think I do this every day?” The conductor did think that. He tested the water.

“Okay. How much you got?”

“I got all of 70 cents, if you must know”, replied the down-and-out, as if the driver didn’t need to know. Bin bag man adjusted his foot in his old cracked shoe as he spoke.

“70 cents?” replied the incredulous driver. “70 cents. So yo did know what yo got.”

“What’s wrong wid my money, man? You can have all of it. I don’t care!”

He stamped his foot hard to fix it in his slack shoe, and in that moment loosened his grip on the bin bag. Ka-boom! A snow storm of white chicken feathers exploded from the bag and fluttered down all over the passengers and seats.

“Goddam it!” shouted the driver, keeping one eye on the traffic ahead and the other on his overhead passenger mirror.

“Who-da hell brings chicken fedders on a bus? My bus!”

The driver of the 3pm to Century City was a man proud of the clean ship he piloted. “Get the hell outa here – an’ take dem fedders wid you!”

The bin bag man gathered up what he could, an impossible task for the faster he grabbed at feathers the more a flock got swatted back into the air. He stuffed as many as he could into his plastic bag and jumping off onto the sidewalk, leaving passengers to pick themselves clean.

“Fuck you! I know my rights!” His last words got cut off as the driver slammed the automatic door shut and drove off.

“Who da hell does a half-assed thing like that?” repeated the driver, seriously annoyed. “Look at da mess of ma bus!”

Passengers guffawed and giggled, I included. But by then the bin bag man had succeeded in travelling a good two miles for free.

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Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica – a place to watch the world go by

Walking – with my legs

Walking around town has its benefits too. You learn a lot more than if inured in your Cadillac with air-conditioning and ten cup holders. There’s a seething mass of entertaining street life to see lured by eternal sunshine.

Angelinos are highly adept at the one liner reply. Years of being tutored by comedy television shows have attuned their ear to the zinger phrase: Friends, Seinfeld, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, a few of the best known immigrants to these shores that junk dialogue for one-line put downs.

In Rodeo Drive, the haunt of the super-rich and plastic surgeons, lost again on one of my many searches for a film production office meeting, I asked in my heavy Scots accent directions of a pedestrian hurrying by. “Excuse me, I’m lost. Where am I?”

The reply was short and to the point: “Planet Earth”.

A show stopper

On another occasion in Santa Monica’s shopping centre I rounded a corner and chanced upon a woman of indeterminate age. She was engrossed in assessing shoes displayed in a store window. Everything about her was sartorially wrong.

She had dyed her hair pitch black highlighting a white powdered face in the middle of which was a blob of bright red lipstick, like a plum splattered on concrete. Her eyebrows were plucked to oblivion necessitating an eyeliner pencil facsimile. She wore a far too tight silk black top with a plunging neck line that exaggerated the spare tyres of fat around her waist. The tights were black; the legs ham shanks, shoes and handbag a matching faux crocodile skin.

The image was off an elderly ballet dancer gone to potato seed who had forgotten her tutu. With a bust a Triple-G, she was a veritable landslide of a woman.

My gaze travelled to her skirt; a ridiculous pussy pelmet. The skirt exposed her voluminous white panties to full scrutiny. This was no Victoria’s secret.

Whatever my expression was as I stood transfixed at the spectacle it caught the alert attention of a woman walking by. Without missing a beat in her step she whispered en passant, “Someone has GOT to tell her!”

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Eric Douglas with his father, Kirk

A sad show stopper

Not all encounters are memorable for the right reasons. On a casting hunt I popped into a comedy stand-up venue on Sunset Strip, a street cleaned up since pornography went mainstream, corporate owned.

I was looking for an actor for a specific role that required comedic timing. A fair haired young man caught my attention. His ‘act’ was atrocious; the worst gags, in fact the worst material I’d ever seen anybody try out anywhere. It was astonishingly bad, yet he persevered amid hisses and boos until his fifteen minutes was over.

As his act was about to end he turned his back to the audience, dropped his pants, and did a moony. “Do you think I look like Michael Douglas?” he shouted over his shoulder. “Well, I’m his brother!”

It was then I realised he was mimicking Michael Douglas’s skinny bare arse bedroom scene in The War of the Roses. And I knew instantly he was speaking the truth.

Eric Douglas was the forgotten, sidelined, third son of Kirk Douglas. When I met him he was in his late thirties and unemployed, but not without an expensive drop-top Mercedes Benz and a silly lapdog as companion.

“I always thought you’d be the movie star, not Michael”, said his father with all the subtlety of a 22 stone wrestler.

A few years later Eric took his life in a lonely New York hotel room, after screaming at me down the telephone. He was desperate for work.

Had I work available I’d not have offered it. Eric was a deeply troubled man, drug addicted, paranoid, schizophrenic, that compulsive gene surely a gift from his father. He’d insult ten dollars a day waitresses without cause, or smash his drinks glass on the bar counter, snarling “Don’t you know who I am?” if given slow service.

Eric’s reputation around town was rock bottom. “His brains are fried”, said a knowing agent. I learned later he was gay. You try being gay in a hyper-macho home called the Douglas household.

Later I got to know Catherine Zeta-Jones really well and watched her stifle a promising career. She married Michael. There’s the rotten side of LaLa Land, and there’s the life affirming side. I’ve seen both, closely.

[A version of this essay appeared in iScot magazine – not bought a copy yet? Then you’re not a top person, and hiding somewhere in the Highlands in an old bothy]

Posted in Film review | 16 Comments

King Arthur – a review

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Charlie Hunnam as ‘Arfur’. Monty Python just asked him for directions to the Holy Grail

This won’t take long.

This alleged multi-million summer blockbuster would be better entitled ‘King Arfur’. Every subject director Guy Ritchie touches rings out the sound of Bow bells, Cheapside, every character he  creates, or reimagines, turns into a cockney geezer.

Remember when our English friends denounced Braveheart as historical rubbish? Well, they still do. It won five Academy Awards. But how about this all-cockney turkey?

It’s a wonder that King Henry VIII spiv, stick-it-to-the-bleedin’-Scots, Ray Winstone, isn’t starring in it, the cockney’s larger than life professional cockney.

The modern method of seducing a new generation of cinematically illiterate to the movies grates. The fashion for sticking modern dialogue into the mouths of medieval characters, wearing pantaloons or tights, sucks, whether royalty, heroes or simpletons. For a start it’s lazy writing. “You’re playing with fire!” “You’ll soon see what all the fuss is about,” “Not likely!” “Feel the power.”

I wouldn’t mind if post-classic era films found a decent alternative to heightened language, one step or two below Shakespearean verse is okay, but modern colloquialism jars on the ear. It’s the equivalent of eating a hamburger in Ye Olde Tudor restaurant built last week.

The habit of giving old mythology a modern twist, throwing off old conventions, began some time ago, even before the late much missed Heath Ledger blew his talent away on A Knight’s Tale. Back in Hollywood’s naïve wide screen ‘technicolor’ days we had  Tony Curtis playing a Brooklyn-English knight, on horseback, modern saddle barely hidden, saying with all sincerity, “Yonda lies da castle where ma true love dwells.”

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Oh, look who’s turned up for a noggin of mead and a cameo, bend it like Beckham

What possessed a studio to put money into this film? We’ve had any number of half-baked interpretations of the sword in the stone saga, and the last, King Arthur, (2004) starred the flat-footed Clive Owen prancing around darkest England chased by Roman soldiers. It failed miserably at the box office.

The inside skinny is a number of star names were lined up for this Arthur and then one by one pulled out, presumably when they read the next sheaf of script pages. That left television jobbing actor Charlie Hunnam to prove he has no big-screen presence at all. And Jude Law the only ‘name’ looks as if he’d rather be somewhere else.

The film’s full title is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to differentiate it from other Arthurian legends called King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The plot is brief. Arthur pulls a sword out of a stone, Vortigern decides Arthur is an unwanted rival and so must pull out his heart, and Arthur thinks about pulling the Mage lady or some other – I lost interest at that point. (I’ll do my best to relate a bit more. ) Arthur starts off as a child who’s cast away when his father, King Uther Pendragon, (Eric Bana), is killed by Vortigern, (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, a lover of the dark arts. (Plot of Conan the Barbarian.) The boy grows up to be a strapping six pack, tree feller, and mole strangler. And so, when the time comes for Arthur to pull the sword from the stone, he has no interest in any of it. But pull the sword he does for a ‘larf’, and immediately he’s pursued by Vertigern and his “blackleg” shock troops.

Arthur’s principal allies are a former Merlin acolyte – sorry, Merlin doesn’t feature in this version so he sent his deputy, referred to solely as “the Mage”, (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), wise former Uther companion Sir Bedivere, (the great Djimon Hounsou totally wasted yet again), and “Goosefat” Bill Wilson, (Aidan Gillen), so nicknamed for his knack for getting out of tight jams. Sigh. You would be better watching reruns of Game of Thrones.

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Those pant are familiar – oh, aye! MC Hammer

King Arthur is not Guy Ritchie’s worst film but it’s pretty close. He exploded onto the cinema scene with Lock, Stock and Two Barrels, and Snatch, a couple of fast, bloody caper films that sort of reinvigorated the cockney crime genre. However, the perceptive could see he had a lot of style over substance. You enjoyed recounting the funny scenes, but nothing lasted. Arthur is a compendium of all the things that make Ritchie interesting to watch but miserably disappointing to see, if you catch my drift. His version of Arthur is damn annoying. It veers between smart-ass and idiocy. The plot is what a kid writes for homework to be read in class next day: “My Film Script” by Betty Purvis, aged ten.”

You’ll hear film pundits describe Ritchie as a ‘re-imagining’ director, which is to say, one who plagiarises other people’s ideas, adding mild but annoying changes here and there. Virtually everything in the film has been done before and done much better. The movie is a clumsy mishmash. Everything is random. It lurches from scene to scene. It has no coherence or narrative drive. It’s punctuated by overwrought, frenetic, uninspired action sequences – a Ritchie hallmark – set to a score so painfully brain numbing it sends you to the pick ‘n mix sweetie kiosk for a sanity break. And those costumes – where did they get the technology to create those intricate weaves and fibres in olden times? Ritchie keeps choosing subject matter for which he is resoundingly unsuited.

As Arthur, Hunnam adds another project to the accumulating evidence of his naffness – see Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, and The Lost City of Z. As Vortigern, Jude Law displays the required amount of malevolence, and sour plum expressions.

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Director Guy Ritchie, (checked shirt) each film a knees up with cockney pals

Remarkably, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was conceived as the first of a six-part series. I know three of the producers. They must be grieving into their Starbucks lattes. The film has lost a ton of money so far – budget $175 million, box office $18 million – so perhaps we will be spared Arfur 2 to 13.

Why bother to create a colorful cast of characters, with all those colorful names, if you’re going to do damn all with them? Cineastes who hate King Arthur for the liberties it takes and its bluster will spit. Ritchie’s reinvention makes the story predictable and derivative.

I’ve given it two stars, one more than I really want to, to prove I’m not prejudiced against cockneys – the funniest folk on the planet. Honestly. Just, not this time around.

  • Star rating: Two stars
  • Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Eric Bana, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou
  • Director: Guy Ritchie
  • Writer: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
  • Cinematographer: John Mathieson
  • Music: Daniel Pemberton
  • Duration: 2 hours 6 minutes
Posted in Film review | 6 Comments

Plug Ugly Cars

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A supercar designed by a blindfolded man on LSD

You could argue the vast majority of automobiles choking our roads are ugly, but you might be arguing bland is ugly. There are plenty of blobs, and lookalike junk.

It isn’t easy designing cars, they’re difficult objects to make harmonious at the best of times and budget, what with strict international safety regulations to follow, and all those angles meeting at a single point, (like bathroom tiles in the corner above the bath)  they present designers with blinding headaches. 

But every so often a car is produced designed by somebody with absolutely no aesthetic training at all, and surprisingly, they’re often designed by art school graduates.

Here are a few I’ve chosen. Readers are welcome to nominate theirs.

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Suzuki X90 (1995)

SUZUKI X90: Suzuki created a chic little SUV a bit unsteady on its feet going around corners, and then thought it would be terrific to junk what practicality it offered by slicing off the rear end. The idea behind the stupidity was Malibu surfers could park their surf board on it. Some Malibu surfers bought one but then Malibu surfers are not known for their searing intellect – dude. Chopping off the back reduced it to  a useless two-seat, two-wheel-drive, mini-flatbed. It’s name alone, X90, is ugly. By the way, the building behind is the beautiful all-brick San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, but it doesn’t make the car look any better.

G-WizSilver 08 Electric Cars

RIVA G-WIZ (2001)

REVA G-WIZ: As an enthusiastic owner of a Smart car, readers will know my admiration for small city cars is boundless – then there’s the micro G-WIZ. You see lots parked in London’s posh streets because being electric they pay no congestion charge and they park free too. In most countries the vehicle (hard to call it a car) does not qualify as a vehicle. It has nil, zilch, nada crash protection and even less street cred. The second iteration got Lithium-ion batteries which offer 75 miles on a 6 hour charge. Switch on radio, lights, wipers and air conditioning all at once and expect to get out and push. Created from fibreglass, it doesn’t have to look like an infant’s plaything. Celebrities boast about owning one, but then no one said they had good taste.

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Ssangyong Rodius (2005)

Ssangyong Rodius: When asked what car do you drive, how do you answer with any degree of pride or confidence, “I drive a SsangYong Rodius”? It’s big, bland and bulbous, with the rear end of a male hamster. They call it a people carrier, one assumes the people in it are all sight challenged. Those rear side windows will cost a mint to replace if broken. And they do damn all for all-round visibility. Why not drive a small bus instead? Whisper it: it was designed by Ken Greenley, a former head of car design at the Royal College of Art. Ouch! Some gifted teacher.

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Porsche Cayenne (2002)

 

 

PORSCHE CAYENNE: Designing a car proves a major problem when even the company that creates the beautifully distinctive 911 can get its first SUV so terribly wrong. The one in the photograph has been ‘improved’ by an aftermarket redesign company who love American station wagons. Porsche, jettisoning its sportscar-only heritage embraced the fashion for SUVs and made a fortune, so much so the company almost bought over VW. (VW now owns Porsche.) The designer decided it had to look like it’s flagship brand and duly stuck the face of its 911 on an elephant. They have since modified the down-road graphics, (front elevation) three times but it doesn’t look any better. Being a Porsche it sold like hot cakes proving money and status talk, and some drivers have no aesthetic education whatsoever. Then again, who feels they must drive at 150 mph with bags of garden peat in the back, or domestic rubbish to the local council recycle yard?

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Nissan Micra C+C (2005)

NISSAN MICRA C+C: When Mercedes Benz brought out its SLK sports car with its clever folding hard-top, (an American invention) every other manufacturer decided they had to have a similar model. The C+C is Nissan’s version. Mercedes was smart enough to employ an Italian to design their sports car. Nissan chose a Brit who probably never left Sunderland in his life. Pink only makes it look more ludicrous than it is. The interior is seriously cramp, a terrible driving position, a rudimentary rear seat, and the feeling a whole middle section has been cut out and thrown away. To boost appeal they gave it lurid colours. Where do you park a cone of strawberry ice cream on four wheels without being seen behind the wheel?

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Mitsuoka Orochi (2006)

MITSUOKA OROCHI: The characterful puffer fish has a mouth exactly like the grille on this disaster, a supercar called the Orochi. Japanese design works well when handed over to a European to design, such as the early Toyota RAV SUVs, cute and  cuddly. The Japanese aesthetic of restraint and simplicity is here junked for an exercise in making a car seem fluid, like water rolling over a stone. The designer has lifted ideas from the sports cars of other manufacturers and stuck them all together to create this monster.

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Lancia Thesis (2001)

LANCIA THESIS: Proof the race with the most assured aesthetic in the world, the Italians, can get it wrong at least once. Lancia created some of the most memorable designs as well as truly inspired pioneer engineering. In this instance they moulded an old-school upright grille onto a contemporary sloping bonnet (hood) and placed the weird-shaped eyes (headlights) so far apart it left a football field of negative space between them. Ford did something similar with the Scorpio, (1994) but at least Lancia had the good sense not to sell the Thesis in the UK.

Photographer - Stan PapiorLamborghini LM002   Silver

Lamborghini LM002 (1986)

LAMBORGHINI LM002: There’s ugly and there’s downright puke-vulgar. This jeep is jaw dropping preposterous. Just when you thought the Italians might mess up one design along comes another. It issues from the same company that created the Miura, arguably one of the world’s prettiest sports cars. I have seen an LM002 in the metal and I was so severely struck dumb that I had to be lifted away rigid, washboard fashion, and revived. Then I remembered Lamborghini loves the Origami School of Car Design, and this jeep is its extreme consummation.

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Citroen Ami 6 (1961)

CITROEN AMI 6: In the Ugly Stakes the French score high too. Amazingly the Citroen Ami comes from the same designer who created the beautiful DS, Flaminio Bertoni, the DS a car so far ahead of its time you’d be proud to drive one down the High Street today. The Ami could easily be found scribbled in a schoolchild’s jotter. It sits on a 2CV chassis, a car he also designed but with flare and common sense. If you stare long enough at the Ami’s square headlights and melted bonnet you’re liable to feel giddy. The rear is as bad: the window has an extreme rake and a table-top boot lid. Turn your gaze away now!

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Austin Allegro Vanden Plas

The truly awful Austin Allegro contributed to the British car industry’s collapse. It was the automobilia equivalent of self-harm. Those on the right-wing blamed lazy commie workers for the crap cars they sold. Those on the left-wing blamed callous bosses and penny-pinching budgets for the crap cars they sold. What can’t be denied is, every manufacturer, from BMC to Rolls-Royce, left development of the car to the customer. Brit cars fell apart after two years. Folk with money traded them in just before Armageddon. I must confess to owning an Allegro in my naïve youth – nothing worked, and it leaked like a sieve when in a car wash. Austin decided the model needed a fillip. They turned to their up-market design house, Vanden Plas, for a deluxe refit and this is the result. It’s the same car as the standard model but with ugly posh appurtenances, including chrome hearse grille, picnic tables, a dashboard in walnut veneer, Connolly leather and Wilton carpets. The sods sold it with a 50% hike in price. There exist fans who collect the things as classic cars, just as I did some years back … to my cost.

I could list another ten ugly cars, including most of Jaguar’s current range that has ditched elegance, but I’ll stop here. Readers are free to discuss their own choice, or vomit in the sink.

Posted in Transportation | 15 Comments

Engineering Consent

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Engineering consent

The term ‘engineering consent’ is another way of describing thought control. George Orwell had a lot to say about thought control. He wrote an entire novel around the thesis entitled 1984. He was twenty years out. We in Scotland are subjected to it day in, day out.

Our media relegates truth to obscurity.

Orwell said “War is Peace”. We’ve endured decades of war in the Middle-East to protect our way of life from ‘terrorists’ … people stirred to revenge by endless war carried out by us in the Middle-East.

Orwell said “Freedom is slavery”. If we believe this nation’s enemies, Scotland’s constitutional ambitions, its goal of attaining real civil rights, attempts to keep our oil, all those things enslave us. Wealth in Scotland’s hands is deemed a terrible burden.

Orwell said, “Ignorance is strength. We’re told to forget our history unless it’s shameful, forget we’re Scots and show allegiance to nebulous ‘Britishness’. Look to Westminster, for there lays “strength and stability”.

In 1984 Oceania is governed by an all-seeing, all-knowing, strong and stable leader called ‘Big Brother’. In the tyranny of United Kingdom Theresa May is ‘Big Sister.’

To hell with democracy

As we watch the ugly sight of every British political party blocking Scotland’s right to hold a second plebiscite – their slogan: Bugger-all Power to the People – radical thinker Professor Noam Chomsky suggest the Labour Party is destined to remain rudderless unless it unites with the upsurge of protest in England, the Momentum group.

Momentum is a grass roots campaign group established in 2015 to support left-wing policies. Call it, reinstating people power. Momentum exists to persuade, quite a novelty in this age of nasty right-wing power politics where black propaganda, lies, and fake news keep us all guessing and bemused. You could say, Momentum is Orwell’s ‘Proles’.

Chomsky is the author of a book on USA-centred thought control covering the 50s to the 80s. It was entitled ‘Necessary Illusions,’ (1989). On the UK’s current predicament he dismisses unionist flimflam, on record stating Scotland can prosper staying in the EU, though he, like so many of us, wants the EU to throw off its bureaucracy, and all of its racism. Chomsky believes in being an activist. He knows corrupt, errant administrations invariably offer concessions to mass protest movements, though admittedly it can take time. That Corbyn has the smarts enough to follow Chomsky’s advice is in serious doubt.

Reconstructing the self-destructed

As soon as Corbyn crosses the border into Scotland he’s lost. Like a man showing early signs of dementia, what should be familiar is suddenly unknown and hostile. He’s visibly uncomfortable. For a man of the people, described as ‘gentle and kind’, he’s incapable of applying democratic principles to Scotland’s population. He abuses free speech by repeating propagandist rubbish. “Scotland can’t survive on its own.” You can’t tell him apart from the repellent Theresa May and her Tory Pretorian Guard of carpetbaggers.

A ruminating cow can see Labour needs to reconstruct itself in the interests of working people, to have at its core concerns human and civil rights if it is ever to appeal to the majority of people again in England. Scotland needs a new-thinking, free-thinking left-wing  movement, but one constructed after independence is reinstated. To create a new party now will only divide support for self-governance.

The smearing of Scotland

May told an outright lie. With her MPs accused of electoral fraud, she retorted that all parties were guilty of fraud, adding ‘even the SNP’. This was a blatant lie.

Scotland’s First Minister – how I long for that title to be Prime Minister – Nicola Sturgeon refuted the sly allegation immediately, and so did the Electoral Commission. They confirmed they have never fined the SNP for anything.

May’s intention, and that of her advisers, is to paint a picture in our minds of the SNP as morally vulnerable as any other political party.

Our dishonest press reported the lie as truth. Corbyn said nothing – a sure sign he’s not quick witted enough to gain an advantage over his Tory opponents. The Tory’s rag-bag of carpetbaggers in Scotland’s Parliament stayed silent. This is thought control at work as exercised by disreputable politicians who crave power.

Silence is collusion. Newspaper editors are first to scream loss of press freedom when they see censorship, the last to uphold civil rights for the rest of us.

It takes a high level of courage to get a Tory politician to rebel against Theresa May’s attempts at engineering acquiescence, but MP Peter Reynolds MP wrote as follows:

Her refusal to engage in any proper debate is pathetic and brings shame on the Conservative Party. Her bluster, barking and abusive style at PMQs is nothing to do with debate and not only is she refusing to take part in any TV debates but she’s avoiding any contact at all with real voters. …. It’s not ‘strong’ to evade debate, to silence your opponents and to use government authority, power and facilities to undermine them. In fact, it’s probably unlawful as a misuse of government resources.”

Fifty shades of grey

Engineering consent takes many forms, from repeating empty slogans into which you are expected to drop in your meaning, to faking adoring crowds told not to ask questions while you give a speech called ‘a talk to factory workers’. Food banks in the modern age in a wealthy country are explained away as ‘a caring society providing for the needy’.

Scotland’s outstanding demand for autonomy, the right to exercise free will, is depicted continually as “divisive”, the cause of instability; open debate condemned as estranging.

The most common example of thought control we all encounter is limiting discussion. You are told certain subjects are not on the agenda. Only the range stated, (by the cartel running the institution) can be discussed, but everybody is welcome to express an opinion within those limits. (I can guess at the control wielded by the Board of Directors over Glasgow School of Art’s fire that blames no one. To make it a police matter loses the School its insurance pay out.) Whatever issue you wanted to protest about, you can’t. It isn’t on the agenda. You can always put it in writing to the director or CEO’s office but he’s likely to keep it there. Members of your committee never get to discuss your concerns. The issue is reduced to a minor problem.

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A tearful Nayirah, but was it tears of shame?

An example of ‘hooking’ mass opinion

One of the best examples I know of engineering consent happened within recent memory.  It took place in October 1990 when George Bush was keen to whip up killing fervour in the west to invade Iraq. The US and particularly the UK resisted intervention, after all, Bush Senior had beaten Hussein’s army into a pulp.

A fifteen year-old Kuwaiti girl, identified as Nayirah, appeared in Washington before the House of Representatives’ Human Rights Caucus. She testified that Iraqi soldiers who invaded Kuwait tore hundreds of babies from hospital incubators and killed them. They stole the incubators, and wrecked hospital wards on their way out.

The testimony was flashed around the world. BBC and UK commercial television all recounted stories of this ‘atrocity’. It gave George Bush the cue to call Saddam Hussein – a one-time close ally of the US – ‘the Butcher of Baghdad’. He was a ‘tyrant worse than Hitler.’ Even today, a former political editor of the Guardian newspaper, Michael White, cutting a debater off, swore blind Hussein had killed thousands of Iraqi children. In fact, our soldiers killed over 500,000 Iraqi children as part of our ‘shock and awe’ bombing and the internal attacks since.

The story of babies taken from incubators was everywhere. It was time to invade Iraq and save the world from Hussein’s cruelty. Bush used Nayirah’s testimony to lambast the Democratic Party for proposing sanctions alone. He wanted outright bombardment.

Nayirah’s tearful story swayed the American public. They backed an invasion of Iraq. The UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted it in his speech to Westminster to secure British participation in the unlawful bombardment and invasion. Mission accomplished.

A lie to engineer backing for the invasion

Nayirah was not what she seemed. She was the daughter of Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States. Key Congressional senators knew of her real identity as did some of the press, but they remained silent. It was a minor detail.

As readers will guess by now, her story was completely false. No hospital had been raided, no babies thrown to the floor, torn from their incubators. Indeed, nobody, least of all the press, had thought to ask why soldiers would want incubators.

According to Dr Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, who ran the obstetrics unit at the hospital named, there existed only a handful of incubators, some not working. Subsequent investigations, including one by Amnesty International, found no evidence for Nayirah’s allegations. But the baby killer fabrication did its job. The West went to war with a small nation that had not attacked it.

As soon as the USA invaded Iraq, Nayirah faded out of the limelight.

The weight of unionist lies

What can we do faced with a daily barrage of lies from unionists? The task is daunting. Politicians hostile to Scotland constitutional rights ‘misspeak’ at every turn.

Currently, the attacks concentrate on convincing a majority of people that a second referendum is unwanted, yet every poll shows a majority in favour, and a population that feels the Scottish Parliament should make the decision. The lies get top billing, the polls left to a few social sites. The onslaught continues unabated, and unashamedly.

Engineering consent is so prevalent these days, so ruthlessly promulgated, that when the SNP increased its vote share and local councillor numbers in local elections, the result was brandished by the other parties, supported by the media, as a magnificent Tory win. You don’t get more confidant than that.

Were he alive, Orwell would throw up.

Second was first, losers were winners, and black was white. The hope behind repeating a phrase at every opportunity, “The SNP’s days are numbered. Fewer are voting for them”, is one day somebody, a social commentator, will say exactly that without offering a shred of evidence for his opinion. And the rest of us will think it without questioning it.

Political rights are not composed by governments and scattered around like rice at a wedding. People secure civil rights, you and me, usually by constant argument and ultimately by struggle. Only when they become common practice can we relax.

The problem we have is, the press and television publish the mischievous, the malignant, and the illegal, none are accountable to the extent they are punishable for their temerity.

Should anybody attempt to remove civil rights they should be met by the strongest force from a democratically stable population – duly empowered.

 And any agency publishing lies knowingly should be sanctioned.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 13 Comments

Alien: Covenant – a review

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Arachnophobia magnified a thousand times

Ridley Scott has never been a director who inspired great acting, but box office success ensures his projects attract fine actors, especially the brooding kind, such as Russell Crowe, and as here in Alien: Covenant, Michael Fassbinder – more about him later.

Scott is a supreme stylist; sparse dialogue, three second cuts, that’s how his career began, shooting thirty second television commercials for his own company RSA, Ridley Scott Associates. Blade Runner is his masterpiece, the pinnacle of his creative voice. The Duellists, an early project, is also outstanding for the same qualities, though its self-conscious prettiness can become sickly sweet.

You’d never contract Scott to make Casablanca, or Lawrence of Arabia. As soon as he tackles subjects without monsters, androids or alien worlds he’s lost. Biblical epics: Exodus: God and Kings, loyalty and betrayal: American Gangster, set in France romantic pot boilers: A Good Year, and the completely muddled, banal psychosexual thriller, The Councillor, show us his limitations.

His last big success, Gladiator, was pure spectacle, highly entertaining, but I’ve still no idea what the film was saying. Still, actors like working with Scott because he lets them do what they want and films it. He knows how to make them look and sound good. Able to command the highest studio budgets, he favours extensive use of two-cameras shooting simultaneously, allowing actors to play a scene straight through without a break for a new camera set up.

Almost 80 years of age, Scott is still making films, one a year, and now returns to an early winner, alien monsters. (He seems to have lined up a few re-treads for his pension years, a third version of Murder on the Orient Express, for example.)

This latest Alien spin-off is the most ambitious Alien film ever made. The budget is megabucks. He’s playing safe, and all-in-all, it’s a worthy addition to the series, some parts fresh, some parts predicable, all served with lashing of spurting blood. Yes, there’s plenty of screaming and running and gore – much of it effective, some of it very predictable. The question is, is the franchise jaded?

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White suits you, sir! Fassbinder’s android is cool malignance

The Ridley–isms grab the attention, so much so that, as Covenant began, I wondered if somebody had spliced in sections of Blade Runner in error.

The film opens with the birth of Prometheus’ android, David, (Michael Fassbender), clad all in white, in a vast, elegant white room, while his creator, Peter Weyland, (Aussie Guy Pearce), belabours him with unsettling questions. Fassbinder’s android is super-quick to assimilate; asked for his name, he takes it from the Michelangelo statue nearby – “David” he answers. (What the statue is doing there and not in Florence is anybody’s guess.) When the conversation veers toward metaphysics, David seems to relish the unique certitude of his existence. “You seek your creator. I am looking at mine,” he tells Weyland. “You will die. I will not.” This is Ridley territory, philosophising that edges to the pretentious, but never quite falls on its face.

We then jump forward to 10 years after the events of Prometheus, to the colonization vessel Covenant making its way through space, carrying several thousand sleeping colonists and human embryos, headed to a supposedly life-sustaining planet with the name of a whole food store, Origae-6. When we first see the ship, its sole inhabitant is another android, Walter, played again by Fassbinder, sporting an American accent.

The crew, conveniently revived from hibernation by an accident involving a “neutrino burst”, to begin the drama with drama, intercepts a message from a seemingly habitable planet much nearer than the seven-years-of-cryosleep-away planet Origae-6.

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The film belongs to that Irish actor with the German surname, Michael Fassbinder

This time the space travellers are not on a mission, but are settlers, many are couples. They hope to find a habitable planet and colonise it. They’ve just lost their captain, burnt to a crisp, and they’re crippled by mourning, uncertainty and fear. The angst is sky high.

The Covenant heads to the nearby planet against everybody’s better judgement, and they step out into a typical Ridley Scott television commercial, a Garden of Eden with shrub carpeted mountains and fields of wheat. One traveller notices there are no mammals or birds, everything is silent. Most sensible people would be spooked, realise  the place was jinxed, get back on the spaceship and head for the planet of their planned destination. Our intrepid group decide to do the dumb thing and plough on to full jeopardy.

Very soon people are swallowing sentient microbes that chew up your innards. Creepy crawly multi-morphs, (my description) begin bursting out of people’s spines and mouths. Scott orchestrates the mayhem brilliantly. Scattered crew members struggle with panic, disorientation, poor communications, garbled instructions, fear, ion storms, (yes, we get those in Scotland) blood-spewing, and an escalating cascade of plain stupidity and cock-ups. Pandemonium ensues – no surprise there.

Our ten characters in search of a danger-free film script are not stoic or tough soldiers; they’re ordinary folk looking for a room for the night.

Scott has reached the age where he must be feeling truly mortal. From here-on-in the film is a discourse on creation, and asking, is there a god? From Frankenstein to Noah’s Ark, people in novels have wondered. In Covenant leading characters ruminate on life, love and the universe – they’ve very little else to do out in space.

Covenant could have continued as a serviceable action-horror sequel but Scott has metaphysical goals. We are given bon mots on the nature of faith, the mysteries of creation, the limits of humanity, visions of leadership and devotion, and how not to put a sticking plaster over a creature bursting from your stomach. He even takes a pop at powerful capitalism. I suspect most cinemagoers will just take the spectacle and be done with it. Science fiction fans will love the guff.

I saw the first Alien, the very first Alien, in art deco Odeon cinema in Edinburgh. I left my car on disused waste site surrounded by old dark tenements. It had no street lighting. Accompanied by a friend, I was scared to venture onto that rough ground to reach the car. No such thrill this time around. But newcomers to the series might well be scared.

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Master technician and stylist, director Ridley Scott

As well as familiarity, I think the film has a secondary fault. There is an inability to stick to a mood or a theme or even an emotional through-line. The attention revolves around Fassbinder, all other characters get cursory attention. The story indulges each of its ideas for a few minutes and then tosses them over its shoulder for a new idea. That’s the brain at work of a three-second-edit television commercials director. The effect is of a film veering between lofty philosophical ambition and delivering effective spectacle.

Admittedly, the whipsawing between cerebral musings and visceral thrills generates its own wild energy – at least until the disposable and thoroughly uninspiring theatrics of the final act, as Scott desperately tries to wrap up loose ends and set things in motion for yet another sequel. The last twenty minutes is a rehash of the first Alien.

Scott likes to boast that he’s a story teller. All successful directors claim that, few actually remember to acknowledge they did not write the actual story even if they suggested the outline. Scott isn’t a gifted storyteller. He’s a master of mood and evocative imagery, but he falters with straight narrative.

The more Covenant tries to tell a story, the more of a mess it becomes.

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Yeah, back to back for 360 degree protection; that’ll work

The film belongs to Fassbinder. The android he creates is fascinating. David whispers to Walter, “You have symphonies in you, brother,” trying to convince this lowly mirror image of his inherent greatness. The scenes between the two are touching, erotic, troubling. Watch Michael Fassbinder make out with himself and then kick his own ass, it’s a treat, only spoiled by a strange Charlie Chaplin flat-footed walk away from camera.

The film seethes with self-importance yet is never boring or portentous. It can’t come close to matching the fascination and scary moments of the first two films in the series, there’s too many fussy ideas that get discarded. To paraphrase a relative, it’s not all of a piece. And ignore misogynist reviewers raving about Katherine Waterston as the new Sigourney Weaver. She’s nowhere close, and never slips into a space suit wearing only skimpy, sweat soaked bra and panties. Anyhow, the cinematographer is Dariuz Walski, cameraman from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He doesn’t do erotic.

Scott retains the same creepy music we’ve grown to like. Well, who expects original in a sequel, for heaven’s sake – expect fresh. I just hope Scott doesn’t create a director’s cut. Two hours is long enough. Nevertheless, I left this picture with positive feelings, and my car in a brightly lit car park!

  • Star Rating: Three and a half stars
  • Cast: Michael Fassbinder, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writer: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
  • Cinematographer: Dariusz Walski
  • Music: Jed Kurzel
  • Duration: 2 hours
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Elle – a review

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The highly talented by greatly undervalued Isabelle Huppert

I’m in two minds about Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. On the one hand he’s a populist who creates glossy material with a sly political message. He has a way of  giving the finger to various aspects of unsavoury capitalism. On the other hand, he’s a hit and miss formula director with a basic technical skill. Fans might call him a provocateur. To get an idea of his worth I read up on his early career.

He’s a former math and physics student who decided movies make more sense and offered more money if you make ’em good.  Rutger Hauer was one of his earliest actor discoveries when he began his film career in Holland. Verhoeven claims he’s spent most of his time cine-psychoanalyzing the relationship between sex and violence, pulp and profundity, and there’s a lot of truth in that boast. His films are full of warped sexual habits. You could say he’s dedicated his career to sifting through some pretty bad material to extract ugly truths.

Lately his career seemed to peter out. Excluding the 53-minute audience-participation stunt Tricked, the septuagenarian director hasn’t made a feature film since Black Book in 2006. Then again, even the most successful directors go out of fashion at least once in their life. Hitchcock is a good example. Psycho revived his career, but it ended with a bad taste squalid film set in cockney London, Peeping Tom. It also showed he was way out of date. It still used old-fashioned painted backcloths.

Verhoeven’s new film, Elle, adapted by David Birke from Philippe Djian’s novel Oh…, is, in a way, Verhoeven’s look back at his career. It stars Isabelle Huppert as a rape survivor named Michèle, a former literary editor who now develops video games about goblins and trolls, (not the Internet kind) concoctions conjured from absorbing the work of Tolkien and the Marquis de Sade.

Just as Verhoeven uses lowbrow genres to create scathing satires of capitalism (RoboCop) and fascism (Starship Troopers), Michèle uses fetid video games to expose nasty truths about the darkest human desires.

Her monsters hate looking into the face of their victims, just a any human rapist will stalk their victim and grab them. Her monsters violate women from behind with writhing tendrils, their faces contorted into drooling snot and saliva. And in that she’s no feminist. She creates stories in which women enjoy being ravished.

She demands that her staff make the attacks fiercer, the women’s faces more contorted with orgasmic pleasure. She calls one assault “the boner moment.” She wants immersion, for the player to feel “hot, sticky blood on their hands.” Her employees are not happy but they do as they’re told.

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Huppert’s steely performance is the whole reason to see this ‘Elle.

Elle premiered last May at Cannes where Huppert was touted as a Best Actress contender. She didn’t get that honour. However, Huppert has taken home the award twice. No actress has matched her 15 César nominations. And Huppert has worked with is a murderers’ row of world-cinema heavies: Otto Preminger, Claude Chabrol, Claire Denis, Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Cimino, Maurice Pialat, Hal Hartley, Olivier Assayas, Raúl Ruiz, Michael Haneke, Hong Sang-soo, Catherine Breillat.

Huppert is an all-too-rare exception to the rule of actresses older than 40 receiving roles worthy of their talent. And unlike so many American and Australian female stars she has that quality of the old school, the ability to move a man to tears, as well as women. When she appears on the screen she brings with her real life.

Elle is concerned with obsession and control. It opens with a closeup of a cat, the symbol of female guile and sensuality, here unperturbed and docile. For once, Verhoeven ditches the tasteless and graphic and offers us  imagination: we hear a violent struggle which the cat watches passively, unperturbed. This is how we meet Michèle – prone, on a floor on her back, her dress slit open. We don’t see the rape, just the end of the incident, from afar, a single static shot that frames the supine bodies in a doorway. (Later on a second rape is recorded but shrouded in darkness.)

The rape is presented to us in flashback. Michèle’s reaction is torpid and nonchalant- did she welcome it? Was it a lover? Is this how she enjoys sex? She orders sushi as if nothing has happened, and her laconic explanation to friends is, simply, “I guess I was raped”.

But the memory and the trauma she’s experience begins to play on her mind. In a daydream she takes revenge on her rapist’s skull until it’s a bloody mass. As she returns to reality, a sly grin or is it grimace, take the place of a frown. Brutal violence usurped by a smile is maybe the defining idea of the film. You beat your enemy by hiding your fear and smiling at the attacker.

If you analyse what you’re seeing you’ll see a film that’s a burlesque of manners and mannerisms, laced with mordant humour.

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Cast and Verhoeven (with silver hair) at Cannes, and a tiny Huppert

The way the film has been marketed is an insult, both to cast and writer. It depicts the story as a “rape revenge thriller.” Elle is not a thriller, not a female slasher movie, nor concerned with petty revenge. Huppert feels Elle is “a human comedy.” For example, Verhoeven juxtaposes scenes of sexual depravity with a farcical Christmas dinner rife with familial bickering, but a ‘comedy’? I’m not so sure.

I’d say the story is a critique on an aspect of hypocritical bourgeois life, the lurid sexual couplings that go one behind closed curtains; the ease with which a man can debauch a women he says he loves and cares about. It amounts to an attack on privileged elite. Verhoeven has called it “very French”. The comedy, for what it is, is ink black. It’s as dark and dense as un gâteau au chocolat.

But the story isn’t one-dimensional. There’s a highly sophisticated backstory for Michèle. And this above all else is the element that gives the film depth, and surely attracted Huppert to it. Verhoeven reveals very slowly, in almost casual asides, the wanton violence that ruined his heroine’s childhood and influenced her adult life. One day her father, a proud and pious Christian, who embellished the foreheads of the local kids with ash crosses, massacred the community he lived among. He embroiled Michèle in the horrendous affair by having her help him burn the evidence. The memory clings to her like the smell of new-gutted fish. Her father remains a dominating presence over her, even as he withers away in jail decades later.

Though successful, we meet Michèle living a life replete with unavailing men, from her oafish son to her clingy loser of an ex-husband, to her best friend’s husband with whom she’s sleeping. The men around her show their weakness in hostility of one sort or another, like the insolent employee who challenges her in front of her staff. Weak men not in full control of their lives who resort to variations of violence has been a theme in all the films I’ve seen of Verhoeven, beginning with Robocop. In Elle, the men, all inept, depend on Michèle. They’re dull, second-raters.

I read that the novel is a “dissection of forgiveness and penance Christian-style”. If so, Verhoeven has captured that quality well. Some men are vile but we accept their nature, willing to absolve them.

Elle is unrepentantly a Paul Verhoeven film, but it owes everything to Huppert whose comic delivery has never gotten as much renown as her more solemn work; simpatico with Verhoeven’s warped sense of humor, she makes the film a serious work of art.

  • Star rating: Three and a half
  • Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny,
  • Director: Paul Verhoeven
  • Writers: David Birke, Philippe Djian
  • Music: Anne Dudley
  • Cinematography: Stéphane Fontaine
  • Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes

 

Posted in Film review | 1 Comment