Mixed Media

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mixed media

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Click here to email the reviews editor, Vanessa Baird.

film and video reviews

The Sea Inside
directed by Alejandro Amenábar

Ramón is paralyzed - he can move only his eyes and mouth, and has been this way for 30 years. He now wants to die, and he wants whoever helps him to be free from prosecution.

Smiling to the end: Javier Bardem, as Ramón, connects and inspires in The Sea Inside.
Smiling to the end: Javier Bardem, as Ramón, connects and inspires in The Sea Inside.

Although based on Ramón Sampedro's memoir Letters from Hell, and his legal struggle with the Spanish state and the Catholic church, Amenábar's film has a wider resonance. Ramón wants to die but is always smiling. Profoundly isolated, he lights up people's lives, connects with them. This is a film about how, in different ways, people are able to love one another.

Javier Bardem's physical presence and absorption in the role of Ramón and Amenábar's script, direction and score are impressive. Ramón's relationship with his family is wonderfully presented and very, very moving. His father is lost in sadness, his brother bitterly opposed to any assisted suicide, his sister-inlaw devoted to him. The scene where he parts from them is almost unbearably poignant.

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The Woodsman
directed by Nicole Kassell

Not all he seems: an unerring Kevin Bacon as Walter in The Woodsman.
Not all he seems: an unerring Kevin Bacon as Walter in The Woodsman.

Walter is a highly skilled furniture maker. He's slight, with a rather sad and gentle air. He keeps to himself but, when a woman colleague is sexually bullied, he's concerned enough to ask her how she is. Walter seems genuinely caring, but he has a secret - he is on probation after serving 12 years for sexually molesting girls.

You might expect that in a liberal-minded American film it turns out that Walter has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, that somehow he is innocent and will vindicate himself. But Kassell's début feature doesn't simplify, exploit, or follow any Hollywood formula. It's serious, gripping, illuminating - and disturbingly real. Walter is not a monster, but he does seem to fancy girls aged between 10 and 12.

The Woodsman depends on ensemble acting of the highest quality - Kevin Bacon is unerring as Walter. It's a film about character and sensitivity to other people's needs and feelings. It's very fine indeed and gets to the core of what it means to be a human being.

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music reviews

by Konono No 1
(Crammed CRAW 27 CD)

Congotronics Once the likembé was, like its mbira cousin, a thumb piano producing a bluntish sound which in the hands of a virtuoso was a versatile instrument. Mawangu Mingiedi, founder of Konono No 1, was such a musician. But, on moving to Kinshasa, he soon realized that his likembé needed a little more oomph if it were to cut through the urban noise. Which is how Konono came to make a heap of resonators and speakers out of old cars, microphones and much else besides. Oh, and a percussion section of pots and pans, too.

But behind this technical inventiveness, there's a music that, in its mix of old and new, is vibrant and (stand close to the speakers) vibrating. Its roughshod electrification literally hums. Congotronics is, bar the megaphone-equipped lance-voix ('voice-throwers'), mostly an instrumental affair. Likembés hammer along, whistles shrill and the percussive patterns get closer in tempo, replicating the raw, elemental quality that made the first electronic dance records so exciting. As the band play live in front of a wall of speakers, the congotronic experience must be formidable, as gut-hitting as a dub reggae event.

Sympathetically handled by Vincent Kenis, the producer behind a quantity of non-Western and electronic musics, Congotronics retains a live ambience that does it credit. Its emphasis is, nevertheless, on variation; you hear it in the way the themes are mutated and distorted. Small wonder that this is the first volume in a series: the crossover potential for this into experimental, dance and post-rock fields is immense.

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The Eternal Road
by Kurt Weill
(Naxos 8 559402 CD)

If it's possible to think of Kurt Weill as a composer whose later work was eclipsed by the genius of his early compositions, then The Eternal Road serves as a reminder that there was much that followed The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, the two collaborations with Bertold Brecht that are now heard as the sound of the pre-Nazi era.

This dramatic oratorio has its politics too. The brainchild of Zionist impresario Meyer Weisgal, it is set in a European city. The Jews shelter in the synagogue as a pogrom rages outside. The congregation look back on their past to imagine the promised land. When it premiered in 1937 in New York, the parallel with events across the Atlantic was obvious. The score was Weill's opportunity to show his breadth: he moves from sonorous cantorial music to huge neo-Baroque choruses; even the golden calf gets a jazzed-up theme of its own. Yet the oratorio was demanding. Four hours long with nearly 250 singers, it was never going to break even, and it closed after 153 performances. It has not been staged since and this appetite-whetting CD of its highlights is the only recording available.

The story of The Eternal Road is also that of Germany's Jewish diaspora: 'If Hitler doesn't want you, I'll take you!' 'Will Never Die' and 'A Flag Is Born' were all written in the 1940s and, given the tenor of the times, determinedly of the moment, but it's here that the agnostic composer put his Jewish identity on record.

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book reviews

Dispatches from the People's War in Nepal
by Li Onesto
(Pluto Press ISBN 0 77453 2341 3)

Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal Nepal burst spectacularly out of media obscurity on 1 June 2001 when Prince Dipendra slaughtered his parents, siblings and six other members of the Royal Family with a semiautomatic rifle. The media focus that turned on Nepal revealed rather more than regicide within a corrupt feudal system. A guerrilla war had been raging in Nepal, almost unnoticed by the world, since 1996 with the army of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) winning striking victories and strong popular support.

In 1999 the radical American journalist Li Onesto travelled extensively in Nepal, interviewing CPN leaders, fighters and ordinary villagers. Much of the country is under effective Maoist control with villagers running 'people power' institutions at local level. The guerrillas claim that 10 million of Nepal's 23 million people live in areas under CPN control.

What emerges from her account is the unbelievably harsh conditions of the peasants in Nepal and the summary brutality and murder meted out by the police and the Royal Nepalese Army. This book reveals the courage and commitment of the Nepalese people, suffering vicious oppression and fighting for a better life. Those who talked to Onesto constantly emphasized that they saw their fight as part of a global struggle and expressed their hope to be 'the spark that lights the fire'.

The author is unashamedly partisan towards the uprising but this is an excellent primer on the attempt, in one of the most impoverished countries on the world, against all the odds and the supposed tides of history, to break the shackles of feudalism and build a new society.

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The Corporation
The pathological pursuit of profit and power
by Joel Bakan
(Constable ISBN 1 84529 079 8)

The Corporation The pathological pursuit of profit and power You need to read this book. This was the work on corporate power that was waiting to be written

Bakan has produced a crystal clear, systemic analysis of the corporation, illuminated by examples, from a 1930s big business coup plot against Roosevelt, to the contemporary morality tale of how the Body Shop lost its soul after it was floated on the stock market.

Brilliantly, Bakan avoids the mainstream media's mistake of concentrating on employees' personal morality, limited notions of consumer power, or on the view of Enron et al as 'bad apples' rather than part of a deeply destructive underlying system. Instead he goes right to the heart of the problem: the structure of the corporate charter means the company is legally obliged to maximize shareholder profits above all other considerations. Taking into account worker rights, the environment or the public good to the detriment of those profits is actually illegal. Bakan points out that in an individual, this behaviour would be psychopathic.

The Corporation argues that therefore corporate social responsibility can only ever be a limited solution; and concludes that it is better to re-regulate corporations, change their fundamental legal charters, and gain democratic control over them, than to petition them for a more benevolent tyranny. Joel Bakan's writing has not just humanity and keen intelligence, but the full weight of the legal profession behind it. The case for the prosecution has been made.

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The Corporation Book & DVD are also available from the NI Australia on-line shop.

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The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire
by Khassan Baiev
(Pocket Books ISBN 0 7434 3036 0)

The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire In 1994 Boris Yeltsin ordered Russian troops into Chechnya and the rebellious Caucasian republic's 400-year struggle for independence erupted into bloody, outright war. Appalled by the situation, the Chechen surgeon Khassan Baiev, who had been practising lucrative cosmetic surgery in Moscow, returned to his beloved homeland. He set up a makeshift hospital just outside Grozny and began treating all who needed his care, on both sides of the conflict.

Baiev found that his dedication to the Hippocratic Oath meant he was denounced by his compatriots for treating wounded Russian soldiers and branded a terrorist sympathizer by the authorities for treating 'bandits'. Nevertheless, despite imprisonment, torture and the bombing of his house and surgery, he continued to operate under impossible conditions. Eventually, in 2000, exhaustion and breakdown caused him to seek asylum in the United States, where he still lives, unable to practise medicine.

The savagery of the Chechen conflict can hardly be overstated; a population slaughtered and scattered, the death and brutalization of untold numbers of young Russian conscripts, and insanely desperate Chechen fighters resorting to appalling atrocities such as the Moscow Theatre siege and the massacre at Beslan primary school.

Baiev has said that in The Oath he wanted to do two things: to convey the hellishness of war and to give the world an impression of the Chechen people that stretched beyond the stereotypical notions of 'terrorist'. He has succeeded in both objectives in this honest and heartrending account of a man and a society taken to breaking point and beyond by the heartless exigencies of modern warfare.

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