Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Revolution, The Naked Runner the Men who stared at goats.

There is much to write about but until today no inclination to write about experience as I immersed in new additional experience although not necessarily original experience.

I have seen La Boheme before, on stage at Oxford and possibly on the small screen although no recollection and it may have been one of the operas I was taken to see as a schoolboy by my birth and care mothers and their eldest sister. I went to see Carmen definitely either as a schoolchild perhaps later because it was about Spain and gypsies and I knew that my care mother and maybe some of her other sisters had been on at least one trip to see gypsy women as well as Spanish ladies in traditional costume over the border probably at some Catholic festival. I am vague about their recollections before they came to England because their memories were not recorded and there was a long period when we did not talk about their life in Gibraltar. Harriet wanted to, but Mabel and Lena did not. I was a decade too late when I wanted to know Now all their brothers and sisters have also gone as have my older first cousins

It was a good day to watch La Boheme on the BBC i player, the coldest since last Winter, just above zero C for most of the 24 hours. La Boheme is perhaps the most watched opera along with Madam Butterfly and Carmen because of the almost continuous romantic lyricism to the extent that the audience can become overwhelmed by its combination of beautiful singing and profound emotional intensity. Most have heard the aria Che gilda manina What a cold little hand. La Boheme opened the Metropolitan Live relay season this year and I had arranged a weekend trip to see it but then Cineworld bottled out and although I could have gone locally if there were places I decided against and hesitated on discovering there was a recent production, possible the same as being shown on the live relay

La Boheme is intended to convey a place where Bohemians live and although written in Italian by the great Italian composer Puccini, the author of Madam Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca, it is traditionally set in an artistic quarter of Paris such as Montmartre of garrets and cafes, the land of Toulouse Lautrec and Berlioz. In this instance the hero is a poet Rodolfo who shares lodging with Marcello a painter, with friends Schainard, a musician and Colline. a philosopher. The heroine is Mimi, a seamstress, often portrayed as innocent and with Musetta, the singer, as worldly. The friends are cold and hungry until the musician arrives having secured work with an eccentric Englishman. They decide to celebrate with a meal out at cafe in the evening but Rodolfo remains to finish some work and Mimi who lives in the building calls for a match as her candle has blown out. She then loses her key and they interact as they fall in love, one of the most celebrated couplings in culture.

In the Met production there is one of the most dramatic scene changes in the history of opera presentation because of the speed at which the stage is transformed from the garret into a spectacular street and cafe scene filled with people including marching soldiers at one point. There are hundreds of extras and chorus including school children and some 80 stage hands are used to make the switch Rodolfo takes Mini along to meet his friends where Marcello finds a past love, Musetta. dining with a government Minister of my years. She sings provocatively trying to win back the affections of the painter. Musetta leaves the whole bill for the two parties for the Minister to pay when the total is more than the money gained from the work for the Englishman.

Time has passed with the third act in which Mini visits Marcello who is lodging at an Inn where he is working to complain that Rodolfo is rejecting her. Rodolfo is in fact inside the Inn and when he comes out Mimi hides and overhears him explain that he is pretending not to love because he believes she has become seriously ill and as he does not have the means to provide for her care, he is feigning a lack of interest so that she will find someone who can care for her properly and finding that he is overheard the two are reunited in their profound love for each other while Marcello and Musetta quarrel as a counterpoint.

In the final act Musetta discovers Mimi wandering the streets overcome by her illness having lived for a time with a wealthy viscount while Marcello and Rodolfo have been sharing lodgings working hard while separated from their true loves. They do their best to provide medical help and medicine for Mimi but it is too late and she dies. In 1957 papers were discovered which revealed that Puccini had written a middle third act which explains how Mimi came to meet her wealthy suitor after Musetta had been thrown out of her home with her furniture after crossing her protector.

The story is therefore not complex and as with all Puccini it is that unique combination of the operatic voice with beautiful and sensitive music, and with great acting and wondrous settings creates an experience where only the most gifted can match with words. Although on the comparatively small screen and without the sense of immediacy it was as great an experience as with Madam Butterfly and AIDA.

In contrast on Tuesday evening I watched Al Pacino in his 1985 box office and critical flop Revolution which sees the American War of Independence against the British and the French, until the French change sides, through the eyes of a young widower and his son. Donald Sutherland plays a British senior officer and Nastassja Kinski the young daughter of a New York capitalist. He also changes political position according to his financial interests while the daughter is a staunch republican who encounters widower and son early on provides the personal drama. He is fur trapper having lost his wife and other children to disease and the native Americans and his ship is confiscated with the promise of payment and land when the war is won. His son misguidedly joins up and refusing to acknowledge that the boy is underage and to discharge him, Al also joins up in an endeavour to protect his child and two begin their long experience of war. At one point the son is captured by the British who retake New York and is whipped for protesting about becoming a drummer boy for the enemy. Al rescues his who in turn is rescued by some American supporting Indians who help the boy to recover over a six month period. The Indians, Al and his son become lookouts for the American forces and meet up again with Nastassja who brings food and medicine to the fort where they are based. The son takes up with a young girl part of the food mission and just as Al and Nastassja swear undying love, it looks as she had been captured and killed by a scouting party of Brits.

The war is long and brutal and towards the film end before the final victory there is opportunity to take revenge of the Donald Sutherland but the son cannot shoot the man in cold blood. The film appears to end on a sad and unsatisfactory note as seeking payment and the land Al discovers that because of the economic changes the seventy dollars has become forty and Congress has decided that they have to auction off the available land to pay for the war. Father persuades his son and with child bride to go west with the cash when there is land available while he is determined to make a new life in the city, having found not record todate whether Nastassja was killed or managed to survive. In the bustling melee that New York has become reminding of the subsequent film The Gangs of New York, he spots the young woman’s servant girl/friend and tries to follow her an amazingly despite a prolonged search with grating loud musical accompaniment he losses sight but then comes across his true love. Ah for Hollywood. One can understand why the film failed because of its long drawn sequences, albeit epic in scale, its realistic portrayal of was at that time which British officers proving why the revolution was necessary. No one throughout history has successfully permanently subdued a people their will even when they exterminate large numbers, yet they continue to try and do so.

Previously I had watched a modern set production of the modern written Salome in which the Dance of the Seven Veils is performed as a raunchy strip, I must find out about the singer who gives a tour de force performance as the alcoholic pleasure seeking daughter of the licentious king. I will watch it again when I am in the mood to give the Opera a fair hearing. I will also watch again Placido Domingo in a 1985 Performance of Tosca in which he looks the part as do the singers in La Boheme and Salome. I will write about both when I do.

Last night I stayed up longer than I should to watch the Naked Runner, the last film of Frank Sinatra. I had not known the film before and understand why. Sinatra’s antics in making the film are more interesting than the film itself which he thought was going to be as good as the Ipcress file. Sinatra demanded a large fee plus a percentage of the box office take and then went off and married Mia Farrow during the filming and demanding a helicopter for his travels. His lack of committed interest in the project is shown through his performance but in fairness this is a poor script without suspense or credibility and it would not be surprising if one point he originated the cry, You cannot be serious?

A spy breaks free from jail as is shepherded across Europe in a circuitous route to Russia in order to elicit the information the British Government need to prevent by killing him beforehand. Fair enough but the idea that the Russians would need to take him the long route to Moscow before obtaining the required information is ludicrous, just as the notion the Cabinet would give formal approval let alone a Minister. The other damning aspect is that a factory owner of designer furniture is selected for the task because all the state assassins would not get through the Iron Curtain where the spy was already behind.

Sinatra is picked because he is known a Whitehall security chief for being a good marksman and likely to be persuaded too help and because he will be in the right place at the right time. He has become the subject of news reports when a manufactured item wins an award which takes him to the Trade Fair at Leipzig with his son. It at this point the British security masterminds devise an elaborate and sophisticated scheme to force him to undertake the killing. The first part is to make him interested in taking a simple message to a contact behind the Iron curtain. This is his former wartime lover with whom he lost contact and failed to find while she has long since believed he was dead. He had remained in Britain after the war, married and become a young widower left to raise his son, such is the only parallel with Revolution. The amazing implication that he would be able to attend the most important Trade Fair between East and Western bloc countries during the Cold War on his own and not part of a Government delegation or highly organised trip in which both sides would be on the alert about spying and counter spying communications.

All he is asked to do is to get his watch strap mended immediately on arrival in the city and he is told his contact with be his former lover but she is not, or of the bizarre and complex plan to make him kill the escaped prisoner. He is then immediately arrested and accused of being a courier but unlike the book where readers are kept in suspense and in the dark, we know this is planned and his captors are British agents who convince him they are capable of killing his son who they have captured if he does not carry out the killing. There is then an even more complex twist in which he is held to believe he is to shoot the man from his hotel room where he is to spend the night with a woman whose advances he rejects and then finds that the target is not coming and that his son has been killed.

This does turn him into a killer but of the man who has killed his son and only after he has obtained his revenge does he find out that the man as his original target and the whole thing was devised within Whitehall. The most ludicrous aspect is that if the British had the kind of contacts with the kind of freedoms to hoodwink Sinatra why they needed him in the first place. The film is nonsense and a made a sad end for a great singer and an actor was some promise.

The film is of interest because of the gradual admissions over the years that the American and British developed sophisticated psychological warfare weapons in various forms of brain and willpower control and manipulations.

This afternoon I saw a good comedy, I will not go as far to say brilliant comedy, The men who stared at goats. This is based on a book based on a true fact that among the various CIA and military experiments was one on the use of paranormal powers .

Ewan McGregor is an unsuccessful reporter whose wife runs off with his boss. He comes across a member of the special unit who he dismisses as a crank but when in Kuwait seeking to make a name for myself as a war correspondent he comes one of the key men in outfit and learns he has not retired and is on a secret mission in Iraq he decides to join him and in flashbacks we are given the history of the unit.

The unit came to be formed by Jeff Bridges who having been disillusion with the Vietnam war travels around the USA experiencing the various New Age movements and sees the use of paranormal powers in a New Age context as having peaceful and positive use. All goes well until Kevin Space joins the unit with a view to making use of those individuals with special powers for the dark side which is the primary purpose of military with the peace keeping primarily designed for public consumption and keeping the political paymasters happy.

Ewan discovers that his contact played by George Clooney has a dark secret in that he was able to stare a goat to its death. Goats are used by the USA army to practice the field dressing of gun wounds. Soldiers feel more able to shoot goats in the leg rather than dogs so that recruits can administer dressings as they would to colleagues wounded in the field of battle. Kevin decides to test out the kill by thought process after he is put in command of the unit when son of a senior Military officer kills himself after entering the parade ground naked and starting to shoot up anyone on sight. In fact it was Kevin who had subjected the recruit to mind and substances disturbance experiments sending him on an LSD driven bad trip. It is Jeff Bridges who is broken and takes the wrap for the incident and leaves the force. It is Kevin who then persuades George Clooney to undertake the goat kill experiment and which leads to Clooney also leaving the service.

Clooney takes Ewan on his mission into Iraq where they have an accident in desert and are captured by opportunists who attempt to the sell them on to a terrorist faction who already have in their control someone sympathetic to the USA or to the new regime if not both. They manage to escape into the desert and are picked up by a capitalist opportunist surrounded by his private security force. When queue jumping for gasoline they mistake a backfire for gun fire as do another private security force and the two engage in gun fire wounding civilians more than each other. This is based on a true reported incident.

The three rescued men make their own escape from this melee and go to the home of the Iraqi who finds it has been shot up by occupying troops and his possessions stolen and that his wife has left him during his period of captivity. He provides them with a fuelled vehicle to continue their mission. Clooney take the wrong road and the vehicle is blown up by an improvised device which only stuns and so they find themselves without transport and water in the middle of desert. It is a goat that leads them to water where they are picked up and taken to an army base where there is a private military sponsored research unit SICK spelt PSIC and with Kevin Spacey in charge experimenting with goats and a some locals who they have taken prisoner. In one instance they are playing a children’s TV tune which has been laced with subliminal messages for hour upon hour. Jeff Bridges is part of the unit and Clooney has come to get his revenge on Spacey. He admits to dying from cancer and having been given a curse death by Kevin before departing. The revenge is to lace the food and water at the camp with LSD during which time they release the captives and the goats. Clooney and Bridges steal a helicopter and disappear while Ewan returns home to write his story which is largely spiked by the media apart from the playing of Children’s TV themes.

The film has several good jokes and their various references and roles to previous films and film characters but also makes one angry at the reality behind the satire. How many research projects were paid for by CIA in the sixties and seventies and how many since and to what extent has this kind of warfare been developed alongside the weapons of mass human and physical destruction, including the spread of disease and premature decay? Will we ever learn the truth of why the psychiatrist turned his gun on his fellows? Today’s fiction becomes tomorrow’s reality.

The Naked Runner and The Men who stared at Goats coincided with a ceremony in Berlin earlier in the day to mark the pulling down of the Berlin Wall attended by the French, German and Russian heads of State and Gordon Brown and that earlier the German Head, born in East Germany under the Soviets, had attended the spot of the first break through with the former Russian head of state Mikhail Gorbachov who had decided not to oppose the development with force at the time, as had been the custom of his predecessors. His actions changed the world, and state capitalism took over from state communism.

The new allies are now able to continue their experiments on human manipulation and control together in the face of the latest threats and identified enemies.

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