Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.: Movie (documentary) review


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No ordinary pop documentary, reads the poster, but M.I.A. is no ordinary pop star.

True.

If you’ve not see it before this video for Born Free is a shocking centrepiece to the documentary.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

I have been a fan of Maya Arulpragasam (AKA M.I.A) for over a decade now so this film came as a pleasant surprise.  Allegedly it’s been over a decade in the making and the relationship between Maya and the filmmaker, Steve Loveridge, has been, to say the least, “challenging”.

She’s a bloody difficult woman, as it reveals.

The daughter of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist minority resistance group that was formed in 1976, she had to flee her home land of Sri Lanka in 1986 to set up home in London with her mother, brother and sister while her dad fought the good fight in the face of what she claims was ‘ethnic cleansing’.  It was ten years before she met her father again.

Clearly she has inherited her father’s sense of justice and fighting spirit.

Basing her unique style of hip hop on political oppression she has been an unlikely success, rising to top the Billboard dance charts and  performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl where she raised her middle finger to camera and in doing so enraged the NFL so much that they sued her for $16.6 million.

Her right to be angry is, in my opinion, quite reasonable but clearly her detractors think it is a stunt as she has gathered considerable wealth since her politically oppressed immigrant days.

For me, her wealth is irrelevant.

The documentary is a curate’s egg.  Some of it rambles almost incoherently, using found footage on dodgy VHS tape from her childhood, some of it is expertly shot.  Its timeline is also so scattergun as to be quite confusing at times and this jolts the narrative.  At times one wonders what the point really is.

She doesn’t shirk criticism, but the reaction of the NFL on American TV drew loud guffaws from the audience I was in at their petty outrage.  It’s certainly a precursor to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Taking the Knee’ and a good, if a little childish, one at that.

Madonna was not overly happy.

For fans of M.I.A. this is a must see, for others I doubt you will be engrossed.

For me, even as a fan, it took a good hour to reel me in.  But once there I was sold.

 

 

 

One of the truly great nights in politics


When Barack Obama rode into power in November 2008 on a wave of optimism, change, belief, creativity and downright sexiness the world gasped.  American politics had not been so riveting since the 1960’s and certainly not as glamorous.  This online ad encapsulated it all for me.

And then reality kicked.  The mother of all recessions and hostile antipathy towards what’s now known as Obamacare.

One of Mitt Romney’s central strategies was, in creating 12million new jobs (really?), he would revoke Obamacare and return America to the most obviously polarised class structure in the Western world.

Obama meanwhile was criticised for continuing the Afghan war and for appearing remote; too much a thinker, not enough a baby-hugger.

He was doomed.

Five things saved him I believe.  Catching, and killing, Bin Laden (in a brave and high risk operation), Hurricane Sandy, Clinton’s speech, his wife and a brilliantly single-minded and principled political agenda that reached out Liberally to the WHOLE of America.

While Romney seduced the white vote with constant appeals to their pockets “it’s the economy stupid.” Obama consistently ploughed his furrow of social justice.

The Democrats are painted as Socialists (albeit dressed in Blue) but they strike me, under Obama, as the world’s great Liberals, balancing vote winning (in the underpriveleged) social issues with strong foreign affairs and a balanced view on the economy; it’s not the economy at ALL costs.

This chart said it all when I saw it last week.  It demonstrated what a danger Romney would be given the keys to the White House (we all saw his ineptitude abroad earlier this year in the UK)

The statistics are overwhelming and, guess what, the only country favouring Romney was Pakistan; default home of Al Quaeda.  World, we got a close call here but escaped unharmed.

Obama’s return to power was anything but certain.  He had to rely on a strong ethnic vote (and his ethnicity unquestionably helped there – were a white candidate standing against Romney the result would probably have been very different.  Should Hilary Clinton choose to stand in 2016 her support amongst female voters may have a similiar effect).  He had to scrap on the streets of the swing states for his life.  He only performed moderately in the TV debates.  He was saved in the end by his sticking to principles but his negative campaigning was far removed from the elegance of the Obey campaign.

This TV ad from last month though was a masterclass in Liberal balanced communication and I hope it made its mark.  There were so many that one will never know and it seems it was the doorstep canvassing that really made the difference.  Obama’s strategy in micro-marketing being better and more energetic.

A note on the TV coverage.  I watched it here, in the UK, flipping between the BBC, Sky, CNBC and CNN.  By a country mile the most interesting, insightful and challenging coverage came from CNN.

The BBC was plodding and boring.

So, America has made a brave, some might say, and reasoned, others might say, judgement call.  At the end of an administration that has see the economy hit by its very own Hurricane Sandy and against a presentable and domestically credible conservative voice offering the promise of a return to “The American Dream” Obama has held on, scraped back into power and given the opportunity to carry on his work, Not only that but The Senate surprisingly remained in the hands of the Democrats.

One major blot on the horizon; the Republicans still hold power in the house and so the opportunity to quash social change policies remains real and present.

One word sums it up again though.

Hope.

I’m Mark Gorman and I approved this message.

Dunsinane by the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland in association with The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.


The Godfather Two showed that sequels can better their original by walking the same path but more deftly, building on its foundations with style, wit and great, great writing.

Dunsinane, is technically a sequel but could hardly be described as usurping its predecessor (Macbeth) as David Grieg neatly finds a way of avoiding the direct comparison by writing it in something approaching the modern vernacular.

And so, Macbeth is merely a plot device to set up a thoroughly modern parable on the pursuit of power and the appetite that man (and woman because Lady Macbeth, Gruach, is the hub of all the conflict in this extraordinary play) has for eternal conflict.

“Peace is not the normal state, peace is like the days when the sea is flat calm, the prevailing condition is war.” says King Malcolm (I think, and I paraphrase) to the English commander, and star of the show, Siward played monumentally by Jonny Phillips.  And that’s what lies at the heart of this electrifying production; the fact that war is pretty much the need state of those in power, because war makes things happen. And I don’t mean war results in reshaping of civilisation, no, war turns the wheels of industry and is the dynamo for political momentum.  The second world war was what got the world’s major economies booming after all.  The Gulf War revitalised America’s sluggish economy.

Thatcher knew that when she blasted Argie to kingdom come.

Blair thought he did when he catapulted the UK into the single most futile decade of power-mongering.

However, where Thatcher sensed the mood of the nation and used the Falklands to reignite her popularity Blair just stuck his big bloody size tens in and created an absolute shambles around him.  It’s Blair’s approach that drives the narrative of this play because the Post Macbethian 12th Century Scotland is a photofit of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whilst the English may have assumed that Lady Macbeth (Gruach) left this mortal coil alongside her beloved husband, we soon find out that as the saying goes “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me.”  Oh no, Gruach is very much alive and well and, as Queen, she believes her offspring are heir to the throne and by God she’s gonna do her damnedest to give them the chance to take their rightful place – even if that means sleeping with the enemy.

And so, Gruach (a mesmerising, flame haired Siobhan Redmond) emerges as the key political figure in this drama; she calls all the shots and she delivers them in an often tense and powerful dialogue between herself and Siward.  Always on the front foot, driving the poor man crazy with both lust and frustration.

Meanwhile, the King of Scotland, Malcolm quietly (weakly?) surveys the scene with an air of weariness and a large degree of slightly camp cynicism, increasingly frustrated by Siward’s inability to strategically manage the conflict.  His performance (by Brian Ferguson) is initially hysterically funny but gradually turns colder and more focused as the drama unfolds.

Both the directing (by Roxana Silbert) and the writing by David Grieg are breathtaking.  Grieg doesn’t write a script so much as a wholesale political essay on the state of the nation that leaves you almost gasping at its vision and insight. Remember this play was written 18 months before Salmond swept to power in such a way that the state of the Union has never been more open to question in modern times.  Surely conflict is a potential outcome.

And it’s the sheer range of this play that impressed me most.  Starting out, frankly, like a Monty Python comedy (it really did stir up memories of Life of Brian) it moves gradually through a series of episodes to darker territory.  Barely a minute passed in Act One without a chuckle, and often a belly laugh.  Act Two starts as it left off, but only for moments before the real meat of the problem is tackled to almost preternatural effect.

Honestly this play reaches right inside of you.  It moves along like a runaway Express, charged as it goes by a brilliant folk rock trio that inject pace and punctuation that is echoed by a duet of Gaelic singing lassies.  And whilst the ending stutters just a little it’s a lean back moment as the curtain closes and one is transported back into the real world.

Or was what we were watching the real world?

This is Champions League stuff.

I’ve seen several immense performances on the Lyceum stage this year; Stanley Townsend, Peter Forbes and Frances Thorburn in particular, and there have been a number of incredible ensemble casts ; Age of Arousal and Earnest spring to mind.

But this has both.

And this has three, maybe four or five stellar performances; Siobhan Redmond of course, and Jonny Phillips, but so too Tom Gill as the boy soldier, Brian Ferguson as Malcolm and Alex Mann as the hilarious Egham.

Mark my words. They will be talking about this show in hushed tones many years from now.

Wassup 2008.


Thanks to Will Atkinson for providing me with this gem.

Not only is this very funny and a genius pastiche but it is a very true take on our current zeitgeist (yeah I know but it’s the right word.)

For those of you who don’t remember the vernacular hogging original it was truly the talk of the water cooler in 2000.

Obama


You wonder whether the fight to beat Clinton has taken too much out of him.  OK, America probably wants a break from conservatism, and McCain is about as enticing as Hilda Ogden in a rainstorm but it’s still a big ask.

And, oh it’s been a right riveting nomination campaign.

But let’s not forget he is black and there is a mountain of opposition to that.

However, I think it is a rather exciting political development and that he is, potentially, the man.

Bring it on.

(This is clearly the sort of post that one might look back on in years to come as supremely visionary or supremely foolish.  Pray God it is the former.)