Thursday, November 30, 2006

The revolution will not be televised... it might be on DVD though

I see The Wind That Shakes the Barley has just been released on DVD. I can't say I'll be rushing out to splash out some hard earned cash for a copy. Why? Well, it wasn't that the film was particularly bad. As far as films about or loosely based on Irish history go it was one of the better ones; although then again as anyone who has had the pleasure to have seen Thaddeus O'Sullivan's Nothing Personal can testify that would not be a goal beyond someone with the know-how of Ken Loach. Which is exactly why you have to ask yourself how this was such a let down.

Unless of course you do not consider The Wind That Shakes the Barley a let down. I must admit, I have largely found myself among a minority of people who have watched it and wasn't overwhelmed by it. Loach appears to have pleased quite a lot of people: easily excitable northern nationalists, southern Fianna Failers who have been moaning for over a decade about the injustice done to them by Neil Jordan's portrayal of Michael Collins, socialists across Ireland who have seen their part in the struggle for Irish independence largely written out of history and even an element of unionists who are now in peacetime beginning to look at an era which successive generations of Ulster Protestants have overlooked since the 1920s.

I do not count myself amongst the legions of Loach worshippers. I do not believe everything the man has produced has been mind blowing. Many people on the left are prone to giving each new Loach movie a virtually uncritical welcome. A previous venture into the realm of Irish politics resulted in the atrocious Hidden Agenda, a movie in which Northern Ireland looked more like the bureaucratic Orwellian surveillance society of Terry Gilliam's Brazil than anything which I recognized from actually living in the place. So, what was wrong with The Wind That Shakes the Barley?

First of all, it wasn't very subtle. Though clearly Ken Loach does not 'do' subtlety. All of the way through the film you had that feeling of being preached too in a very intense, overtly sincere manner. Even before the film had been seen by one single cinemagoer the director had made clear that his aim was to tell how the failures of British imperialism in Ireland could be used to analyse the failures of British (and American) imperialism in the Middle East today. By the time it has finished you feel as if you've been locked in a room with someone screaming slogans at you through a megaphone.

Secondly, the lines between good and bad were so clearly drawn it was insulting. The British were painted as imperialist tyrants bullying the helpless peasant natives of an improvished colony - a not entirely untrue picture of the early 1920s in Ireland I should add. However, the IRA is painted as brave guerrilla soliders living off the land and engaging unflinchingly with the enemy. Republican brutality does make a brief appearance in a scene in which Damien (Cillian Murphy) and his comrades take a landlord and an informer into a field and shoot the both of them, but as anyone with a scant knowledge of Irish history will know landlords and informers are not exactly two groups in society likely to tug at the heartstrings of viewers in Cork or south Armagh.

Thirdly, the political discussion is, frankly, cringeworthy. There is a clear attempt by Loach to recreate the now legendary collectivization debate scene from Land and Freedom when a row erupts with among republicans on whether to accept the Treaty. Whereas in Land and Freedom the viewer becomes encapsulated by the passion of the unfolding dispute in The Wind That Shakes the Barley all we get is a long, drawn out, cliché ridden disappointment. More of this can be seen when Damien and his train driving pal begin quoting the sort of well-known and worn out James Connolly passages that teenage kids have been spraying on the walls of nationalist areas of Northern Ireland for the past three decades.

I don't actually want to knock it too much so I'll end on a positive note:

1. It is actually a decent film - just don't give away your copy of Cathy Come Home in exchange for it.
2. The Ireland of the 1920s is still relatively unexplored cinematic territory and it was positive to have a film about this era.
3. It was good to see a non-Hollywood movie pack cinemas around Ireland and parts of Britain as well.
4. I honestly can't think of a fourth.

So, by all means rent it out. If you really want that Loach commentary to keep for ever more then I suppose you could buy it. Otherwise, sit back and wait for the DVD release of Snakes on a Plane.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Like Morrissey, Michael Stone hasn't really done anything of note since about 1988. Another trait shared with the Mancunian songsmith is a sub-standard solo career. After adopting a new direction a decade ago (less terrorism, more art) Stone appears to have either got bored very quickly or now simply accepted what everyone else has always known - namely, that his drawings are shit. Today, he tried to recreate a bit of the old magic but, as usual with comebacks, it just wasn't quite the same. It sort of reminds you of that Japanese soldier - Hiroo Onoda I believe - who fought on for several decades after the end of World War II because he refused to believe that the war had actually ended.

Check out this link to the BBC website and have a right old snigger to yourself as a man who considers himself a 'military operator' gets trapped in a revolving door while being disarmed by a - and this must hurt poor old Michael - a blonde haired female security guard...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Irish Anti War Movement and Hezbollah

Well, well, well. Look who popped in recently to pay us all a visit. Why it was none other than Ibrahim Moussawi, director of English language news for Hezbollah's al-Manar satellite TV station and the newest best friend of the SWP in Ireland. Alongside Comrade Moussawi - among others - was that seasoned anti-war campaigner and part-time DJ George Galloway, complete with fetching beard.

I won't go too much into the minutiae of what was said. You can read about the meeting yourself elsewhere. Basically, in the pursuit of the defeat of Anglo-American imperialist hegemony (or short term popularity) we should shove aside our differences with groups like Hezbollah and declare our full support for their 'struggle'.

There would have been a time when a more naïve I would have been surprised at this quaint Galloway/Hezbollah double act. Not any more. I used to go to anti-war marches. In fact, I am still opposed to the war in Iraq. It just so happens that I'm also opposed to a lot of things Hezbollah, the Iranian government and other such forces stand for, such as homophobia, the death penalty and rabid clerical conservatism to name but three. I always believed the left were opposed to these? How can I - even on the basis of my opposition to the war - stand shoulder to shoulder such elements? Since the anti-war movement's adoption of the 'my-enemy's-enemy-is-my-friend' policy many on the left in these islands have found themselves sharing platforms and rooms with some of political Islam's most reactionary elements.

Granted - the Irish left has been in something of a mess for some time now. With Stalinism dead and buried and Sinn Fein hastily attempting to find a form of words that will let them sleep at night while still sharing power with Ian Paisley, the 'radical' left and the anti-war movement both north and south has fallen into the hands of a small number of Trots and an even smaller number of anarchists. It's a tragedy which here in Ireland has gone virtually unchallenged. In Britain the SWP has found itself in recent months trading blows with the likes of Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch, plus the very vocal folk from Harry's Place and a whole range of bloggers who are currently fighting to reclaim left wing politics in the UK and inject a bit of sanity into it, even if it is from the relative ineffectiveness of cyberspace.

Surely it is clear to anyone who considers themselves left of centre that a coalition comprising of the SWP, the Muslim Council of Britain and talkSPORT is hardly the basis for revolution? Unfortunately here in Ireland there has been no such debate. The reason? We do not have, and have not had for some time, a logical, centre-left movement. In Northern Ireland there is nothing to fill the gap between the sectarian politics that infects the mainstream and the sheer irrelevance of the Trots who love spending Saturday afternoons flogging papers in the rain outside McDonald's. In the Republic, the vehicle is there in the Labour Party; the fight just doesn't seem to be there in the personnel who are driving the vehicle. For now at least.

What's the answer? I'm buggered if I know. What would be helpful would be a strong statement of principles, a document of some kind that could outline where the rational left stand. We could use the Euston Manifesto as a basis (I can hear the cry of "counter revolutionary!" already). Maybe so, but am I more or less counter revolutionary than someone who reckons the Holocaust wasn't maybe as bad as the Jews make it out to be? Anyone know of a good pub in Dublin or Belfast to draw up a manifesto?

Monday, November 13, 2006

'Nick Griffin to be next Prime Minister' - 24dash.com

How many political parties do you think would get excited by the result of a web poll? OK, apart from RESPECT. If you were a press officer for the Labour Party or the Tories or the Lib Dems would you ever really feel so stuck for news that you would fire a story out to the media and plaster it over your website that you had topped an internet poll? Probably not.

Well, this is exactly what was making the news in the weird and wacky parallel universe of the British National Party last week. Neatly sandwiched between a story on how police chiefs are 'living in fear' of political correctness plus a cautionary tale about the 'evils' of television, the BNP 'news team' (for it is they) took great pride in informing us that the party had taken a massive 42% (yes, 42%!) of the vote in the - wait for it - 24dash.com. The Tories received 31% of the vote. The Labour Party? They got 7%. Now, I ain't no political scientist by any stretch of the imagination but if you ask me, in my infinite wisdom, to make a judgment on these results I'd say that they are most likely a complete and utter load of bollocks and have come around as a result of some loser (a member of the news team?) repeatedly voting for Nick Griffin's motley band from the comfort of his own bedroom.

Have a look at the results for yourself. Needless to say, the poll wasn't scientific.