On Thin Ice

David Attenborough's Frozen Planet

I recently read online that the final episode of David Attenborough’s latest epic, Frozen Planet, would not be shown in the US or China due to it’s apparently “controversial” angle on climate change.

On Thin Ice says nothing we haven’t already heard a million times about the polar icecaps melting – but it tells the story with amazing pictures of global warming’s effects on these regions, a calm and concerned narrative by Attenborough, and a lot of incontrovertible evidence. This was too much for some it would seem.

The BBC defended it’s decision to sell the series to 30 countries as a six-parter, with the 7th episode missing – stating that this was due to a difference in style rather than content (bullshit).

The good news is that Discovery Channel has backtracked under public pressure, and has now decided to show On Thin Ice on the US network, after a Change.org petition gathered 84,000 signatures complaining about this apparent censorship. Discovery Channel denies that the petition had any influence on their decision (more bullshit).

The episode itself is awesome. I watched it last night on BBC iPlayer and it is the best in the series in my opinion. It should still be available there to watch for viewers in the UK. Check it out

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The Trap

If you have not yet seen Adam Curtis’s 2007 documentary series The Trap now is your chance. All three episodes are included in full, below.

Here Curtis explores what we mean when we talk about Freedom, the ideas of negative and positive liberty, and the strange dichotomy between coercion and it’s apparent opposite.
It’s really interesting stuff whatever political side of the fence you prefer. The concept of freedom lies at the heart of many political ideologies, from the Neoconservatives and the Bush Administration to Anarcho-Communists to New Labour – what differs is how freedom is conceptualised and administered, who that freedom really benefits and what it is actually liberating us from…



Capitalism: A Hate Crime

Michael Moore

Despite being released in 2009, we’ve only just got around to watching Moore’s latest polemic (Capitalism, A Love Story), which is perhaps his most overtly political film yet. Moore is routinely criticised for over-simplifying issues, not backing up all his points with rigorous research, narcissism and plain old-fashioned partisan politics. While many of these criticisms are often true of his work, that is not why he is routinely criticised. It is because he is a genuine threat to those in power. He speaks emotionally in plain English about important issues and encourages people to stand up for themselves. This is why he receives so much flack. His latest film is hard to criticise on these grounds as it is much more thoroughly researched than previous outings and goes straight for the jugular. Capitalism itself.

There is often something rather jarring about Moore’s documentaries. Unlike much mass-media produced treatise on the structures we call society, Moore’s offerings are ribboned with emotion and dramatic protest that can sometimes seem circus-like, theatrical. ‘Capitalism, A love story’, is in some ways no exception, with Moore playing at performing a citizen’s arrest and draping police tape around major banks. But there is also a simple and hard-hitting breakdown of the facts around global financial crisis, accompanied by archive footage, and a rather predictable yet occasionally effective soundtrack. The call-to-arms here seems a lot more tangible. The disgust you are lead to feel in the plight of families evicted from their homes, at children jailed by a for-profit prison system, is counteracted by pure elation at the footage of strike action at Republic Windows and Doors, and at a community whose peaceful action supported an evicted family squatting their own home.

While I agree that Moore can be a little crass, the accusations of manipulation by the right are utterly laughable. What Moore does (and what the right fears) is to simplify and explain the means by which the super-rich are managing to routinely rob the 95% of the population with little economic power. A good analogy for the way in which the public are usually systematically obfuscated by the financial elite is the formula shown in the documentary for ‘derivatives’. The muddier the explanation for financial catastrophe, the easier it is for those in power to capitalise and exploit the rest of us for their own profit. Moore clears the waters for us, and what strikes me time and time again is how blatant the robbery of the working class has become. This so-called recession amounts to the biggest heist of public money in recorded history, and so far the thieves have gotten away with it.

One point the film makes very well is that we do not live in a democracy, and cannot while the world is still run from Wall Street. Moore talks with Democrat senators who feel that what took place was a “financial coup d’etat”, where power was irrevocably shifted from elected representatives to the CEOs of banks and other financial institutions, by the back door. This is backed up by good evidence. When our governments’ now talk about budget deficits they neglect to mention how much of OUR money they “gave” to the banks. They suggest that these current times of austerity are somehow OUR responsibility, and we must take these CUTS to our vital front line services on the chin, like good loyal citizens to the church of capitalism, and sit by and watch as our most precious institutions are dismantled in the name of efficiency, while private companies rake in the profits.

Yet again we sit in the aftermath of another depressing expose of the system that robs us of our wealth and opportunity. We write in the wake of yet more cuts to services, including proposed cuts to legal aid, a 30% cut for NHS cancer scans, 25% youth unemployment… the list is endless. It is very difficult not to get despondent in the face of all this, difficult not to either block our disgust with distraction- or even give up completely and attempt to suck at the sour teat of the system as if there is no choice or escape. But not so. A point which drove these almost invariably united authors to heated debate was the idea that there is nothing left to do in the face of all this save violent revolution, a forced seizure of what rightly belongs to the people of this planet for the benefit of all. Yet look again… all of the successful protest portrayed within this documentary was peaceful, and a good reminder of the most powerful weapon we have- the right to withhold labour. Without our continued co-operation, this parasitic system can, and WILL fail. Let us not be complacent. We have a responsibility to each other, and the more of us care to remember that, the less powerful that top 1% can be.

Micolagist & Floatfly

The Century of the Self

We’re big fans of Adam Curtis here at Red Eye. He is quite possibly one of the most important documentary filmmakers of our time. He uses historical news footage, interviews and a powerful narrative to draw lateral connections and reveal hidden trajectories in our recent past – trajectories that have shaped our present world and the way we think about it. His new series All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, recently aired on the BBC, and is well worth watching, giving as it does, a unique angle on how computers have changed the way we think about the world. More on this soon…

The Century of the Self is now a cult classic, and probably the best introduction to his work. It was originally a four part documentary, but is included here as one file… I hope this doesn’t put people off watching it in full, as it is a work that really needs watching in it’s entirety. It draws a huge arc across the 20th century starting with Freud and how psychoanalysis began to be used by advertisers and the propaganda machine to control the population, the illusion of democracy, the rise of consumerism and individualism and the death of socialism. It is our history in the raw perfectly told. Essential viewing for all.

MisinforMation Review

MisinforMation DVD
The first time I watched this DVD I was pretty stoned. One of my favourite pastimes is to put on a film, one with great pictures and no dialogue such as Koyaanisqatsi, or some old Buster Keaton movies, skin up a large one, and provide my own soundtrack to the visuals out of my sizable collection of electronic music. As the psychotropic compound hits the cannabinoid receptors in the back of my brain and takes hold, pictures and sounds become one, rhythm becomes serendipitous, and my senses and imagination work together to re-contextualise this information in any way they see fit.
Intracellular signal transduction pathways are activated! I drift off into my own reverie, the images become blurred, the sound becomes muffled, and I pass out on my bean-bag, fully satisfied by this waking dream. With MisinforMation it feels like the Baron Mordant has done much the same thing, except he has managed to stay conscious long enough to write some original music, bespoke for the occasion.

I decided to watch the DVD again, this time with a clear head. The box doesn’t give you much information to be misguided by, though I’ve now worked out that the DVD is a collaboration between the BFI and Mordant Music, edited and re-scored by the latter, using the former’s access to the archives of the Central Office of Information – the UK government’s marketing and communications agency, and producer of public information films.

MisinforMation Screenshot 1
Pressing play you are greeted with a stark looking menu with the cryptic option to view “Spools” or to “Spore All” – I chose the latter. You are flung head-first into a Hitchcockian nightmare-vision of invading magpies, which quickly reveals itself to be a crime prevention commercial, extolling the virtues of Neighbourhood Watch. The sound is synthetic and ominous, the mood disquieting. This sets the tone if not the main themes of MisinforMation from the outset, a work that is as interested in the mechanics and language of film, as it is with the content. Indeed, the frequent use of test cards, countdowns and grainy damaged reels, conveys a love for the textural quality of the medium, and how that can effect the mood and feel of the images, as much as the themes and narratives displayed therein.

The Baron Mordant’s score emphasises this devil in the ambiguous detail. It is his music which becomes the constant thread, tying disparate pieces together. As many of the visual sources are from the 1970s and 80s, the nods to Vangelis and Eno seem highly appropriate – but it isn’t another retro pastiche. The sounds are pulled apart and elongated to form textures and drones. While at times it is Hauntological in the manner of Ghost Box or Boards of Canada, often the synths and effects are more akin to Autechre or Merzbow, noise and ambience are intense and lift the images to another plane. All works well until the Baron attempts a song – a somewhat naive blip on an otherwise flawless electronic score.

All the short films collated here are highly watchable, and interesting historical objects in their own right – but in MisinforMation they are re-purposed, obfuscated and altered – the new interpretation provided by sound alone. They are shown in a new light and this has a big impact on their semantic purpose. This is the main concept behind the project – that with only slight deviations from the original context, the meaning can be completely transformed. Sometimes this works better than others.

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MisinforMation Screenshot 7

A Dark Social Template is particularly effective.  The new soundtrack casts a bleak re-imagining of our past’s visions for the future, playing on our informed position of knowing exactly how certain ideas would end up failing. The concrete mazes and dungeons of 1960s new builds are underscored by itchy, nervous, analogue bleeps and tones, highlighting the inhumanity of such places – while the original film, blissfully unaware of their future failure, tries to persuade poor sods to up-sticks and move there. Animated sections in the film are rendered surreal, with human behaviour made to look alien and viral, cities emerge like infected wounds on the earth’s skin. A beat-less disco makes the revelers look like absurd maniacs and re-interprets an OAP’s conga-line as some bizarre satanic ritual. The only part of this piece that didn’t capture my imagination was watching the presenters talking without the original audio. It was as if I had turned the sound down on my own TV, and this made it feel a bit amateurish when compared with the perfect wedding of music to picture in the other scenes. This is executed better, later on, by replacing the original voice with another – a much more interesting use of such footage, and more befitting of the title.

Attenuated Shadows is another highlight. This short film about solvent abuse would have been profoundly disturbing without the new score, but the music here goes really well indeed – mournful chords and woozy soundscapes add melancholy to the shock value. The footage looks very real, and yet we’re told at the end of the documentary that the children depicted doing glue, did not inhale. This seems hard to believe – were the COI covering their arses for fear of being labeled exploitative? Was the original misinforming us, or has Mordant Music’s emotive scoring misinformed us into believing the illusion? Maybe we’ll never know. This is MISinformation after all.

Urban nightmares are then replaced by grainy pictures of Stone Henge and picture-book illustrations of early man. Ridyll was the weakest section for me. It didn’t feel as though it had been re-purposed as much as the others, and it did drag a little. However, it does benefit from being an interlude, and in contrast with the other more intense offerings, it paints a quaint picture of Britain’s ancient history. And the music is pretty good too, featuring a Moog wig-out in the style of Bo Hansson.

Elsewhere on the DVD we see the famous AIDS advert (from the 80s) in reverse, a suburban domestic version of Tron where nature fights back, a documentary on Ink Jet technology repurposed to reveal something dark in our nature, strange footage of nematode worms in a lab, and many other more abstract pieces, where music and visual mesh perfectly with no apparent agenda or message to be conveyed. The last film is pure audio-visual pleasure, as beautiful images of the sea and coastline are immaculately scored – the sound and picture relationship here is more precise than anywhere else in the work, with beautiful rhythmic editing and a sense of humour to boot.

In conclusion then, I simply can’t recommend this DVD enough – it is a work of art with very few aspects in need of criticism. It is both thought-provoking, emotive and intelligently complied. What I would say though, is that it is best viewed instinctively, on psychotropics, so your own imagination becomes part of the work, and you get lost in the minutae and subtle inter-relationships that jump-start old memories and lateral ideas. You get lost in it happily. Watched in a sober, more linear fashion, you end up trying to second-guess the creator’s motivations, and I don’t think you get quite as much out of it that way.

Best served with 3.5 grams of “Blue Cheese”.

You can buy the DVD from Boomkat

More on Psychopathy…

It is easy — terribly easy — to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work. – George Bernard Shaw

Most of us comprehend instinctively that there are shades of good and bad rather than absolute categories. We know in our hearts that there must be no such thing as a person who is 100% good, and so we assume that there is no such thing as a person who is 100% bad… However psychologically speaking there definitely are people who possess an intervening sense of constraint based on emotional attachments and other people who have no such sense. And to fail to understand this is to place people of conscience in the world in danger. – Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door 

Further to my original post on this topic (here). I just stumbled across this on youtube. In this short webcast Frank Ochberg explains what a psychopath is and why they do not get upset or excited about seeing the pain of others.

If you’re interested in delving even deeper into the world of psychopathy I also recommend I, Psychopath. From the documentary’s promotional blurb:-

…In this intriguing documentary, Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed psychopath, goes in search of a diagnosis. In a scientific first, he allows himself to undergo testing to find out if he was born without a conscience. He knows he’s narcissistic and cannot empathize with others. By his own admission, he’s pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory, ruthless and devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable… but he believes, he’s not a bad person. What he is is indifferent…he couldn’t care less. Unless, of course, the topic is himself. Vaknin and his long-suffering but ever-loyal wife, Lidija, embark on a diagnostic road trip. But, it’s uncharted territory… deep into the mind and life of a psychopath. The 47-year-old convicted corporate criminal has agreed to take part in the pursuit of his own diagnosis… meeting the world’s experts in psychopathy in the hope that science will provide some answers for why he is like he is. These experts put Vaknin (and his wife) through a battery of rigorous psychological tests and neuro-scientific experiments. Vaknin is shocked at the results. Sam, his wife, the scientists, the film-makers – will they ever be quite the same again?

Into The Fire – Review

Into The Fire by Steven Davies, Bryan Law, and Dan Dicks is a documentary about the Toronto G20 summit in 2010, the massive crackdown that imposed martial law across the whole city and the unusual style of policing that allowed the Black Bloc to run riot while greeting peaceful protesters with a baton to the face. It is without a doubt the most terrifying thing I have seen this year leaving me quivering with a mixture of fear and rage that no fictional film can come close to instilling.

As far as made for internet ‘truth’ documentaries go this one stands out from the crowd like a sore thumb of pure quality. It shines as a documentation of the events surrounding the G20, relying on the footage of various people on the ground to  tell the story, as opposed to much of the found footage that goes into online documentaries. At 2 hours it’s a slog, but a well paced one that draws you further and further into the events of the week that continually unfold from pre G20 Toronto to the aftermath displaying all the curiosities in between.

The creators have put themselves on the line to try get the views of protesters, the public and the police leading to shady stories of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, meetings with provocative activist Charlie Veitch (who quickly gets dragged off and thrown in a cage for being too cocky) and encounter with one of Toronto’s friendliest police officer who’s upholding the law when all her co workers are abusing it.

It offers a window into the police state that keeps on popping up when the big wigs are in town and the treatment that you can expect when you say things like “good luck on Saturday” to the authorities.

If you take anything from this film don’t let it be a foreboding sense of fear but a useful chunk of knowledge of what happens when Mr Fancy Pants comes to your town.

-Paz