Monday, January 31, 2005

Corrie With A Bad Dose of The Richey Edwards

Mike Leigh’s ‘Vera Drake,’ is set in Islington, 1950. Surprise, surprise, this ain't no nostalgia trip. It’s a world not far removed from Orwell’s 1930’s ‘Down and Out In Paris and London’ with his amazement at an English working class ability to subsist on regular doses of bread and tea. The dry taste of soda bread, the smell of dampness and the comfort of a 'cuppatay' is as palpable as the scars of war staring blankly from the eyes of shell shocked characters like Reg (Eddie Marsan) who having lost his mother to the blitz lives a bachelors life on ‘bread and drippings’. Rationing is still a reality, nylons are traded for smokes and parasitical black marketers and creditors make a fortune door to door, in neighbourhoods perpetually clouded in grey.

Struggling to make a wage and maintain a family amidst this is Vera Drake, played by Imelda Staunton. The role has left her with a bucket of awards and nominations, which in turn have generated a huge popular awareness about the film. Head bowed, Vera ambles along in a mole like existence cleaning the mansions of rich caricatures, oblivious to her existence, and obsessed with their own stunted and dysfunctional lives. Vera is reduced to the background in these scenes, leaving us lingering glimpses of the upper crust, in sharp contrast to Vera’s life in a Coronation Street like landscape suffering from a bad dose of the Richey Edwards. Leaving through side exits, she again emerges as the centre of attention. Carrying for her bed ridden mother, comforting a depressed neighbour over-burdened with the weight of seven children and an alcoholic husband. She chirpily jokes with her own family, there’s tea and more tea and along the way she finds time to set up her own misfit daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly), a perpetual site of piss taking, with a shell shocked Reg to their mutual delight.

It’s obvious from the film tag line ‘Wife, Mother, Criminal’ where the film is going, and as a result it takes on the atmosphere of thriller as time ticks away to the credits. You are expectant. This is a film about a back street abortionist with Madonna like qualities. Vera’s activities as a back street abortionist are normalised to the audience very early on, spliced with her role as a caring mother and neighbour. With her makeshift equipment of lye soup, disinfectant, hot water, rubber syringe appearing from a tea box to help women "what find themselves in the family way" the implications remain firmly in the background. Vera takes no payment for her "operations." Her two-faced black-market friend Lily (Ruth Sheen) who gives the addresses of women needing help does however, but without Vera’s knowledge. Leigh describes how ‘film should aspire, in a sense, to the condition of documentary’ and Vera Drake is a modern moment of silently delving into a very secret world. ‘She is doing something that thousands of people, mostly women, in all societies in all times have done’ Leigh states in one interview. That is helping others control their reproduction when they are incapable of dealing with the pressures of another child. Abortion is part of reality, and reality isn’t all that dramatic.

As a narrative, most of the plot development is about the relationship of Reg and Ethel, both caricatures that wouldn’t seem out of place in The League of Gentlemen. Many reviewers have overlooked the fact that the film elicits numerous titters from cinema audiences awkwardly relishing in the couples fumblings as infantilised adults seeking to overcome their loneliness. The crass upward mobility of Vera’s sister in law adds a further humorous dimension. Then there is a sudden shift in focus two thirds in, as a young girl nearly dies after Vera helps her. A knock on the door from the cops comes in the middle of a moment of family celebration after Reg and Ethel’s engagement. Vera is arrested for an activity her family were totally unaware of and in her criminalisation the authorities devastate a working class homestead. Her muteness and inability to overcome emotion and to control words after arrest is an expression of powerlessness in the face of a British establishment that is damning her. Yet half way through the film the plot temporarily follows the world of Susan, a daughter of one of Vera’s employers and we see another face of the same British establishment. Though displaying a similar powerlessness to Vera in the face of a quizzing psychiatrist, after a rape, Susan can obtain an abortion legally for £100. Leigh drives home the class dynamic of the issue, using Reg, repeatedly portrayed as the dimmest character to deliver the most important lines of the script ‘It's all right if you're rich, but if you can't feed 'em, you can't love 'em."

Leigh uses a Caryl Churchill-esque production method of involving the cast collectively in the development of the plot and characters. For Vera Drake they were given a brief character biography and asked to develop them unaware of the plot until a later date, the result is great performances all round I guess. Yet, ignoring the controversial subject matter, overall Vera Drake could sit comfortably on the RTE winter schedule alongside such dramatisations as ‘Amongst Women’ or ‘Tales of A Raggy Boy.’ In that sense it is a very normal drama with its strength firmly in its subject matter. The past explored in this film is indeed another country, but for us Irish the issues raised are as pertinent as ever. Be horrified at the inhumanity and class dimension of the 1950’s British attitude to abortion. But don’t ponder too long though; they got over it we’re still stuck with it.

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Mind Numbing Muppets: Could You Fit Bono's Ego In Your Gaff?

Presenting the first in a coming series of Mind Numbing Muppets - a Soundtracksforthem response from the underbelly of the keyboard to the kaleidoscope of dazzlingly silly cahnts who impose themselves on us via their access to the media.

Number 1: Bono

Fresh from prancing around on the set of their new video Bono and co are back to unleash another album. Bound to hurtle straight up the charts and receive the sort of rabid air play that ensures their new single 'Vertigo' will drill itself into the heads of anyone in the vicinity of a radio with all the infectious quality of Variant CJD.

Lucid as ever, Larry Mullen strives to convince anyone unfortunate enough to hear that U2 are the 'only real band left.' Meanwhile the rest of us are checking ourselves into mental wards worried we'll be prompted into the sort of self questioning frenzy which results in frantic dashes about HMV to locate their new album. Wondering how we were deceived by all those other bands, which Bono et al have now confirmed don't actually exist. A clever fucking marketing approach to monopolisation or what?

But then again, U2 and Bono are one clever as fuck marketing gimmick aren't they? The politicians realise that too. Only too happy to use his mountain sized ego to add credence to their public relations stunts when it comes to debt relief and funds for aids. The fuckers string him along like some mascot to the yoof vote (as if we're that thick). Delusional with the idea he exerts a single ounce of power over them Bono traces a path around the globe like a Bishop with no flock bestowing virtue on one and all. In Genoa so gripped with ego mania was Bono et al that he maintained the social movements which were being battoned and shot off the Genoa streets were 'distracting' from his chats with Blair and other leaders on the luxury cruise liner the "European Vision" and his four year campaign to save the world.

Bono is known for traipsing around Africa with former Secretary of the US Treasury, Paul O'Neill like some 19th Century philanthropist on a 'civilising' mission to the colonies. While Bono got on with whispering sweet nothings in the global elites ears, the Bush administration moved against O’Neill for making the sort of vaguely liberal ‘non-republican’ criticisms of policy Bono himself is renowned for. Showing slightly more insight in the workings of Empire than Bono, O’Neill described the Enron scandal in which corporate fraud cost employees and shareholders billions of dollars and broadly undercut confidence in corporate accounting, "the genius of capitalism."

He’s far from alone in his delusions. "Someone once called Bono a Mother Teresa figure, but in fact he is more like John Wayne," says Bobby Shriver, record producer and member of the political Kennedy clan, who helped to get Bono his introductions to Capitol Hill. "He is the lone good guy who rides into town motivated by nothing more than an ideal. It is a potent American myth." Visionary as ever, after Genoa Bono described how he was 'getting messages even from corporate America saying, 'What can we do? Can we help?' Perhaps the corporate world are returning favours, because a band that certainly know a thing or two about advancing the corporate agenda are U2. Amidst fears that their new album would be circulating on the internet Bono and friends have joined the ranks of other notable gits like Metallica and rap stars Eminem and 50 Cent who have all rushed new albums into stores to undercut piracy. "If it is on the Internet this week, we will release it immediately as a legal download on iTunes, and get hard copies into the shops by the end of the month." Those of you who are desperate enough or stupid enough to be suckered in by 25 unreleased tracks can now buy a special U2 Ipod, complete with a gleaming silver cover featuring the bands signatures.

Meanwhile Bono continues in his sycophantic relationship with power. "You know, they're not bad guys. They're just busy guys. It's just bureaucracy. It's just, it's heart breaking really. I'd like to tell you these people are the devil. Well they're not. They're people who want to put this right." Perhaps handicapped by a Christ complex, Bono has been known in recent years to court the evangelical American right in an effort to persuade them of the importance of debt relief and the like. Many commentators note Bono’s remarkable silence on the Iraq occupation, seeing it as an indicator of his unwillingness to upset his American fan base.

So will people on this site be rushing out to buy their new album, fresh from nights of dreaming about getting close enough to lick Bono's bag? Or will you be joining me in hopes that some time somewhere Bono will lose more than his lyrics and laptops, and hopefully end up lost in an attic somewhere for over twenty year?

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Monday, January 24, 2005

The Problem In This Equation Is Work.

Christmas was a fucking riot of fun, missing all the shite melodramas, rom-coms, historical epics and sentimental seasonal shite - waking up and reading, then off to the TV for the wierd off kilter stuff the national broadcaster feels obliged to shovel to insomniacs. Tonight there was a film on from 1945 about these three students that kill someone for the intellectual kicks, I mean you don't get that at prime time viewing.

Then there's the creativity of being a night owl, what with people bumbling around all day suddenly off locked up where they belong in bed you get time to do all sorts of shit. the amount of books I got to read over Xmas. Though to be honest, the biggest problem within this equation is work. But hopefully next year I've a solution to that, if I qualify for the dole while still doing night classes, I'll be waving good bye to a substantial part of the day and greeting the night. It's not really got a lot to do with night time though, just industry's inability to allow individuals their own sleeing pattern and need to have us all in work at nine, on the bosses time. Working nights would be as shit as working during the day and your body clock would equally resist it. The dole and recreational slumming is a solution to all that.

If a survey was done, you'd be pretty sure that most of the internet was created at night time, from watching indymedia, its clear the highest proportion of feature development gets posted up on that after midnight. Most of my essays were/are done in the wee hours, coffeed up and focused with spliff, but thats for me, thats on the bassi that you do a fair whack of reading, then handing them in immediately the next morning, while I saunter off google eyed and slightly high from sleep deprivation. That'll be me tonight, I'm doing an all nighter to get some shit done, a few doses of techno to replace the spliff and coffee to prolong the night. Then on to a train, listening to something with an electronic twist, operating in a mindframe totally out of kilter to all the sleepy 9am victims to the world of work around me. Aphex Twin my sound track for them. Gets me in a photographic mood, I've wanted to take photos of city centre streets in commuter rush hours, replace some people digitally with robot drones, super impose conveyor belts on to the paths, delivering people to work against their will. That's a reality thats as obvious as the misery on peoples faces at that hour. Staying up all nights the only way I see that hour of day due to my bodyclock, also means i get into work at a socialable hour, get shit done, then head off giddy from ignoring sleep.

Online gaming, first person shooters? If I had broadband I could imagine getting sucked into that particularly scary underbelly of the net, truly the stuff of science fiction, I remember reading a cyber punk novel called Snowcrash years ago, where we interact with the internet as if in a first person shooter, with unique avators you walk into a store or library, consume and use just like clicking a link. It was an evergrowing world, as people built their sites it extended. I used to play Counterstrike, totally addicted, closing my eyes and seeing the scenery of the games always a sympton of overdoing it, as is dreaming the game. Then again, not having broadband confines me to bulliten boards and random blogs, peering in on the world of others silently. Maybe I can collectivise this one.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Returning to Marx To Go Beyond Orthodoxy.

In the epilogue to More Years For the Locust, long serving political activist Jim Higgins would compare the proliferation of theoreticians recycling variations of Marxist-Leninism to wandering Bishops without a congregation during the Great Schism. Orthodox Marxism was pushed to collapse when the excesses of Stalinism became obvious as tanks rolled into Hungary in 1956. Actually existing state socialism as Bakunin described appeared as 'nothing but a barracks." With the final blow dealt during the cycle of struggles in the late sixtiesi and early seventies, orthodox Marxism as a schema for social analysis became increasingly redundant and out of tune to social movements focussed around identity politics, the environment, and a rejection of the work place.

As post-modernism became hegemonic, and the working class moved off the centre stage of theory, several of those who had moved from Marxist orthodoxies were engaged in a parallel project of revitalising Marxism, in a current called autonomism.

If the revolt of Paris 1968 lasted for a week and was enough to spark intellectual fervour, the events of the Italian Red Autumn would play out over a decade generating strenuous Marxist revisionism among intellectuals active in the extra parliamentary left like Mario Trontiii and Antonio Negri. At the centre of the new social movements their project was very much focused on understanding the shifting dynamics of social organisation, the role of technology, and those new social actors which had traditionally been viewed as being outside the working class, defined traditionally as 'lumpen' and 'petit-bourgeoisie'. Many of their conclusions echo the less pessimistic elements of post-modernist thought.iii By '77 the Italian social movements of the seventies were scuppered by a state sponsored 'strategy of tension' against the left echoing the FBI's COINTELPRO operation against the Black Panthers. The space for the primary development of autonomist theory and most importantly practice was closed.

Returning to Marx To Go Beyond Orthodoxy.

Simply put, autonomist analysis is a return to the Marx of the Grundisseiv, and explorations of alienation. Fundamentally it focuses on those aspects of working class self activity that create alternatives within capitalism, cutting across it and refusing it's discipline. A focus similar to Marx in the Civil War in France and his analysis of political structures created by the working class during the Paris Commune.

A subterranean enough theory in the halls of academia, clever editors who seized on Empire as the new bible of the anti-globalisation movement have recently made autonomism popular to a wider left inteligentsia. Its influence however pervades the anti-globalisation movement with its seeming conformity of purpose in diversity. The language of autonomist thought is self-evident in the movements lexicon, it's refusal to accept power and desire to create alternativesv. Autonomism has been codified by Harry Cleaver into a tradition of anti-authoritarian Marxists who broke with orthodoxism to focus and explain the self-organisation of working class social movements and phenomena, rather than engaging in the portrayal of an 'overly one sided dynamic of capitalist exploitationvi' with a class of professional revolutionaries injecting revolutionary consciousness into a herd as part of some teleological project.

this article continues over here

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Soundtracksforthem specialises in iconoclastic takes on culture, politics, and more shite from the underbelly of your keyboard. A still-born group blog with a recent surge of different contributers but mainly maintained by James R. Big up all the contributers and posse regardless of churn out rate: Kyle Browne, Reeuq, Cogsy, Chief, X-ie phader/Krossie, Howard Devoto, Dara, Ronan and Mark Furlong. Send your wishes and aspirations to

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