Sunday, 17 March 2013

Playback 2012

I only have a vague memory of Playback a film released on my birthday a year ago which as with Shark Night I believe involved the baddies filming their victims and which  also involve a corrupt policeman. However I may have confused this story with another about supernatural power unleashed and which threatens everyone in the university based town. The film was made for under $10 million and grossed over $250 million amazing


Contraband (2008)

I remained open mouthed in disbelief at the morality of Contraband, watched because it featured Mark Walhberg who I have got to know as an actor through the TV series about New York’s finest the NYPD Blue Bloods.  In this film Mark, having married (Kate Beckinsale) had settled into a law abiding and respectable life with their two young sons, having previously been a drug courier.


When customs approach the ship in which his brother is bringing in huge consignment of drugs, these are dumped in the Mississippi River to the disbelief of those who had paid for the supply to be brought in. Mark operates a construction business with a best family friend who is also a former drug running associate and in order save his brother’s neck and threats against his family, Mark with his brother and another friend join the crew of the smuggling ship to visit Panama to buy $10 million in fake bills for entry into the USA to sell on return to raise the $, 7 million debt. On arrival they find that the counterfeit money is badly made and they go to a drugs war lord who can provide better quality. He insists they participate in a robbery which involves the contents of an escorted armoured vehicle. The robbery is partially successfully in that he contents are removed, a multimillion pound Jackson Pollock creation. The ambush is itself ambushed by the police/military and drug baron and his men are killed/captured leaving Mark and co with the painting and the money which they take back to the ship in their van. Some of the funds are used to purchase drugs unknown to mark until later. When Mark finds out he says they will be dumped before they get back to port. The complications multiply for the Captain in league with the drug runners warns the Border agency in advance of docking and they check out Mark’s van and find nothing.  Mark has got the drugs back on land and secreted at the home of the ship’s captain so when he is forced by those owed money to show them where the drugs are kept he takes them to the house of the Captain and gets away just as the police arrive to captured the  “real” villains.


Meanwhile while away and fearful of the threats made to his wife and son Mark has an arranged for his business partner to protect them, not knowing as we do that in fact it is the business partner behind the original drugs deal and the present deal in order to pay off his substantial gambling debts with interest to the mob. When Mark’s wife realises who the traitor is she accidentally bangs her head and appears dead, so the businesses partner take her body which he covers in plastic sheets and places in yet to be concreted foundations for the building site the company is working on.


Fortunately Mark also works out the treachery of his partner and goes in search of the man and the whereabouts of his missing wife. He is told she is dead, rings her cell phone and hears it ringing in the concrete trench just in time. If this was not miraculous enough. The two brothers retrieve the $10 million of fake notes dumped in the river before the arrival of border control agents. They also buy the van back at a police auction for the Pollock art work which is still in the van as paint splattered canvass said to have a value of $20 million. The film closes will his family enjoying life in a luxury waterfront property.








Shark Night 3D (2011)

Shark Night is a film for the teenage weekend audience which I watched in 3D at home. Seven University undergraduates in North America drive to the holiday home of one of their number bordering a private lake where she encounters red neck boyfriend from the past who with his friend are also racists who immediately pick on the black student.


One of the groups is then badly injured in what appears to be a shark attack. As the film progresses student by student is attack, some eaten with the exception of hostess and one of the other students. What emerges is that the former boyfriend and his mate aided by the local young Sheriff have stocked the lake with killer sharks and they then film people lured into the water being attacked, killed and eaten. The baddies get there just deserts or more accurately the sharks get theirs and the eventual body count from the ten adults is eight. The sharks looked models that CGI.  To echo a well known tennis player, “You can’t be serious.” This low budget film is said to have made a little profit.

Black Gold, or Day of the Falcon

I also enjoyed the Arabian adventure film Black Gold which poses the question would the life and culture of desert city and nomadic living Arabs have been better if they had not embraced the offer of modernity by entering into contracts with oil exploitation firms. The French produced film also called known as Day of the Falcon and Black Thirst was disastrous at the Box Office and with the critics despite featuring the excellent actors Mark Strong and Antonio Banderas.

The story centres on two ruling families who have gone to war for many years over disputed territory between their two cities drawing in support from the nomadic tribes who also live in the area. In order to seal the peace agreement, the father of one agrees that his two young sons should be brought up in the household of the other. The two boys have very different personalities with the younger sensitive and bookish and establish a close friendship with the daughter of the household Princess Leyla until she reaches puberty and is hidden away with the women.


Then the balance is disturbed when the Emir (Banderas) bringing up the sons of the other is persuaded to allow those working for Texan oil to commence drilling in the area of disputed territory thus breaking the agreement. Arsing from the first successful drilling, prosperity begins to reach his city and he makes one of the adopted sons a senior office in his army and the other head of a new Library, while the daughter looks on admiringly. By a mixture of bribes and promises he gets the leaders on the nomadic tribes to support the oil extraction and then sends an envoy to try and bring his former enemy into the deal sharing in the opportunities for hospitals, schools and other social benefits.


Amar (Mark Strong) remains a traditionalist Sultan and hostile to progress and refuses the offer of a percentage of the profits. His eldest son Prince Saleh believe he can persuade his father and leaves the other Palace but kills one of his minders in doing so and he is captured and killed. The Emir decides to allow his daughter to marry her life long friend Prince Auda as a means to prevent war and shortly after the marriage sends his son in law to try and convince his father.


Instead Auda is persuaded that there is much in favour of his father especially on learning that only 5% of the profits had been offered. He meets up with the tribal leaders and persuades them that their way of life is threatened although he opposes the slavery operated by one group, rescuing the daughter of another leader which results in gaining the man’s support when she is returned.


The Emir has used his new wealth to purchase planes and tanks, machines guns and other modern weapons which creates a tremendous imbalance between the two forces. Audi’s father hits on a plan in which he leads the official army in the straight route to the city while his son and the tribes attempt to cross the desert and attack the Emir from an unexpected quarter.  They and the camels barely survive the travel from a lack of water but just when all appears lost Auda works out that there are fresh water springs just off shore so they are able to find drinking water for themselves and their animals. Auda also appears killed in a battle but survives turning him into a god which has the benefit of inspiring the others to take on the planes and the tanks which are ineffective in the desert conditions.


The consequence is that are able to come to city which has become poorly defended. In the battles and skirmishes which take place, the Emir loses his son and Auda’s father is killed.  Princess Leyla who has refused to divorce her husband as the Emir has wanted joins her husband as they become leaders of the two cities. But what to do about the Emir? Auda has the brilliant idea of using the father in law’s cunning and diplomatic skills to act as the representatives of the new combined states to negotiate the best terms with the companies for the exploitation of the oil. And the film closes with everyone gaining from the agreements reached.




Margin Call (2011)

Margin Call (2011) proved to be interesting film in featuring an investment bank using deplorable tactics to avoid becoming bankrupt after realising that the computerised formula which governed their buying and selling options is fundamentally floored. The action starts when the firm is reducing its staff having contracted the task to a human resource agency that arrives, calls in the selected employee, offers them a no alternative severance package and then escorts them from the building. This applies to the long serving risk senior manager who happened to work out that the firm is at great risk from his computerised programme of mixed loan swaps which includes high, medium and low risk deal packages. 


Before leaving the building he passed a USB storage device with the programme he has been working on to a member of the trading floor. The employee  spends he evening  using his mathematical knowledge to complete the analysis and realise that  unless he firm is able to close its position on the trades undertaken, the high leverage  in terms of potential exposure to assets  could break the firm.  The young man immediately contacts his manager who in turn contacts the head of the trading floor played by Kevin Spacey. He contacts senior executives including the executive Director of Risk Management and the head of the trading division and after they appreciate the accuracy and nature of the threat they contact the Chief Executive Officer who is played by Jeremy Irons.


The solution is persuade Spacey and the key staff present to agree to off load the trades at limited losses without taking on others, but enabling the firm/the bank /group to continue to function without going under. They also need the sacked manager who had the respect of the traders to return and remain incognito during the deception. Even the junior traders are promised at least a million dollar payout severance if they are successful on the understanding that they are unlikely to be allowed to trade again. While the traders attempt to achieve the required 93% sell off, Roberston, the Chief Risk manager played by Demi Moore who admits with others to have understood they gamble that had been taken is offered a major severance package as the scapegoat for the fiasco. Dale the man who was working on the programme is kept out of contact with anyone outside the firm with an additional multi million bonus. Even though they achieve the target it is all too much for Spacey who after an earlier split with his wife and had the family dog for company, has been spending $1000 dollars a day in providing care for the animal who has cancer and who is told the creature is beyond treatment. He goes into the executive dining room to resign directly to Jeremy Irons who explains that they have survived previous crashes and bear markets, bribing him to remain for another two years during which  time they will rebuild after cutting back even further than  before. Among those who survive is the young man who discovered what was happening and has been promoted into the Executive dining room.


The film ends with Spacey witnessing his dog being put sleep and then digging a grave in the front lawn of the family home in the middle of night to the initial puzzlement of his former wife.



Will (2011)

A warm family film about football and involving Liverpool Football Club is Will. Although the film is a vehicle to show the loyalty and length which fans of a football club will go as well as comradeship which can develop, it begins with a heart rendering situation in which a boy loses both his parents.


Will is an eleven year old in a convent boarding school because his father cannot cope following the death of his wife and the boy’s mother. He reappears unexpectedly one day calling at the Inn which his friend Davy manages (Bob Hoskins) to claim his old room and explains that he has worked through his grief and now wants to reunite with his son who he visits to the concern of the school head  given his failure to keep in contact and having made false promises. 


He takes the boy to his mother favourite picnic spot and then surprises with providing two tickets for them to travel to Turkey to watch Liverpool play Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final. He tells the head of his plans to settle in the area and for the boy to become non residential. She takes charge of the tickets. The horrific double tragedy occurs when father does not arrive for a visit and it is Hoskins who has the task of informing that his father had died from a brain tumour.


It is at this point that film begins to have similarities with Africa United in which a young football player with the possibility of being good enough to play for his national side makes his way to South Africa for the World Cup, revealing something of the reality of Africa to day with boy soldiers, militia, poverty, lack of educational opportunities and health care. In this instance Gareth, played by Damian Lewis, has an ally at the school that helps him first break into the head’s study for the match tickets and then leaves the school where he turns to Hoskins who explains that he cannot help him.  Fortunately an assistant has brought the takings to be safed and while Hoskins is contacting the school, Gareth takes the funds and makes his way to France.


He has his money stolen but fortunately again makes contact with a former professional footballer from Yugoslavia who works as delivering goods and helped to get across the channel..


He is persuaded to take Gareth to Turkey despite publicity throughout Europe to be on the look out for the boy. He takes him to his family village where the reason for his leaving football is revealed. He had returned to the village with footballs for the children and one of these had been kicked by a young blind boy into a cordoned area where there was unexploded ordinance from the civil war. The boy dies and Alek (Kristan Kichling) stopped playing football and vowed not to return.


They meet up with Liverpool supporters on their way by coach who do not advise the police when questioned that they have any knowledge of the boy. Unfortunately the buy get to Turkey they find the tickets are fakes and Alek’s efforts to buy spare tickets fails. Fortunately they meet up with the Liverpool fans and then Kenny Dalglish spots the now famous boy at the Gates and arranges for him to enter, meet with the team and lead the team onto the pitch with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher accompanying him as them.


At one point Alek had been in contact with the school to alert that the boy was safe and had agreed to wait until the school head came to collect him, The head with the rest of school watch the game and are delighted to see that Gareth has made it and is able to go onto the pitch to receive the applause of all footballers.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

The dark side of male dominated life is portrayed in a film with the title Martha, Marcy May Marlene. Whereas I enjoyed Wanderlust I remain unclear about the purpose of this film except if the intention is to expose the harm that can be caused by a cult based on male sexual domination and violence. The film is intentionally messy switching from the present to the past in flashbacks, in part to communicate that the main character Martha is disturbed possibly paranoid and hallucinatory.


After having disappeared from the life of her conventionally married sister she telephones from a diner and goes to live  with the couple only saying that she had lived with someone which did not work out and she needs help.


There are two incidents which communicate to the sister and husband that Martha is not normal. The first is when by a lake on a hot day and a swim is suggested, Martha goes into the water naked which shocks and appears to threaten the sister. Separately when the couple are having sex in bed Martha attempts to join them. These actions intend to convey that Martha is not normal and has experienced trauma whereas in reality they may be more common and natural than is generally presented by the media.


However the film reveals that indeed Martha had been the subject of a traumatic experience. At one level the film presents Martha as a normal white American middle class girl who has the misfortune of meeting the lead member of a cult living on a farm seeking to be self sufficient and that almost immediately on arrival she is drugged and raped and effectively imprisoned by the group who addition to working the farm go in for nude bathing and group sex. She comments that all the children are male and is told that he leader only has boys. The group have guns and at one point the leader tells Martha she too has the making of a leader and is told to prove her ability by shooting a cult and then shooting another cult member.  She is seen as preparing another new female recruit to be drugged and raped and other scenes where with others she breaks into a private home to steal valuables. She is also shown attempting to leave and being pursued. There is a lot of sinister implication which remains ambiguous. In fairness the film may have also said that Martha was something of a rebel within her family and therefore more vulnerable to exploitation.


While the sister attempts to help directly the husband demonstrates another aspect of male insensitivity by demanding that she leaves their home and gets professional help. The film ends with the girl being taken to facility while it appears she is being watch although this may be a hallucination.


My objection to this film that is lumps being drugged and raped and breaking into private homes with swimming naked, group sex, and attempting to be self sufficient, rejecting the tyranny of governments and international capitalism as being part and parcel of the same thing. It is the kind of propaganda which some elements of the USA society will fund and promote through sympathetic media. If the film had concentrated on showing what can happen when men remain the dominant power in any society I might have reacted differently.

Wanderlust (2012)

I looked forward to Wanderlust a comedy about a young couple who decide to escape from city life in New York and experience a Commune in Georgia because of publicity that it treated commune life with affection. I was not disappointed.  The couple are persuaded to buy a micro loft in New York after much hesitation on the part of the husband and through creative selling by the estate agent and when I say micro I mean micro. The husband is expected to find promotion only to learn the company has collapsed while his wife is preparing to sell a documentary to HBO which they then reject. Both out of work they find they are in negative equity losing their savings deposit.


The solution is to accept the offer from the husband’s brother of accommodation and board while they attempt to rebuild their working careers and this involves a long car journey. Becoming tired the wife presses her husband to stop for the night and seeing the sign for a hotel bed and breakfast they follow only to come across a naked man which caused them to turn the car upside down. They take a room at the hotel but cannot sleep from noise in the living room, investigate and discover the hotel is a commercial side of a commune of some very interesting people. The following morning the car is righted and they continue their journey although invited to join the commune.


After finding that the hospitality offered by the brother is full of resentment especially from the brother’s wife the couple decide to try the commune but also have second thoughts when “free love” becomes a big issue and the couple are pursued by members wanting a relationship with them but they decline.


No sooner have they commenced to settle than they find the commune is under threat because developers of a Casino have discovered that the commune does not appear to have title deeds to the estate and attempt to move in. One of  the group is certain they do have  the deeds  which cannot be found and the wife, Linda take as a lead in stopping entry on the site by “flashing” which attracts media attention and establishes her position within  the commune as a leader. This only incites one of the members into wanting Linda more and he issues an ultimatum to the couple to participate in free love or leave, Linda who has found her true nature wants to stay and starts a sexual relationship with one the member Seth. George, the husband continues not to be happy with becoming sexually involved with someone else and leaves to return to the home of his brother.


Seth the new partner of Linda is so taken with her that on searching and finding the property deed, instead of rescuing the commune sells it to the property developers as a means of breaking up the commune so he and Linda can have a separate life together, Fortunately this treason is witnessed by a child member who tells Linda who forces Seth to admit what he has done and his motivation which she rejects.


George realises that instead of running away he should have stayed and attempted to win Linda over again, comes back and fights Seth while the rest of the community adopt a non violent interventionist approach.


One of the members of the group is discovered to have written a political thriller which the couple publish setting up their own company for the purpose and this provides a new role for the couple and income for the Commune who are able to fend off the developers after one of the original founders of the Commune has kept a copy of the title deeds.


As a young man I had a little experience of commune life visiting a small one in Wales and having contact with two small community/shared houses in London as well as participating in a peace camp and several peace marches and where contrary to popular mythology, finding new and better ways for people to live together and share in a non violent way was the motivating and governing principle. However relationships between people, especially young people have always and will always prove difficult for some more than others, especially when the pressures of earning and family life come to the fore and the commune cab become a negative power base for individuals as much as in any military dictatorship or commercial business. This was the subject of a second film about Commune Life and its impact on individuals in Martha Marcy May Marlene



Saturday, 16 March 2013

My Week with Marilyn

Listening to Benny Goodman Stomping at the Savoy, Tommy Dorsey Song of India, Count Basie One O’clock jump, Bob Crosby BobCats, Teddy Wilson Don’t be that Way, Lionel Hampton Muscrat Ramble, Artie Shaw Begin the Begin, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman at the Woodchoppers Ball, Glenn Miller Moonlight Serenade, Jimmy Dorsey I got Rhythm, and Dorsey Brothers Huneysuckle Rose.


The most interesting film of recent weeks not previously mentioned is My Week with Marilyn which is based on her visit to the UK in 1956 to make the Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier played in this film by Kenneth Branagh. The film is based on the books by Colin Clark on his life and relationship with Marilyn during the brief period in which she made the film after her husband, the writer Henry Miller, returned to the USA. There is some controversy over the extent of his relationship with the extraordinary star.


Monroe was a serious actress who trained in the Method and was notorious for her temperament, appalling time keeping and inability to remember her lines. Those who know her story will appreciate her vulnerability and the extent to which she was exploited by men who ought to have known better. Whether she committed suicide, her death was accidental or she was murdered is unlikely to ever be resolved just as he death of President Kennedy, her one time lover.


I liked the film and having looked at some of the available material am inclined to accept the main thesis, that because of the abominable way she was treated by Olivier  who saw the film as making him to a Hollywood star and that Miller could not cope with what most regard as a trophy wife and returned to the USA she felt  abandoned and isolated despite the presenceof her  acting coach (Zoe Wannamker) and  her young business partner/manger with whom she  had also  a relationship and turned to the young Colin who was mesmerised by her, provided attention and comfort and may well have enjoyed a sexual experience or two with her.


Eddie Redmayne plays Colin and whose performance in Les Miserables is also a revelation. In the film he gets a job on the film as a personall assistant through his family’s friendship with the Olivier’s. He stays at a local Inn and takes an interest in a young wardrobe assistant played by Emily Watson, of Harry Potter fame.


Michelle Williams as Marilyn brilliantly captures her on screen personality and all that has been written about her at that time and for which she justifiably won a Golden Globe and Academy and BAFTA Best Actress nomination. The film brings out the concern of Oliver’s wife Vivian Leigh that Olivier would fall in love with his screen partner, as was his want, although this tendency did not prevent his anger and criticism at the way she behaved, disregarding her acting abilities and talent until late in the day. She found it difficult to understand the character for which in truth she was inappropriately cast although her performance showed was she was capable of. In this she was helped by fellow actor Sybil Thorndyke (Judy Dench) as much as her acting coach..


For me there is a credibility about the relationship between the young and comparatively innocent Colin then aged 23 and Marilyn with her childlike qualities. In the film he takes her on a visit to Eton where he was a pupil and around Windsor Castle where his father (Derek Jacobi) was based as Keeper of the Queen’s Paintings. This reminds when I was taken to visit the Leonardo drawings at Windsor Castle by the Jewish daughter of a top City accountant.

The interlude between the two helps Marilyn to regain her focus and she returns to complete the film. She went on to great success  especially  in Some Like It Hot and other films but Oliver  instead of making it in Hollywood had his greatest  theatrical role  which he  then took to the  screen as Archie Rice in the Entertainer where I saw the  stage and film productions.


Colin Clark was born in 1932, the son of the Art Historian and expert Sir Kenneth Clark and the younger brother of the notorious Conservative Politician Alan Clark. After Eton he went to Christ Church Oxford, the established College of Public schools and the Aristocracy after which he served as a pilot officer in the RAF where he flew in Malaya and The Middle East.


After the film he continued to work as assistant to Oliver on the Entertainer, Titus Andronicus and other theatrical production. He worked for Grenada Television before moving to the United States to set up a Public service Educational television station where he remained for five years returning to the UK to ATV in 1965 working on documentary films with Angus Wilson, Bernard Levin and his father with the and produced for the BBC Civilization. He then became an independent film producer whose work included the Alistair Cooke interview with Prince Charles. He did not write the books until retirement in 1987. He died in December 2002 aged 70. He had no reason to fabricate the story of his experience with Marilyn especially as he kept a journal.

Young Man with a Horn

Listening to Duke Ellington Sophisticated Lady, The Mooche, Jump for Joy, Perdido, Harry James Two O clock Jump, Flying Home, and Music makers, Benny Goodman My Gal Sal, Nice work if you can get it, Django Reinhardt I got Rhythm, Sweet George Brown, Honeysuckle Rose.


There have been few serious films about jazz men and women and of these Young Man with a Horn is memorable and worth seeing more than once, despite the Young Man being played by a middle aged Kirk Douglas and the sexual love of his life played by Lauren Bacall, no longer the young psychiatrist in training she attempts to play. Doris Day is Doris Day and therefore there is a credibility gap as a swing band singer although if one thinks of her name sake Anita O’Day (Jazz on a summer’s Day) and that Doris do not purport to be a deep blue singer but a straight and loyal loving friend I was impressed by her performance. The film also features Hoagy Carmichael as the piano playing friend of Douglas as Rick Martin the trumpeter.


The importance of this film is that unlike Boogie Woogie the film brilliantly demonstrates that being a jazz man can become as much an addiction as any drug to the exclusion of any other interest including money, fame, family or food. The problem for Rick is that he becomes attracted to the wrong woman brilliant played by Lauren Bacall who uses the insights from her study of psychology and her sexuality in an attempt to take from Rick what she does not, to possess his creative art and nearly destroying him in the process. When Lauren finds someone else to take over after she flunks her course, Rick goes to pieces, drinks, turning on and isolating from his friends including the black jazz trumpet who taught him how to play when as a young boy he was able to purchase his first trumpet. When the man is knocked down and killed in a car accident after trying to appeal to Douglas to stop his spiralling descent into oblivion the trumpet is smashed he becomes a drink hobo until fortunately he is discovered by Doris and Hoagy before it is too late. He returns to success and appreciates the love with Doris Day has always had for him and support of Hoagy.


The film and the original novel by Dorothy Baker is a thinly veiled description of the life of  perhaps the greatest white cornet player of all time Bix Biederbecke and a man whose creativity rivals that of Louis Armstrong, a contemporary of his Whereas Louis went on to International fame and financial success Biederbecke died  at the age of 28.


 Whereas many people of different generations, whether they are interested  or like  jazz know the name of Louis Armstrong, Biederbecke tends to be someone rarely discussed outside the narrow world of jazz musicians although there was a  couple of seasons of a brilliant humorous drama mystery with James Bolam and Barbara Flynn, The Biederbecke Tapes which featured his music throughout although played by the British trumpet man Kenny Ball who recently died  at the age of 82 years and who I saw perform with his man at the 02 a couple of years back along with the bands of Chris Barber and Acker Bilk.


Biederbecke like Douglas in the film was a self taught as a very young boy whose ability to play by ear was commented on when still at school and where he also played with professional musicians as a young school age man. Whether his local fame and that he was white was a factor most biographies cover up of an incident in which as an eighteen year old he was arrested and alleged to have sexually assaulted a five year old girl. He was no prosecuted because of the age of the girl as a potential witness but it is understood that he never denied what he did. It would be surprising if this incident helps to explain the nature of self destructive alcoholism. It is too easy for biographers and commentators to claim that the alcoholism, substance addiction including sex addiction of musicians and other artists is somehow an inherent part of their lifestyle. He is reported to have had   a breakdown at one point in his life.


His interest in jazz and being a full time jazz player was activity discouraged by his middle class parents but in 1923 he joined the seven piece Jazz Group the Wolverines and the band recorded nearly two years before Armstrong created and led the Hot Five.  The older and more established Hoagy Carmichael invited the Wolverines to Indiana in 1924 and the two became friends. Whether under the influence of Carmichael who was studying law in addition to piano playing and composing, Biederbecke enrolled in a university on a course which included religion, ethics, keeping fit and military training but after a drunken bar fight was expelled having attended few classes. In 1926 he moved to a new and larger band which was to play at the now famous Roseland opposite Fletcher Henderson who advertised their Battle of the bands.


In 1927 he joined the already famous Paul Whiteman orchestra and although as the film and others suggested Bix found his requirements of a conventional dance orchestra stifling he thrived and commenced to study formal music.  Far from drinking caused by the beak up of a relationship, as the early bar brawl revealed him and become a hard and regular drinker along with many musicians although there is no record of his using drugs. He returned home and with the help of his parents attended a residential treatment clinic for a month. Although recovered he worked only occasionally despite his chair in the band being kept open.


The most memorable aspect of the two years before his death is the performance with Carmichael of Georgia on my mind playing to together with Jack Teargarden and Tommy Dorsey, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti and Bud Freeman.


As faithfully recorded in the film he got up to play one night with the Whiteman band on their regular Radio Hour and his mind went blank and he could not play a note. He spent the rest of the year with his parents and then returned to New York for one last time, he died in his apartment from pneumonia assisted by his continued alcoholism. The 1955 film The Blackboard Jungle included some of his music.  There is a large collection of| his music available to listen free on Deezer radio. Having not read any full biography I can find no reference to his sexual interests and relationships which are odd and probably accounts for why the film script was written to include two relationships and a happy ending and emphasised his unique talent and preoccupation with music.





Boogie Woogie

I describe Boogie Woogie as a satirical film rather than a comedy and which sets out to reveal the pretentious world of the contemporary art dealer and collector. A world in which vast sums of money change hands, older men attempt to seduced attractive young women and older women take up young artists, all familiar stuff and done before in various ways.

What makes this film interesting is the number of established actors who participate, including Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Charlotte Rampling and the young Amanda Seyfried who came to the fore in Mama Mia and  only recently in Les Miserables. My problem is that I was not engaged by any of the characters or what happens to them, but more significantly the film is so unbalanced, throwing out the baby with the bath water. Of course the people who buy and sell artworks can become the subject of confidence tricksters; the sums of money exchanged are preposterous but no more than bankers or professional footballers and Hollywood film actors. and sex governs much of human activity, but contemporary art is important and most contemporary  artists serious people attempting to express themselves in a relevant, creative and original way foremost and earn a living secondary, much as most musicians, actors, writers and other creative artists.
There have been few serious film about Jazz and Jazz men and women.

Friday, 15 March 2013

What a Girl Wants 2003

What a Girl Wants is a 2003 USA from remake of a film and play scripted by William Douglas Home and called the reluctant debutante. The features a young woman brought up by her mother who fantasies about her father with whom she associated when in North Africa and Europe.  Her mother has become a wedding singer and she works as a waitress envying the brides given away by their fathers and with whom they have the second dance.


The father is played by Colin Firth as Lord Dashwood who is abandoning his title in order to enter the House of Commons with a view to becoming the party leader and future Prime Minister.  He is being pushed into this course by Jonathan Pryce, an influential political fixer and whose daughter he has become engaged.


His natural daughter goes off to Europe and London to meet her father where Pryce attempts to sideline the girl but Firth takes to her and arranges for her to have a coming out season bringing her into contact with royalty and also a young well connected singer. The girl wrestles between the new status and life and her feelings for the young man deciding in the end to return to America. Rather than settled for his life, after meeting the girl’s mother who arrives for the coming out ball he goes to the USA, abandoning his engagement and political career, especially after it emerges that Pryce had originally persuaded the girl’s mother to return to the USA and not marry Firth.   Firth also bring with him the young man and the dream of the girl to have her father give her away at the wedding and have the first dance is fulfilled.  Everyone sigh with happiness.

Uncommon Valour and the fate of Missing USA servicemen

The final film about war is another work of the imagination centring on the widespread belief in the USA and beyond that the government failed to ensure that all GI Prisoners of War were returned from Vietnam or those countries where prison camps were created. The film  Uncommon Valour was made in 1983 with Gene Hackman  as retired marine Colonel Jason Rhodes whose son was reported missing in action back in 1972 and who  spends the next decade searching Asia for evidence that his son is alive and being held captive.


After getting photographic evidence of a prison camp he brings together members of his son’s platoon who remain guilt ridden about having left some of their comrades when they were airlifted by helicopter and added to this group are two helicopter pilots with the participants each having their own story and reasons for joining the mission.


They are taken to a construction of the discovered camp in Texas with the mission funded by the wealthy father of another missing son played by Robert Stack. Organising the training is a young recently serving officer, too young to have been a veteran and this bugs the others until they find that he has joined because his father is among those listed as missing. Understandably their activities are monitored and every effort made to dissuade them from making the trip with their helicopters and weapons. The CIA then arrange with Thailand authorities in Bangkok  to impound all their equipment and the men are left with limited resources, mainly the money which the businessman had given them for participating in the mission. This enables them to purchase some basic weapons and ancient ordinance and to arrange with a former drugs baron to get them across the border to Laos where the camp is located. Having already lost sons he brings with him his two attractive daughters both trained fighters. At the border they encounter guards and in the fight one of the daughters is killed.


The group divide with one party going to the nearest helicopter base to steals the escape transport which involves a fight while the others approach the camp which appears deserted until they see that the prisoners  mostly locals but with a handful of Americans return from their work party. There is a great battle to rescue the men who after decades of imprisonment have become institutionalised to the situation. Several of the party are killed in heroic circumstances, one blowing himself up as he  blows up a bridge preventing troops coming in pursuit while another is also killed enabling  the son of the expedition’s financier to be rescued. Sadly Hackman’s son is not among those rescued.


Those rescued return to their families and Hackman learns that his son had become ill and died shortly after capture. This provides some closure for himself and his wife. Patrick Swayze plays Kevin Scott the young man searching for his missing father.


Now to the truth? Following the agreement reached in Paris in 1973  fewer than 600 USA prisoners of War were returned. The government had previous listed  1200 killed  whose bodies were not recovered and another 1350 missing in action with the majority  airman shot down over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Over the subsequent two decades the governments negotiated to ensure that as far as possible the remains of men killed were identified and the cooperation of the governments in Vietnam and Laos led to the “normalization “of relations between the countries. Organisations representing the missing men, service organisations and others groups were formed supporting the belief that men had been kept as prisoners for a variety of reasons and that the governments  including  successive USA governments had covered up this fact as part of the progress to normalization relationships


Several congressional investigations took place and between 1991 and 1993 of which John Kerry and John McCain were members concluded that there was no compelling evidence proving that Americans remained alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.


The problem had first arisen because the Nixon Administration had argued that there were at least 1500 prisoners so when 600 were only returned the belief commenced of many others continuing to be held. Only one soldier was subsequently returned in 1979 and about whom there remains controversy.


The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in South East Asia was formed by wives of men who continued to press for information and action after the Paris agreement. A national Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s missing Service Men was founded as late as 1990. This group took a more active and radical stance from its predecessor and played an active role in the Kerry Committee disagreeing strongly with its findings. The business Ross Perot who stood for the Presidency at one point was an active supporter of this cause. It could be argued that this effort did result in the Vietnamese and Laotian government allowing the USA to excavate known crash sites and bring home remains that were found although the number was comparatively small at the time.


 A retired Air force officer solicited funds for expeditions based on a boat docked in Thailand but never produced any prisoners. Another special forces member also undertook a number of privately funded trips to South east Asia and a mission was  commenced in 1982  but the 15 Laotians and 3 USA POW’s were ambushed at the border and the mission failed. His activities are considered by many to have been counter productive. Another figure whose military record is said to have been a largely concocted claimed that he had identified POWs in Laos and ordered by the CIA to assassinate them.


Uncommon Valour is only one of several film attempts to argue that there were POW’s and they were deliberately abandoned by USA governments. Good Guys Wear Black and Missing in Action were two other films appearing at the same time as Uncommon Valour. There was Sylvester Stallone in a Rambo film in 1985 together with POW the Escape 1986 and Dog Tags 1990. There was even an episode of the X Files.


The claims and counter claims have continued with accusations of evidence shredded testimony suppressed and one has only to considered what the authorities did here in the UK in covering up the truth of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland or the police and political covering up of the truth of Hillsborough to appreciate what can be done. I also have the direct knowledge of two significant cover ups in my later life.


The remains of over 700 of the missing men have now been returned although I do not know if the time of death has been fixed to when it is said they went missing or to much later. The list of what happened to unknown was officially reduced to 300 with the Defence department stating that 190 of these are believed to be dead.











The man who lived at the Ritz

Another work of fiction about the Second World War also features David McCullum as the live in son of the owner of the Ritz Hotel who has a large model railway with a resistance radio hidden in a tunnel. There are cameo performances by Leslie Caron as Coco Chanel and one of my favourite actors, the gorgeous Cherie Lunghi also has role. The great casting is Josh Ackland as Hermann Georing in charge of the Lourve and raiding the art of France to make available to his Nazi comrades as well as developing his own collection.


The man who lived at the Ritz is an art student from the USA with an inheritance who remains in Paris despite the arrival of the Nazis and continues to enjoy the high life of the city available to those with the cash. He becomes a friend of Hermann Goering and advises on the authenticity of the paintings as well as helping the man to uncover a scam in which pictures are beings stolen. Other characters who the student meets include Edith Piaf, Man Ray and Pierre Monet, He becomes involved with the resistance via a love interest and has to go on the run.  He is captured and brought to face Ackland who had come to regard the young man as his son after helping him to uncover the theft of artworks.


Before this he has an encounter with Joseph Goebbels on a visit to Paris by special train with his mistress having been introduced by Goering so when he is able to escape from the clutches of the Gestapo after giving himself up to save his girl friend and then by good fortune is taken to the station to be killed in front of a train he sees Goebbels about to return to Germany and is invited into his train to advise on a picture he has acquired. Geobbels then rescues him from his captors and when the train is stopped at the border and the truth of his guest is revealed to him he finds that the man has escaped from the train.  He is then shown with his girl friend fighting with the resistance. This TV film is based on a novel. I need say no more









Thursday, 14 March 2013

Danger Within

Danger Within concerns the attempt by British prisoners of war to escape but realise that one of their number is a German spy. There is a powerful cast with Richard Todd as the Colonel senior officer, with Richard Attenborough Donald Houston, Michael Wilding, Bernard Lee, Dennis Price, Peter Jones, Michael Caine, Vincent Ball, Andrew Faulds and Terence Alexander are all part of this stellar cast. The camp is run by Italians but is to be taken over by the Germans following the armistice between Italy and the allies. There is a race against time to find he informer and get the prisoners away. As with many similar films there are issues about the use of tunnels and the action takes place against a theatrical production, in this instance Hamlet rather than the usual concert party. The venture is successful. The film is based on a novel.






Mosquito Squadron

Mosquito Squadron is also a film about Bomber Command, starring David McCullum and also featuring Dinsdale Lansden and where after launching an attack on a V1 rocket based the Squadron Leader is shot down and believed killed. His wife is the former girl friend of another member of the Squadron played by McCullum who comforts and then reignites their relationship.


He then becomes the Squadron Leader and asked to go on a photographic mission on a Chateau believed to be housed an underground rocket manufacturing/ development plant. The Squadron is then trained to use Barnes Wallis bouncing bombs needed to get the explosive into the entrance of the plant.


Unfortunately before the attack can be made the Germans move captured airman into the Chateau as human shields and photographs reveal that among the prisoners is the Squadron Leader. Given the instructions to continue with the attack McCullum decides that he will not raise the hopes of the man’s wife.


The plan is for the local resistance to mount an attack on the Chateau to get the UK prisoners out, first getting a message via a priest for the men to attend a service to hold in the open air.  The attack is successful and one of the bombs is used to make a hole in the wall of the Châteaux enabling the prisoner to escape. McCullum’s plane is shot down and he joins the Marquis in helping to rescue the airman, finding the Squadron Leader who is suffering from amnesia cannot remember his name or that he is married. The get away is hindered by a tank and the Squadron leader sacrifices himself. McCullum is able to get back to the UK where he is congratulated, but keeps the news that her husband was alive temporarily.

This was a low budget piece of fiction made in 1969 and which right did not find favour with the critics or the cinema going public.






Appointment in London

At the same time as I watched a film about the naval men who attempted to guard the North Atlantic convoys and commenced to reread Nicholas Monsarratt’s fictional tale The Cruel Sea, the government announced that a new medal would be awarded to the men, the wives and surviving relatives who had travelled the most northern route, the Artic convoy route. The government also announced that it was also awarding a medal for those who served in Bomber Command during World War II and last year the Queen. For decades of peace between the UK and Germany as joint members of the EEC it has been considered de riguer  (don’t know the appropriate German equivalent)  not to mention or show approval for the blanket bombing of German towns and cities by the allies in  revenge for what the Nazis did to British and European cities.


Two weeks ago now after listening to Bruce Kent explain why there is no justification for governments to hold, let alone develop weapons of mass destruction, a former Airforce pilot expressed his anger and frustration at the CND the Satyagraha protests, actions and peace camps in which I participated and where I am reading the excellent analysis of the causes and roles in Sean Scalmer’s thesis Gandhi in the West and the rise of Radical Protest in the UK and the USA. I resisted the temptation to get up and try an explain that I regarded him to have been a man of great courage and service to his country and that I hoped he would continue to regard his working life in a positive way, but then as I now I believed it was morally wrong to engage in the wilful bombing and threatening to bomb children, women and men who are non combatants


Last year, half a century later, the national memorial to the men who did not return from bombing missions was opened by the Queen in London. It is therefore another coincidence that a film channel also showed once more one of the few films which paid tribute to the brave men who flew in bomber command knowing that odds were against then surviving the maximum number of flights before being assigned to ground or other duties. The film is called Appointment in London and starred Dirk Bogard,


The appointment is at the end of the film at Buckingham Palace and a tribute to the men who were unable to participate. The film has a limited story in that Bogard plays the Wing Commander coming to the end of his third tour and 90 missions and ordered to stop flying because of the danger to him. The crews have begun to say there is a Jinx because of the number of fatalities and the wife of one of the pilots has written expressing concern (assumed at the time to be the man’s mother). When he does not return from a mission she visits Bogard at the station and on finding she has booked in at a local Inn he offers to introduce her to some of those who were friends with her husband.


This is not a love interest for Bogard. This is someone in the WRAF who he meets in London and is able to talk about his responsibilities and need to complete the 90 missions. A number of the latest bombers arrive with their new crews and the settling in induction party is held where the fun consists of furniture being piled up and soot from fire being missed with water and one by one the new pilots imprinting their soot covered feet on the ceiling. At the party are the widow and the girl friend observing the boys will be boys.


The base is to participate in a major blitz of an important industrial complex and they all set off with the exception of one participating which develops undercarriage problems and which cannot be immediately fixed. Bogard who has been officially grounded and to be assigned to training role elsewhere offers the use of his plane and decides to accompany the crew but in effect as an observer. Their task is to assemble at a point where planes from other wings will gather and then follow a led path finder who lays down red flares for the route and eventually green flares for the target area.  When this plane is hit, Bogard is in a position as the senior officer present to use the plane he is in as the new command guidance control in the air ensure  many of the others hit the target,


Thinking that he will be upset after being grounded the female friend has come up to the base to console him before he leaves to a location abroad, and then finds  that  no one knows where he is and then that contrary to orders although he is not acting as a pilot he is in the air. The base radio man has rigged up a unit which enables those in the control room to hear what is going on in the air over Germany and because she is part of the service she is invited to listen in.


As the film draws to a close all the aircraft return except one, that of the plane of Board and when there is contact all the station rushes out to the landing area who greets their hero. He has shown there is no jinx completing his 90 missions. Dianah Sheridan, Walter Fitzgerald, Bill Kerr, Richard Wattis and Bryan Forbes all participated.