Cinematically Kubular

Ramblings about cinema and whatever else I'm thinking at the time!

Month: January, 2013

Pan’s Labyrinth & The Woman in Black

Well, hi there!

So, this week I finally got around to watching two films I’ve been wanting to for a while (one, a while longer than the other). Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Spain/Mexico/US, Guillermo del Torro) and The Woman in Black (2012, UK/Canada/Sweden, James Watkins).

Quite refreshing really, after Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Italy, Ruggero Deodato) and Dredd (2012, UK/US/India, Pete Travis). I don’t mind violence – if I did I certainly wouldn’t be watching Cannibal Holocaust and Dredd – but I like the ‘poetry’ and expressionism of a good horror/thriller.

Anyone who appreciates the Hammer films of old will probably enjoy the tone and flavour of The Woman in Black and it has a refreshing subtlety in comparison to the modern horrors I’ve seen. It reminds me of Ring (1998, Japan, Hideo Nakata), a film I remember as quite gothic and I think was about some journalists uncovering a hidden mystery/secret rooted in the traditional values of recent history that was eating away at modern Japan (in the form of a cursed VHS). I may be misremembering all that though, it’s been a long time since I watched it.

Pan’s Labyrinth did something I feel other films (especially Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) sometimes fail to do – it expressed what fascism really means to Europe. As a Brit I can sometimes partake in a certain amount of national pride because “we beat the Nazis”, but really underneath that lies a sadness and an irony. We may have ‘beat’ the Nazis, but not before they marched across a significant chunk of Europe and killed many people with a horribly warped and corrupt modern/industrial sensibility. In visual media we often take a degree of pleasure in ‘Nazi Bashing’ but in films like Where Eagles Dare (1968, UK/Germany, Brian Hutton) and games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001, id Software) we take pleasure in violence against the (more or less) ultimate symbol of Fascism – Nazi soldiers. While at the same time the core principal of fascism is a belief in the rejuvinating/purifying force of violence to destroy the old and stale and replace it with the new and fresh. In politics this always seems to end up wrapped in Nationalism – a desire to return to the good ol’ days when our nations ran significant empires around the globe,

I’ve always feared that Britain is not immune to the same thinking – in some ways we’ve been ‘lucky’. The Great War hurt us badly enough – and brought enough people close enough to the reality of war that culturally we’ve probably been relatively disinterested. Not to mention that really, our own empire has only just been breaking up quite recently. I remember the coverage of Hong Kong’s handover to the chinese in 1997. However, over the last 12 months I’ve watched us celebrate our ‘Britishness’ and exercise our patriotism and I’ve reacted with distaste.

It’s difficult to watch the news, or take an interest in politics without encountering friction between groups of different ethnicities. Only last week was a significant chunk of Question Time taken up by the fear of more foreigners from eastern europe wanting to live here. I understand that there are valid reasons for those fears – our government/public services are limited in resources after all, and our budget is struggling to cope with the people already here.

On the other hand, there are stories of ethnic communities within cities – where the people within those communities want to live according to their own rules instead of those of the land. It doesn’t help that we separate ourselves out, though I can understand why it might appear easier that way, it encourages us to think that people from other countries or parts of the world are actually different from ourselves. After all, they live differently, with their own values, so why shouldn’t they be treat differently?

It’s those kidns of thought processes that in a difficult political and economic climate can bring us to a place I don’t think anyone of us really want to be. I dont’ think we’re quite there yet – I hope that we have a decade or two at least before we need seriously worry about the rise of Fascism in the United Kingdom but I would much rather rule it out entirely.

I seem to remember reading/hearing/being told once that in the middle ages, we had a very fluid concept of identity/nationalism on this island. I hope we can find our way back there – sooner rather than later.

Death does not purify.

Death is just the end of our future.

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Project Management (and why Privatisation of Public Services is Appealing)

I want to begin by saying that I have always been a firm believer in a a core set of public services. I believe transport, communication, health and energy should all be managed and owned by the state. By this I do not mean that they should be free – I mean that we should all pay for them communally through appropriate tax channels. These are all services that are necessary to each and every one of us. Even those of us that don’t travel require others to be able to – even if it’s simply to bring us company or supplies. We all need to communicate, and we all like to have a doctor or hospital we can use when we’re ill. Wether it be gas or electrical power, energy drives all of these services.

As a teenager I found it disappointing that the bulk of all these services were more or less privatised. Energy is, transport is, telecommunications is.. and yes, aspects of the NHS have been for a long time. It seems that the most important services we have were the first to be sold off by the state. People complain that the younger generation is ‘politically illiterate’ or disinterested in politics. Is it such a surprise when the services that most matter are run by private companies? What can your MP really achieve for you when your primary concern is paying your gas and water bills?

Yet, even with all this privatisation – our government is still falling short of cash to fund the remainder of the public sector. One of the key services that the government still runs is Housing. I know this because I’m resident in a council block. And before anyone tries to correct me – no it’s not run by the city council directly, it’s run by a not for profit organisation that just happens to be a subsidiary of (can you guess who?) the city council.

Those readers who spend their time in the UK may be aware of the current ‘cutbacks’ and language used to describe state benefits – what is being referred to as the ‘welfare’ bill. And yet we constantly reminded about figures that illustrate just how small a part of state expenditure this ‘welfare’ actually is. If I remember correctly (and honestly, I don’t feel this will be read by enough people to warrant me looking it up) the figure is around (or less than) 7%. of the total budget. Quite frankly, that’s miniscule. Especially when you consider that this pays rent, council tax and JSA for people. Where does the other 93% go?

After all, telecoms, energy, transport and police services are all (or significant proportions of them are) privatised. Now, there will be readers here who will no doubt be shouting (perhaps mentally) “well, THAT’S where all the money goes!” But is it? Is it really?

I’m going to take a small detour here and mention that I’m registered at a private dental clinic. This costs me more in terms of the fee I pay for a checkup or an appointment with the hygienist but I get a much better service from it. I get more regular checkups – something that, until a few years ago, was standard under the NHS. This means that problems with my teeth can be spotted and corrected much earlier and avoid much more complicated (and to be honest, expensive) remedial work later on.

Those of us that are old enough to have watched (even repeats) of the BBC’s Yes, Minister, will no doubt have noticed how our government still seems to live up the jokes. You’ll have also no doubt heard many derisory comments about the civil service from your peers or the older generation. Perhaps the phrase “gifted amateur” in particular. Incase you haven’t, this refers to the fact that people in the civil service are continually moved around from one job to another – particularly decision makers and particularly when they’re competent at their role. This is also true of councillors – a friend of mine (who takes his position very seriously) is continually moved about from one places to another, meaning many of the changes he tries to make for his area never really get through or are ‘reassessed’ by whoever replaces him.

Four paragraphs ago I mentioned that I reside in a block managed by a public sector company. And it bears all the clichéd hallmarks of one – nonsensical bureaucracy and ‘red tape’. Serious, the forms I have to fill in! The vague (and rather last minute) communications when they charge you a vast sum to be rendered within 14 days. Also the strikes. But there’s one key attribute or theme that seems to permeate all stories about public sector organisations – Bad Project Management and ‘decision’ making.

The management company that manages my block is currently running a pilot in the southern end of the city in preparation for an ‘upgrade’ to the concierge service they provide. Just for emphasis I’ll repeat three words: “pilot”, “currently” and “running”. It’s important these words are emphasised, oh hell, I’ll add two more “recently” and “started” because the concierge upgrades have already been set underway at least 2 years ago. Several of my services (such as the intercom) have already been replaced. The camera systems are already being replaced. The concierge team themselves have already been put at risk of redundancy. Also, I’ve also been given notice that my concierge charge is going to increase.

The intercom upgrades that were performed (supposedly in preparation for the new concierge service) have already been made redundant and rendered incompatible with the new service. It’s also worth noting that I will be paying (approximately) £14 extra per month for the new service. On top of the ~£800pa charge I already pay. That’s nearly £200 extra per year. And the new service won’t actually be as good. My block currently has a concierge 24/7, they provide a ‘good neighbour’ role, which includes accepting parcels for residents, keeping a spare door key for residents, checking on flats when people are away and supporting residents with odd jobs that they aren’t able to do themselves (with prior organisation). The new service looks to be 9-5 and primarily run from a call centre (hence why the intercoms are now incompatible). They’ll have to be contacted by phone.

It’s also worth mentioned the most important (but often overlooked) function of the 24/7 concierge service – security. The whole point of having a concierge around is so that, hopefully, he doesn’t have to do anything. He can sit quietly and just be there. Especially during the dark, inner city nights. That’s not saying the concierge service is perfect, but at least people feel safer.

Now, bearing in mind that I’ll have a concierge service for less than half the time I currently do – and potentially on less days of the week, why is it my fees are going up? Because of constant changes to the project. This is a management company that opened a call centre just to have to lay off all it’s staff because it implemented an alternative service which made them redundant by the time it was opened. Constantly changing the goals and implementation of a project (once it’s already started) is extremely expensive, not only because you have to pay the cost of making the changes you started but you’re also lumbered with the cost of having to change/replace them.

This is not unusual in stories about the civil service/public sector. Only last week was a comment made on Question Time regarding labour’s management of the DWP. The constant need for retraining and new systems to handle changes to benefits and taxation and so on – systems that couldn’t work together so would have to replaced… and replaced… This is not just a labour problem, it’s a public sector problem.

It’s for these reasons ministers end up looking to the private sector for management of our services. Because a private sector company has to manage it’s projects well, otherwise it goes bankrupt. Good management is necessary in the private sector, as opposed to the necessity for continual reinvention and upgrading of services just to prove one’s usefulness – or rather, to make sure there are jobs for the boys.

I’d still much rather my services were state run – but I want those services to be run well and unfortunately, these two things seem to be mutually exclusive.

Watching Nuns Go Mad (Black Narcissus)

Black Narcissus (1947, Powell, UK) is one of those really refreshing films you only see once every couple of years or so. And it’s not a horror.

Well, not really.

Black Narcissus is a drama/thriller about some nuns that set up a convent somewhere very high in India. They subsequently find themselves with the time to reflect on their own past and end up torturing themselves with their own weaknesses and anxieties.

I don’t want to say too much about it, partly because I don’t want to give it away. But I also don’t feel I could do it justice. The main reason I’m writing this is because I really feel that it’s a film worth watching and worth encouraging as many other people to watch as possible.