Sunday, 6 September 2009

The City of God, The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Spranos Americal Idol

Friday has been a day of work, broken up with food and a range of television experience and some personal correspondence. It was not the kind of day when something stands out as wow, yet it was not without several engaging and thought proving moments. And then later on I developed a personal problem which brought home again for the second time this year the sense of my growing frailty and vulnerability.

The joy of the day came first from the amazing self described, cheeky young Japanese Jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara who during the extract of her performance at the Brecon Jazz Festival demonstrated something of the energy and dynamics which performers and audience can only experience live. Records provide the music and voice and film can communicate something of the actuality but only being there, in my instance as a member of the audience, or as a performer, do you experience the interactions. This point was made by another up and coming jazz pianist who was also classical trained Zoe Rahman who has been described as one of the finest pianists in Europe. Zoe was born at Chichester, studied music at Oxford and Berklee Boston. The third Pianist featured was of a generation when few females played jazz other than with their voice as singers. As with those of the present generation Jessica was classically trained attending the Peabody Conservatory of Music when she was seven. Regarded as one of the great pianists and composer with 200 tracks and fifty albums to her name she also has an unusual mental feature in that she sees sounds as colours as well as hearing them. In the programme she explained how much her life had changed over the past decade in which she has not touched alcohol or cigarettes.

I then made the mistake of deciding to watch immediately the cut in American Idol to the 12 men and 12 females who will sing live next week and seek the public vote to stay in the competition. I should have watched the hour later programme and enjoyed an hour special on Edith Piaf but I lingered before switching as she sang no regrets.

Over two nights and three hours of broadcasting we have shared part of the experience as the 164 individuals selected from tens of thousands who attended the auditions, competed on the first day for passes to a second performance later in the week. Those who forgot lyrics or messed up or just did not have appeal compared to others were given a second chance but only 30 seconds to make the judges change their minds. As a result of the second stage 50 were selected to face judgement day with just under a 2 to 1 chance to make the first of the public voting performance. The ordeal, the first of the weekly events required the contestants to sit as a group and then return after entering a long room which involved a walk where three judges were sitting at The far end to be told their fate. The process was a good way of demonstrating what they would experience week upon week as the voting of the public was revealed to the performer in a way which was as dramatic and tense as possible to maximise audience's sense of involvement and that their votes mattered. It was evident that parents and partners were also available once an individual had returned to share their sense of triumph or of failure with the other contestants, and no doubt to assist in the contract signing and preparing for the publicity and the possibility of being involved in the final and the live how tour, and for one or two a new way of life. There were too many participants for me to hold everyone in my head and even the judges who had seen them at audition, and two or three times during Hollywood week relied on photographs as memory joggers. There is a lot of great talent this year.

I went to bed after midnight on Thursday watching a late in the series episode of the Sopranos which I cannot remember seeing before. Episode 78, the first in the second half of the last series has three moods. The first was when Tony and Carmela take a weekend away with his sister and her husband at their lakeside retreat which I assume is Lake Placid in the Adirondack Park, to mark Tony's birthday. They sun bathe, they chat, they eat and drink a lot, they play Monopoly and gradually the rivalries and resentments and natural inclinations emerge and after one remark Bobby and Tony fight and Tony losses face. In retribution and in order to increase the profit from a deal Tony requires his brother in law to make his first cold blooded killing. We have experienced several previous situations where if the frustrated little boy inside Tony does not get his way he uses his power to destroy others, but this time he loses face, reminding that his tenure as the crime boss and in life is coming to an end and his jokes about going to hell are becoming vivid realities.

Yet we are encouraged to have sympathy with the brother in law as does what is required of him and knows that his relationships with his child, his wife, the world and his conscience will never be the same again. It is easy for the viewer to be understanding and feel sympathy because we have come to know the character, his wife and their child, and episode also revealed once more that his wife is the same frustrated and hurt child who failed to mature as her bother, Fortunately the child has a kindly servant to help with her care. Yet he has slaughtered someone he does not know and who we also do not know in cold blood, because he is afraid of Tony but also because he has never killed before and wants to know what it is like and to have the respect of the villain community who have already so, sometimes many times.

It is the ability of the programme to enlist the sympathy and interest of the viewer in evil men and their supportive and forgiving wives and which may reflect an important aspect of society and of us, the bystanders which provoked my reservations when I first looked at the show on its first release in the UK after a recommendation from a stranger in the locker room of the hotel leisure club, which I attended several times a week top swim, enjoy a Jacuzzi, sweat a sauna or steam room, and sometimes a workout in the gym. The stranger was bent on telling me and anyone who came close of his excitement and appreciation of this new gangster series arguing it was the greatest series of them all. I watched an like the opening signature and over the years have watch most episodes but on in sequence, switch on when there is nothing else I want to see whereas a repeat of Yes Minister or the West Wing will cause me to abandon whatever else I was thinking of doing. I mention West Wing because in the annual TV awards it was the Sopranos who regularly beat off its competition having won twenty one Emmys and five Golden Gloves in its six season run, the man was right, as critic after critic have said this was the greatest TV series to-date, but I am also right about what the programme says of society and you and me.

The third mood started the programme off as Tony was arrested by local police after an unregistered weapon, used in a crime with special bullets, was identified by its user as having belonged to Tony who he had witnessed getting rid sometime beforehand. Tony, encouraged by his lawyers believes that the case is dropped to enable him to celebrate the birthday on the weekend trip however this is no more than a ploy by FBI who have mounted a five year surveillance campaign to obtain the evidence to bring him and the other murderers, bullies and thieves to some form of justice. The Soprano's follows the hard world of the American Italian, brought to international fame with the film the Godfather and countless others since, including several films by Martin Scorsese. This contrasted with the British approach in the Peter Sellers comedy caper, the wrong arm of the law. In this 1963 Ealing Studios Black and White Film the police are not corrupt but stupid as are most of the criminal members of the gangs and other individuals in membership of the organisation with Peter Sellers as the chairman, Pearly Gates, whose front is a haute couture. A trio of Australians wreck the status quo for police and crooks alike by posing as policemen with their own fake police car, waiting until a crime has been committed and then going off with the spoils. Hence the title the wrong arm of the law, Peter's girl friend played by Nanette Newman uses pillow talk to alert the new gang of forthcoming heists although it is not evident how they also get to know the plans of the main rival gang and of various individuals in membership of the fraternity chaired also by Peter. Lionel Jeffries plays the police inspector Clod and Bernard Cribbins the nervous leader of a competing gang. John Le Mesurier who was to make his name in the TV series Dads Army plays a senior policeman, Dennis Price. a public school con man and Michael Caine, yes the Michael Caine, can be seen but is not credited. The climax of the film after several bungled efforts sees Sellers and Jeffries and girl friend escaping in a plane with half a million in notes planted by the police to catch the Police dressed gang in an arranged truce, and where Inspector Clod goes under cover as part of Peter's mob. The new gang are caught with other members of the criminal fraternity and the police hierarchy rejoice at the departure from these shores of Inspector Clod especially as the bank notes were fakes and the trio are forced to hideaway on a tropical island making designer grass skirts to earn a living.

How things have changed in half a century. In the UK we do now have a problem of children involved in the selling of drugs and some do have guns and where since the attempt to restrict their sale and use to secured gun clubs and secured home licences all that has happened is that the price for the illegal's has gone up. However if we want to understand the shape that things could become take a long look at the Brazilian film City of God and the accompanying hour long documentary and tell me which you think is more the credible. Rather like the Churchill advert, it is a trick question because both are as credible as each other. A pre adolescent child is the brother of a trio of teenage gun carrying hoods in the township quarter for the lower class of Rio de Janeiro called the City of God. They terrorise their estate and no one dares take action against them or report their activities to the authorities. This may have continued for sometime had it not been that they give not given a gun to the psychopathic monster of the child who insist on tagging along and as given the role of look out while they rob the residents of a motel. During the robbery, the warning shooting out of a window signal is given followed by several more shots assume to be from the police. In fact the child has been engaged on his own slaughter and robbery, heralding the start of his rise to power as he grows into teenage terror crime boss.

The film repeatedly makes the point that the police take no action about such crime in the townships, the "flavelas", until it affects other interests in society. The child murderer and his best mate grow up to make the most of the 80's growth in the cocaine trade which they organise together with protection activities in one of the more centrally located slum areas of the city and where some police are well paid of to look the other way.

The community is generally happy with this situation because other forms of crime are eliminated and the gangs provide a kind of community social services, helping out if a family needs money or medication or health care, or to bury their dead. In the film three developments upset the balance. A new generation of pre adolescent children decide to make their claim, stealing from those protected by one of the gangs which retaliates by giving two captured children the choice of being shot in the hand or foot and then requiring their latest recruit to shoot dead one of them which he does, having first shot him in the foot when he puts out his hand. The second development occurs when the best friend and assistant crime boss of the boy murderer decides he wants to leave and settle down with his girl friends and throws a great party which is attended by every group in the community, from church and social to crime and samba. He is executed by mistake by someone ordered by a competing crime boss thinking he getting the rival head. The third incident is when the former child murderer turned adult murderer and thug is rejected by a young woman sitting at a table waiting for her boyfriend to return. The boyfriend is humiliated and the young woman brutally raped. The boyfriend seeks revenge, joins the rival gang and all out war breaks out with the police deciding to let them get on with it.

Watching all this with his camera is at boy turned young man the younger brother of one of the original trio who is gunned down after he tries to escape the City of God with his girlfriend following the raid on he motel. The younger brother has been sent to school as to make a different life for himself, but it is the gift of an expensive camera, and being allowed to take photos of hang life, especially the death of the former child murderer that brings him a newspaper internship and his way out of the ghettos. It is only recently that I saw a similar film, Tsotsi the only difference being life in ghetto township South Africa. Both films serve as a warning to those who believe the creation of political, economic, race, religious or social apartheid will result in a better life for anyone, although if the policy is backed up by terror state in which individuals lower in the hierarchy are fee to do what hey like, the situation can continue for generations. The documentary suggests that having declared war the police have been able to reduce the extent of innocent deaths and where overall the city death rated by gun short was every 90 minutes, 18 a day, 125 a week and 6000 a year. The documentary also suggested there were 100000 engaged in drug trafficking and only a similar number engaged in the public services.
As the film ends a new gang of gun using children is being created and they go off playfully working out a list the older hoods they must kill to gain ascendancy.

During the day as the build up for the crucial next round of local authority elections begins, the Prime Minister launched a new incentive scheme to encourage poor families to move income support and maintenance into the lower paid work opportunities

Few if any are likely to have the opportunity of this evening's star in the Actors Studio, a boyish looking young man who has recently tried to age himself with designer facial hair. I must admit I had no knowledge of the work of Edward Norton who came to prominence for award nominated rolls in Primal Fear, American History X and Fight Club. He comes from an American dream family, his father an environmental lawyer, his mother a teacher and his maternal grandfather was a developer involved with the design of the city of Columbia. Edward Norton went to Yale where he continued acting which had commenced in childhood and was family supported although following graduation in history with a knowledge of Japanese he worked in Osaka for his grandfathers' company for a few months.. He was therefore a young man with all the advantages of education, family support and background but what emerged that he was exceptionally talented in diverse areas. It is evident he worshipped his mother and mourned her premature loss from cancer and it is interesting that although he had had two several year relationships and is presently said to be involved with a third he has never married and likes to be ordinary, with interests in sports, politics and social welfare issues. Becoming a director as well as continuing to work as an actor in film and on stage it was another talent which made me say WOW and changed my perspective of him. He wrote the film script for Frida although he could not be credited because he was not a member of the Writer's Guild.

It should not be assumed that I also did not work hard during the day, producing a score of glitter cards and 100.75 set work creation. I also enjoyed the way Durham's Paul Collingwood hit a fast fifty to paved the way to winning the third one match with New Zealand after two pathetic team performance which would have put home fans back on to the seats, and being reminded of the work and life of the singer and band leader Louis Prima born into a musical family in New Orleans. He moved to New York in the 1930's and one of his compositions was Sing Sing Sing and hearing the Benny Goodman recording at the Carnegie Hall concert create a huge adolescent interest in big band jazz and the clarinet which I then tried to learn to play. He then moved to Los Angeles where he met and married the singer Keely Smith who became his fourth wife and they developed a stage act together for several years. His fifth and final wife was also fan and a singer with the band, performing until shortly before his death in 1978. Over his long career he developed many interests but his musical ability influenced generation after generation including Bill Haley and the Alex Harvey Band and provided the sound track for more recent films from Mickey Blue Eyes to Analyse this. He developed a brain tumour in 1975 and never recovered from an operation, remaining in a coma for three years with his family and friends never knowing if he knew they were with him. The inscription on the crypt door is from one of his lyrics, Just a Gigolo. When the end comes, I know they'll l say just a Gigolo as life goes on without me. Oh no we don't.

It was this picture of experiences which then saw me through what became a very difficult night as a personal problem developed which kept me up until the early hours and then rising again after only couple of hour's sleep, Last year I acquired an expensive Readers Digest book 1001 Home Remedies and the advice it contain on my problem was followed and helped to avoid the panic which was developing as my state of discomfort became worse., Now I feel as if it never happened but it was a great reminder of situations to come and getting into a better state of readiness.

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