‘The Great Dictator’ dialog resonating in 2020

“Let us fight to free the world to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all people’s happiness.”

“The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people… liberty will never perish.”

Film list of 63 of the best for me

These films are not the best perhaps, or even the best 63 films I have seen, though they would be very close to that.

I simply laid them down without prior thought of ordering or listing them in any kind or categorisation of this or that.

The only change was to add Gosford Park by Robert Altman, and to do that I dropped Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! which should not be left out, but I kept Monsoon Wedding which I adored when I first saw it and still do.

So the filmmakers and films are all great and in no way am I listing them in order of best – first to worst. There are no second-best or best here. They are simply all magnificent for all their own reasons and appeared as I remembered them and wrote them down.

Tell me what you think – offer suggestions – i.e. if you wish to.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestMilos Forman
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidGeorge Roy Hill
The Last Picture ShowPeter Bogdanovich
Apocalypse NowFrancis Ford Coppola
Rear WindowAlfred Hitchcock
King of ComedyMartin Scorsese
Raging BullMartin Scorsese
The Good the Bad and the UglySergio Leone
Little Miss SunshineValerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Pulp FictionQuentin Tarantino
Reservoir DogsQuentin Tarantino
CasablancaMichael Curtiz
Dog Day AfternoonSydney Lumet
The GodfatherFrancis Ford Coppola
UnforgivenClint Eastwood
2001 A Space OdysseyStanley Kubrick
AmadeusMilos Forman
Blade RunnerRidley Scott
The ThingJohn Carpenter
Ace in the HoleBilly Wilder
The VerdictSydney Lumet
NetworkSydney Lumet
SidewaysAlexander Payne
The French ConnectionWilliam Friedkin
The Godfather IIFrancis Ford Coppola
A Clockwork OrangeStanley Kubrick
Paths of GloryStanley Kubrick
Lawrence of ArabiaDavid Lean
Easy RiderDennis Hopper
ChinatownRoman Polanski
8 1/2Federico Fellini
La Dolce VitaFederico Fellini
The ConversationFrancis Ford Coppola
Out of AfricaSydney Pollack
Annie HallWoody Allen
Hannah and Her SistersWoody Allen
Deconstructing HarryWoody Allen
Broadway Danny RoseWoody Allen
AmarcordFederico Fellini
Day for Night (La Nuit américaine)Francois Truffaut
La règle du jeuJean Renoir
Crimes and MisdemeanoursWoody Allen
The French Connection IIWilliam Friedkin
Thelma and LouiseRidley Scott
GandhiRichard Attenborough
American GraffitiGeorge Lucas
Atlantic CityLouis Malle
Das BootWolfgang Petersen
Monsoon WeddingMira Nair
Gosford ParkRobert Altman
WitnessPeter Weir
PersonaIngmar Bergman
Wild StrawberriesIngmar Bergman
Cries and WhispersIngmar Bergman
Autumn SonataIngmar Bergman
The Truman ShowPeter Weir
Fanny and AlexanderIngmar Bergman
War and PeaceSergei Bondarchuk
YojimboAkira Kurosawa
RashomonAkira Kurosawa
Paris Texas‎Wim Wenders
Schindler’s ListSteven Spielberg
JawsSteven Spielberg

Exposure

Reading Robert Bilott’s ‘Exposure’ on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the book in giving a great deal of legal and personal background to the story in the film Dark Waters (see below), answered a question that came to me while seeing the film: why wasn’t Bilott removed from his Ohio corporate law firm particularly as corporate defence was its main bread and butter?

I wondered how Du Pont’s power didn’t trump Bilott’s personal and moral interest in the plight of one farmer, Wilbur Earl Tennant, by simply pulling strings to give the crusading lawyer an offer he couldn’t refuse. Get out of town boyo, now. They tried. More power to Rob for his courage and dedication, and to Earl of course who started the whole process.

Rob Bilott in jumping the fence to take the plaintiff’s side against Du Pont uncovers an ugly story of corporate harm done to the community of Parkersburg and surrounding populations. The casual and arrogant ease with which this immensely powerful and rich corporation lied and cheated and eventually killed people in the pursuit of profit is as stunning as it was breathtaking (pun intended).

Working in tandem with weak and complicit authorities to hide the facts of a chemical dumping program, Du Pont knowingly carried on its ‘corporate crime’ for years and years, poisoning water supplies, the air and earth, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided by economic default, placing a virtual muzzle on anyone who dared question its activities. And I am still only half way through…more later, COVID-19 lockdown giving me valuable reading time.

Lee, JFK and Stephen King

It’s tough being a writer in this organised politically-controlled oligarchic world of ours. Publishing is a strategic asset in a stable of assets essential to a well-tuned oligarchic universe. The message whatever it is must be edited. That seems to be the last law of the universe, the one Scientists haven’t yet owned up to.

Try thwarting it and you will be edited out of existence says a footnote on the first page of the Oligarchic Manual. Try beating the system and your Sun will shine no more.

So, I guess even the great Stephen King obeys this largely hidden law of our Oligarchic Universe. (I say great because book sales obviously equate with greatness, right?) It has nothing to do with well-oiled sales machines. Sales = Greatness and vice versa.

So, I went, I must say with hope, to read 11.22.63 by the undoubtedly great Stephen King. And what did I find?

Well, my mother always said: if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. But when did I ever listen to my mother?

What on earth was King thinking about?

Not the truth clearly. His novel is fiction, okay. Only he put some real people in it, no? Like Lee Harvey. Poor old very dead Lee Harvey. The man who some people keep saying was guiltier than his own imagined sin. Lee Harvey with his Carcano Model 91/38 rifle which he probably couldn’t have hit a barn door with from 100 metres, but somehow reverse-actioned Newtonian physics with a tree blocking his way, hitting a moving target, from how far was it? Killing a President.

Go figure. Many have tried. I don’t need to debate this. To my mind at least if Lee were on the sixth floor of the Book Depository that fate-filled day and fated time, he would have had more chance of hitting Parkland Hospital than the man it is claimed he murdered in the way convention says he committed this crime – the myth now co-signed by author Stephen King.

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if hers was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

Narratorial Unreliability

Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.

Catherine Lacey

Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.

Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.

The Blue Roads of Cannes

Away from the homages, special screenings, classic films, away from the red carpet ride to that palace of dreams, away from the Cinema Paradiso deep in the watery hearts of those days of ‘how it used to be before they built the new Palais.’ Away from the game before it became the game it is “guarded by thin-lipped security experts..” (Roger Ebert).

Away from: This is a business after all, bringing in hundreds of millions (billions) annually. Away from the other Cannes down in the concrete heated bowels of an airless bunker where the sharp weave themselves into tongued-tied hoarse and whispery tanglings over business fits and contracts and suits.

Away from the silver screen stars of present and past, Charles Bronson and Miss Piggy, Arnold, Bruce, Brad, Brigitte, Mel, Kirk, Michael, Woody or Penelope, away from the belle epoque hotel suites and facades, away from yachts as big as small apartment blocks stock stilled by the importance of those they house out in the wide bay, away from those gleaming bright decks, practiced sunglasses, strategic smiles, away from trained binocularists, the annual crush and cheap ticket ride along the promenading, skateboard Croisette, away from the blinding baroque plaster, the guest only dinners, friend-of-a-friend-who-knows-a-friend ticket-only beach parties, away from the clickety-click crush of pass-only photo shoots, prized seats under the balcony, away from ‘go easy I’m-not-wearing-makeup’, away from  the bright-new-glory of my-new-found-fame, those bullish, brave, belligerent and bereft smiles, away from the silent jeering, away from the exclusion zones out in the streets.

Away from get away from who-are-you-and-who-do-you-know big films and titles, away from that winnowy fame and limouey celebrity, over in the back blue road of Mediterraneanised cinema, over in – I only hole up in the dark to witness creative endeavour – over in this other plane and train load of tourist-class, over in the world you mostly will never hear talk long enough to remember how to forget, over in the altogether smaller world of Un Certain Regard, with a jury presided over by Tim Roth.

Among the yet no-so unfamous such as Benicio DEL TORO, Pablo TRAPERO, Julio MEDEM,  Elia SULEIMAN, Juan Carlos TABIO, Gaspard NOÉ et Laurent CANTET with 7 DIAS EN LA HABANA @ 2h and 5m,  four first-filmers, Brandon Cronenberg (yes, that Cronenberg) with ANTIVIRAL @ 1h and 50m, Ashim AHLUWALIA with MISS LOVELY  @ 1hr 50m, and Juan Andrés Arango with LA PLAYA @ 1h and 30m.

Roth’s own brit pack ever-repressed to boiling anger ride through names and changes in life and cinema from Dulwich to Los Angeles via works by Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Greenaway, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Nic Roeg, John Sayles, Wim Wenders, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola seems to offer interesting, experimental possibilities as what might emerge as the final choice.


	

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.

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