Peter and Jan break into wealthy people’s homes. They’re very professional about it, and well prepared. They case out the places, research and disable alarm systems, use the proper tools – glass cutters and suction grips – and work quickly and silently. But they never steal anything, and they only enter empty houses so that they never hurt anyone. At least not physically. They do it to unnerve the owners. They rearrange the furniture and leave a simple message: ‘You have too much money. Your days of plenty can’t last.’
They sign their message: ‘The Edukators’. They get some limited publicity in a newspaper but tell no-one about it. Until, that is, Jan tells Peter’s girlfriend Jule when Peter is away. Jule has massive debts and is being evicted from her flat. He argues with her that there are ways of striking back, and, on the spur of the moment, takes her on a break-in – which goes disastrously wrong.
Jan, Jule and Peter use force and threats to get out of the mess, but only get in deeper. Weingartner uses a thriller format to ask very interesting questions. Should you resort to force for political ends? Is spontaneity a poor substitute for freedom, or its essence? Can we give and share love with more than one person? Weingartner’s freestyle direction suggests security shouldn’t imprison us, but free us to be ourselves. His script has a lovely final twist. A great, engaging political film. See it!
From Croydon to Cuba... An Anthology
While it’s still uncertain as to who it was that killed Kirsty MacColl in that speedboat strike in Mexico, what is beyond dispute is that Britain lost one of its finest songwriters on that day in December 2000. As a singer, MacColl was a great storyteller, and as a songwriter a sharp observer, as anyone who’s felt the chill that howls through ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, the song she cut with the Pogues, can testify.
There’s little in a 21-year recording career that From Croydon to Cuba’s 65 songs miss. The first tracks have a Motown feel with their harmonies and swing. By the mid-1980s, MacColl had found her sweetly sour edge, something brought out to full flavour on Billy Bragg’s ‘A New England’. If this anthology has one virtue, it’s to remind us that MacColl never lost that dance beat.
It’s there in the roll of ‘Walking Down Madison’, written with former Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr, and to the fore in the bossa novas and rumbas of the songs around her late-1990s Tropical Brainstorm period. There’s much that’s hilarious: ‘England 2, Colombia 0’ details an affair over before it starts. It shouldn’t be funny, but it is. But it’s the duets that stand out: a sultry ‘Libertango’ with Sharon Shannon; an exquisite cover of ‘Perfect Day’, Lou Reed’s hymn to heroin, with Evan Dando; and, par excellence, the ‘Fairy Tale’ with Shane MacGowan. What a celebration, what a loss.
Ear & Eye: Encounters with World Music
A book, a CD, and the culmination of what German journalist Christoph Wagner describes as an ‘almost autistic obsessiveness’ that began with a collection of old picture postcards of musicians – there is nothing quite like Ear & Eye. Which is only part of its bizarre charm.
Auge & Ohr, to use its other title – the book is printed in both German and English – is a combination of image, text and music that poses two fundamental questions. First, how do we imagine world music? Second, how does that affect our subsequent encounters?
But this is not yet another contribution to the debate about the consumption of non-Western musics, and absolutely not some dry-as-dust anthropological work. Wagner and his 38 essayists – including musicians Robert Wyatt, Jah Wobble and Pauline Oliveros – are more interested in imaginations.
The book is organized simply and produced handsomely – 70 vintage postcards (including Swiss yodellers, Egyptian café musicians, and the gloriously named Dorothy Sturdy’s Ladies Orchestra, complete with cloche hats) serve as launch pads for the writers to construct their own interpretations of the scenes and append their own experiences.
Most chapters are accompanied by an old recording of the type of music at hand. Some, like the South African mbira and humming chorus, recorded circa 1940, are magical. Others are odd: what, for example, are those thudding noises accompanying a Romanian ritual dance recorded in 1935? The men shout their lines rigorously, but still these crashes continue, like so many bodies falling to the floor. We will never know, but we can imagine.
Ray Hammond’s sharp, futuristic eco-disaster novel has been given a grim, unwelcome topicality by the horrific devastation inflicted on vast swathes of Asia by the Boxing Day tsunami.
Extinction is set 50 years from now; a time when climate control has become a reality, but only for those affluent Western nations which can afford to buy the technology from the giant energy corporations which control the weather. The rest of the world struggles to cope with ever-worsening climate conditions and the human consequences of rising sea levels and widespread flooding. Refugees from inundated countries have taken to the sea in whatever vessels they can find and have lashed these together to form vast, floating islands. These ‘environmental refugees’, unrecognized by any nation and kept from landfall by the world’s navies, eke out a miserable and precarious existence on the South Atlantic seas. Michael Fairfax, a human rights lawyer, takes up their cause and attempts to argue for justice before the international courts. However, as he prepares his case, it seems he has been pre-empted by the earth itself, as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and massive tsunamis, triggered by the greed of the weather-management corporations, threaten the very existence of humanity.
This is a convincing and tightly written thriller, in which the scientific background, the politics and the human drama are skilfully intermeshed and the message – that we are meddling with the fragile systems of our planet at our peril and the ecological clock is ticking – is one that could not be more pressing or more in need of urgent global action.
Iraq, Inc: A Profitable Occupation
Amidst the carnage and chaos that is post-invasion Iraq, one area of the economy is booming; that of the private ‘contractors’ hired to manage what the United States says is the reconstruction of the country. Companies such as Halliburton, Bechtel and DynCorp are making vast profits while signally failing to provide adequate services to either their paymasters, the American taxpayers or their putative clients, the Iraqi people.
In this meticulously researched book, Pratap Chatterjee tells a tale of squalid war profiteering and staggering incompetence. This is a world of ‘cost-plus’ contracts, where the contractor is paid expenses plus a guaranteed profit margin, rewarding overspending and encouraging corruption. Padded payrolls, shoddy and incomplete work and phantom convoys of empty trucks are the norm in this looking-glass world of ‘reconstruction’.
While the US corporations, in their heavily guarded enclaves, siphon off billions of dollars, ordinary Iraqis have to live in the real world of shattered infrastructure and non-existent security. The everyday reality of ruined hospitals and schools, rampant unemployment and shortages of power and clean water intensifies popular discontent and provides a flood of volunteers for the ever-growing insurgency. A rigged ‘democracy’ empowered only to sign further contracts with the same profiteers can only exacerbate the situation.
Drawing on interviews with Iraqi administrators, former soldiers and police, as well as an array of corporate whistleblowers, Chatterjee has amassed a powerful case that, by rewarding its big business backers and pursuing a ‘for-profit’ war, the Bush Administration has ensnared itself in an increasingly bloody scenario with no exit strategy. Many would call this brainless neo-colonialism; it certainly isn’t nation-building.
Present/Tense: Poets in the World
This sharp, passionate and eloquent collection of contemporary political poetry is best left to speak for itself. Here’s one example:
We Are Not Responsible
We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives. We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions. We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts. We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honour your reservations. In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. Before taking off, please extinguish your smouldering resentments. If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way. In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself. Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we are unable to find the key to your legal case. You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. You are not presumed to be innocent if the police have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang colour. It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. You have no rights that we are bound to respect. Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible for what happens to you.
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