Monday, 30 May 2011

The Echlon Conspiracy aka The Gift

The Echelon Conspiracy was called the Gift but changed the title after the appearance of another film with the title of the Gift. The film includes some big names with Jonathan Pryce and Martin Sheen.

Shane West, played by Max Petersen is a top notch computer security engineer whose abilities include the ability to restore a computer after a major electrical failure as well as protecting it from digital attack. After the assignment is completed he receives the gift of a mobile phone which advises him to buy certain stock which has a sudden increase in value of 300% and then to bet at particular slot machines and then at the blackjack table winning huge amounts and alerting security. On his way back to his room he encounters what appears to be a girl having a physical row with her boyfriend and after intervening he is knocked out and we see his phone chip is copied. When he recovers the woman, Kamila (Tamara Feldman) is helping him. He suggests a drink and she says later.

Because of his gambling success and being observed with the mobile phone he is prevented from using it while in the gambling area of he hotel, so he contacts the Russian taxi driver who had given him hid card after mentioning that he too was also an electronic specialist as a hobby (of course) and he fixes up an ear piece to take messages from the switched off mobile phone. He increases his winning to 3 million euros from a slot machine but before he can claim his winnings he is pursued by the security and then falls into the hands of a FBI (CIA?) agent who interrogates him with violence threats about the phone.

The agent contacts Martin Sheen who appears to be the head of the National Space Authority in control of a monster satellite computer surveillance system which we later learn has access to every surveillance camera I operation throughout the world. We are led to believe that Max is the latest of several individuals who have received phones and made money from insider information and who are then killed; The suggestion is made is that the system has been comprised and needs to be upgraded something which the USA Congress has recently vetoed.

Max has met the Kamila for drinks and they have become lovers but he then finds that she is an FBI agent after an attempt is made to assassinate both of them. It at this point that he teams up with the Casino Security chief who is an ex FBI agent and they go to Russia to meet up with the Taxi driver well connected tech officer to find out who is sending the messages, and this turns out to be the computer system Echelon where Max was employed to provide its security system. At this point it becomes evident that Sheen as the NSA controller wants Max killed and the FBI agent and the Casino security chief join forces and take a military aircraft to Omaha Nebraska Max as received a request from the computer. It also found that the person on whose property the computer is established has also been killed and was responsible for sending Max the phone. It is only after the film that can work out some of moves and relationships. I note the Wikipedia notes have got the situation wrong which is rare. The first course from action for Max is to try and stop Echelon killing people by altering traffic light systems is one example I remember. He now finds that although Congress vetoed the expenditure for the upgrade the machine is upgrading itself and migrating to Alaska in the process. The purpose of the upgrade is to take have access and therefore take control of all digital technology. Sheen has sent forces to stop Max from interfering in this project. As the countdown to the upgrade and transfer moves to conclusion and as the forces arrives Max uses the same approach as was used in War Games to get the computer to work out what/who is the greatest risk to peace and eventually after a brainstorm the machine works out that it is the problem and shuts itself down. The adventurers who saved the world go off on a trip to Paris where Max is joined by Kamila and the NSA chief is off to appear before a Senate Intelligence Committee, although we know he claimed he had the approval of the President for what he was doing. In the final scene we discover that the taxi driver Yuri is in fact a Captain in he Russian security forces who is being rewarded for his recent services. Yuri comments that he is concerned that the Americans will attempt to start the machine up again but at least they had been helped to make the right decision for today. This suggests another film but the box office said differently

Saturday, 28 May 2011

State of Play

I have experienced the third film before, in theatre and through the original British Television series. State of Play is an expertly crafted political, media, thriller with a good end twist.

Russell Crowe is an excellent choice to play the award winning do it my way or not at all newspaper man of a major newspaper recently taken over by a media corporation who decides to investigate the death of man carrying a brief case in Washington DC who also shoots a Pizza delivery man who is a witness and left in a coma. This is a side show to the main event which occurs when a prominent crusading Congressman breaks down at an open hearing investigation into the activities of an international arms manufacturer and security firm. His research assistant appears to have committed suicide by falling under a train a Metro station platform. The media immediate correctly suggests that the married Congressman was having an affair with the assistant much too understandable shock horror of his wife. This is where Crowe has he conflict of interest because he roomed with Congressman at college and dated the wife before. It is the Congressman who first turns to Crow for help in providing a refuge after his wife refuses to talk to him and the media assemble outside the family home. The wife also approaches Crowe expressing the view hat she had made the wrong decision but Crow has become sufficiently worldly to recognise there is no going back.

Crowe has been required to work with a young female journalist who provides the online news service at the behest of the Editor played by Helen Mirren and who is torn between the commercial requirements of the new masters and the journalistic standards of inquiry and independence which brought her to the position she now holds. Over the course of the film Crowe and Rachel McAdams untangle what appears to be a major conspiracy by the Defence contractor Points Corp. It emerges that they financed the young research assistant to provide information on the work of the Congressman and the Committee. Moreover she was placed with the help of a senior member of the Political party of which Ben Affleck the crusading Congressman is a member. The affair between the two became serious and the girl decided not to go through with her role, particularly when she became pregnant although she had not disclosed this to Affleck sacred at his reaction when he found out the truth of how they came together. It is believed she was killed because she refused to assist further and those involved were afraid of what she would reveal in the new situation.

It also emerges that the Corporation has been winning almost all the $40 billion of new domestic defence contracts under the Government’s new policy of out sourcing security operations in the homeland. It has done this by a series of shell companies and bribery of politicians. However just before the story is about to be printed Crowe works out that the killer is someone arranged by Affleck who had suspected and then found out that the young woman was a spy. Understandably he is shattered when discovering that she was pregnant. The killer is an ex soldier who owed his life to Affleck while serving in the military. He nearly kills Affleck at the end of the film but is shot dead by the police after refusing to surrender. On the final moment of the film the story is printed under the name of the young female reporter with Crowe in effect her assistant. The two go off hand in hand suggesting a serious romance is in the offing. Affleck’s screen wife is played by Robin Wright Penn the now divorced wife of Sean Penn.

The Black Windmill

I have watched two other films over past couple of days staying up longer that I needed or wanted to do so. The first was the 1974 thriller (!) with Michael Caine called The Black Windmill. I have a family interest in Windmills and the work of Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings in this respect.

Michael Caine plays Michael Caine as an individualistic law unto himself MI6 operative working to uncover an international arms syndicate known to be providing terrorists with weapons in Northern Ireland. His contact is a woman who is believed to be associated with the head of the organization. Caine is required by his boss, played by Donald Pleasance, to attend a meeting of the intelligence committee at the county house home of the head of service Sir Edward Julyan to give a progress report on his mission. While there he is contacted by his wife from whom he is separated to say that their son is missing from school with another boy and she is has been contacted by someone who will wring back that afternoon and expressed a wish to have phone contact with him.

The film has commenced with the two boys flying a model plane given by Caine as a present. The location is an abandoned base when they are taken into custody by two men in RAF uniform. When the kidnapper contacts, under the name of Drable the presence of Caine’s immediate boss is requested and in the subsequent conversation the kidnapper shows knowledge of the acquisition of half a million pounds of uncut diamonds which is demanded as ransom for release of the son. This information known only to Pleasance and other members of the Intelligence committee indicates inside information and the service understandably suspects Caine, a major flaw in the story because in the film Caine only learns of the purchase of the diamonds when attending the meeting at which he is notified of the disappearance of his son.

He subsequently contacted and told to take the diamonds to Paris and wait at a café where he will be contacted. He is also contacted when Pleasance is present and although Caine is again told to take the diamonds to Paris the location is a different one. This does not make any difference because the head of service has already told Pleasance that the government will not allow the diamonds to be used in this way. Pleasance then appears to allow Caine to obtain the deposit key from his office during lunchtime and Caine imitates the voice of his boss to get the bank to give him access to the box at the bank. In the meantime Caine has been framed for the kidnapping with false passports and a photograph of the woman contact of her naked on the bed of his bachelor flat.

In Paris he is met by the same woman who demands that he hands over the diamonds and tells him that when he has done the boy will be released from the Black Windmill location in England. Caine manages to get the woman to return to where her boss is waiting but his plan to force the first release his son backfires literally. Earlier Pleasance, with Bond films in mind, is seen at the special weapons development centre with a leather brief case which contains a once firing weapon without affecting any contents. Caine takes one of these cases from the office of his boss to transport the diamonds to Paris and to force the kidnap boss to reveal his son but the plan is thwarted and the boss escapes leaving Caine unconscious and to wake up in the same room as the murdered female contact who has served her purpose. Pleasance goes to Paris with other British security and Police to bring Caine back to the UK but the vehicle is hijacked with an attempt made to kill Caine, who escapes, returns to the UK and makes contact with his wife meeting up at the Dominion Theatre in the Tottenham Court Road where he arranges for her to try and locate the whereabouts of the Black Windmill, hence the visit to the offices of SPAB. Having done this, Caine contacts all the members of the Intelligence Committee, pretending to be Drable, announcing that he has escaped and on his way to the Windmill. Caine lies in wait and finds that the traitor is the head of the service who is retiring on official pension and with a wife with expensive tastes, cooked up the kidnap plot to add to his retirement fund. Caine rescues his son and make his way to wife with whom he has become reconciled. His wife is played by the actor Janet Suzman. As with several Caine films of this era it never rises above that of a B picture.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Copying Beethoven

Last night, 25th May 2011, I watched a film about the last years of the life of Ludvig van Beethoven centering on the completion and performance of the 9th Symphony and his writing of the Grosse Fugue. I was reminded once more of the occasion of first hearing a live performance during my first and only season of attending promenade concerts at the Royal Albert Hall with a half season ticket.

I was reminded that whenever I heard The Symphony No 9 in D minor, Op 125 "Choral" (1824) my soul revels in an ecstasy of emotion and memory at the wonder of my own experiences and at the capacity of talented and inspired human beings to create for the enjoyment and betterment of everyone and anyone willing to listen.

I went to my collection to CD’s and was shocked to find that I do not posses a copy and I was immediately too lazy to transfer the record player console from next door to this room, or sit next door listening. Fortunately I live in this increasingly wondrous but also horrific technological era when it is possible within seconds to conjure a full version of the Symphony via the Internet. In this instance a Live Performance on 17th May 1956 with Otto Klemperer conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The sound reproduction via the internet speakers of this 50 year old recording was not good but nevertheless brought back my reactions to the film and previous listening.

Afterwards I decided that it was stupid to keep the present location of the audio player next door because I rarely, if ever, go just to listen so the next task was reorganise which involved a dusting and move the player to the small table behind me placed against a middle wall of the building so what while the sound will fill this room it will have less of an impact on neighbours. I have a pair of large Sony speakers which have to be attached by wire to the back of the unit with patient skill but once connected they produce a rich deep enveloping sound which underlines the limitations of the Internet and TV reproductions. I am listening to the 5th Symphony - bon bon bon, and the sixth, known as the Pastoral. I did find my copy of the 9th but the crackle was such to confirm that I do need one of those Internet connect units which removes the surface noise. I have the noble intention of converting all my video film, tape recordings to the CD and DVD as part of the artwork project, as well as reading all the books and then making written notes. At present I lack the physical strength and the will to complete all the tasks I have set myself as well as continue to experience “new” experience, but listening to the great Master composer I am fired with the fresh determination.

This was also the basic theme of the fictitious films called Copying Beethoven, and MGM 2006 production with Ed Harris giving an excellent performance of the aggressively deaf Beethoven and Diane Kruger as the female composer who persuades her father to allow her to go on her own to Vienna to study at the conservatoire and live at a local convent. She is a fictional character and the convent aspect is a gesture to the reality of the times 1824 1827 when apart from courtesans and the proletariat an educated middle/upper class woman would not be allowed to travel unaccompanied. The other concession to modernity is that she has a boyfriend and although kiss is a chaste one this again would not have been permitted.

The purpose of this fictional character is to expose the temperamental genius of the Maestro who was totally deaf and could not hear the music he was creating and communicated mainly by notepads. And the theme? The nature of creative genius and the inspiration which the young woman experiences by undertake work for Beethoven and which at one point he declares “you want to me.”

In the film story the young woman knows/studies/is related to the man who acts as copyist and assistant to Beethoven who because of illness asks her to step in for a session and she grasps the opportunity and sticks with the position despite the dust and chaos in which he lives, including rats. He is attracted, in a nice way, to her individuality recognising a fellow spirit whose creative abilities need to be unlocked from the conventional upbringings of the day.

In the build up to the completion of the ninth Symphony there are two sub stories. The first is the relationship between Beethoven and a nephew who has gambling debts and comes to Beethoven for financial help. Beethoven adores the young man and wants him to become a concert pianist but the young man knows he has no talent and wants to become an officer in the military. The second story is that of the relationship between the young copyist and her engineer boyfriend who has designed a bridge for a competitive selection contest. The bridge is a great disappointment to the girl who pretends otherwise but Beethoven who attends smashes the work with his stick because it has no soul, something when pressed the young woman agrees. The boyfriend issues an ultimatum that she must have no contact with Beethoven or lose him and she chooses Beethoven because in her the creative drive dominates all others.


The highlight of the film is the first performance of the Symphony where the Director has skillfully fused the opening of the work with opening of the choral fourth movement. Beethoven officially conducted but in reality the Orchestra was required to follow the directions of another, in a less conspicuous location and ignore those of Beethoven. He had male assistants on the platform giving him the tempo so he could attempt to synchronies his hand movements with the orchestral sounds. In the film the young woman is placed among the musicians enabling him to give a perfect rendering. Her boyfriend is in the audience and responds to the situation with a mixture of admiration and jealousy. Also in the audience is the nephew who is emotionally affected and appears to be remorseful for his recent behaviour.

What is authentic is that the Viennese high society was ecstatic in their appreciation of the new work. In fact the response of the audience was such as to cause concern because it exceeded what was permitted by the conventions of the day.

This reminds of the different reactions in the USA and the UK to when Tony Blair was invited to address the joint House of the State and President Obama’s address to the joint Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. His speech to Congress as with the Presidential State of the Union speech there are prolonged applause interruptions, up to a score of occasions. The addresses at Westminster Hall, the previous being Nelson Mandela, The Pope and Her Majesty the Queen are greeted in respectful silence with prolonged applause at the end. Yesterday there was one unscheduled interruption when he referred to the own background and becoming the President. Whether he had intended or not at the end of the speech instead of quickly departing he moved into the long hall and made a slow walk shaking the hands with as many people as he could including a surprised and joyous Nicholas Soames, the grandson to Winston Churchill to whom the President referred in his speech several times. I will comment more on the speech and the visit later.

Returning to the film there were two other aspects worth recording. The first is the reaction of Beethoven to the first musical composition presented by the young woman which ridicules. He makes amends later by commenting favourably having made generalizations about the death of female composers who have made it in the past an observations which remains valid, although this has as much to do with the musical establishment and with any lack of abilities.

This brings me to the other subject of the film, we mostly if not all, end our lives in a sense of failure, and in his instance the Grosse Fuge, the Grand Fuge, which was one the last works he created as a single work for a string quartet without a break for individual movements and is a combination of “dissonance and contrapuntal complexity.” In the film the audience walks out to a man and woman leaving him alone with the young woman who also admits she also does not understand the music. Ivor Stravinsky declared the work an absolute contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary for ever. Along with the Ninth considered by many to be one of the greatest symphonic works of all time, the Fuge is regarded as one of his greatest works, and as with all genius the work is often so ahead of its time to be unappreciated and even ridiculed in the day. I followed the Symphonies with a recording of the sound track of the film about the life if Jacqueline Du Pres which ends with a full performance of the Elgar Concerto in E Minor for Cello and Orchestra and which ended just in time for the commencement of the third day’s play at Edgbaston only to find the start was delayed because of rain.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Iron Man 2

For a break I watched Iron Man 2. As with Superman and Spider man, Iron Man the superhero has adversaries who prove challenging rivals and as with other in the genre the superhero suddenly finds his powers lost, taken or in abeyance and loses confidence and self respect. In this instance Iron Man was told that each time he used the power generation within his body he was slowly killing himself. Because there is no alternative source of energy he makes plans to hand over his technology to the Government and his company to his faithful assistant while he gets drunk and awaits his fate.

In this instance there are two adversaries, the alternative super villain and an alternative arms manufacturer with political ambitions. The arms manufacturer does a deal with the government to provide robotic soldiers wearing iron man type suits however they are programmed and armed in such a way to enable the super villain to take control. He has assumed that Iron Man was out of action or inferior in abilities to his creations. In the meantime Iron man is approached by the super organisation headed by Samuel L Jackson who provides him with a video which demonstrates that Iron Man’s father cared about his son and believed that he would find a way to solve the problem of the defective power source and defend the world against all comers. Of course he does this in full firework finale.

Robert Downey Junior plays Iron Man. Gwyneth Paltrow who is his assistant and who he makes company CEO and where the relationship became romantic at the very end- wow who would have guessed that. Scarlett Johansson plays a superwoman who works for Samuel Jackson but who is placed with Iron Man and his assistant to assess his potential for further work. Mickey Rourke plays the super villain and Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle are other members of the all star cast. Great fun for early Saturday evening and immediately forgettable.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Soldiers and Saints

The other film which impressed me greatly was Saints and Soldiers and which begins with three soldiers escaping from the Malmedy Massacre where dropped USA parachutists were captured and then shot. They are joined by a fourth, an English pilot whose plane was shot down before he could return to base and report the disposition of the as yet undetected German advance. He persuades the three others to help in breaking through the German advance to warn the allies of the situation. The basic plot story provides the opportunity to explore aspects of the nature of combat for those involved on both sides. The key member of the quartet used to be a missionary working in Berlin which he says was the happiest time in his life. He speaks German and becomes essential in getting the group through the Germany lines. He is in an emotional state with hallucinations because returning fire he had entered what he believed was a building used by the enemy only to find that he had killed two women and six children. He is protected by the Sergeant and the third USA soldier who is a member of the medical corps. He is also helped by the kindness of a Belgium French speaking woman and her daughter who provides temporary shelter and food and who he then rescues from being raped by two German soldiers, one is killed and the other runs off.

Before this incident the English Pilot had set off in the freezing weather conditions to make an immediate attempt to reach allied lines while the others remained in the shelter overnight knowing that he faced certain death because of the cold. Fortunately he encounters the escaping German soldier who turns out to be the son of a household with whom he stayed when a missionary. Deacon allows the German soldier to leave in exchange for information how to get through to the allies and the location of a Jeep being used by the Germans with the bonnet covered in a German flag to protect it from friendly fire. Later the soldier does not give them away when they are going through a German encampment.

Because they forget to remove the German Flag they are nearly blown up by the allies but two of them are successful, the British Airman and the Medical corps soldier so the information is handed over. Deacon carried with a small book which we are never told what it is but the suggestion it is a Bible. Later after Deacon has sacrificed his life to help the others reach the allies, the man in the medical corps who has expressed a lack of belief in anything after death takes the book and seeing a wounded German officer in captivity provides the man with first aid. The Sergeant also dies in the service of the greater good. We also learn that Deacon originated from Snowflake a town founded and populated by those of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. This low budget film around $.75 million was made by a LDS company. The film was given a restricted rating because having established a relationship with each of the four characters two die a violent death which young people would find upsetting.

The need for reconciliation was the basis of the historical state visit on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Eire during four days of this week. It is said that Queen Elizabeth has wanted to make such a symbolic visit during her lifetime and asked about doing so soon after the Good Friday agreement was signed a decade and a half ago. However the conditions for making such a visit in safety were not established until recently when it was agreed that the devolved joint Northern Ireland government should take control of policing and Catholic were recruited to the police in numbers for the first time. There were a number of an important visual statements of reconciliations with on the first day the Queen visiting the memorial Garden in Dublin created for those who died in the fight to obtain independence from the British Crown. She also made a visit to the famous Croke Park Stadium built where the first Bloody Sunday massacre of 19 civilians by British forces took place 91 years ago. This had become a stadium for Gaelic Sports. Although the major stadium in Eire International sports such as football and rugby were not played there by British Teams until recently because of the issue of the British National Anthem, The anthem was played several times during the State visit.

The private lunch on the first day was attended by David Trimble one the architects of the Peace agreement on behalf of the Unionists. Sinn Fein declined an invitation but their leader Gerry Adams now a Member of the Irish Parliament who had argued that the time was not yet right for the visit appeared more conciliatory as the visit progressed, Certainly he would not have expected the extent to her majesty alluded to the past at the State dinner held on the second evening.

She commenced her speech with a greeting in Gaelic and expressed recognition of the sad and regrettable reality “ that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss. These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the Benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all”.

In response the President of Ireland said she was proud of Ireland’s difficult journey to national sovereignty and a republic which asserted religious and civil liberty. She was particularly proud of her Island’s peacemakers who having experienced first hand the appalling toxic harvest of failing to resolve old hatreds and political differences, rejected the perennial culture of conflict and compromised enough to let a new future in.”

There was a small demonstration outside the location of the dinner as there were at other places visited, kept away from the President and her guests. The streets of journeys were kept clear of vehicles and pedestrians, The visit was not one I anticipated happening during my lifetime

La Tempesta

It was a beautiful morning yesterday with the sun glistening on the sea since the dawn. I had a swim after an absence of two days and eat a hearty breakfast. It was a struggle to complete the 50 lengths. On the homeward journey I considered abandoning the plan for the day to make the most of the weather. However I was uncertain if my right big toe is just badly bruised or has a break as it is still painful if knocked which I continue to do several times a day whether I wear shoes or not.

Having worked hard and well so far this week I decided to continue the good work and returned home for the breakfast of a prepared cooked platter of bacon sausages beans, egg and tiny potato cubes, followed be a bowl of cereal and coffee. I then became tired and dozed in front of the telly with the second season second episode of Sopranos and the latest episode of Blue Bloods. In the queue are two episodes of Game of Thrones plus reading and the third episode of the lurid episode of Spartacus. Films still to write about are Tempesta and Saints and Soldiers. There was a biting wind cold day at cricket on Sunday followed by keep abreast with the score of the one day game against Scotland on Monday via the ESPN cricket live site, which has been used over the past two days for the championship game at Worcester.

The major event of the week has been the first visit of a British reigning Monarch to Eire since independence was bitterly fought one just under 100 years ago. The executive head of the International Monetary Fund has been forced to resign after being charged with attempted rape and other charges while visiting New York. There is mounting pressure on a leading Liberal Democrat Member Chris Hulne of the British Cabinet where there appears to be an accusation that he evaded a potential driving ban many tears ago before be became a Member of Parliament. The Justice Minister Ken Clark, cricket lover and whisky drinker also got into hot water by suggesting that there is need to approach the juridical proceedings involving rape in a new way in order to raise the percentage of convictions.

Having reached 10000 completed sets I decided I needed to make better progress by converting existing material most records into sets with the easiest and quickest material that is content confidential and with the files already available in a cabinet I have made good progress with child care issues, completing 90 sets over four days. I will continue to make 20 to 30 sets over the next couple of weeks until all the records have been transferred. From previous experience I will take a short break but then continue.

I also decided it was time to continue with the reorganisation and recording of the location of the work commencing with the second floor and the smallest of the three rooms where I commenced the task last year.

I took a couple of hours on Monday to get prepared and found that I am unable to use my main lap top with wireless. Decided not to waste time sorting this out and am using the other which I sorted the previous week. I can listen to BBC radio cricket with the screen showing the full scoreboard while I use the other lap to record the locations. I had hoped to also undertake printing using the second Brother DCP 125 but it requires a service as paper jam warning continues although appears clear of paper. I will decide on my next venture upstairs if I will take up my other printer which is full works larger and where I am yet to find inexpensive cartridges.

I enjoyed seeing the Italian made film Tempesta again. An America art appraiser, Patrick Donovan arrives in Venice to evaluate three paintings at the historic Galleries deli Academia. The part is played by Scot Williams. This aspect of the film is interesting because of the insight into the present technology available to establish the validity of paintings. He appraises two and finds them genuine but shortly before he is to begin work on Tempesta, the Giorgione Painting it is stolen with the Gallery Director attacked. Before this Patrick has met the adopted daughter of the Gallery Chiara who he appears to connect with given her work as an art restorer and physical attractiveness. His USA Insurers ask him to say on in Venice to and try and locate the painting offering to in effect pay a ransom for its return before the official company representative arrives to deal with the insurance claim.

Against the back cloth of the sights of Venice at Carnival time Patrick finds a very dark world of which he appears amazingly innocent. He finds that Chiara works for a remarkable forger and dealer for some of the most famous paintings in the world (played by Malcolm McDowell). He eventually discoverers a secret art gallery below the man’s work place which contained the most important paintings in the world with his clever forgeries in their place in the galleries throughout the world. The man is killed stabbed through one of eye with a stiletto during Carnival. Chiara is also discovered to having had a sexual relationship with the man and with her adopted father. He also meets a well known private collector who asks him to privately appraise a couple of works one of which is a fake and sold to him by McDowell. He eventually finds both the stolen picture which was a fake to avoid detection before the insurance valuation and the original which is returned to the gallery to. He keeps a record of his investigation on a hand held recorder which contributes to his downfall, He finds that the assassin is Chiara who shoots him dumping us body in the a canal, one more unsolved murder in the city. The film has its charm, the momentary realization of loss of innocence before the young man is murdered. There is no happy ending for him.
The film reminded of the Thomas Crown Affair which was coincidentally being shown, until I realised that it was the Pierce Brosnan 1999 version which centred on the stealing of a major art work the San Giorgio Maggiore at dusk by Monet valued at $100 million and not 1968 version with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway which I prefer because of the glorious iconic scenes, the meal at the unbuilt beach house, the rowing on the river and the overall adult sophistication, but which involves bank robbery rather than art theft.

Blood and Orchids

It is going to become another beautiful morning here on the North East coast of England at South Shields on my hill overlooking the mouth of the river Tyne at 6.45 am Friday 20th May 2011, and I have reached the point, some 75 minutes after waking to the alarm, when I am ready for breakfast and engaging my brain in a prolonged period of applied thinking and writing.

I return to my desk for a couple of minutes while a Manx kipper cooks in the microwave. I prefer the prepare kipper in a microwaveable bag which avoids the necessity of the cleaning the microwave but today I cook eat and wash up, resisting my natural inclination to laziness and switching off the grey cells, and begin to write

The more expensive version of the kipper with head and bones included also avoids the excessive colouring of the prepared varieties but I suspect the quantity of preservatives and additives is the same. We all like things to be dressed up to please us and protect us from the uncomfortable. Take rape for example.

The Justice Minister, the affable Kenneth Clark, cricket lover and whisky drinker has been telling it as it is resulting the official opposition calling for his resignation together with sections of the mass media. He was then forced to make a public apology even though what he said in the first place was true and his purpose was to bring greater justice to women who have been raped and reported the matter to the police. Mr Clark was forced to apologise albeit for the reaction orchestrated by others because of understandable male guilt and female frustration.

Men force themselves on women, including girls and children and on other men, boys and children who they do not know, as part of blood conflicts, tribal warring, sexual frustration, male importance and impotence, mental disturbance and uncomplicated lust. For centuries these horrific acts of violence on the part of one human being against another went unpunished, considered the spoils of warfare and rights of passage, and frequently if reported to the authorities the victim was made to feel responsible because of their social position, the colour of their skin, what they wore or did not wear.

Knowing the reality of predatory sexuality, Muslims organise their lives by doing all they can to protect the females closest to them by insisting their bodies are fully covered when in the presence of other males. Such measures are frequently condemned by the mass media which turned on the Minister while displaying images of scantily dressed women on other pages. I have sympathy for those who argue that teenage girls wearing micro skirts which reveal the wearing of thongs because of their shortness or bare midriffs, and with bra showing tops with open cleavages, are taking avoidable risks in public, but I also sympathise with the young women who want to express their sense of growing independence, individuality and personal freedom without unsolicited attention. I remain a believer in freedom to as well as freedom from.

The problem, Kenneth Clark, and the government was seeking to, is that less that ten percent of reported rapes result in a conviction leading to imprisonment because of the legal difficulties of proving the offence in situations where there has been consent in the relationship short of vaginal or anal penetration. Mr Clark and the government were raising the possibility of a plea bargain for a reduced sentence upon admission in court saving the victim the ordeal of a court appearance and consequential publicity, the expenses of a contested trial and an overall improvement in conviction rates. He was not suggesting that rape in any form was not a serious offence or that the victim did not suffer for the rest of their lives. For most victims of most crimes the consequences are life long and often life changing for the worse.

I have been in the same position as Ken Clark. I once was asked about a matter and replied accurately but this was interpreted as an attack on the questioner and their ability to make a political point. In fact they were making a personal attack which I was able to contest and demonstrate the lack of validity in what was being said. However the matter was pressed and I provided a report which explained why what I had said was accurate but in introducing the matter apologised to the individual and others who a had joined in the attack by saying I was not questioning their right to raise and press the matter and apologised if I had given that impression which was sufficient to placate and lance the momentum that was building for my blood.

The minefield of the subject was also demonstrated in a recent two part made for television film very loosely based made on a true event in 1930’s Hawaii. I saw the first part of Blood and Orchids a couple of week’s back and could not immediately find the concluding part until this week when I recorded a late night showing of the film which had a good cast with Kris Kristofferson, Jane Alexander, Madeleine Stowe and Jose Ferrer.

The film is set in what is now the USA state of Hawaii but was then a fictional private fiefdom of one family holding absolute power over the government and institutions, treating the indigenous population with contempt as has always been the situation in the reality when entrepreneurs and their armies taker over a country with available space and other forms of natural wealth. The married daughter of the matriarch leaves a country club social event for an assignation with her lover, the best friend of her husband who serves together as naval officer. He is horrified when after they have had sex she tells him she is pregnant and that this means the matter can be brought into the open and they can be together. He beats up the woman and she is left for dead.

Unfortunately for them four local youths who haven out drinking come across the body and seeing that she is alive one insists they take her to hospital where they leave before being questioned. Under pressure from her mother the woman alleges that she was raped by the four Hawaiian youths who are arrested and charged with rape and attempted murder. The daughter also agrees to an abortion performed by a local doctor under the supervision of the white consultant covering up that in fact the child was three months alive and not the consequence of the rape. Worse is to follow because the husband kills the young man who persuaded his friends to take the woman to the hospital during an open court session and then several of his ship mates try to torture the remaining three young men into confessions when they are release during the period of mistrial and the decision to first hold the trial of the husband where the matriarch employs one the best mainland lawyers, played by Jose Ferrer, to defend the murderer of an innocent man.

The willingness of the system with public support in Hawaii and the United States from the white supremacy is underlined in two ways. There is an Island Princess who is now living in seclusion away from the main island who is persuaded by a young local lawyer appointed by the court as his first case to give help to free the men unjustly and conspiratorially accused. The attorney begins a relationship with the sister of the main accused who is then murdered for pressing his innocence. She, her family, the three other young men have become the real victims of the alleged rape and will be adversely affected for the rest of their lives.

The greater part of the film is devoted to the local policeman assigned to bring the four young men to justice realising that they are being set up and his attempts to expose the conspiracy of individuals and the system Eventually he is able to do so because the adulterous women breaks down at the trial of her husband and blurts out that the four young men are not guilty and that her husband killed an innocent man. Eventually he gets the proof when the consultant and the doctor who performed the abortion admit that the child was three months of age within the womb. The officer’s best friend is arrested. His shipmates are arrested. The husband has to live with the knowledge that he murdered an innocent man and that his wife and best friend betrayed him and his wife then commits suicide. The matriarch is to be prosecuted for her part in the conspiracy and has to live with finding the body of her daughter, that she engineered the killing of her only grand child and that her actions led to the beginning of he end of white supremacy on the Island (I wish). The nice policeman has a holiday romance with the wife of the defence attorney to add to the impression that this is story of romance, passion and honour gone wrong.

The film is very loosely based on real events and in several respects is a travesty of truth and justice and which in turn underlines the often complexity of rape cases to which Kenneth Clarke alluded.

The actual case did involve the wife of a naval officer in 1932. The woman’s mother was Grace Hubbard Fortescue the grand daughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard the first President of the National Geographical Society. She had married Major Granville Fortescue one of the sons of Robert Barnwell Roosevelt and although not a wealthy family she and her daughter Thalia lived an upper class lifestyle.

Thalia married a naval Lieutenant, Thomas Masie who was stationed at Pearl Harbour and because of the way she had been raised Thalia considered herself superior to the other officer wives and kept herself apart and was generally disliked by them as a consequence. The marriage was not successful and there were public fights as well as heavy drinking. On September 12th 1931 the couple attended an event at a nightclub in Waikiki and during the evening Mrs Massie got into an argument with another officer, slapping his face and walking out of the club. Her husband not seeing the incident assumed she had became tired and had gone home.

When Lieutenant Massie contacted home to check his wife had arrived safely he found she was in a state so he returned and she said she had been raped by several Hawaiian men. What later emerged is that she had been found by the roadside by a Mrs Bellinger at 1 am who had wanted to take her to hospital but Thalia insisted she should be taken to her home. She also did not want the husband to involve the police but her had insisted on this allegedly after finding that his wife’s jaw was broken. At first she said it was too dark to identify any of the men or their car.

Horace Ida had been d riving the car of his sister that night with Joseph Kawakawa a well known local prize fighter and three others. Their vehicle was nearly hit by that driven by a couple, Mr and Mrs Peebles, and following an argument Joseph hit the woman in the face. She reported what happened to the police giving a time and location which made it unlikely to impossible these young men could have been involved in the alleged rape of Thalia.

So when the police arrested him Joseph thought it was for the incident and was shocked to be charged with the rape. The previous incident was not mentioned. It subsequently became evident that some of the police involved that because a black man had hit a white woman they should charge with the greater offence of rape and Thalia was coached by the police with the descriptions and an almost accurate car number plate

Rear Admiral Yates Stirling Commandant of the US Navy District is recorded as saying that he was minded to collect several naval men, hunt down the gang and string them up, while a newspaper described Thalia as a white woman of refinement and culture reminding of the judge when referring to the wife of an international writer and deputy chairman of the Tory Party when he was accused of perjury or the judge in the High Court case in which I was involved who initially mistook me for the plaintiff because I was in court wearing a suit collar and tie and he was not and changed his manner accordingly.

It became evident that given the location of the altercation it was difficult or impossible for the vehicle to have been in the part of the island where the alleged rape took place and that there were witnesses who saw Thalia being followed by a white man as she left the night club and that the policed had planted information with these matter not being mention in court. The police were in fact divided and the speculation grew some of which appeared in the local media ranging from the Thalia having had a relationship with one of the five to the allegation that she was having an affair with one of her husband’s shipmates and he had returned home to find them together and her beat her up.

It was only at this point that Thalia’s mother Grace Fortescue arrived on the island and commenced to organise the defence of her daughter’s good name. Admiral Stirling became anxious about the situation reaching the mainland media to reveal his lack of control as racial tension on the island mounted. Every effort was made to keep the story off the mainland and in court after three weeks the jury could not reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared.
It was at this point that the matriarch talked her son in law into kidnapping Joseph , who happened to be the darkest skinned of the defendants, and with the help of two others the man was tortured and then shot and his body dumped. Fortunately the kidnapping was reported and a police stopped the car in which Grace, Thomas and the two others were travelling because the blinds were drawn and all four were arrested and the charged with murder.

The story reached the mainland and given white supremacy throughout most of the United States at the time, the emphasis was on the lawlessness of the natives despite the admissions that the white four had collectively kidnapped, tortured and murdered

Clarence Darrow, the most famous attorney of the day dropped his current case to travel Hawaii to defend the four for a then princely sum of $40000. He was socially connected to the Fortescues and the Roosevelts. In revealing the true sign of the times although Thalia became angry in court and stormed out when shown to be the nasty lying woman she was, the rest of the white filled court room is said to have erupted in applause. Instead of murder the juryt returned a verdict of manslaughter fuelling the anger among the white supremacists that the four had not been acquitted and among the suppressed people at the continuing perversion of justice. Worse was to follow as the 10 year sentence was commuted to one hour served in in the office of the Governor and the four left the island. Thalia and her husband divorced in 1934 and she committed suicide in 1963. Grace died in 1979, the husband in 1987 after the CBS TV production was released. Charges against the four remaining defendants to the rape charge were also dropped.

The film is therefore yet another injustice upon the original injustice because it ignored the police involvement in the framing and persecution of the Hawaiians and the extent of white supremacist extremism that was extensively widespread in USA society and which remains but less so to this day.

The Hawaiian Convention centre in Waikiki was built on the site of the night club. In 2006 the American Bar Association met there and among the events of the events they held a rerun of the trial of the alleged rapists and found them not guilty, mainly because there was no way they could have been at the two places within the times given.

This only serves to emphasises how understandably emotive the subject of rape has always been, that the law itself had always been involved in manipulations and at times perversion of justice and injustice. I was conceived as the consequence of an effective rape of my mother by a Catholic priest so I know what I am talking about.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

An Education

Two years ago when in London I debated going to see An Education but after seeing the Hurt Locker so affected by the film that I could not cope with another cinematic experience on the same day. It is just as well because the film liked by many critics at the time and nominated for three Academy awards including best film and best actress proved a big disappointment when shown on BBC 2 on Friday evening. Some five minutes of cuts were made to fit into a time slot before the 9 pm watershed (from 8.30 to 10pm). The film was a financial success grossing three times its budget, possibly because the media emphasised that this was a film about a come of age story of a 16 year school old girl, a few weeks before her 17th birthday.

My problem is that there was nothing original about the story or the form of expression although it did possess authenticity and overall credibility. The film is based on an autobiographical story published in the Cambridge University magazine Granta by British Journalist Lynn Barber who then wrote her book as the film was in the process of completion.

The girlhood is set in Ealing West London, an area which I came to know well during three years of working there for the local authority. She portrays her family as lower middle class although not boringly so with the splendid Alfred Molina as her determined but gullible father who one suspect would have preferred a boy in a single child couple family. Mother longs to break out from the rigidity and limitations of the relationship but her husband keeps her firmly in his box. As a young man I knew at least three young women from immediate memory in families such as these, who lacked parents with the education and social environment to have equipped their daughter to have avoided some of the pitfall experiences which fortunately Lynn manages to avoid the potentially most damaging aspects such as being locked as gangster’s moll or pregnant before her 18th birthday and perhaps worse of all missing out on an Oxford college Education.

She is picked up at the bus stop in torrential rain after attending a youth orchestra rehearsal by a man a decade older who she subsequently finds is a con man, thief, married with a child and whose basic income comes from Peter Rachman rented housing activities of which I had some first hand knowledge in advising Frank Allaun of a situation in Birmingham which he mentioned in the House of Commons in the Twilight Housing debate and which nearly led to be being asked to leave the Child Care course at Birmingham University in 1963.

He is clever introducing her into new and exciting situations social while persuading her parents to first agree to a late meal returning her home before midnight, to a weekend in Oxford and then a 17th birthday present of a trip to Paris.

When they first meet she is studying hard to gain a scholarship place Oxford which in those day required Latin and sitting a special exam usually taken after exceptional A level marks. She is the pride and joy of the English teacher who tries to warn her against the life she is beginning to lead as does the head teacher. She agrees to be seduced on her 17th birthday and eventually leaves school after accepting an engagement ring. It is only then she finds out he is married with a child and sees his wife and learns she is one in a long line although fortunately not one who has got pregnant.

Realising she was wasting a great opportunity she studies with the help of her English teacher and gains a place at Oxford where the film gives she impression she has met a nice young man who plans to take her Paris a place she would like to go to. This suggest she had an intense enjoyable period of experience before settling into normalcy, This is a betrayal of the truth of character and reality of an intentional attempt to mislead and misrepresent, This cane after what I thoughts was one of the best points in the films when she turns on her parents criticises them for failing to prevent her from making the mistakes having previously shown a wilful determination to have her own way and collude in various deceptions.

The true story is that as with many young women with broken hearts and early sexual experience she used her “maturity” to have a wild time on arrival in Oxford and subsequently admitted on Desert Island discs that she had sex with 50 men over two of her terms at the university. One of her university relationships was with Howard Marks hen at Balliol who later served a seven year prison term in the USA for drug offences. She worked for the soft porn magazine Penthouse also for seven years 1967 to 1974 before starting a family after which she achieved success writing for several national newspapers, winning several press awards and publishing several books. She became a widow in 2003.

I was impressed with the performance of Cary Mulligan as Jenny, the school girl because of its authenticity which struck chords with more than one young woman I knew during my time at Oxford and then subsequently. It is worth mentioning that she was 23/24 when she played the 16/18 year old. She received a BAFTA for the role.


It was then I came across a film gem which I had previously missed. Shrink with Kevin Spacey in the title role as Dr Henry Carter, a celebrity himself because his work with Hollywood: actors, Directors and Studio bosses. He is at the edge of a precipice because his wife had committed suicide which he had no inkling was going to happen. When the film opens his confidant is the man (Jesus played Jesse Plemons) who provides a continuous supply of marijuana in various strengths and flavours. At one point both try the latest available to the market and nearly die as this produced is laced with some poison.

Dr Carter has a young friend where his wife was the god mother and he is one of several family and friends who confronts Carter about his increasingly self destructive ands unpredictable behaviour suggesting he should enter a therapy clinic. This Carter rejects.

As is the custom for all analytical psychiatrists he already has a counsellor with whom he shares his concerns as well as his father, also a psychiatrist Robert Carter. I cannot remember if it is the father or the counsellor who suggests that Kevin should take on a pro bono patient, a black high school girl whose mother has committed suicide who has started to cut classes and to self harm, smashing a fist into a mirror because should could not look at herself. She resists all of Kevin’s efforts to communicate with her until he goes to pieces on TV, mentioning the suicide of his wife and tells people not buy or trust his self help book.

There is an interaction between the girl Jemma (Keke Palmer) and the Godson Jeremy, a script writer, who encounters one of Carter’s other patients, Patrick, who I still believe is a commissioner of films, if not a studio boss, and not just a talent scout as suggested by Wikipedia. He has the big office, a personal assistant and others in studio team treat his statements as magisterial rulings. The personal assistant is another important and connecting character.

Jeremy takes at his word Patrick’s suggestion of sending his script into the office. Jeremy decides to hand the manuscript personally and gives it to the personal assistant who reads and tells him that the studio is already making a film with a similar theme although his script is much better. She invites Jeremy to a party and although heavily pregnant the two appear to beginning a relationship.

Jeremy also learns about the pro bono patient and manages to see the personal file and then a record shop where follows the girl who again skips school and goes to the pictures and then into a record shop where he makes contact and establishes a relationship. He then rite a new film script about the girl which he gives to personal assistant who presses the film mogul to read. It appears that he has not done so and drops the documents in the street just as he is entering the office of Dr Carter as Jemma leaves, picks it up and reads and is horrified at the betrayal of Dr Carter and Jeremy.

However Patrick has read the script and is impressed and convenes a meeting with Jemma and with Dr Carter and Jeremy without telling the latter why until assembled in his office. However these bare facts only begin to tell the tale. Jemma has always found escape from the realities of life by going to the cinema and fixing cinema tickets to her ceiling, she always wanted to be involved in films. In one of the last scenes she is seen in the hills by the Hollywood sign throwing the cinema tickets to the wind accompanied by Jeremy.

Patrick is a high powered neurotic character with a high anxiety about everything from germs to Armageddon who relies on his personal assistant. She is a surrogate mother for her sister and also wants to be a film producer. Patrick fires her saying that after the bird he will employ her as a producer.

Two films stars are also patients with aging actress struggling to keep her career and her relationship. The final scene, I think, is where Dr Carter calls her home after she the partner has left home to say that he has given up the drugs and will not see her again, as a patient!

There is one other character in the film, Robin Williams who plays a famous Hollywood director with a history of tabloid involvements who has become faithful to his wife but has also become an alcoholic which he is unable to admit. He seeks permission from the psychiatrist to be unfaithful again as he believes he has become as sex addict. However when gets the opportunity as a young starlet offers herself to him, he declines commenting that she is only a few years older than his daughter. The film has great wit and is full of one line valid insights into the world of physician heal thyself.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Ice Age 1 2 and 3

And now for some things very different. I cannot remember if I have seen one of the Ice Age movies from start to finish in one sitting, but since they had been shown on television I had seen the most if not all the three films todate at various sittings. The overall theme is that of a buddie movie of very different and unlikely characters. Each film covers the adventures of Scrat a sabre-toothed squirrel and his struggle to find and keep prized acorns. In the first film Scat has various adventures trying to find somewhere to bury and hide an acorn, including an incident which starts an avalanche which he tries to flee from, is struck by lightening so that the acord becomes a kernel of pop corn. He is frozen into an ice cube which on reaching a tropical island thaws but the acorn is washed out to sea. He then thinks coconut is a giant acorn which he tries to bury causing a volcanic eruption.

In the third film of the series Scrat has a romantic liaison with a female called Scattie and which causes various conflicts of interest giving up opportunities to have an acorn rather than lose his beloved. However as the film ends the two fight for possession and in the final scene he escapes to the surface leaving Scattie trapped underground only to then lose the acorn to her.

The main characters are all pre historic creatures with Manfred, a wholly Mammoth, and he appears in all three films, believing he is the last creature of his size in existence until he meets Elle, a female Mammoth voiced by Queen Laifah in the second film Ice Age: the Melt Down. When an infant she was separated from her parents and the herd and comes across two opossums named Crash and Eddie, along with their mother. She forgets her origins and thinks she is also an opossum which includes sleeping upside down by their tails. During the meltdown they come across the herd which Elle having adjusted to being a Mammoth needs to rejoin while Manfred remain loyal to the rest of the gang, until reminded as what is important by the others and goes off to join Elle, but they both return deciding that they do not want to eave the gang. In the third Ice Age: Age of the Dinosaurs, Elle is left behind at one point in a precarious position and when they return they find that she has given birth to their daughter who is called Peaches!

It is only in the second film that we meet Crash and Eddie twin opossums whose mother saved Elle and the three are raised as siblings which raises conflicts of loyalty when Elle is found by Manfred and two pair off. They are competitive and playful rascals who have a love hate relationship with Sid, a giant ground sloth shown in all three films as one of the main characters. He is clumsy, and fast-talking and longs to be loved. He also develops the ability to create fire which proves useful

Diego is a sabre Toothed tiger who is the joint leader of the gang who makes sarcastic comments without being malicious and by the third film begins to worry that he is losing his predatory abilities and considered staying in the underground world of the dinosaurs. There are other characters who appear in one of the films or who have roles outside the group.

In the first Ice age a human child is found with his mother who dies pleading with Manny to save her child. Diego’s role is duplicitous at first leading into an ambush but later helps them to overcome and kill the leader of the sabre toothed tigers and they are then able go off in search of a warmer environment.

In the second film the plot is described in the title as the gang have to escape the melting down of the ice. The new character is a Fast Tony a con artist spiv with the voice of Jay Leno.
In their efforts to escape the flood they are required to move across water and Diego refuses to admit his fear until challenged that if fear is for prey the he is the prey of water and overcomes his fear.

Sid is captured by a large tribe of mini-sloths who treat him like a God repeating every word he says and every movement. Sid finds this wonderful given his experiences with the gang to date but then learns that he is to be sacrificed to a volcano in an effort to stop the world being flooded by the meting ice. The others do not believe him until they are confronted by the tribe who want Sid to be their leader because they believe he has saved them from the flood. It is at this point Diego tells Sid how important he is to the group and persuades him to stay with them. There is a joyous moment at the end of the second film as Scat falls into a fissure in the giant wall of ice that has formed a dam and finds himself in a heaven full of acorns. He is about to start enjoying this new existence when he is pulled away having been found near death by Sid who has resuscitated him.

In the third film, with another planned for next year, Sid is taken by a female Tyrannosaurs after taking her eggs and enters a subterranean tropical lost world. Sid finds and looks after the three eggs which hatch and becomes part of the family.

The show stealer is a weasel, “missing his right eye and wears a leaf as an impromptu eyepatch, and seems slightly insane (he claims that he woke up one day, married to an ugly pineapple, but he still loved it, and Manny calls him a "deranged hermit"). According to the official website, Buck is one-eyed and relentless in his hunting for dinosaurs. Buck's archenemy is a large albino Baryonyx he calls Rudy, who gouged out Buck's eye and whose tooth he later sharpened into a knife that he carries with him. In fact, Buck is the only inhabitant of the dinosaurs' world who does not fear Rudy in the slightest, though he possesses a deep respect for him. Due to living underground for so long, he has an extensive knowledge of the dangers of the dinosaur world.

After Rudy's potential death, Buck, having lost his purpose in life, decides to join the herd and live on the surface. Upon hearing a distant familiar roar that tells him that Rudy survived their battle, he chooses to stay and causes a cave-in that seals off the path between the surface and the underground jungle, trapping him inside and everyone else on the surface. He and Rudy proceed to continue their battle

While the films are aimed at young children with their families, as with all such films there are sad moments and scenes which will disturb some however unintentional.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Falcon and the Snowman

In The Falcon and the Snowman, a young man working for a Defence Corporation passed classified information over a period of time to the Soviet Union for money with eh held of a childhood friend who dealt in drugs and was a drug addict. He was initially sentenced to 40 years and his friend to Life. I have no quarrel with the sentences and both men behaved with criminal irresponsibility endangering their country. Christopher Boyce was to become a bank robber after escaping from prison at one point adding a further 25 years teh original sentence. The problem is that the precipitating cause of the treason was the accidental discovery that the USA was interfering in the affairs of an ally, funding opposition parties and engaging in dirty tricks to end the democratically elected Government of Australia because of its socialist policies and elsewhere.

Christopher Boyce was born in 1953 shortly after his father had resigned from the FBI to take up a position in private security. The family were politically conservative and friends were in the law enforcement work. Christopher was raised a Catholic through his mother and was an altar boy along with Andrew Dalton Lee, born a year before and the son of a wealthy Californian physician. Christopher attended a Catholic school called St John Fisher (as I did in the UK).

Boyce became a Falconer hence his nickname and then entered a seminary to become a Catholic priest but left after deciding the life was not for him. His father arranged a position for him in a private defence and security organisation TRW whose interests included the manufacture of weapons, space exploration and satellites, computers and digital processing and which handled the bulk of confidential communications for the government with the exception of CIA messages to its headquarters in Virginia.

Boyce was selected to work with two others, handling the most secret and coded communications. He discovered that from time to time messages intended for the CIA HQ came their way and from this he learnt that his government was secretly interfering in the democratic process in Australia. He was aware that his Government through the CIA had been found to have been instrumental in the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat and the killing of the legitimate President Salvador Allende. He is reported to have been shocked that nothing had changed.

He had distanced himself from his friend who had become involved in illegal drug distribution and who is captured and threatened with the force of the law unless he cooperates and reveals the more senior people in the network. The friend turned to Christopher for help who agrees to do so on the basis that he acts as courier with initial formation to be passed to the Russians via their embassy in Mexico. In the 1985 film, the contact in the embassy is played by David Suchet and Lee is played by a young Sean Penn. The Russian are impressed with the info and offer payment, and a new identity for Lee to enable him to travel over the border back and forth. They want to know the identity of the Falcon and information about the Satellite listening and watching devices. Lee also suggests that the Russian should use diplomatic immunity to enable him to get drugs into Mexico and the USA, offering to split the profits. It is not clear if they agreed to this but he becomes addicted, unstable and unreliable.

Boyce meanwhile moves out of the family home into a beachside apartment and establishes an ongoing loving relationship.
While the relationship prospers for a while, the Russian are unhappy with the courier who in the film appears governed by a desire to seek the approval of his parents who are aware there is a warrant for his arrest and his involvement with drugs. Boyce also becomes disillusioned with the Russians and wants to opt out and go to college. However he also senses time is running out after making direct contact with the Russians, dumps the girl friend so she will not be implicated and releases his falcon into the wild before he is taken into custody in January 1977 after Lee had been arrested in Mexico following an incident at the Russian Embassy and he is then accused of being involved in the death of policeman and tortured in an attempt to secure a confession.

Lee admits his involvement in the espionage and when told he will be deported he is given the choice of being handed to the Russians or the USA. He elected to return across the border where he is arrested. In the film the suggestion is made that the government is willing to hush up their infamy up but Christopher‘s father wants the law to take its course and both men are found guilty with Lee given the harsher sentence of Life and Boyce 40 years.

The book was published in 1979 when the two were regarded as the worst traitors in USA history. The John Schlesinger film was released in 1985 during the time of their imprisonment.

There were several twists to the real story in that Boyce escaped from a Federal prison and while fugitive committed 17 bank robberies and west arrested again 18 months later after a former colleague bank robbery tipped off the authorities He returned to prison with another 25 years added to the originals sentence

There was some publicity in Australia in 1982 about the conviction which revealed that the US senate Committee on Intelligence had carried out its investigation without interviewing Boyce and did not publish its findings. The article also mentioned that Australian officials had interviewed Boyce on the allegations made at the trial. The Australian Government stated in 1977 that they had received assurance from President Carter that the US Government or its agencies had been or were improperly involved in activities in Australia. The statement was rejected by the former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

In the same year although in Prison authority was given for him to interviewed in the television programme 60 minutes who then published a transcript of the interview. One repeated allegation is that the then Governor General of Australia, that is the representative of the Queen of Britain, was referred to within the CIA as out man Kerr. Boyce discloses being paid a total of $20000 by the Russians for supplied information.

In 1986 the “Matter of American Intervention in Australia” was raised in the Australian House of Representatives by Peter Staples of a Queensland constituency. He expressed concern at the lack of inquiry about what had happened and he stated that Boyce was serving then a 68 year sentence in solitary confinement following his recapture.

There was also a six part radio documentary in 1986 which covered the CIA activities in Australia leading to the elected Prime Minister being dismissed by the Governor General accused by the CIA for being their man. The transcript of the programme goes to 40 page and covers events in extraordinary detail. With the help of a former CIA officer. The programme begins with a review of CIA involvement in other countries

This all started after World War II mentioning the overthrow in Iran to establish the Shah; the government of Guatemala in 1954; two Uruguayan governments, the failed Bay of Pigs attempt in Cuba in 1961, the government of Brazil in 1964 and in Chile in 1973; Invasions into China were mentioned together with supporting guerilla warfare operations in the Soviet Union, Nepal and Albania. The CIA was involved in General Elections in Italy between 1948 and 1970’s and elections in Germany. There were seven attempts to overthrow the Government in Syria. In Africa there was the Government of Angola and in Ethiopia. The former went to sat there was not a a country in South America where the CIA had not interfered. As well as governments in the Middle East.

Questioned about Australia he expressed amazement at the denials of CIA involvement given admission by the CIA through Ray Cline former Deputy Director. He disclosed that the governor general had founded a CIA front organisation. He refers to Task Force 157 established by Henry Kissinger as a mini CIA to get rid of the Whitlam government and to continue to use the country as a base for clandestine US operations in the region including arms dealing and smuggling contraband goods.

He explained that the CIA used three kinds of organisation with the first one owned, operated and controlled directly by the CIA, and Air America and Air China were mentioned as examples. Then there are front organisations less controlled and set up often for a specific purpose such as a consulting firm similar the one set up for the Watergate break in. The third kind of unit is more independent but usually has former CIA directly involved. The programme then looked at a number of organisations in Australia and the links with the CIA, followed by a detailed account of the events leading to the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.

Lee was released in 1998 and the woman who campaigned for this turned her attention to Boyce who was released on parole in 2002 and from parole in 2008, having married the campaigner shortly after his parole. There is a reference that Lee was employed by Sean Penn as his personal assistant after his release. Boyce expressed regret for his actions, particularly the sorrow he cause his family and for any unintended harm to his country. He had served 25 years in prison.

And then there is Wikileakes.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Man who Never Was: Operation Mincemeat

I have yet to find out who first argued that the quality and integrity of democratic government is reflected by the extent of openness about its dealings particularly in relation to international relational relations, national security and commercial activity. They were wrong. There are numerous situations and issues where it is not just legitimate for government to be secretive but essential, including situations to protect identity and to avoid civil unrest. I have just experienced one film which highlights my point, a film based on a true and important event which saved many lives towards the end of World War Two.

The successful purpose of Operation Mincemeat, the story of “The Man who Never Was” was to persuade Hitler and the German High Command that the intention of the allies was to invade Italy from North Africa by first attacking German forces in Greece and in Sardinia in 1943, instead of Sicily, where the invasion was planned. Churchill’s first reaction was that everyone but a bloody fool would know that the attack would be to capture Sicily and in doing so take control of the Mediterranean seaways.

The plan was for someone to be found dead off the Spanish coast with authentic secret documents advising of the false plan and hope that the information would find its way to Germany because of the relationship with Spain despite the alleged neutrality of the fascist government. The planning team were mindful that in the previous year a plane had crashed off the Spanish coast on its way to Gibraltar where the courier whose body was washed ashore and recovered by the Spanish Authorities carried information about Operation Torch, the successful invasion of North Africa. When the body was returned, the communication was included and even if it had been opened and the contents photographed the information had not be believed and no measures were taken.
A suitable body was identified where there were no relatives and which would convince authorities that it had been in the sea for sometime. There has been discussion if this was or if the body of someone else was used.

The identity was created of a Captain and Acting Major William (Bill) Martin of the Royal Marines born 1907 in Cardiff and assigned to the Headquarters of Combined Operations. The name was chosen because here were several Martins of the same or similar rank in Marine at that time. A fiancée was created called Pam, with a photograph of her, love letters and the bill for an engagement ring. The girl was a clerk from MI5 and the letters were created by her head of department. Appropriate uniform was purchased and the problem of good quality underwear was solved by using that of the Master of an Oxford College who had been killed in a lorry accident. He also had letters with him from his father, Lloyds Bank re an overdraft and a bill for a stay and the Naval and Military Club for a new shirt from an established tailor. The material including theatre tickets dated to indicate he had been in London until the 14th of April so that with the body planned to be washed up on April 30th it would indicate that his plane had crashed and it was several days before the body washed up ashore. There were two letters one from Louis Mountbatten to the Commanding Officer Mediterranean and the other to the Commander of British Forces in Algeria and Tunisia and because the document about Operation Torch had been in a pocket this time these were placed in a locked briefcase attached to the body.

The body was placed in a canister filled with ice to enable refrigeration and was taken to Holy Loch to a British Submarine with previous experience of special operations. The body was placed in the sea to wash ashore at a beach side town where it was known in advance the Spanish and German authorities were friendly. The body was handed to the British Vice Consul and was buried with fill military honours a few days later. A local pathologist confirmed that death had been by drowning without doing a detailed post mortem because there was clear information the man had been a Catholic. The death was reported in the Times on June 4th. It was coincidence that the names of other officers were included in the list whose planed had crashed into the sea.

Messages were sent seeking the return of the briefcase without alerting the Spanish authorities to their importance. When the German authorities Admiral Canaris personally tried to get the Spanish authorities to surrender the documents. What happened is that they were carefully opened and photographed and then resealed and handed to the British authorities. Back home scientists confirmed that the letters and been skilfully opened and resealed. Hitler was convinced The documents were authentic and although Mussolini remained convinced that Sicily was the real target, German reinforcements were sent to Greece, Sardinia and Corsica and none to Sicily.

The successful deception continued to have an impact in that when genuine documents were discovered by the Germans 2 days after the D Day landings providing information on further plans in the region they were not believed because of what happened in the Mincemeat Operation, and again in the Market Garden Operation into the Netherlands the full operations order came into German hands and they were convinced this was another plant and made no adjustments as a consequences.

The book was published in 1953 and written by former Lt Cmdr Ewen Montagu of Navel intelligence who was on a committee managing double agents and who practiced law after the war. The book was published because in 1950 Duff Cooper, Viscount Norwich, a Conservative politician, diplomat and writer published a work of fiction, Operation Heartbreak which unwittingly used elements of Operation Mincemeat and which aroused some controversy because the official project had not been made public at that time. The decision was taken to do so and the film followed in 1956 with Clifton Webb playing the part of Ewen Montagu.

The film added to the actual story various elements particularly that although Hitler and his immediate advisers believed the documents were authentic which at one level they were with the signatures of the senders, doubts were felt and a an agent was sent from Dublin to London to check out the tailors, the club and the bank and then the fiancée. Although he has doubts he signals his superiors that Major Martin appears authentic but he has set one last test giving the fiancée his present whereabouts. This is a courageous act because if it is a set up then the likelihood is that the authorities will capture him. The authorities nearly do this but the security service is persuaded to hold off and let the man leave the country thus underlining that the happened was true and that the British did not know that the plan had been intercepted.

Another change is that in the film the body is that of serving officer who is killed and his father is promised that the man will be given a proper burial. Also in the film Montagu having been awarded the OBE leaves the medal at the grave of the fictitious Martin after the war. Another difference is the submarine is detected at one point and survives depth charges.

There was another element of Spy fiction having been reality in that Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond passed the idea to an RAF officer on the double agents committee who with Montagu developed the idea into the Operation Mincemeat plan. Ian Fleming had got the idea from a 1930 detective novel by Basil Thomson!