Friday, 20 March 2009

Time to Leave and Jambon Jambon

I have witnessed the death of a human being twice, the first occasion I did not understand what was happening, not that I could have dome anything to save the individual given subsequent information, but I felt I ought to have been better prepared. The second, because it was premature and preventable and the subject of continuing investigation at my request, has to be for future publication.

I have never felt close to my own death in a physical sense and once when I unintentionally switched the lights off a new car going round a bend in a country lane, there was that second when I mentally prepared for pain and death, but I was calm without panic or fear. similar as when another prisoner put an arm lock around my neck, or when hosed with others in a boat on a Scottish Loch and I could not swim, there was an absence of what most will regard as "normal" feeling because of preparing myself for all eventualities, and being in what can be described as a sense of grace. I had no conscious wish to experience pain or die but accepted the possible consequences of my actions.

There have been two situations of feeling powerlessness, lonely, outside of the "normal" experience of others, bordering on despair at the circumstances, of seeing no light however flickering, and when the thought of an end briefly occurred, once just outside of teens and once in middle life, and once in later life there were the same broad situation except of feeling not outside the "normal" experience but totally within it. However on none of these occasions was the feeling of self pity and wanting to make some gesture for recognition, or of anger and wanting to hurt others, and throughout my life I have possessed the conviction that all life is important, has its own value and that to bring to an end unnaturally is wrong, any can only be justified by those authorised by a society in its self defence, or when authorised to act in the self defence of others who are not in a position to defend themselves.

During 2002 I developed a sense that before seeking new life experience I ought to re-experience my life before recording my recollection of the original experience and my contemporary response to the re-experience together with what memories remained of the original events. It was a form of preparation for my own death, but a concept and not as a physical or overwhelming reality.

Last night, Saturday 25th August 2007, I decided to view a DVD Time to Leave, provided from a list submitted to an internet club because it starred Jeanne Moreau and as there was no film release date on the sleeve, and the film title was unknown, as was the director (or so I thought), I had no sense of expectation. I was immediately engaged with emotions, and apart from one short break of a couple of minutes concentrated my being although immediately reacted adversely to the central character who has no redeeming qualities, and something which the Director explained in an interview was a key element in his concept for the film.

The film is about our reaction to being officially informed we are going to die. In this instance from medical causes and I contrasted his character and situation with that of Sophie Scholl who courageously took on her government and paid the price of her convictions being executed during World War Two for the distribution of leaflets and being part of a group who believed Nazism was wrong and unchristian.

The anti hero of Time to Leave, who could as easily have contracted AIDS from indiscriminate sex, or liver damage from excessive alcohol, or from an overdose of bad stuff, is given the news that his average expectation is three months, perhaps as little as a month, or a year, but no longer and that there was less than a five percent chance that treatment would work. Given that this is a man who appears to have no respect for his parents, behaves abominably towards his loving sister, detests her and all children, and rejects and throws out his medium term sexual partner, one begins by asking if one really cares if he survives more than a few weeks, except that it will bring grief to his parents and those who care for him despite his behaviour and outlook.

His occupation is the first clue that this is a more complex and more interesting human being. As a photographer he uses the camera as a shield against direct involvement or engagement with the feelings of others except professionally armed with a camera he can penetrate into the emotional experiences of others, although his world is the comparatively safe and socially unnecessary activity of fashion which has no value to anyone other than economic.

His first reactions are conventional, anger, frustration and denial, He wants to communicate his new situations to his lover, and his family but he does not how to break down the barrier he has created between them and instead behaves in such a way that if they were not his parents and sister, his rejection would be absolute. His solution is to go to see his grandmother, an unconventional woman, but he is able to communicate because she is old and therefore facing death, such is the arrogance of the young who think age makes a difference although admittedly death is easier to prepare yourself for if you believe that you have lived to accomplish some of the dreams and goals which you, or others, set for you. There is no evidence that how we approach the final moment of self conscious awareness is affected by our age, although it is by how we have lived and what we believe in, and what we do not. The obvious exception is when we are too young to understand that we are dying. This is an important point because the biggest single group vulnerable to an untimely and unnatural death in the UK are children under one year in their own homes. The second group, as expectedly are young men and women, although overall the number has decreased during the past decade and with the least likely group are the very old, although they are the group that tend to fear most being attacked in the street at night or in their homes.

The experience of visiting his grandmother changes how he views himself and others. She is played by Jeanne Moreau who is able to communicate all her life's experience into what is a minor part in terms of length of appearance in the film, but whose contribution is pivotal, although it also has to be said all the acting is of a superior quality in part because of the creative and artistic role of the film's Director

At the conclusion of the visit, his grandmother gives a small bunch of beautiful freshly cut flowers which becomes an emblem for the film and for his life as they commence to wither. After the visit he begin to squeeze and savour every magical wondrous moment of life. He also begins to make peace with others, with varying degrees of success and in so doing he begins to make peace with himself. There is one situation which in less sensitive hands could easily have degenerated into soft porn and which instead becomes a beautiful and magnificent affirmation of life and its continuity after individual death. The film ends in a beautiful and imaginative way.
Sometimes after an important experience, there is need to digest by doing something different, or digesting, savouring the feelings aroused blocking out fresh experience. Tonight I examined what else was on the DVD and this was such a good decision because of 90 minutes of the director talking in English about his life and work, a documentary about the film creativity, and some deleted scenes, each additional segment enriching the experience. It was only after checking out Director Francois Ozon's flimography I found that in 2001 and 2003, I enjoyed two other of his films, 8 Women at Bolden UGC (after some moronic teenagers had left after grasping that the film was in French with subtitles, and The Swimming Pool also at a UGC but on this occasion in London during a visit to see my mother. I may have viewed others, but the Swimming Pool remains vivid as do some images from 8 Women, Time to Leave was made in 2005. I will make the effort to view all his films because what he has to say and the way he says it is of great importance to me.

The artistic nature of photography and how to handle potentially controversial subjects was the point of a made for TV True story on Satellite TV earlier in the week. The court Room drama, Dirty Pictures tells what happened when Dennis Barrie (James Woods) director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Centre booked an exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe after the work had been cancelled by the Washington Corcoran Gallery because of controversy surrounding the inclusion two photographs of naked children and of adult sexual acts involving sado-masochism and homosexuality. A local jury dismissed both sets of charges despite a biased judge, a fanatical public prosecutor, the evident abuse and misuse of legal proceedings and the abuse, and attempted blackmail and bribery of the Director and his family. A reviewer gives the film seven out of ten because of its bravery in tackling the subject in an equally explicit and challenging way showing the photographs as a part of the full exhibition work with the end credits. I was less enthusiastic, because the judge and the prosecutor and their witnesses were portrayed as one dimensional beings, whereas Barrie and his family were allowed more rounded personalities, full of contradictions and conflicting interests. The film also used real people clips such as Salmon Rushdie, who says, "If you cannot defend what to you is unpalatable, then you do not believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech for those who agree with you." The boy in one of the two photos was also interviewed, when a young man, to express that he had enjoyed being photographed with parental approval and that the public showing of the photograph had not affected his life. I imagine the outcome of the case would be very different to-day, not because of the adult images which have become common place in contemporary art galleries and art publications around the world, but because of our knowledge about the misuse of photographing nude children and then exhibiting pictures over the internet. When I was a boy every barber shop had a few well thumbed copies of Health and Beauty, or some similar title which featured naked families as well as National Geographic which featured those of different lands and skin colours.

There is no doubt that child and adult porn has influenced some individuals to commit depraved acts which cause lifetime damage to the victims used to create the images and films. However societies everywhere should be as concerned about the explosion of violent internet, TV and console games and films which extol psychopathic behaviour, behaviour in which individuals are killed without emotion because they are regarded the enemy or obstacles. I am disappointed but not surprised that Gordon's Brown's government has reacted in the way as Tony's following the tragic death on a football man eleven year old in Liverpool, returning home from playing with friends. More attempted crowd pleasing gesture which will prove as inconsequential as others of a similar nature. Thirty years ago I started to draw attention that leaving Liverpool one Winter's evening in a convoy after watching my time suffer defeat at Everton, hundreds of children and adolescents in groups of three to six had appeared from behind cars and walls and pelted the coaches for several miles as we left the city heading north for the M6, breaking windows. It was evident this was a cultural sport ignored by the police and parents in the city. Fifteen years later I made a visit to the city as a professional adviser to the local government Drugs Forum when drug gang culture was moving downwards from young adults to teenage school children and considerable energy and funding was being directed into redesigning housing developments and facilities for young people at the same time as local authority accountants under Treasury financial dictatorship were encouraging the sale of school playing fields and general education was switching away from teaching life skills to passing examination in subjects which were to be of little value to the majority after school leaving. In the last decade we have seen the dramatic growth in gambling shops, tanning parlours, and youth centred drinking facilities in every high street town centre. Cheap alcohol is also available in vast quantity at every supermarket outlet and older brothers and some parents are only too willing to supply those who in their early teens. My mother and her sister lived in a small block of flats and the teenage mother in the same block was seen doing this on several occasions to her friends and their younger brothers and sisters. Every day a child is killed somewhere on our roads and there is no mention, and every day hundred of children die unnecessarily somewhere from starvation and disease.

My other film this week was Bigas Luna's Jamon Jamon, the 1992 film in which the physical charms of Penelope Cruz first came to international attention. At the end of the film two men attempt to batter each other, one successfully, with legs of ham. The film is a comic portrayal of Spain after Franco in much the same vein as Almodovar in which the bar running mother of Ms Cruz educates the boyfriend fiancée who wishes to become a bullfighter as she has his father in the past, while the father has a yen for the daughter who has been made pregnant by his son, but who has a yen for a stud who is paid by the wife to seduce the girl when she does not know the girl is pregnant but who then takes the stud as her lover.

For some incomprehensible reason foreigners, including the British tend to regard the paella as the national dish of Spain. I am supplied by Spanish goodies by where it is possible to purchase an authentic Jambon from £75 7 Kg's and cured over 16 months to £399 for 8 Kg's cured over 36 months. 100 grams of a quality cut is available for £9.25. The traditional way to create these hams is to roll the leg in salt on a table called saladero and leave for several weeks. The salt is then carefully washed away and hung on rafters to cure or dry with the minimum amount of salt so as to make the meat taste sweet, The ideal location for the hanging is an open windowed room to allow the cold winter air to blow throw although today most are factory produced and a left to cure in special cold stores, as in the film. It reported that a proportion of the hams fail to cure properly but for the rest they are said to spice up the natural passions. The average Spaniard will find Jamon Jamon fun until the ending which will be regarded as a sacrilegious misuse of hams. Death has many faces but it is something we all experience.

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