Saturday, 14 March 2009

Talking Movies

F**** 'Young Victoria'

Before I say anything, let me say, f**** "Young Victoria." Every time I see a bus passing with what's-her-face plastered on its side, I mouth these words of endearment to the bus. The first time I saw the freaking trailer in the cinema, I was like 'whaaaaaat - are you kidding?' If anyone was the symbol of the British Empire it was Queen f******** Victoria. And, they're making a movie about her, about the young Victoria, in love and all, becoming a queen and all, the heavy burden of serving her people and all. Yeah well, whaddaya you know. It is a foregone conclusion that the Brits are as much in love with their colonial past as they were when Queen Victoria was young, and in love, and serving her country and peoples. I love how these biopics of emperors and queens make it sound like it was such a life of suffering and misery for them, having the burden of serving their peoples on their delicate shoulders and small heads.

In one of our recent TPP lectures on civil society, our lecturer Subir Sinha was talking about Gramsci's thought on civil society. Apparently Gramsci went around saying * that domination and imperialism was embedded in Western culture.

This reminds me of the strangeness I felt when I was in Netherlands a few years ago for a 'Project Management' workshop. My family was there for the first week of the workshop and, we did the usual museums in Amsterdam. I believe it was Golden Age of the Netherlands theme at the Rijksmuseum and, I was struck by the absolute absence of mention of its empire save for one painting where a noble lady was shown against the tropical background of Ghana. I had actually visited the slave castles in Ghana the year before that and, found it quite amusing that mention of slavery and empire was so small in this celebration of the Golden Age. Most of the paintings that were housed there were from the 17th century - great Dutch masterpieces known for their mastery of light. What I found amusing was that in celebration of this Golden Age too conveniently forgets that the Golden Age is the same thing as slavery, colonialism and empire. When we think of history, we cannot separate any of these eras for they co-existed and in fact, it is hard to believe that a Golden Age in either the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe would have been possible without the plunder and murder in Africa, Asia and the Americas. I remember walking around in Amsterdam thinking that to myself, thoughtfully peering at the impressive buildings, roads, canals, houses - a place of prosperity and peace. I had decided there and then, that this prosperity was achieved at the cost of the misery, slavery and domination of other peoples.

These very same thoughts ran through my head when I had to decide to come out here for a masters. The irony of it still strikes me - that I have to - for a successful career in Development - come to London - once the seat of the biggest empire in the world. Domination has just taken on different subtleties and forms.

For me, history has not ended. Having had my foot in Pakistan, Liberia and Britain, I find its legacies are well and alive and kicking. We truly live in historical times.


The very fact that the move was split into two parts i) Che and the Cuban Revolution and ii) Che and his failed revolution and demise in Bolivia made the whole prospect of going to the movies that much more exciting. Not to mention that Benicio del Torro was going to star as Che Gueverra and, Soderbergh was going to direct. I have always been a fan of del Torro ever since I saw him in Soderbergh's "Traffic" and the "Usual Suspects." The fact that Soderbergh was making this movie shows his impressive versatility - I mean, this is a guy who made not one but three "Ocean's!" Che seemed to have done well at the Froggie movie festival and, did not seem to have had any attention bestowed upon it in the Oscars. This was a sure sign that Che was going to be something to watch.

That the movie is that long, split into two parts, gave me the impression that the movie maker was really interested in showing in great length and detail what Che's life and struggle was like. Not even what it symbolised but really, to give attention to in detail the 'life and times' ** of that era.

So what can I say? I really enjoyed both parts. The first one was more of a mix of flash backs, Che's interview as a voiceover, shots of his speech at the UN, the battle of Santa Clara. I noticed that Castro's character is really shown to be very shrewd, calculating and less likeable than that of Che's who is very obedient and patient. The second one is entirely the guerrilla fighting in the moutains in Bolivia and the ultimate failure. Both parts derive a lot of their material from Che's diaries. The second part shows Che to be reading or writing whenever he is taking a break. Apparently, Soderbergh wanted to contrast the two different revolutions and, it shows in the treatment of the two parts.

Not that Che needs to be humanised any more given his ever-enduring legacy and popularity even today, but I think it is important that such films get made. I look forward to the day when a film on bin Laden or Yasser Arafat would be made so that 'enemies' of the 'West' are humanised and better understood. So that the likes of Mary Kaldor do not flippantly remark 'one-eyed Mullah' in a public lecture.

A great movie about a great man.

The World War 2 Movie

I can't rant enough about my intolerance of War War 2 Movies. Ever since I have been a kid, I have known that there are World War 2 Movies out there - they were about war, death, the horrible side of human nature, heroism and greatness, blah blah blah. I'm almost 30 now and they are still making them. Either its a love story against the backdrop of World War 2 or a movie delving into the mind of Hitler or of course the Holocaust.

Why can't I stand them? Firstly, I am perfectly sick of them and I have not even watched that many World War 2 movies. Since I have found my head and started to see a little or understand the world, I have realised that for the Europeans, the World Wars were the most heroic and defining moments of their entire history. This was the time when evil was fought and defeated, when great sacrifices were made and heroes were made. Churchill is great for the Brits because he led them through this time. The fact he was a racist imperial pig and looked like one too is of no relevance. 

The World War 2 movie gives me a psychological allergic reaction. Let's take the Holocaust. Apart from the fact they are not over it and the fact it is bemoaned as the greatest ever tragedy in history, in the entire human history, *** there is no realisation whatsoever that because of the European guilt over what happened to the Jews that the Palestinians got screwed over for the next 60 years. 

The Europeans still can't get over the Holocaust guilt. How did their great civilisation produce this evil? I have even read this in academic texts - believe it or not. Half the VCD texts wee philosophical musings over how the German population participated in this methodological, organised Holocaust. There is no question over how the great European civilisation accomplished slavery and colonialism. How did in their Enlightened, Rational and Renaissance-struck minds tell themselves enslavement, plunder, murder, destruction of entire civilisations, cultures, peoples was okay? That they never have to feel any guilt nor shame for it? 

There are a couple of conclusions one can arrive it. Because the Europeans were a bunch of enslavers and imperial colonisers it is not a great stretch of the imagination that they would have engaged in the Holocaust. And, racism and imperialism is still kicking and alive in Western civilisation as a whole. There is no way in hell that only 60 odd years after the end of colonialsm, even less for many many African countries, and only 200 years or so after the end of slavery, that Western minds have suddenly become Enlightened. 

So, to hell with the World War 2 movie. 

*hahaha - 'went around saying'
** it's a typical tagline for a biography
*** just for the Jews, not the Gypsies or the Poles or the homosexuals or anyone else, only the Jews suffered in the Holocaust

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