Saturday, 8 August 2009

55 Days in Peking, Cottage to let, Alive Johnny Cash, Paula Abdul and Boy George

Juggling experiences is a confessed weakness in which there is the risk of missing much in the attempt not to miss anything. This afternoon, after watching a good Derby game between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, ending for the fourth time in succession as a draw, and following a disappointing and losing performance by Sunderland at Liverpool yesterday evening, I was not in the mood to also watch the interesting game between Fulham, with a new manager and a number of new signings deep in relegation, against Aston Villa whose renaissance has enabled them to complete for a place in the Champions League. Although I watched what was happening for a minutes or so from time to time, I gave greater attention to three other programmes overlapping. This was a mistake because I missed a splendid end of game fight back by Fulham to win by 2 goals to 1. I have always had soft spot for Fulham from the days Jimmy Hill, to Kevin Keegan and the ongoing commitment of its owner. However I wanted Aston Villa to win and bring another force to the Top Table, having great admiration of Martin O'Neill and concern that the more Fulham progress, the more Sunderland is at risk of relegation with the others. It was also not a mistake because I also enjoyed the other programmes watched and which overlapped each other. Life is often like this, for me.

The first programme was a war time spy adventure which I have seen before and remembered the plot, the chief villain played by John Mills of all people, as if to reinforce the point that in war, the devil wears many guises, a point which can also be made for the peace. The film marked the debut of George Cole as a worldly child just in his teens whose interest and knowledge of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes proves invaluable in this 1940 play made into a film to get over the message that careless talk costs lives. The goodies included Alistair Sim, Michael Wilding and Leslie Banks.

The Title was Cottage to Let, and theoretically located in Scotland. For two hours and thirty minutes plus advertising breaks an alterative viewing was another showing of 55 days in Peking, based on a true event when the foreign powers in the then named capital of China, Peking, held out against an attempt to free China from their involvement for fifty five days until a relief forces of some 20000 arrived in the city, The film stared Charlton Heston as the heroic lead soldier m who misses out on love but has a good heart when he adopts the orphaned Chinese daughter of a comrade at the end of the film after David Niven as the British Ambassador and organising leaders of the foreign delegations and refused to flee the city and defended the compound against the Boxer hoards led by a Prince against the alleged opposition of the military leader, persuading the Dowager Empress of China, played by Flora Robson that fighting and defeat would be better than continuation domination by outsiders. Ava Gardener, a Russian Baroness provides the femme fatal interest who sells her jewels to provide medical supplies for the injured and fresh produce for the children during the 55 days of siege before an allied force reaches the city. The film was shot near Madrid and employed most of the Chinese living in Spain plus others from other parts of Europe.

The Boxers were an anti imperialist and ant foreign peasant based movement in Northern China, who are said to have slaughtered thousands of Chinese who had become Catholics as well as some two hundred missionaries, predominantly Protestant, and another two hundred other non Chinese in the city. The defeat of the rebellion led to the end of Qing dynasty and became the catalyst for events which led to development of Communism. The rebellion was put down by the combined force of eight nations using 51 warships some 55000 troop and marines with Japan supplying 20000, Russia 12000, and Britain 10000, France and the USA just over 3000 each a differential overlooked by this Hollywood production. The toll was considerable on both sides, with Wikipedia giving precise figures of 48 Catholic Missionaries and 18000 Chinese Catholics and 182 Protestant Missionaries and 500 Chinese Protestants. 50000 Chinese citizens were accused of being Boxers and killed by the foreign powers. Over the past century the Boxers have become a mythological force in which whoever is in power in China has ensured that the history books provide one version of the events. The power and role of the internet has provided a challenge as well as the gradual opening of China to capitalist influences. It is reported that in 2006, a supplement to the China Youth Daily ran into problems with the authorities because an article claimed that history textbooks were not giving appropriate attention to the atrocities committed by the Boxers. Of course the slanting of history books, especially those taught in schools, to one perspective, is something that has never happened in Western democracies nor has the burning of books which gave a different perspective, has it? The holding of the Olympic games could prove a catalyst for world capitalism and that would be such a good thing, eliminating poverty and, disease?

If one does not believe any more in fairy tales a film in a survival series, called Alive, appears to have faithfully reported a true event. In December 1992 a young soldier and his teenage wife and baby set off to drive the 800 miles in one day from their home in California to a family funeral in Idaho, despite concern expressed by parents, and warnings of bad weather. Even when the inter state highway was closed they decided to continue their journey using other routes, confident because their vehicle was fitted with snow chains they would be able to cope with the conditions. They did not have a mobile phone and could not find a pay phone to let their relatives know what they were doing and because it appeared that the snow was clearing they took off the chains to make better time. Because of increasing poor visibility and the coming of night they found themselves stuck in a few feet of snow and unable to move the vehicle they decided to spend the night in the vehicle. They attempted to go forward on foot but concerned about the impact on their child they decided to return to the vehicle only 12 miles from a highway. A shelter was found for his wife and child while the father reversed tracks involving 50 mile journey trek. The couple and their child survived although the parents lost their toes from frostbite. In one the programmes about the event viewers were explained how to be better prepared for similar journeys which could have ended in tragedy, or as constantly warned by homeland media, you do not travel out in such condition unless of necessity, however well prepared.

Another reality test comprised this week's episode of Lark Rise to Candleford which could have been sub titled. Leopards cannot change their spots.

But the event of the evening, was the supernatural phantasm first episode of series 4, number 70 overall of Lost which hit the ground running as we learn that there were only some survivors, or do we, and that six make it a..way from the island with golden passes from the airline company, and that these appear to be, Jack and Kate, from the last episodes of series three and Hurley, this time, who readmits himself into the asylum when he sees Charlie who says that he died but has a physical presence but then disappears as quickly as he arrives. In the future an airline representative appears to Hurley, but who is he really, and then Jack appears looking like the airline representative so what is he meaning of this?
Tings are more clear back on the Island, or are they? Locke re-emerges to give the same warning as Charlie that those on the ship have not been sent as rescuers by Penelope in search of Desmond, and Locke then divides the survivors between those who accept his warning that they should hide in a defensive location while the others join Jack who cannot wait to get off the Island. So from being divided into two groups of humans on the island there are now with Hurley, and Sawyer, Clare and child, Danielle Rousseau, her long lost daughter and boy friend joining Locke who also takes responsibility for Ben, Jack's prisoner who pleads to go with Locke while, Kate stays with Jack as does Sayid, Desmond, and Juliet, Unfortunately one has to wait a whole week for the next episode or does one?

So what does one do then after watching Lost and not feeling ready for bed? Well I overdosed on more TV first watching a definitive documentary about the life of Johnny Cash which I enjoyed more that the film of his life in theatre. Among those contributing was Judy Collins seen live at the Sage during 2007. Wikipedia summoned up his music as full of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption, He sold 90 million albums in his fifty year career. From the film I had learnt of the importance of the Prison concerts and Fulsom recording, but the significance of wearing black had not registered until listening to the full version of the song Man in Black and his capturing of the feelings of those who served in Vietnam. Or the impact he had with native American where he created the song, The Ballard of Ira Hayes who was involved in the raising of the flag on Iwa Jima , or his involvement with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson as the Highwayman, but the main revelation was his 90's albums for Rick Rubin in which he went back to his roots as a singer, who had struggled to play the guitar, known as the American recordings, especially those after he developed neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome. The excepts showed a man who was able to put to music and words the feelings of being an old man facing his physical mortality. I did not gain the impression that Cash was a great advocate of social and political causes, more than he had the gift of communicating what ordinary flawed human beings felt about things and themselves across cultures, ages and interests in a direct, simple and truthful story telling way. At one stage in his life is reported to have felt he needed 100 pills day of this and that to keep going but he survived until age of 71 years.

The programme was immediately followed by a study of the adorable Paula Abdul, who was a highly thought of award winning choreographer, then dancer and singer, before joining the number one American TV Show American Idol. I learnt that she had married one of Martin Sheen's sons for two years although they parted and remains at friends. This reminds that during the past week I also watched Cadence the 1990 film in which Martin played a role in a film which stared his son Charlie, set in a small stockade as the only white prisoner with half a dozen African Americans, including Laurence Fishbourne. Paula is a creative being with projects of different kinds always on the go and now has her own staff who attempt to keep up with her work and consequential needs. She had an eating disorder and spoke movingly of the difficulty she faced when placing herself in a care centre and having to leave when the media found out but also showing her determination and spirit, returning there again when the fuss had died down.

The final programme was on Life of Boy George who I had planed to see when he appeared recently at the Sage and is a much better singer and song writer than the 1980's image portrays, although more recently his reputation has dived and dived when first he nose dived into substance abuse following the break up of his well publicised relationship with the Culture Club drummer, the high profile made to clean New York Street after the musical show was taken off after 100 days and a reported loss of ten million dollars, such is the nature of Broadway. Whereas the career of Cash spread over five decades, worldwide success came to Boy George instantly in his early twenties, with 45 million albums being sold. As the evening progressed into night I thought of Amy Winehouse and decided not to switch into the Superbowl where I managed to catch a winner of American Idol singing the Star Spangled Banner in a very moving way. I slept soundly with only one waking between one am and eight.

I went with my mood of the day rather than staying up for Superbowl. I also thought of Amy Winehouse.

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