Thursday, 29 September 2011

Three Faces West

A film which I saw during daytime is Three Faces West with John Wayne. Two refugees from the Nazi Germany annexation of Austrian reach the USA-a distinguished medical doctor and his daughter. He agrees to appear on a government sponsored broadcast inviting communities to bid to provide a home and expenses for the refugees who are willing to give something back to their new country after being rescued. The couple only managed to escape through the help of the fiancée of the girl who they believe has been killed.

They accept the invitation from a town not knowing that it is in dust bowl America during a prolonged drought full of struggling farmers. The only medical help is provided by a vet. They have attempted to employ a doctor before but always the individual has lasted a matter of hours on seeing the conditions.

They are met of the train by John Wayne during a dust storm and they find the allocated accommodation filled with dust. Wayne and a friend have moved into separate accommodation at the top of what used to be his family home. Before reaching the homestead and fearing that they will immediately leave the doctor and his daughter are taken on an exhausting tour of all the sick. The couple decide they will not stay but the doctor performs surgery on a boy with a limp and waits to ensure the operation is successful. His daughter helps out as a nurse. The couple decide to stay, especially after a rainstorm eases the situation but not for long as the drought continues.

Wayne persuades the other farmers to pool together and implement government recommended drainage and good husbandry schemes but is advised by the authorities not to bother as the land has been declared permanently unsuitable for cultivation. They recommend the town to move in it’s entirely to Oregon when a new dam is being built and which creates ideal farming conditions. It is agreed to follow this advice after further and prolonged difficulties. There are many problems on the long journey with dissent about Wayne’s leadership and control of the funds.

During the journey the father learns that the fiancée survived and had come to the USA in search of them and they are reunited. The girl who has fallen in love with Wayne and planned a wedding is torn between her feelings and obligations to the man who saved their lives. However they learn that he has become a fascist and wants them all to return to their home in Austria so the two decide to rejoin the Wagon train. The father has been offered a major post in the USA but had decided to continue to support the community. With his daughter happily settled with Wayne he can consider working at his original level for the USA. The film has echoes of the Grapes of Wrath. It was released in 1940 to encourage Americans to accept refugees, the New Deal and promote anti Fascism. It heart warming stuff within the context of the era.

The Lovely Bones

However I stayed up for other trash previously and for one film which attracted many awards but which I abandoned unwilling to watch the rest, a rare action on my part. The Lovely Bones title is a quotation taken from the novel's end, where a murdered 14 year old Susie reflects on her friends' and family's newfound strength after her death. She is reported as saying : These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life.”

So this is a film is a supernatural work ler (?), about a belief an after life, so that all else what happens before is preparation, trials and tests in which there are levels of heaven! The film based on the book by Alice Sebold and directed by Peter Jackson. Because it is Peter Jackson the film attracted advance media attention but on seeing the trailer I knew it was not a film or a subject that I wanted to see but on noting a showing on Television I decided to begin the experience.

The film is the story of what happens to a family when their daughter disappears, with evidence that she was murdered subsequently although the rest of her body is not discovered. The girl is different from others and remarkable in that although barely able to drive when several years younger she takes her brother who has collapsed to hospital and saves his life. Her grand mother (Susan Sarandon) says this is an omen that she is going to have a long and good life.

The girl takes up photography saying this is what she wants to do as work when she becomes an adult and uses over a year’s supply of film within a few days so that the parents explain that the cost of developing is such that they will allow her one role of film a month. When she is declared dead the father honours this commitment by developing one role a month (which is one of many flaws in this disturbing and sickening film because in reality the police would have developed every film immediately and hence discovered the significant clue/evidence on the last film taken for developing.

We the audience know that December 6, 1973, in a suburb of Philadelphia, Susie Salmon takes her usual shortcut home from her school through a cornfield and meets George Harvey, a 36-year-old neighbour who lives alone and builds dollhouses for a living, He cleverly persuades her to visit, and an underground den he has created for young people and when she become suspicious and wants to leave she is prevented from doing so. At last we are spared the gruesome details of what happened to her and thereafter we see her whole being, apparently content and happy, upset because her family do not understand and are upset and disunited, believing at first she has survived but then realising she is living in her own “perfect” world

The Salmon family refuses to accept that Susie is dead, until part of her body is found by the neighbour's dog. The police visit the neighbour among other suspects and while deciding he is eccentric they have no evidence to tie him with the crime. With the death of school girl Milly Dowler so much in mind because of the News World Scandal, the announcement that News International is to enter into a private settlement with the family and that the case was again mentioned in the speech of the Labour Party Leader to his conference on Tuesday afternoon I found the whole way this story is portrayed upsetting and nauseating. It is exploitation of the worst kind especially as the story continues.

The film covers the usual family developments in such situations with the parents devastated and guilty because of the times they disciplined their daughter or were unable to grant all her wishes. Father becomes preoccupied gives up work and becomes obsessed with finding the killer, not helped when the detective assigned to the case, tells the Salmons that the police have exhausted all leads and are dropping the investigation. That night in his study, Jack looks out the window and sees a flashlight in the cornfield. Believing it is Harvey returning to destroy evidence, he runs out to confront him, armed with a baseball bat. The figure is not actually Harvey, but Clarissa, Susie's friend. As Susie watches in horror from heaven, Brian - who was going to meet Clarissa in the cornfield - beats Jack with the bat, after finding him and the panicking Clarissa, and breaks Jacks knee. While Jack recovers from a knee replacement surgery, Susie's mother, Abigail, begins an affair with the widowed Detective.
Trying to help her father prove his suspicions, Lindsey the other daughter in the family sneaks into Harvey's house and finds a diagram of the underground den, but is forced to leave when Harvey returns unexpectedly. The police, however, satisfied with Harvey's explanation, do not arrest him, which allows him to leave the community. Later, evidence is discovered linking Harvey to Susie's murder, as well as to those of several other young girls.

Susie meets his other victims in heaven, sees into Harvey's traumatic childhood, and realizes that he has made several unsuccessful attempts to stop killing.

Abigail leaves Jack, eventually taking a job at a winery in California. Her mother, Grandma Lynn, moves into the Salmons' home to care for Buckley and Lindsey. At this point I had enough and watched the end of a Bond film.

According to Wikipedia Eight years later, Lindsey and her boyfriend, Samuel Heckler, become engaged after finishing college, find an old house in the woods owned by a classmate's father, and decide to fix it up and live there. Sometime after the celebration, while arguing with his son Buckley who Susie had saved, Jack suffers a heart attack. The emergency prompts Abigail to return from California, but the reunion is tempered by Buckley's lingering bitterness for her abandoning the family for most of his childhood.

Meanwhile, the murderer returns to the town, which has become more developed. He explores neighbourhood and notices the school is being expanded into the cornfield where he murdered Susie. He drives by the sinkhole where Susie's body rests and where two former classmates are standing and who had felt Susie's spirit rush past her immediately after she was murdered, senses the women Harvey has killed and is physically overcome. The father and the son had also felt Susie’s presence during the time where what had happened was unknown

Susie, watching from heaven, is also overwhelmed with emotion and feels how she and Ruth transcend their present existence, and the two girls exchange positions: Susie, her spirit now in Ruth's body, connects with Ray, who had a crush on Susie in school, and had made plans to go out with her a few days before the murder. Ray senses Susie's presence, and is stunned by the fact that Susie is briefly back with him. In the bike shop of Sam Heckler's older brother Hal they find a room to make love, as Susie has longed to do after witnessing her sister and Samuel. Afterwards, Susie must return to heaven.

While I remain uncertain about many aspects I believe there is a sub plot which Wikipedia does not mention in that Ray had sent a love note to Susie or from Susie to Brian whom she had with her when she returned home and let go just before she was murdered. It was found by Ruth who gives is to Brian and not to the police as a means of commencing their relationship.

Susie moves on into another, larger part of heaven, occasionally watching earthbound events. Her sister gives birth to a daughter, Abigail Suzanne.

When stalking another young girl in New Hampshire, the serial murderer is hit by a huge icicle and falls down a snow-covered slope, dying from the wound. At the end of the novel, Susie's charm bracelet is found by a Norristown couple who know nothing of its significance, and Susie closes the story by wishing the reader "a long and happy life.

Unsurprising the film is reported not to have been immediately popular with limited income so was redirected in its marketing from a sophisticated adult audience to high school and college girls aged 13-20 during a three year screen theatre release. I agreed with one critic who described the film as deplorable in that it appears to suggest that the girl become happier and more fulfilled after being murdered. Some claimed the problem was the direction and editing by Jackson which failed to communicate the spirituality of the book.

Outrageous Fortune

It is a glorious September morning and although I stayed up late to finish watching a dreadful but enjoyable film I have successfully got the house ready for the arrival of the new fridge except that a phone call suggests it might not arrive, with the official reason vehicle breakdown although my suspicion is that drivers have not turned in because of the fine weather.

And the film? Only one of several time fillers to relax before beddies has the title Outrageous Fortune (Slings and Arrows etc) is a screwball comedy featuring Bette Middler with Shelly Long as the co star. Shelley plays would be actress Lauren Ames who has trained in London and is being interviewed for a new class with the renowned émigré theatre Stanislav Korzenowski (Robert Prosky) who also selects Sandy Brozinsky played Brett as a loud mouthed hopeful who sees acting as the way out from the humdrum of her life struggling to make ends meet. The two women take an instant dislike especially as Bette has not prepared a role performance for the interview and later admit she has no idea who or what Hamlet is,

To make ends meet Shelley works in a costume store and is immediately smitten by Peter Coyote who plays Michael Sanders, a school teacher who is seeking a Pumpkin outfit for one of the poor pupils in his class. She offers to help and becomes his bed partner with fantasies of happy ever after.

The one day both women see a news broadcast where a man they recognise as Michel is seen walking into a store followed by a bomb blast (how many bomb go off with a camera waiting?) and one of the victims is identified as Michel because of a fragment of information however his upper body is damaged beyond normal identification processes. The two women cannot believe they have both been lovers of the same individual but this becomes secondary, momentarily because they know from the lower anatomy of the victim that this is not Michael. They assume he survived and went to see one of them so they decide to go together to establish which one is telling the truth about their relationship, You get it both women are stupid with the ability to think through anything in advance of acting with their emotions and impulses, just like your average actress, you believe!

At the first flat they find two men searching the room so they escape only to be chased by two others who look central European. The two men in the room kill the two central Europeans and then chase the girls who escape and using some skills and outrageous behaviour hey work out that Michael faked his death because of being pursued and the find that that he made a phone call, took and took a cab into black land territory where they pretend to be cops on a bust of two well armed gangsters who admit they provided Michael with a false identity and that he took a cab to the airport. They are able to pay for the trip and for the cab driver waiting by stealing a tin of cash from the gangsters on the basis of letting them go. They are now being tailed by the two men who searched the flat who we know are CIA on the trail of Michael who up to no good.

When Lauren and Sandy finally find Michael at a boathouse waiting to picket up by collaborators they realise they have been played and more so when they are rescued by the two CIA officers and the vehicle driver and assistant are none other than Russian operatives and one of these is none other than their theatrical Professor and we learn to full dastardly nature of the plot.

Michael was a brilliant CIA officer who became a double agent and then went freelance stealing a deadly defoliant in order to blackmail the USA government into giving $20 million dollars in exchange.
He has also been dealing with the Russian and had deliberately got to know the two girls so he could pass micro dot information onto their course notebooks so he could keep in communication with the Russian theatre teaching Professor. The girl get away from the quartet of spies who decide to join forces with one of the CIA men a former class mate who believes the girls’ story that they were duped and not conspiratorial associates. The girls decide to find Michael and get the toxin to convince the authorities of their innocence as well a punishing their former lover for his deception.

The chase leads to rural Arizona when Lauren is taken hostage by Michael and his rouge associates who force a trade with the CIA for the toxin, and with Korzenowski with the stolen cash he intended to give to Michael. When the trade goes awry, Lauren gets away with both the money and the toxin, with Michael in hot pursuit, cornered on a series of mountain picturesque rock tops. They have involved a white Indian tourist guide and tracker who also bring a long the motorcycle riding Indian brothers who also still use the bow and arrow as a tourist attraction

Lauren uses her former ballet skills to evade him, leaping from one top to the other over deep chasms, culminating in a grand Jeté, as pursuing Michael slips and is killed on the rocks far below whilst the money is lost to native Indians.

By this time the two women have become friends and in the final scene one play Hamlet and the other Ophelia on Broadway watched by the CIA friends and the Russians who have been given asylum and their now wealthy Indian Tracker and his friends. Oh gosh how wonderful and to think I stayed up until 1 am for this!

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Social Network

After such a long introduction there can only be disappointing with what I have so say about the film The Social Network which was highly praised and nominated for Oscar awards but I resisted go to see in theatre because as I rightly suspected while the subject is of interest the film portrays a culture and life value system which is part of the economic disaster we are all now facing. My loyalty anyway is to MySpace and Google Blogs because of the emphasise on the ability to publish extensively and originally to be able to create substantial individual sites including photographs, music and writings.
Mark Zuckerberg is a remarkable young man, the technical brains of Facebook, now combining CEO and President of a company where he owns 24% of the shareholding and which has an income and value in the billions. His personal worth is said to be approaching 20 billion. The film does not portray him in a good personal light although it is has to be remembered that he was an undergraduate at Harvard at the time when he developed the idea which had been put to him by a trio of influential Harvard seniors. They eventually commenced a series of legal actions which only appear to have been brought to an end this year and where knowing a little about the legal costs of bringing law suits in the USA it appears they have been pursuing a principle and sense of injustice, rightly or wrongly.

This appears also to have been the position of Eduardo Saverin, a college roommate who took on the commercial side of the project development and who according to the film was nearly frozen out of the company after it moved to Silicon Valley and he remained in New York. He is a Brazilian from a wealthy family and is now based in Singapore with a personal fortune estimated to be about 5 billion dollars based on his 5% share holding. He is reported to have been the first financial backer of the Facebook having made $300000 on the stock market through investments in oil. Two others who helped to get the development started and developed are Dustin Moskovitz, report to have also become the youngest billionaire in the USA as he is younger than Mark by a few days. His role is barely covered in the film and he has developed other interests and companies.

The other key individual whose role is barely touched on in the film is that of Chris Hughes who became the spokesperson and who is more likely to be remembered by history because of his role in creating and developing the use of the Internet in getting Barack Obama to the White House. He is credited with changing political campaigning in the USA in a fundamental way. He also appears to have become to most socially activity of the quartet with a particular emphasis on HIV prevention and treatment. He was one of the few invited to the first Presidential State dinner.

The film concentrates more on the legal aspects than why the Facebook has been able to attract 500 million users worldwide and now has 2000 employees where MySpace having reached 1200 staff at one point has retracted to 200 and was recently sold for a fraction of the price originally paid to the founders. The Film is based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires-A Tale of sex, money, Genius and Betrayal. Translated to the small screen the sound is a major problem and requires to be turned up loud to hear some of the conversations although in the nightclub disco scene the sound is deliberately higher than the conversation to make the obvious point about the situation. I must write about My Space, the defunct AOL site and Google Blog sometime.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I have been fascinated and enthralled by the world of Intelligence, homeland and foreign, factual and fictional since first becoming the subject of investigation in 1960 and 1961 but have so far resisted the temptation to seek access to my file under Freedom of Information now that 50 years has passed by. I went full circle signing the Official Secrets Act in the mid 1980’s and being briefed when undertaking work under secondment for the Department of Health.

I have always had a soft spot for the Home Office whose Cabinet Minister commands Homeland security in association with Number 10 and the Ministry of Defence and one of the great joys and sense of achievement was to be allocated a car parking space at the former building at Green Park when visiting as a member of a national sub committee. It was the Home Office that fixed my child care place and provided the funds and where one of its regional officers took me out to lunch and advised on the best approach if I wanted to become a local authority chief officer, although in fairness I do not think telling Sir Keith Joseph where I stood politically in terms of national commitments and international politics when he was my dinner guest at the first BASW national family and child care conference did any harm when it came to confirming my appointment as a Director of Social Services three years later.

(The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), is the United Kingdom's counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of the intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS). All come under the direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). The service has a statutory basis in the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994. Its remit includes the protection of British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage within the UK. Although mainly concerned with internal security, it does have an overseas role in support of its mission. Conversely, to ensure that the Home Secretary is responsible for intelligence operations within the UK, the Service may act on behalf of SIS and GCHQ even if the operation is outside its own functions (SIS and GCHQ report to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) ref Wikipedia.

The headquarters of the services has been at Millbank on the North side of the Thames and became familiar to me on my lunch time walks along the bank of the Thames when on leaving school at sixteen I became a junior clerk at the seven story office building of Middlesex County Council now occupied by Random House Publishers at Vauxhall Bridge and within metres of the iconic purpose designed building of the British Secret Intelligence Service, more commonly known as M16 situated on the Southside of the Thames across the Bridge.

My fascination and therefore knowledge has been restricted to fiction writing, films and television and this piece is sparked by seeing the film Tinker Tailor and not agreeing with the rave notices and predictions of awards. I decided to re read the novel and see the film again later in the morning after listening to the Mark Kermode appraisal on the BBC 5 live pod cast yesterday evening and recommendation that to appreciate its value a second visit is worthwhile. I agree there are several excellent performances but I know where the film fails, for me, that is, I am not emotionally engaged. In part because of familiarity but the film fails to make me care.

I can still watch the film of the Le Carré book which brought him success, The Spy who came in from the Cold and still be as moved as I was when I saw the film in theatre and understood the decision of Richard Burton as Lomas not to walk away from his girl friend of a short while, knowing that she was already dead at his feet. I saw the film again about a year ago and yesterday. I still enjoy seeing the Tailor of Panama another Le Carré film which was inspired by another master writer of the intelligence world Graham Green’s Our Man in Havana and where I have ten of his works. Michael Caine also continues to engage with the Ipcress file, Funeral in Berlin and the Million Dollar Brian, Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St Petersburg, all films and more recently the BBC production with Bill Nighy in Page Eight (recently reviewed). There is also Callan with Edward Woodward.

My other moan is that the film is shot in 1940’s and 1950’s Brown although my memory is that there was as much green as brown with my main point being that Le Carré set the trilogy in the 1970’s.

I have six John Le Carré novels including the three Karla works, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smile’s People with the first and last made into brilliant TV series with Sir Alec Guiness and Smiley and a radio production of the Honourable Schoolboy because the cost of TV series shot in the Far East was considered too great. There are eight works involving Smiley and in 2009/10 the BBC created new plays and serials featuring all 8 of his works and where the series is available on CD’s as a package around £65 from the original cost of £100.

I also have the Russia House, The Constant Gardiner and Mission Song. I have video tapes of the two great BBC TV series which featured Sir Alec Guiness in the role of George Smiley, Tinker Tailor and Smile’s people. I have found the TV Tape of Smile’s people but not that of Tinker Tailor.
I have always liked George Smiley although he has a very different personality to my own. George is old school in every sense, public school and Oxford but not from one those grand schools or colleges which turn out individuals who seek to become Presidents of the Union, enter the House and do a spell as Prime Minister, become a leading Judge, run a City Bank or major international corporation. We do not know anything about the relationship with his parents, except they were middle class from the South of England and therefore if his personality and approach to life followed them or was in reaction to one or both of them.

George likes to be in the background, methodical and with an academic insistence on establishing facts and proofs. He is not without ambition and the psychological management profiling he comes out as a traditional chairman, sitting back listening, overseeing, reflecting and then calmly announcing what is to be done and why. He has one obvious weakness, his wife Anne and in which instance he reminds of C P Snow’s Lewis Elliot in his sequence of novels, of which I have nine, featuring academic life in Oxford and work for the Government in the time of War. Smiley would have done well as the Master of an Oxford College or as a senior Don doing interesting jobs for the Government.

Smiley and Lewis Elliot bear their wives as if a cross with Smile’s wife, inexplicably in someone ways, standing out, beautiful, high maintenance she would be described these days and prone to great sexual passions but returning to George for comfort when these go awry. Her full name is Lady Ann Sercombe, aristocratic and confident working as a secretary with the Circus which she decided that George would provide her with the security she needed from which to enjoy her libido. With more self control she would have become a femme fatale Mata Hari field agent or Scalphunter used by Le Carré for his special agents.
There are only a dozen of these based at a former school in Brixton. They work alone, are trained to try and survive interrogation and will what is required to complete he task they are set whatever their personal misgivings.

We know that George was recruited to MI6 by his tutor in the later 1920’s although given his personality I speculate he would have been more comfortable with the separate homeland security people, the guardians of the guardians for the Home Secretary and Number 10.

In the days of Smiley, Graham Green and Ian Fleming the location and identities of the Service was kept confidential although the London HQ was not at Cambridge Circus as in the Le Carré work hence the references to the Circus. I imagine those now working at today’s actual location will refer to the Cross, the Bridge or the Centre just as the chief was known as the Controller. Although as with MI5 the name of the chief is published these days. The Service is officially under the control of the Foreign Secretary with agents of all countries rationally placed in Embassy’s because Diplomatic privileges including immunity. There will be someone with appropriate clearance working at the Cabinet Office acting as a bridge between all the pasts of the security and intelligence services and the PM as well as Individual Ministers with the need to know.

There 3200 individuals listed as employees of MI5 but as with all aspects of MI5 work, such information will only be disclosed to those with the highest security clearances, possibly not even the Parliamentary Security Committee. Le Carré has 600 agents recruit from within the countries where they operate with 120 in Russia which suggests that pro rata he should have assumed several times more operating within the UK and her territories although much of the rest of the world misguidedly believes that the power of the UK is overrated, although not by the Chinese who according to a published quote from my local Member of Parliament when Foreign Secretary they are impressed by our ability to punch above our weight.

We know that George learned his job working South America and central Europe and that his knowledge of German led him to establishing networks in the country before the declaration of the War posing as a lecturer and also working in Switzerland and Sweden described by his superiors as having the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin.

In 1943, he was recalled to England to work at MI6 headquarters, and married Anne after the war when because of the problem which followed he left the service but was recalled with the establishment of the Cold War with the Soviets. In the 1950’s his job was counter intelligence which included trying to turn individuals working for the enemy and it was then that he met Karla his Russian nemesis who took his lighter, a gift from Anne to prove his machismo but also out of respect.

According to Wikipedia Smiley first appears in a Call for the Dead, le Carré's debut novel. At the start of the novel, set around 1960, Smiley has fallen from grace and is working in a relatively menial intelligence job, including security-clearing civil servants. He spends much of the story bemoaning the loss of the talented agents who were his mentors and their replacement by talentless civil-service bureaucrats, such as the current head of service, Maston, who refers to himself as the "Minister's Advisor for Intelligence" and is widely, if secretly, mocked. During this book, Smiley retires to unravel an East German spy ring but remains retired and investigates a murder at a fictional public school in le Carré's next novel, A Murder of Quality.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, his third novel, propelled le Carré to international renown. Smiley is a minor character in the story, but a pivotal one. He is supposedly still retired but is revealed during the story to be back in the Circus as one of the top aides to "Control". The book is set against the background of the Berlin Wall It is book which also introduced Peter Guillam as loyal to Control and to Smiley in a plot which results in the head of East German Intelligence being dethroned by his deputy, a double agent, with the help of Lomas.

Smiley is said to have only a brief involvement in the Looking Glass War, a work I know little about.

He then becomes the right hand man of Control incurring the resentment of the ambitious Percy Alleline and his main support the ‘playboy’ Bill Haydon both with a similar background to Control and Smiley, with Brand having been in the field in the Soviets because of his Community working class father, but who had nevertheless got to Grammar school and Oxford from where Smiley had recruited him. Finally there is Easterhase, again recruited by Smiley working in a Museum in central Europe with the kind of loyalty that serves the masters who ever they are, right or left. This is the situation in which the Karla trilogy begins with Tinker Tailor.

The book and the latest film, and from memory the TV series all cover the same basic plot with variations and different approaches.

It all begins in 1972 when Jim Prideaux a Scalphunter (licence to kill) is sent on a secret mission into a Soviet controlled territory, in the book to Czechoslovakia (Checko) and in the film to Budapest- Hungary, where a general wants to defect. It is however a trap arranged by the Spymaster Karla to kidnap the field agent to try and established if anything is known about his double agent at the top of the Circus and to finish the position of Control and replace him by someone more easily manipulated. Jim was recruited from Oxford by Bill Haydon because his childhood had been central European and his capacity to speak several of the languages. He was sent by Control on the understanding that he did not mention the mission to anyone else at the Centre. The asylum seeking contact offered military and political information and more significantly, the name of the traitor within the inner circle of Control- codename Merlin.

In the book and the film Jim is shot twice but the circumstances are very different and in this respect the film does well. The evidence is that his visit was anticipated. He is held and interrogated over several months but then repatriated. Smiley had been unaware of the mission and learned only what had happened after returning home and then going to the Centre. However because of the closeness to Control and the threat he poses to Merlin, he is forced out with Control.

On his return to England Toby Easterhase gives Prideaux an immediate £1000 until his official pension came through and told him to become a Lotus Easter. He joins a minor public school with a caravan drawn by an Alvis car also given to him as parting gift on behalf of the Circus. What happened to him and why is crucial to plot and in several ways this is in fact the story of him and also Ricki Tarr.

Ricki Tarr is also a Scalphunter sent to Turkey on a mission to bring back the head of trade mission but quickly determines that this is not a prospect but his emotional and vulnerable wife is, especially after Ricki beds her. Again there are different accounts between book and film and in the order of the revelations. She also says she has information which will affect the future of the Circus which Ricky passes to the centre who presses him for more. The girl then disappears and Tarr finds that she has been secreted back to Moscow. He finds her diary in one version which discloses about the Mole at the centre and he goes on the run to where he has a woman and child. It is Tarr that spurs Oliver Lacon the Cabinet office security coordinator and his Minister to ask Smiley to come out of his enforced retirement and investigate using Peter Guillam the trusted organiser of the Scalphunters at the Brixton former school house (since the reorganisation) to bring Smiley to see them and find out what is what.

It is in this book carried foreword to the TV and film that Le Carré makes Smiley a generation younger in order to prolong his working life and makes Guillam a young man when before this he had joined the Circus with Smiley.

Smiley sets up a base at a private hotel with self contained flatlets, a short distance from Paddington Station, and asks Peter to obtain readily available information for him from the Circus but then more secure records, warning that if caught Peter has to deny any involvement. He wants Peter to first provide him with information on all those who left service following the resignation and death of control, who was dying prior to the failed mission to learn the identity of the Mole.

This leads him Smiley finding that Jim Prideaux survived, was repatriated and then sent to become a Lotus Easter, He also finds that the Control research assistant Connie Sachs was also sent away because it was claimed she had become too fanciful and needed to go back to the real world. It is through Tarr, Prideaux and Sachs that Smiley is able to work out the mystery of who is the Mole and the whys and whats. He visits the home of Control and finds the chess pieces which had carried the small photos of the senior members of the Circus -, Alleline, Haydon, Bland Easterhase and Smiley and which excluding himself narrow the number to four -Tinker, Tailor Soldier etc.

As with all such situations the Russian spy plan is long ranged determined once the Mole has been established, in this instance a willing recruit who disliked that happened to the UK following the end of World War II and the giving up of the Empire. He and others have argued that Britain was finished as a world power and the Traitor decided he could make a difference to the future by working for the Soviets.

One of the better features of the film is the decision to use a Christmas party at Circus to provide flashbacks. It id a cinematic device showing that with hindsight all the indications of what was to come were there. Someone in face mask of Stalin (Brand I think) arrives in Santa clothing and a sack of present giving, and leads everyone in a Chorus of the Russian National Anthem, one of the great stirring anthems in the world and of which their are 30 recordings available on the Internet Russian Anthem Museum to listen too including that of the Moscow’s Children’s choir and a Rock version. While it is playing Smiley discovers the relationship between his wife and Bill Haydon and we the audience note that there is a special relationship between Bill and Prideaux played by King’s Speech Academy award winner Colin Firth and also the excellent Mark Strong.

Given that Le Carré based his British double agent on Guy Burgess who was part of a homosexual ring it is interesting that the book only makes veiled references noting towards the end that Prideaux is in love with Haydon and young Guillam who in the book is a notorious womaniser is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbach as a homosexual who when Smiley becomes worried that the Mole will react as the net closes persuades him to give up his live in relationship with a school master who is sent packing, for the man’s protection rather than his own.

The plan involved placing a contact on the staff of the Soviet Embassy in London, officially a Cultural attaché who becomes exceptional at his job. He is spotted by Connie Sachs when she sees film of a parade in which the attaché is saluted by a General which meant that he must have held an important and senior role in the Military and is in fact a wartime hero. It is when Connie played by Kathy Burke, in the film, spots this discrepancy and reports to her new superiors that she is quickly pensioned off. The character of Connie is based on Millicent Bagot 1907-2006 who as Soviet expert working for MI5 advised that Kim Philby (MI6) had been a member of the Communist Party. She was awarded the MBE and CBE.

In order to ensure that someone suitable replaces Control, played by John Hurt in the film, and to further the plan to gain access to USA intelligence, they arrange for the attaché, Polyakov, to offer to provide high level intelligence information in exchange for British information. Both sides in effect start to officially provide low level information to each other “chicken feed” mixed in with some more important stuff, with the Soviet information sufficient to attract the interest of the USA who had become hesitant about too close involvement because of early double spy scandals. However in addition to this the Merlin continues to provide any information which is useful to Moscow as he has been doing throughout most of his time at the Circus.

The exchange of information is called “Witchcraft” and is put to Lacon and the appropriate government Minister by Alleline, Haydon and co during the time that Control has become ill.

Percy Alleline his official number 2 has always carried a resentment since he was a undergraduate pupil of Control and was not rated by his tutor and once put in charge he pressed the Minister via Lacon to approve sharing the info with the Cousins- the USA.

What emerges is that Prideaux had warned Haydon of his secret mission although Karla-Polyakov- Haydon had picked the Czech General to defect knowing that this would ensure that Czech background and speaking Prideaux would be sent. In the film his shooting is not planned hence the efforts of the new Director of Operations- Haydon to gain his release home. Haydon learns of the development when staying with Anne while Smiley is returning from Berlin. The Wrangler - wireless operator and cryptographer on duty had advised Control who had become frozen and unwilling to advise how the situation should be dealt with. The Wrangler had then rang Smiley’s home and Ann had answered and then advised her lover who had gone to get things organised at the Circus, but then returned to greet Smiley pretending to have brought a painting for Anne which he said she liked but also as additional cover for his position.

The unexpected development which stops the Russian play from being effective is the relationship with Ricki Tarr established with the wife of the Trade Mission leader to Turkey and his finding out about the existence of the traitor.

Smiley asks Guillam to risk his position by getting hold of a copy of the Diary record of urgent calls (flash) which shows the missing pages deleted, and during the successful attempt he is called to the top floor to be cross examined by the new regime over his recent contact with Ricki Tarr. He makes light of the request without knowing that Tarr is in the UK and it is his evidence which has created the current investigation. When he finds Tarr with Smiley he has come to believe that Tarr is the renegade and that the story of the Mole is a fabrication created to try and save his own skin. He is disabused of this by Smiley.

It is Tarr that is asked to spring the trap by going to Paris where the local man was responsible for his training. He sends a message saying that he has information important about the future of the Circus. He gets a message back requiring more information which is the anticipated reaction. In London Toby Easterhase has been confronted with the reality of his position that he has become a willing pawn to a Russian inspired double agent plot. He readily yields the location of the secret safe house approved by the Minister and this enables the placed to be examined and prepared for Smiley to wait inside with his team first keeping watch on the Circus and see the assembling of the trio, Alleline, Haydon and Bland, Easterhase having been told to take the time off in advance of the trap. Those unaware of what happens in the book or TV series have to wait before finding out which of the three is the traitor, who we are told is arriving at the Safe House.

We overhear a conversation in which Polyakov reminds of his protected status as a member of the Embassy staff adding however that on recall he will be sent to Siberia because of the failure of the mission while Haydon can be expected to be treated with honour on his expulsion to Moscow.

Smiley enjoys putting the boot in on the Minister who sacked him and in turn is asked to take over on an interim basis in order to sort out the mess.

Alleline is sent on permanent gardening leave.

Tarr goes off to meet up with his son and the child’s mother, but he had also wanted Smiley to negotiate the return of Irina the woman who revealed the existence of a Mole to him. However we know she had been killed along with her husband.

Prideaux reveals to Smiley who visits the school what happened to him after his capture and how he had held out for as long a she could before revealing the concern of Control about a Mole. He is shocked to learn that all the operatives in Hungry/Checko were rounded up and executed but in the book it is explained that this was arranged in advance, He seeks revenge after learning that the traitor was Haydon who he had told of his secret mission when ordered not to do so

Connie returns to help Smiley and Guillam is advanced to the top floor.

I leave till last the meeting of Smiley with Bill at the Training centre in Yorkshire where he is held. This was at Haydon’s request before going to Russia. He asked Smiley to pass on money for his current woman who has a baby. He will provide for them but Smiley is asked to emphasise that the break will be a final one. It is at this point Haydon admits his bi-sexuality asking Smiley to pass on a couple of hundred pounds from the Reptile fund to keep his mouth shut! I forget why the fund is called as it is.

The Housekeepers are the Internal auditors; the Inquisitors- the interrogations, that is an easy one; the Janitors - the Operation staff at the Circus; the Lamplighters - not easy, those who provide surveillance and act as couriers; Mothers- secretaries and trusted typists serving senior officers at the Circus and who are regarded as good bed mates by the Scalphunters and those of similar personality at the centre; Nuts and Bolts, the technology providers of the day; Pavement Artists- those who follow targets in the street; Shoemakers- Forgers of documents; Babysitters, easy one - Bodyguards and Burowers- Researchers recruited direct from University with Gold and Treasure- high quality intelligence offered or gained.

And then there is Ann and where Haydon admits it was Karla’s idea for him to seduce because he regarded Smiley as the main threat to plan and that by having the affair it would help to keep Smiley from seeing Bill as he was. He admits he has seduced many Ann’s to gain information and further his position.

Bill then argues that at least he made his mark on the world which Smiley find contemptible.

Hating the situation more by the minute Smiley leaves and drives fast to Oxford for lunch. He then goes to the pictures and has a meal out on his own arriving home a little drunk at midnight only to find Lacon together with the Minister Miles Sercombe--yes related to Ann, Smiley’s wife but I cannot remember how, and they drive off all the way back to Sarratt because the body of Bill has been found there. His neck Broken. We are left to assume it is Prideaux because for the rest of the term he is in bad spirits cheered up by Bill Roach the boy loner he takes up after his arrival as a newboy. Prideaux cheers up as the term ends with the help of Roach. In the film Prideaux cuts the strings with Roach telling him to become normal and play with other boys. We then see Prideaux shoot Haydon dead at a distance with a riffle with the two looking intently at each other and the expression on Haydon’s face inviting him to get on with it.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Le que habito

It is only within the past decade that I discovered the films of Almodovar

(1) Pepi, Luci, Bom Pepi, - Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Montón; (2) Dark Habits- Entre Tineblas;
(3)What Have I Done to Deserve This?: Que he hecho yo para merecer esto;
(4)Matador: Matador
(5)Law of Desire: La Ley del Deseo;
(6)Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios;
(7)Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down-!tame!
(8)High Heels;-Tacones Lejanos
Live Flesh Carne - Trémula
(9)All About My Mother- Todo Sobre Mi Madre
(10)Talk to Her - Hable Con Ella
(11)Bad Education -La Mala Educación
(12)Volver -Volver
(13)Broken Embraces -Los Abrazos Rotos

I have not seen the early film Labyrinth of Passion, or the more recent Kika and the Flower of my Secret. The Skin in which I live is his latest and experienced at the Cineworld Haymarket London on Sunday 18th September 2011. It is his cleverest and most mature of his films without unnecessary moments intended to shock. In his early films when a young man he had a tendency to shock for the sake of shocking and as challenge to the forces of the Catholic Church and Franco Fascist State which he still found influenced much of Spanish society and its culture. He has described The Skin in which I live: La Piel que Hablo, as a horror story without screams and frights, and so it is.

Robert Legard is a brilliant cosmetic surgeon who lives in Toledo and has converted part of his large villa and grounds estate into an operating theatre where people come knowing he is the best money can buy. His wealth is inherited from his father who had used his mother then as now a household servant. He is her second son who has become a criminal from childhood. They do not know they are half brothers. I am not sure if the criminal kidnaps Robert’s attractive wife who is severely burned in a car crash and badly disfigured or she has voluntarily become his lover, run off with him when the accident occurs. Robert uses all his skills to save her but she is still horribly disfigured before he is able to rebuild her body. She commits suicide after seeing her reflection in the mirror. The couple have a daughter who is badly affected by the death of her mother which she witnesses. She has escaped within a world of her own making and finds it difficult to cope with life but after making progress she returns home for a party being held at the home of her father.

Vicente played by Jan Cornet works with his mother at her specialist dress shop with a Lesbian assistant who Vicente tries to date. He is invited to attend a party with some male friends and their girls and full of drink and drugs he is attracted to the daughter not knowing that she has spent many years in psychiatric unit. The friends go out to have sex in the grounds and Vicente takes the daughter who says that she find clothing restraining and wishes she was naked. Vicente misinterprets this as an invitation to love making and at first the girl responds with enthusiasm but then panics and rejects unable to cope with the reality of the experience. Vicente runs off after first checking that the girl’s clothing is in order.

When her father, played by Antonio Banderas, finds his daughter she is hysterical and believes he has attempted to attack her. Her condition deteriorates and she returns to the psychiatric hospital where they advise the father to keep away as she cannot cope with any men near to her, She then also commits suicide like her mother. We know none of this when the film commences.
The film begins at the home of the Surgeon where Vera Cruz played by Elena Anaya is in the last stages of her transformation into a woman with perfect skin. She appears to be happy although lives locked in an ensuite room where her every action is monitored on television screens in the kitchen/day room. She practices Yoga, watches natural history documentaries on TV and receives food and drink and whatever else she needs via a dumb waiter. A woman has returned to the house from a trip and we learn she is the mother of the surgeon but functions as the housekeeper looking after the girl and any other patients who come for surgery.

A man arrives dressed in the carnival costume of a tiger, he is the other son of the woman who she has not seen for many years since the cat accident which effectively ended the lives of Robert’s wife and daughter. She begs him to go but he persuades her to let him into the house and to provide sanctuary after his latest criminal escapade has gone wrong. He then sees the Vera upstairs gags and ties up his mother after locating the whereabouts of the key to the room and says he is going to have sex with the girl who he views as the wife of his half brother reincarnated. Fortunately Robert returns, shoots and kills his half brother as he is in the process of raping the young woman.

This brings the young woman and Robert close together. She had wanted them to become lovers but he had been resistant for reason which become apparent after the flashback of what happened six years before. They comfort each other but do not have penetrative intercourse. His mother is concerned at this turn in the relationships and the freedom which her son is proposing to give to the young woman, allowing her out on a shopping trip with his mother. They appear bound to each other for life.

It is only then we learn the truth, a truth which even those who have not read any advance material about the film should have grasped. Six years earlier shortly after the party and the death of his daughter, Robert had planned and successfully executed the kidnapping of the young man who he then kept prisoner in a confined space limiting the amount of water and food but gradually restoring the young man to physical health before using medication to render him unconscious and then with false papers and his surgical team commences to change the young man not just into a young woman but also uses on her experimental skin which he has cultured in a process which is illegal which it the softest and clearest skin available. The process has taken six years.

The Stockholm Syndrome is a term used where the victims kidnapped and taken as hostages sometimes, about 1 in 4, begin to have empathy for their captors, especially if the captors begin to show kindness and take care. Given the tradition of men in tribes and uncivilised societies right into the nineteenth century to take women for brides and father children this has led to the creation of some women who are genetically predisposed to become submissive and to bond with aggressive and dominating men and vice versa. This tendency occurs in men as much as women placed in similar situations.

In the instance of the film Vicente’s mother does not believe her son had been swept out to sea when his motorcycle was found to have gone over a cliff onto rock below. Following the killing of his half brother and burning the remains, burning the clothing and sleeping with his creation, Robert decides on a new life and gives up clinical work to the horror of the rest of the clinical team from the private hospital for which they have all worked, They plead with Robert to be allowed to use the surgery facilities even if he proposes not to participate and when he refuses one produces a newspaper which lists missing individuals where mystery remains about what happened to them. One the team recognises the photograph of Vicente as the youth they undertaken a sex change operation and then checks and finds out that the papers are false and threatens to expose Robert if he persists in stopping their livelihood. Robert pulls a gun and forces the man to leave, His mother is also concerned about development and has acquired a gun to protect her son from the girl. At first it appears she should not have worried because Vera answers the black mailer by saying she volunteered to have the operation and has remained with Robert from choice. This appeases the member of the operating team who leaves..

However Vera sees a picture of Vicente and this triggers her memory and the loss her mother must be continuing to experience. This leads to getting hold of a gun kept in the house and shooting her captor dead when he is in bed. His mother hearing the shot and fearing the worst rushes upstairs with another gun and in the shoot out she is also shot dead. Vicente moves the body close to her son and wiping the gun free of finger prints places it in the hands of Robert suggesting that mother and son have killed each other.

Vera as she has become returns to dress shop where she is not recognised by her mother or the shop assistant, but she convinces the woman who she is and they in turn break the news of what happened to the mother explaining kidnap the enforced sex change and that he had had to kill two people to escape. The three are united.

It is a great film and one of the best of Almodovar and unlike Tinker Tailor which disappointed because it did not live up to the hype, manages to combine his usual ability to tell a story in his unique way with a serious work about identity, especially sexual identity, self deception, the dangers of vigilante justice and the bonds within family for good and for evil.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


The second film is called Smooch and is a made for TV children’s fairy tale based on the Prince who is turned into a frog concept set in present day New York of a widowed mother and daughter living in a middle class standards apartment with mother hiring a succession of live in Nannies to help take care of the daughter when working and going out with a female friend.

The daughter when confronted with dissecting frog at school rescues the creature and deposit in a lake in central park.

Before this the Prince has been bullied by his parents to make an appropriate match to ensure the dynasty much to the horror of the gentleman’s gentleman who presses his master to seek a love match, The Prince having agreed to this parents wishes at a dinner with the future in laws goes off into town to bar to wager on darts and get drunk resulting in being drunk and dumped off the bridge into the waters edge of the lake only to wake the next day in a semi stupor to find a frog landing on his chest. The lady seeing the young man and not the frog departed into the lake sees this as destiny and carts the Prince back to the apartment on a shopping trolley under the watchful eye of the gentleman’s gentleman. The Prince is also charming and decides that to become the next Nanny is a great way of hiding from his future fate for as long as possible.

I pause to remind myself that this is the second Nanny film is a matter of weeks viewed see The Rebound and where the relationship commences as friendship but the Nanny soon becomes indispensable. In this instance it is the bother/best friend cop of the deceased husband who is suspicious about the new arrival especially as he can find no record which checking the system with the man’s alleged particulars. He alerts the parents and prospective in laws when discovering the true identity and they come to retrieve their possession and he meekly goes off. This is when the Gentleman’s Gentleman steps in and resigns saying he has no wish to continue working in such a situation and that if the Prince has any guts he will abandon his duty and find happiness with the ready made family. This he does so happiness ever after. The reality is the children of 9/11

Jonah Hex

The writing plan of recording series together or groups of films interspersed with news events and sports is behind schedule with the consequence that I have not worked on the masterpiece for several days although this has given the opportunity to reflect on content as well as style.

There are no masterpieces to report in this piece, sadly the opposite as all three items can be described as time wasters,

The first, the film Jonah Hex was an attempt to bridge several genres including the cinematic comic book, science fiction and western adventure mixed in with the horror occult and fails badly from my viewpoint, that of the critics and at the box office reputedly losing $30 million of the $40 million it took to make.

The black hero, in the sense of darkness, is Jonah Hex, a Confederate Officer who opposed slavery and the decision of his commanding officer to burn a hospital killing the man’s son in the process. Having lost the war and his son the Commanding Officer turns his vengeance first on Hex, burning his wife and child alive which he is tied to a cross and then left to die with his face badly disfigured. He is found by Native Americans and rescued and revived by the medicine men and imparted with a special power which enables him to communicate with the dead and use extraordinary reflexes. He also has a friend who is a creative armourer who makes individual weapons worthy of James Bond and he has a beautiful girlfriend who enjoys her work day profession as a whore.

Hex occupies his time as a preferably dead rather alive bounty hunter and first shoots and then blows up a small town when the Sheriff refuses to pay the bounty for three corpses and a head and generally behaves in such a way as to place a bounty on his own head, Meanwhile the man who murdered his wife and child who he thought dead has been plotting his revenge on the Union by hijacking the parts of a new weapon which together with the help of a scientist appears to have the capacity to deliver tactical atomic bombs in the form of translucent cannon balls. The President and his advises are fearful after a test run of the weapons destroy a civil community over three hundred souls with just one shot landing in the centre of the town just after a church service.

The president decides that only Hex can save the Union from hell on earth and uses the existence of the former Commanding Officer as bait. Hex attempts to locate and destroy the weapon singled handed in advance of the US forces but is mortally wounded in a brave attempt. Once more it is the Native Americans who find and restore the hero. I dozed off around this time and do not know how our hero and the good lady whore managed to get on the iron ship as it made its way into the harbour on July 4th where the President and co were about to celebrate the day but increasingly fearful after the oncoming craft had demolished a battleship waiting for them through using the super weapon

Fortunately hero and wench come to the rescue and prevent disaster. Hero is duly rewarded by President with monetary award and pardon for all his sins and offered the job of national sheriff. He rejects this as doe snot want to work for a boss but offers to return if required signalling the intention of sequel of the public and critical response to the picture had been different. The couple walk to a reality sunset.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


The recent film Inception uses the latest computerised film making wizardry to explore the concept of being able to enter the dreams of other people and the main character uses the process to obtain confidential information for financial and other purposes.

I may have misunderstood the process which concentrates on dreams rather than the mind which continues to operate while sleeping or unconscious and which could be argued was already brilliantly covered in the Robin Williams film What Dreams may come and Vanilla Sky. Both films cover the sub conscious as well as consciousness and the dream conditions. The main focus of the Inception film is the request of a client to implant an idea in the sub conscious of a victim to change behaviour contrary to what is known of the individual. Brainwashing and making people do what is akin to their normal personality, beliefs and outlooks is of course nothing new with the Manchurian Candidate and its recent remake coming immediately to mind,

Unfortunately this means that Inception is no more or less and the opportunity to explore the nature and levels of reality experienced in dreams through using the latest digital software

Leonardo Di Caprio plays the main character who is driven by the suicide of his wife who haunts his own dreams and the wife also plays a destructive role in the dreams of others that he enters by attacking any female who enters the dream with him. He is also haunted by not having contact with his children because of his work and wanted for the murder of his wife and the lawbreaking which his activity involves. It would have been different if he was putting the process to work for the government.

We learn that it is his father, played by Michael Caine who has taken responsibility for the care of the children and who also devised the dream entering process being used. The digital physical device is housed in a comparatively small case with leads attached to participants. The subject is sedated drugged in order for the participants to enter the subject’s level of consciousness.

In this process the participants only enter the dream with their minds and emotions, and they remain physically detached and able to return as planned beforehand or from a sudden happening such as an act of violence directed one of more of those participating. However they are warned that if they enter further state levels, they could become fixed into that situation if for example they were killed and therefore unable to be awoken despite their physical body being outside the mental state of the individual. In effect they would then exist in a coma.

A feature of the particular situation which becomes the focus of the film is the participation of several individuals in the one dream and which arose because of the unique nature of the assignment. Previously the process had been used only to gain information rather than change behaviour by implanting thoughts. (The Inception process). In this instance the assignment is to get the subject to take a course of action when the opportunity arose - the anticipated death of his father, to break up and sell the business empire, something he would not have otherwise considered.

In addition to Mr Di Caprio who is the main dream entrant he wanted someone else to control and create the “labyrinth of dream landscapes” of the dream, that is the physical framework and for this he accepts the recommendation of his father for an architectural student played by Ellen Page. It is when Di Caprio takes the girl on a preliminary dream ride that we experience the special effects which featured in the advertising clips. The third member of the group is an identity forger, that is the ability to create people in the dream that are wanted and who may not arise from the volition of the subject. The fourth subject is a chemist who creates the drug to enter and hold the three layered dream required, together with the person who and commissioned the event. The only other information required beforehand is that in order for participants to know the difference between dream and reality they each carry a small object which they have with them before they enter and which is immediately available when they return to confirm that they back.

They chose the jet plane carrying the body of the father and accompanied by the son, buying up all the other first class seats/seats together with the staff on the plane although the jet looks to be a private one and after spiking a drink and the greater part of the film action takes place. None of this had much interest to me apart from what happened to Ms Page who played the only character which attracted sympathy, I did not care if they achieved their objective or remained locked into the dream world except for the young woman.

The film has a much discussed ambiguous ending with those claiming that in fact the whole film is the dream Di Caprio has on the plane journey caused by his noting the other passengers in the first class compartment, and memories of his wife, his father and his children.

There is no communication between him and the others when he gets off the plane and he is greeted by his father and they go off to greet the children. Although we see him bring out the reality object a metal spinning top, we do not see him take hold of it to confirm this reality as he concentrates on the children. Michael Caine in an off screen comment states that the dream when he left the plane because he is only character who does not appear in the dream sequences, but this is negated if the whole event from start to finish is a dream while on the plane journey and the home sequence at the end.

The visuals are good but not better than others and the sound which won an award has to be turned up loud in order to hear what is being said using the TV monitor. The film also has Marion Collard as the suicide dead wife who attacks any woman coming close to her former husband and the late Pete Postlethwaite plays the victims father. Tom Berenger and Ken Wanabe are also actors who I recognised from previous performances. The film was well marketed and made a lot of money but only picked up technical Oscar which I felt was right.

Tron Legacy

Wednesday 7th September 2011 became a quiet day in which I watched two films about reality and fantasy: Tron Legacy and Inception. Both were major box office successes and both covered interesting ideas. As is usually the case the script and the acting becomes secondary to the action and visual effects. This is not to suggest the acting was bad but the emphasis on action and visual effects reduced what could have become great films into the everyday.

I have seen the original Tron made 30 years ago a couple of times but not in theatre. The concept was original at the time and remains a good one to day with another sequel in the making. In order to understand and to communicate my understanding accurately I had to go through what I know and this led to considering the extent of he changes over the past 30 years with transformation of computers from punched card machines keeping records of employees and financial accounting, payment of salaries and bills, income and expenditure using machines which filled large rooms and which I was shown when joining Department of the Borough Treasurers over 50 years ago to the slim light notebook and lap tops of today.

I remember seeing men in suits hold large heavy blocks enabling telephone communication on the move to the present small slim and light devices and have no been coupled with the third amazing development of the Internet enabling the transmission of live sporting, news and entertainment events, access to vast libraries of music and films and instant visual communication around the world, taking photos and films which can be circulated worldwide within seconds.

And then there have been the changes in the cinema and television screen. Children as infants now grow up with a remote in their hands able to participate in a reality adventure on televisions through game consoles and 3 D glasses. Given the natural blurring between dreams, the imagination and reality in all children, the dimensional change and influence of the digital world should not be underestimated. While the basics of childhood and growing up are the same, the relationship between any and every child in the economically developed countries and their environment and their self perception and understand is significantly different. My childhood memory is of real bombs dropping of rationing, empty shops and made do meals and clothing, of severe travel restrictions and darkened streets

To day computer programmers visualise games played through multiple screen options and layers of complexity and Jeff Bridges the star of the original Tron film operated a major electronic games company, who spent much of his private time in a secret development laboratory beneath his separate open to the public traditional games arcade. It is from this laboratory that he commenced a technological exploration which led him to disappear from the world, his billion dollar company and his son.

To appreciate the rationality behind the film and what the Jeff Bridges character achieved it is important to have some understanding of the nature of a computer, which I have understood accurately I will try and communicate.

Computer people talk of the machine having a platform on which and in which the various programmes which enable interaction and activity are accommodated. While each programme possess individual characteristics unique to the particular activity there are common processes which interface in positive but at times in negatives way so that incompatibilities and conflicts can arise which can slow down the system, freeze it or prevent certain aspects of programmes or individual programmes from functioning in the manner designed. The computer can therefore be understood as being organic and having the ability to create new developments from the interactions of programmes and changes to those programmes unique to each machine but these because of direct and often ongoing connectivity the changes to the operating system can be detected and problems tackled automatically as well general changes and improvements to the systen and to individual programmes

There are parallels with the human brain in terms of the magnitude of the knowledge contained such as audio and visual memory, sensation memory, factual memory, storage and retrieval. The computer has the ability to make calculations and retrieve information quicker and more effectively than the individual brain if appropriately constructed so that instead of programmes having to be warmed up before they run, they are warmed up when the computer is switched on and wound down and individually closed before the total system is shuts down. This is part of the operating system, Windows which I use and which enables me to communicate with the computer which in turn is able to communicate directly with other computers within the parameters which sentient beings lay down. The latter is crucial because once created and linked human being individual user only control what they require from what is available while other humans and other machines as well a she machine itself controls and develops what then happens.

In order to make the communication more human like computers having been given their voice such as Hal in 2001 and the splendidly amusing depressed robotic. computer in the Hitchhikers guide. The two came together in a film whose name I cannot immediately recall in which a computer and clones humans who do not understand they are manufactured clones run a space station and mining mineral extraction plant on a planet where the clones have real memories but are also created to perform specific functions and have determined life functioning span after which they are replaced by new models which the computerised station can bring to life from storage, including if an individual is accidentally harmed beyond natural healing/repair. Between the mechanical robot and the clone have been various forms of the two, the Cyborgs for example in Star Trek comes to mind awareness

The technology has also led to at least four cinematic developments. The first is the ability to create visual and audio realities which appear to be the external world but which dramatically alter and distort, destroying cities and the world in its entirety through cataclysmic events, creating new worlds, enabling human and non human beings to function in dramatic and original ways, recreating the past such as the world of the prehistoric creatures, historical battles and the imagination of fiction and science fiction writers through wide screens, high definition screens and three dimensional screens together with some primitive attempts to create smells as well as wrap around sound.

The second is the ability of the computers to communicate with each other in such a way as to harness their combined power and take control of energy and communication systems independently of external forces to the system. Another aspect of the potential power is the ability of humans to take control the various independent systems. Government to shut down the systems of their own or other countries; and individuals or groups in order to take control of countries, the while world in order to blackmail or manipulate competitive financial markets, control economies, pursue political or religious quests and so on. Developments which have become practical in reality.

Then there is the power to transport oneself mentally and physically into the system through connections rather than physically but we have also seen the transformation and transmigration of human beings into other human beings such a miniaturization for positive purposes such as medical. Tron is about the ability to transport oneself physically into the organic world of a computer system or grid. The fourth aspect is the converse- the ability of the computer system to want to experience the reality outside of itself using the human form and this aspect is the theme of Tron the Legacy.

As it is a decade or more since seeing the original film I can only base the knowledge communicated in the sequel. The sequel film begins with the disappearance of Sam’s father, Jeff Bridges who promised to take his son to the arcade to play games together but failed to return leaving the boy to brought up by his grandparents, to attend university and to set up home independently in the ultimately bachelor pad from which he use his motorcycle for dare devil riders through the city. He is financially independent as the major shareholder in his father’s company but takes no interest other than to play a practical joke on the board at their annual meeting. He not only lives alone but has no girl friend or friends of his won age.

He has acquired all the knowledge of his father so that he is able to upload the latest development of his firm into World Wide Web for free. Some joke yes. His only real contact with the firm is through a close friend of his father and who worked on developments and who designed the self protection system for the computer. We tend to see this as the computer preventing intentional or unintentional attempts from other computers and their users to search the content of the machine, to alter it, damage it, remove data and ultimate to destroy its effective functioning. In the films this is shown in an artificial human form as security guards or soldiers in the game programmes which are now in everyday use but where they have been empower to take their own initiative in blocking and eliminating threats.

The key moment in the film is when Sam is advised that his father’s friend and colleague has received a message on his pager from the number at the Arcade which has been closed down for 20 years.

This leads Sam to return to thee closed Games Arcade on his own, surprising in the circumstances, and to discover the secret laboratory and start up the system which opens up a portal into the grid and which his father had used to transport himself into the system for a maximum of eight hours each visit before the portal automatically closed down and which can then only be opened from the outside. However although the portal is opened, when inside it is necessary to hold a key to get out thus preventing forces within the system make their way into the external reality at every opportunity.

What Sam’s father did was to also create a computerised form of himself he could continue to function, operate the system when not present, with the function to lead and control ongoing activity to create improvements to free the system from malfunctions and eternal threats. What he then found is that as a consequence of the work the system in effect created new beings, hybrids sentient beings who combined the skills of the computer with the characteristics and imperfections of human beings and which could function within the machine and outside of it. This opened the doorway to tackling some of the great problems known to human beings.

However what happened is that the control of the systems which he designed and placed in the form of himself lacked the human characteristics and he thought and acted rationally in terms of its construction to create a perfect world. Because the hyrid were part human and therefore possessed imperfections they had to be eliminated and all were but one of the hybrids, in the form of a young female. This also meant that when the creator returned being just human he was viewed has been more imperfect and therefore at the top of the elimination list.

Bridges had been rescued by the remaining hybrid and taken to a previously unknown area of the grid in much the same way that we have parts of our brain which appear not to be in use and therefore their function remains unknown. Because Bridges is all human he cannot engage with his creation but the hybrid can because she is superior combining the digital and human abilities and skills. Having rescued and hidden Bridges away the portal is closed and he has no way of communicating with the outside and letting anyone know what has happened. Thus the film’s viewers immediately know that it was not the father who contact

The son has no idea of what is to happen once he finds himself inside the machine especially as he was transported into the games area. The rational for this is obvious given that the film is primarily intended for the game playing and computer literate world of the adolescent and young adult and therefore as an action science fiction movie it is to provide game play including the use of transformers and shape shifting with speed chasing and life and death combats. Fortunately the young man, aged 27 years has knowledge and skill of game playing so he knows what to expect and his bike riding and other dare devil escapades give him performance dexterity.

He is rescued from this and the clutches of his computerised father and the security system headed by Tron created by the colleague and friend who alerted Sam and meets his father over 20 years has created a liveable world with books and music food and wine to make life bearable. Finding out that they only have eight hours to reach the open portal the son is all for a full frontal assault and escape whereas his father wants to sit quietly and think because he did not send the message and therefore there must be a reason why the computerised version of himself did.

Bridges works out that his creation has taken the original plan to its logical conclusion wants to fill the external world with the perfect but soulless creations without human qualities and which in turn means eliminating all the imperfect humans. He has therefore created a huge army to accompany him through the opened portal and once outside he can of course open as often as he wants and return at will creating all the forces and resources to achieve the objective, He also knows that the one threat to his plan is the son who having served his purpose opening the portal he would use to enable him to obtain the holographic key held by Bridges to enable his release.

The son being young, emotional and headstrong refuses to sit quietly and think out what to do and as a consequence enables the computerised father to gain hold of the key nearly killing the hybrid and making him and his father impotent. Well done son! However with the help of the regenerated hybrid they work out at plan to get ahead of the army as it progresses towards the portal. The key is in fact obtained by Zuse, the owner of a Night club providing everyone with unlimited pleasures and who represent hedonism within the system. Zuse having obtained the key proposes to sell to the new order in exchange for control of the inner world while the outer is taken over. He is then exterminated after serving his purpose as the new order is puritanical rather than pleasure seeking regarded as another imperfection.

There is then the usual climax where the father realises he must remain and neutralize his self recreated while his son and the hybrid escape. Unlike Inception I had become engaged with the characters and cared about their future so the ending has its emotional moments. Having return to the external world the son decides it is time to take responsibility for his father’s work and the company and informs his father friend and colleague that they will form the new Chairman and CEO of the company, with the son being the new CEO. He takes the hybrid off to see the sun rise and to live happy ever after together. Interestingly he has taken a copy of the operating system on disk with him suggesting he has the intention to return. I understand that a sequel to the sequel is in the making.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Kid

Because the cricket was going so badly today I switched to watching Warrington win convincingly against Wigan and head the championship table by one point and with one away game to go at Hull victory will see them take the Shield for the first time in nearly forty years, I then decided on a catch up film and with five to chose selected The Kid, without knowing anything except for a brief note via the TV remote and then found it was another parallel life kind of experience, in the sense that led to me think, feel and face issues of my childhood and subsequently. It was also interesting because over the past two weeks I had been writing about many of the issues arising from the Rioting, including families with multiple problems and criminality.

The film is based on the two biographical works by Kevin Lewis who was brought up in Croydon, taken into care for his protection twice, became a bare knuckle fighter and bar night club manager, wrote two books about his life and then became a crime writer. The film ends with a clip from an interview with Kevin and his wife on a morning TV show in which he comes over in a more rounded way than the rest of the film led one to expect although by then he had become a family man with two children, published several successful crime thrillers and become financially self sufficient.

The film begins with Kevin living at home and the eldest of a growing family of four or five living in a small council property with his alcoholic unemployed father and shrill foul mouthed inadequate mother, typical products of the UK social care and mental health system that ahs developed over recent decades. Recently the government after the riots announced it was establishing a mentoring scheme for 120000 family with multiple problems whereas fifty years ago I worked with the same designation of family in Salford for the Manchester and Salford Family Service Unit and later for the Lee Crescent Residential Unit in Birmingham, In each instance the mother lacked basic housekeeping and parenting skills and was still a child for all intents and purpose in an adult body governed by emotions and without the usual inhibitions and restraints built up during childhood, and usually with a history of being in care, and correctional institutions, illiterate and without ever having held down paid work of any kind. It cannot recall one such family where there was a the kind of steady in work male figure which could have enabled the family to function and even where there as one male figure he would be out of work, in and out of prison and into petty crime which even when successful failed to provide relief for the family economy. Gas and electricity would be cut off and the only fuel for heat and cooking would be the open fire, I learned to drink tea from jam jars and the family survived on the chip butties. One of my jobs in the residential unit was to go round and check that the relatively new family planning pill was being taken each day. One worked in marginal improvements over a period of time and hoped that the children would through education and external influences find a way of breaking out the cycle of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and dependency on social and financial care through the state and independent bodies. The odds were stacked against them and many went on to create they own families with multiple problems.

The film not only portrays Kevin’s family in such light but also the mother’s violence towards him, but surprisingly not against others. Usually the violence is spread throughout. It is also not unusual in such families for the male to use his daughters in succession. The film and I suspect paid no attention to the plight of the other children in the family and it is surprising that having removed Kevin not once but twice the other children were allowed to remain at home

In Kevin’s instance he was removed into care and placed in a children‘s home after a number of foster parent breakdowns unable to cope with his behaviour. He had no social skills and no knowledge of how to behave except within his family context and behaved like a corned animal.

The film paints a positive picture of the residential home in which he thrived until a change in family social worker led to a change in approach and the decision to place him back presumably on a trial basis rather than going back to court which would have required in the first instance. As he explains it was difficult to condense 14 hours of story telling into a 90 minute film.

Back home and moving on to the local comprehensive he could have developed in one of two classic ways. He could have become a terror and a leader, bullying younger or weaker children or become bullied, a loner, not fitting in which is to some extent what happened, constantly in detention but full of animalistic rage if provoked. He is portrayed as the victim and when a teacher takes an interest and finds evidence of physical assault the social worker is shown as someone anxious to preserve the status quo, taking the view of the parents. I am not surprised at this given the growth in the number of social workers which took place, the move to genericism and the lower in the standards in supervision and child care management that occurred during the 1970’s.

Fortunately the violence is so bad at one point that he needs to go to hospital and this jolted the authorities into taking him back to care where he is placed with a mature married couple with a grown up family living in a residential neighbourhood rather than the estate of New Addington according to one shot although in fact this part of the film was not filmed on site. I had assumed that he had been housed in the great London County Council overspill estate that had been created on land that was once Croydon airport and which caused no end of problems for the surrounding community for several decades but this does not appear to have been the situation

It is that this point that I felt the approach of the filmmakers and maybe the book became romanticised as Kevin appeared to have had a warm and understanding home situation and a good school which he felt part of and which opened several windows on possibilities. This included a visit to the stock exchange and a burning desire to make lots of money and conquer the world as well as himself. I know these feelings and desires only too well and because I know then I also know the complexity of the development whereas the film provides only a single track. I find it difficult to believe that he would have settled down so quickly into what would have appeared an alien lifestyle given his previous experience of care or moving into an unfamiliar environment such as the secondary school.

At some point he decides he wants to leave school at the earliest opportunity and the foster family appear to have enabled him to live at home and become independent providing on going financial support. The film is vague about how his foster father made his money mentioning being a barrow boy and taking book keeping through evening classes. There is a shot of Surrey Street which used to extend over two streets in my childhood and youth but is now restricted to one. There is also the involvement of Kevin in a local boxing club but there is a whole in the story of how became involved with criminals and the world of illegal bare knuckle prize fighting which remains hazy to me.

Kevin is promised a share in the surplus from the sale of the family home where the intention is for the foster father and mother to move into a smaller property but before this happens the foster father dies and then I am not clear what then occurred except that be becomes a successful prize fighter and this led his backers to offer him the opportunity to technically own and manage a bar night club.

Although living on his own he takes out a mortgage on a family size home and then fails to make any interest repayments so action is taken to repossess, With his share of the proceeds of the first prize fight is able to gain a stay of execution. The bar night club is a great success and he establishes an ongoing relationship with a young woman and then those financially backing him pull the plug saying he has to become bankrupt. The film suggests that while he immediately challenges he basis for their action it is only later after he has reach rock bottom that he is able to work out he has been significantly used and defrauded of a substantial amount in the tens of thousands. He was driven back to prize fighting but when he lost he was dumped and reached the lowest of the low as his home was repossessed and his possessions dumped in the garden.

The core of the story is his relationship with the woman who became his wife and mother of his children and who appears to have come from a stable, rational and sensible background. He was unable to communicate why he had become as he had and eventually when having reached the lowest of the low and contemplating suicide, (drinking and drugs is suggested), he decides on a plan which involves getting hold of a gun and demanding the money he is owed, taking only what he earned and no more and then writing down his story in order to explain to the young woman his need for her. The film suggests that she then takes the initiative in turning his notes into the first autobiographical story The Kid which finds a publisher and becomes a great success and the rest they say is history although the film does encompass parts of his subsequent account. I managed to find a news report of the couple having done up a million pounds home which was then at on the market for twice the amount.

There is almost nothing on Wikipedia about him and the site about his books and life is also short on information. I am resisting the temptation to buy and read the books at present although I have many questions. I wish him and his wife all the best on what from my experience will continue to be a challenging life for them all.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Food Pray Love

Another individual who is good to look at although unlike the previous film I felt the word Fake described everything about the super glossy visual candy of Eat Pray Love with Julia Roberts throughout and Javiar Bardem towards the end

However I had better rephrase the introduction because the film is based on an autobiographical best seller by Elizabeth Gilbert. I must also admit that there is a time in my life when the existential search attracted although my interest was psychoanalytical, psychiatric and psychological than transcendental meditation, yoga and all that jazz.

As with The Rebound the film is about a marriage that did not work because the two individuals involved had different life agendas and as in The Rebound, a follow up affairs does not work out either, so the subject, played by Julia Roberts, sets out on a year long adventure of self exploration which takes her to Italy, India, Bali and back to India although I may have got the order of the adventuring wrong.

The trouble is that Julia Roberts looks good, fails to convey any of the insecurity uncertainty trial and error, the panic and misadventure which someone in that position would experience. The Fake aspect is the performance of Julia Roberts and the overall direction which has to show the countries visited at their tourist best and portrays a character who appears comfortable in whatever her surroundings. Life is not like that nor are individuals who engage in such experiences. The write of the original book might be closer to the reality as Oprah Winfrey devoted two of her programmes to the subjects covered.

I enjoyed the Italian experience best because it primarily consisted of Julia eating glorious meals in which she had to sample everything, usually at the same sitting. However far from putting on weight she remained her gorgeous self without taking exercise or deliberately making herself sick. I love Italy and the Italians, (despite the Mafia), because of their love of life, great climate and beautiful country.

I am impressed with the strides India is taking to do something about its unacceptable racism and poverty although the class barriers are more ingrained and perverse than in the UK when it is possible to move from the lowest to the top within the one generation and well as to drop.

I do admire the self discipline and self control that is at the heart of oriental spirituality although it is something which is for those already integrated with themselves and their environment rather than for those full of internal strife and relationships out of equilibrium although I make the observation at some distance. The aspect of the relationship with Bardem which had some reality is the need for some to have a partner who understands, with whom they can fight, who is themselves secure and uncertain sufficient to let them be free and fly away if needs be. The film also did well at the box office making 300% on production costs.