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The one thing that you can say about Ben Wheatley’s latest film is that it will create debate. That is beyond doubt. Everything from it’s multi-platform release to the cinematography to the dialogue, but more than anything else the question will be asked by many. What the hell was that all about? Or in modern parlance WTF?
Set literally in a field in England, possibly in the West Country during The English Civil War, it follows the fortunes of a band of stragglers who leave the field of battle in the deluded hope that there is an alehouse in the vicinity. They soon fall under the spell of a alchemist and his side kick who command them to look for a buried cache of gold hidden somewhere in the field. The field provides the only back drop through out the film, the five men are the only cast and the whole film is shot in black and white. So how far can you go with such a limited cinematic pallet? Well, that depends what you want from the movie.
Whilst being deliberately inexplicable, almost to the point of being allegorical, in it’s plot there is much of merit in the film. Without making any overtly political statements, it takes the ideas of political freedom, religious radicalism and visionary socialism that were at the heart of the war and twists them into a raving, gibbering nightmare scenario, far worse than anything happening beyond the borders of this seemingly tranquil field.
The main struggle of opposing factions is between would be scholar Whitehead and the alchemist O’Neil played by Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley who play out the age old master and reluctant servant role, again a nod to the war taking place only on the other side of the hedgerow. The most memorable steps in this dance being when you hear but not see Whitehead being brutalized but O’Neil, reduced to a grinning maniac on a rope to do the alchemists bidding. Not only a memorable turn from Shearsmith but more ghastly and genuinely scary than any of his TV creations as part of The League of Gentlemen.
But whilst you get the odd memorable scene, can revel in the look of the film and discuss the agenda till the cows come home, one big problem for many is that there isn’t really a plot. Yes, you can see what is taking place in front of you, but what does it all mean and where does the film eventually take us. And more importantly why? There is room for everyone to have a theory. Is the field purgatory from which only those that don’t side with the devil-as-alchemist escape? Should we buy into the more fantastic aspects of the film and assume that real magic is at the root of the characters enslavement? Is it all one long drug trip as suggested to the many scenes where people are eating the mushrooms growing in the field? Is it an anti-war statement or maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all.
It is certainly a film that will divide the audience. To some it is baffling, ponderous and to dense in its idea to be easily processed, the perfect antidote to throw away Hollywood blockbusters and the fuzzy warmth of our own Richard Curtis sanctioned film industry. Others will see it as a master piece of dark historical horror, psychedelic dream sequence and art house opus all rolled into one. Art for arts sake or the future of the British cinema? I really couldn’t tell you.
Simon Pegg is a self-confessed film geek. His knowledge of movies, particularly comedy, is vast and it is his understanding of the field that he works in that seems to make him successful. Pegg, along with co-writer Edgar Wright, were the people responsible for Shaun of the Dead, and there is much in common with these two films. Shaun of the Dead was at once a tribute and a parody of the whole Romero-esque zombie genre, bringing the usually over the top style of horror to a small, very British corner of London. Whilst Hollywood seems to be in an ever upward spiral to out do the last offering with bigger budgets, more impressive effects and grander settings, Pegg's approach was the natural response of a small time comedy actor from Bristol, that of smaller is better. It was this everyday quality of the film that made it so endearing.
Hot Fuzz is also a parody and a tribute, this time to the cop-buddy movie, but it is cleverer than that as well. It manages to pay homage to, not only its chosen subject, but to a whole range of films and styles. Westerns and horror are the obvious ones, and particularly The Wicker Man, with Edward Woodward brilliantly cast as if to reinforce the underlying joke. But if you are looking for a Lethal Weapon or Point Break, then you have come to the wrong place. As with the previous film where our hero fends off zombie hordes with a cricket bat, here again it is the very down to earth Britishness that makes it work. If you swap L.A. for rural Gloucestershire and throw in the standard cultural icons such as hoodie wearing youths, village fetes, quintessential British pubs, the drinking culture and other "country ways" and you get a film that plays out like Bad Boyz II but looks like Midsomer Murders.
The plot is straightforward; Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, the hottest officer in the Metropolitan Police, transferred by jealous superiors to a sleepy West Country village. This should be an easy assignment, but very soon he is knee deep in murder and underhand activities that only he seems to be aware of. Nick Frost is again his slob like sidekick, playing Danny, a role similar to his Shaun of the Dead character, and again the dynamic of the pairing is brilliant. Danny, an action movie junkie, sees Nick as the real life bad boy from the big city and the pairing of the two as his chance to experience real policing. Nicks frustration with his puppy like partner only adds to the fun. The cast list is also a role call of British comedy greats as well as a few more serious actors, Timothy Dalton as the sleazy supermarket owner is a gem. Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge), Martin Freeman (the Office), Kevin Eldon (Big Train) Bill Bailey (Black Books) and Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead) all have brilliant cameos, but throw in the aforementioned Dalton, Woodward as will as Jim Broadbent, Anne Reid and Billie Whitelaw and you can see that Pegg has got to a point where he has no shortage of names wanting to work with him.
I often wonder if the humour will travel well, the jokes being so carved from a very British template, but then Shaun of the Dead went down a storm in America and I hope that this does as well. But aside from the cultural references that may hinder this film into being a bit too provincial within the bigger scheme of things, there are some moments of sheer brilliance that need no translating. The closing sequence is a shootout in the village, where the vicar is "tooled up" the local publicans prove to be very handy with a shotgun and there is a brilliant set piece in a supermarket, Summerfield's no less, that plays out like Nerina Pallots video for "Everybody's Gone to War" There are also the usual series of great lines, as when sidekick Danny delivers the immortal "Judge Judy and executioner" and there's even a chance to reference Shaun of the Dead "what's the matter Danny, never taken a short cut before"
So the question that everyone is asking is "is it as funny as Shaun of the Dead?" To be honest it probably isn't as immediately addictive as the previous work, but like its predecessor it is cleverer than most comedies, is a film that will get funnier with every re-run and works so well because of its effortless charm. It also works because it is a parody made by people that obviously know and love their subject. They manage to recreate some of the greatest scenes from the genre and play them for the biggest laughs and I kid you not when I tell you that Simon Pegg is destined to be seen as the new Hugh Grant, only Pegg has the benefit of actually being a good actor.
Great civilizations do not fall from the outside, they fail when they begin to rot from the inside, that is the overall moral message of Apocolypto. Thankfully instead of trying to show this in a large sweeping empire wide statement, Gibson's latest art attack does so from one small story that acts as a microcosm for the larger tale. I can't think of many films that have arrived with so much baggage all ready attached prior to its release. Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade whilst being arrested for drink driving and his unconvincing public apology may or may not have an impact on the success of this film. Also following his highly controversial Passion of the Christ, his audience may have very polarized views on Gibson's work and again the affect of this is yet to be seen. That said the film going public and particularly the American audiences do seem to have a short memory when it comes to such things and this hopefully will allow the film to stand or fall on its own merits.
What ever you think of Gibson, love him or loathe him you cannot deny that he has turned into to a maker of epic films. Think the flair and spectacle of Cecil B DeMille, combined with the graphic violence of Sam Peckenpah and you have the area that this troubled superstar is heading into. If you want to find a quick parallel for the film itself, well Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ both have much in common. There is the epic scale and action of the former and the dark haunting beauty and vivid brutality of the latter, but all factors combine well to make a truly watchable film for the most part.
The film opens in an unspecified time in an unknown rainforest where a group of tribal warriors are concluding a successful hunting trip. Before returning to the village with the day's catch they encounter a group of refugees who ask to be allowed to cross their lands in peace as unknown raiders have ravaged their own village. This troubles Jaguar Paw, the films lead played by virtual unknown Rudy Youngblood, but he is told to put it from his mind by his father as it will only breed fear in him. Their idyllic forest life is then shattered when a raiding party descends on the village an all that are not killed are captured. Amongst them is Jaguar Paw but not after he hides his pregnant wife and young child and promises he will return for them. The raiders turn out to be from the Mayan civilization and these raids are to provide the declining culture with slaves and sacrifice. A series of poor harvests have left the priests and leaders believing that their god has deserted them and only when he has been appeased in blood will he return them to his favour. The Mayans now in the twilight of their existence have descended into one long bloodletting machine to try to meet this end. Jaguar Paw escapes and the film concludes with his race to evade capture and return to rescue his family.
At two and quarter hours it is, in the spirit of recent filmmaking, a lot to sit through. One of the problems I found with the film is that Gibson seems to have found it necessary to over brutalise just about every scene of the middle portion of the film. The point is made time and time again in a wash of blood and gore that these Mayans are the bad guys and you get to a point when you want to say "okay Mel, we get your point" but he seems to want to keep on making it. Once in the Mayan city there is an interesting mix of dread and spectacle as majestic step pyramids rise into the heavens only to have decapitated heads and rivers of blood cascade from them. This gory circus is played out under the direction of a man with a showman's pace and ability. The second half of the film takes us in a different direction again. Away from the evils of the Mayan city, Jaguar Paws flight from his pursuers is reminiscent of Stallone's flight from the local sheriffs men in the backwaters of Oregon. One man using the natural resource of the jungle to set traps and out wit a dozen authority figures on his trail. Having said that it is still well done and provides a non-stop action sequence that is mesmerising if not overly original.
What really makes the film work is the humanisation of the good guys. From the opening scene we see the villagers as a friendly, proud and very likable group, family orientated and loving. The main character is an athletic young man who has long flowing locks, sports tattoos, designed body scars, large ear adornments and a sort of chin plug, and wears nothing but a well-fitted loin cloth, obviously the good guy. The Mayan raiders stand out easily as the baddies as their tattoos are more nasty and they are adorned in animal skulls and grotesque armour and most of them look like they had just walked off of the set of Mad Max II, coincidence I am sure. The final message hits hope in a fairly obvious fashion as Jaguar Paw and two of his would-be killers witness the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors and the morale circle is complete. You Mayans have had your day, if you thought you were nasty, just wait to see what these guys have in store for you and Karma has done its job.
The casting was excellent and considering that the entire cast are virtual unknowns and are made up of mainly Native Americans who had to learn Yucatec to make the dialogue authentic, much praise is deserved, again parallels with The Passion of the Christ. The film itself is subtitled but don't let that put you off. In the same way that in The Passion of the Christ you pretty much new what was happening without needing to follow every line, the same is true here. More so really as the last 45 minutes of the film being the equivalent of a car chase scene there is little dialogue anyway just headlong adrenalin rush through the jungle, action all the way. Apocolyto is brutal, it is an eighteen rate, and doesn't hold back. Historians may have something to say about the portrayal of the Mayan society but Gibson was never trying to make a documentary here anyway, just a rip roaring action film and like Braveheart and The Patriot before you need to put the books down and just enjoy the ride.
When you watch a serious film and it is made so badly, acted so poorly or just doesn't work it can be quite entertaining, if for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately if you are watching a comedy that that has the same problem there isn't an equivalent response. That was the thought that went through my mind whilst watching You, Me and Dupree. The idea behind the film is simple; a couple that seem made for each other have the idyllic honeymoon, return to start their new life together and everything is wonderful until, due to circumstances beyond his control, their unemployed slacker friend finds himself homeless. Invited to stay for a few days, his lifestyle starts to tear the couple apart and then on the very verge of breakdown he comes to the rescue, his charm and good nature saving the day.
It's a concept that has been done to death, since the time when that odd couple of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon brilliantly played their version of it. What I am wondering is, with that classic film as an example of how it should be done, what did the main star and co-producer think that he could bring to the table to improve on it. My other thought was how did he manage to rope in Michael Douglas, Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon? They all do their best with the roles that they are given, but then they don't appear to have actually been given much. Douglas seems to be a token bad guy, only there to justify his son in laws character changes as the film progresses, when on screen he is at best adequate and when not seen he is forgotten. Matt Dillon fares better, believable as the nice guy husband and best friend and even better when he is playing the nasty side to the character. Only Kate Hudson manages to salvage something watchable from the two dimensional characters that populate the film and that has to be more to do with her internal qualities that anything found in the script.
Owen Wilson as the main character seems to get it all wrong, often too sickly sweet and at a turn too earnest. Comedy is injected in the form of prat-falls and overflowing toilets, falling off of bikes, falling off of skateboards and falling off of buildings and then in the closing scenes falling off of the kerb. Hardly the stuff of comedic genius. It seems humour has been put on the back burner by the filmmakers to push the characters into the foreground and make us engage with them. Unfortunately the characters are so clichéd and obvious not only do you not engage with them by the end of the film I was glad to see the back of the damned lot of them.
One of the big problems is that the plot seems so contrived, why doesn't the fairly well off couple just pay for a hotel for the guy, but no he keeps coming back and the joyless ride of pointless "joke" and illogical plot twist continues. It seems obvious that the film is just a vehicle for Wilson, I can't think of any other reason for its creation, but I feel that this film has done him little good. It's even worse than his previous film, The Wedding Crashers, and I can't remember laughing much in that either. Maybe this type of humour just doesn't travel well, after all I would put this on par with the idiotic "Meet the Parents" and that went down a storm, a fact that still makes me slightly scared to go outside my house. If you like the Ben Stiller school of lame humour trying to deliver heart rendering relationship messages then you may just get something out of this film, however for the vast majority I would have to advise that you give this a very wide berth.
The genres of pop and rock have always seemed worlds apart to many, fans and writers alike. Both are awash with clichés and self imposed boundaries. The immediacy and dance beat jaunt of modern pop seems alien to the purveyors of the seemingly more serious rock product, and vice versa. However there have been some successful attempts over the years to combine the two, one that stands out for me is Liverpool's finest, namely the Icicle Works a band able to mix and miss-match the two to wonderful affect. The appeal of the Refugees album, "Love Junk," seems also to lie in this marriage of pop sensibilities and rock attitude as well as calling on a wide range of influences in between.
The Refugees is one of many musical vehicles, of no fixed line up, for David Marx, a man that I first saw playing all those years ago with a previous musical incarnation, The Coincidence, and immediately become a fan. A punk past, an ear for great melody and hook line and the ability to create great songs from a melting pot of influences is the path that has lead ultimately to this album.
The opening salvo comes in the form of "Guillotine Gene", a song that not only distils and delivers everything I have waffled on about in the opening paragraph, but one that also suggests an English hybrid of Mike Scott and Bruce Springsteen, and that can't be a bad thing. Whilst the closing chords of that song are still ringing in your ears Kat Evans infectious violin hook is whisking us headlong and relentlessly into "The Girl with the Child in her Arms". Often associated heavily with the finger in the ear, Arran sweater clad, beardy folk scene, on the album the violin is used to greater effect and instead of hi-jacking the music and dragging it into a more Conventionally Fairport realm, instead adds to the accessibility of the music with its mix of repetitive hooks and soothing long drawn notes weaving through the melody. Even the use of banjo and accordion, the latter supplied by Barry Andrews on "Mirror Mirror" doesn't feel out of place along side the rawer guitar orientated songs. The songs here are more than strong enough to maintain their identity no matter what instruments are employed without the album sounding an thing less than a complete and totally connected body of work. Less experienced musicians could have ended up with a disparate mish-mash of songs that don't sit well alongside each other, but Marx seems to have the ability to draw on a wide range of ideas and influences and still sound like a unified and focused project.
Lyrically there is a lot at work here too. The seemingly throwaway lines, the tongue in cheek humour and the cultural name-dropping are much cleverer than they first appear. Although the usual subjects are covered of love, loss and everything in between, the stories and ideas presented are a world away from the usual dross commentary we get from the lovelorn pubescent peddlers of popular music.
From the upright bass rockabilly strut of "Love in the Asylum", the driving guitar rock of "Tel Aviv A Go-Go" to the lounge jazz inflected "Without a Counterpart" there is something of everything going on here, not content, as many would be, to do one thing well, musically speaking, Marx has the audacity to do lots of things well, damn him. Providing most of the actual playing, except the two musicians mentioned and Kevin Wilkinson's consummate drumming, and all of the song writing Marx certainly shows that there is a wealth of talent here. This is an album that sits comfortably between pop and a hard place, if you will forgive the pun, and I certainly look forward to re-acquainting myself with his work
All you need to know about the man, his music and his other media interests can be found at http://www.davidmarx.co.uk/index.html
Growing up as a half-caste kid, with and absent mother and unknown father in a strict catholic family in Dublin in the fifties, is probably not the best start in life for someone aiming to be a rock star. But despite these set backs, or possibly because of them, Phil Lynott did, as front man with Thin Lizzy, go on to live the rock and roll life style and earn wealth and become highly regarded in his profession. Sadly all of the problems that go hand in hand with the playboy rock star lifestyle also descended upon his life and these resulted in a tragic but not entirely unexpected death aged only 36. Whatever the medical verdict, most people that knew him would tell you it was death by lifestyle. Ireland, and especially his hometown of Dublin, still holds him close to their hearts. He was regarded as Irelands first proper rock star and mark Putterfords book is an insight for anyone interested in the man, his music and the times.
Philo as he was affectionately known was destined to be a star, people that met him always that there was something special about him, right from the early days when as a teenager he was a fronting The Black Eagles playing covers and opening for show bands in town halls. But after a number of bands that have come and gone fro the pages of history it was the formation of Thin Lizzy as a three piece that really gets the ball rolling. The book then follows the highs and lows of a band constantly one step away from falling apart under personal differences or record company displeasure, until through sheer hard work and belief in the dream Thin Lizzy hit their stride in the mid seventies. From then until the early eighties, success and over the top lifestyle went hand in hand and finally the band fell apart. One of the sad aspects of the book is that after Thin Lizzy the man that had been regarded as the hottest property in town in the seventies as a performer, songwriter and sheer decent human being had become renowned for being unproductive, hard work and unreliable, the reasons, the usual drink and drugs. After struggling to get a solo career going and then trying to get Grand Slam off the ground by 1986 it was all over and the inevitable early end had come for Irelands favourite son.
The book is written from the closest of sources. All the ex-band members of Thin Lizzy and previous band tell their own part and that in itself reads like a whos who of the seventies rock scene. Gary Moore, Eric Bell, Brian Downey, Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham all play a large part in the telling as do the management and promotion agents of the time. Along side theses close friends and colleagues a host of other names all help out, Huey Lewis, Bob Geldolf, Midge Ure, and not forgetting Phils own mother. The viewpoints are very objective, especially from those that shared a stage with him and show the two sides to this complex character. Phil could be charming, manipulative, a clown, moody, generous, pushy and every emotion in between. In fact some of the most telling commentary on the man comes from one of his closest friends, artist Jim Fitzpatrick who worked with the band from the earliest of days.
The book also shows how shrewd Phil Lynott was in moving with the times, from psychedelic acid rock in the early seventies to classic driven fiery Celtic anthems of their heyday and even aligning himself with members of the Sex Pistols and later New Romantics in an effort to not get left behind and labelled dinosaurs. Many of the stories told here are for the first time and its only a shame that there wasnt an effort to include press footage and quotes from the man himself from the period. Author Mark Putterford may have actively avoided this to prevent the book being subject to Phils own view of himself, rather than remaining a more objective view from outside.
It is in fascinating read for anyone interested in rock bands but is essential reading for fans of Lynott and Thin Lizzy. It gives an insight into his outrageous lifestyle, that romantic gypsy and eye for the ladies. It is also very telling about his amazing capacity for drink and drugs and his seemingly unstoppable race towards self destruction after the demise of Thin Lizzy in 1983. It does however show you the softer side of this Irish hell raiser, the family man who doted on his two daughters, wrote sensitive poetry and cared deeply for his supporters (he never called them fans) It will surprise and shock many, but remains an honest warts and all requiem for a tragic genius.
Most people who know the name Shane MacGowan probably have him pegged as a stereotypical drunken paddy, fronting The Pogues as a whirlwind of frenzied punk inspired folk music and alcohol try to beat him to the floor in a dishevelled and undignified manner. This is because at the time that the band had reached its highest commercial success, it had also become the thing that he had tried to avoid all along, a serious band with one eye on the cash till and the other on the front cover of NME. MacGowan's idea of rebranding Irish folk for the modern era and delivering a tongue in cheek party style performance had long since gone out of the window and in an effort to get through the sad fact that his creation had been hijacked by less imaginative souls, he had taken to sabotaging the band with his drunken and unreliable antics. If that is how you perceive Shane MacGowan then you must read this book.
Even the attitude of the book is chaotically in keeping with this innovative and unpredictable character. It is written in the form of a number of interviews between MacGowan and his long-term partner Victoria Mary Clarke, normally in restaurants, bars or in some cases his childhood home. Even though they are set out as a series of questions and answers, you get the feeling that it all flows naturally like a conversation between two acquaintances should and that Clarkes questions are more of a prompt to keep her subject on track rather than a script upon which to build the book. This does mean that the stories told in the book dont always follow a chronological path through his life but rather form chapters roughly segregated into certain subject areas. We here of his very unusual and free childhood in Tipperary, his schooling in his parents adopted home of England, his formative years as a face on Londons punk scene, the years with the Pogues, both good and bad and even his views on religion, politics and much more besides are covered. Those that know something about MacGowan will already realise that beyond that drunken front man image is a highly intellectual and quick witted individual. Anyone examining his lyrics in depth quickly learns that almost every line written is a reference point, personal, historical, literary or social. The same complexity is found in the man.
The joy of this book comes from MacGowan's constant battle against celebrity he never wanted the rock and roll life style, had a very healthy disregard for his own image and with an honesty and self deprecation that is rarely found these days he is the ideal guide to knowing about his rich and colourful life. No holds are barred, and no embarrassing tale is left out, in a way he seems as proud of his own failures as he is of his successes. Its as if the telling of the tale is the important thing not how his image holds up in the telling. There is a contradictory quality to the telling also, which makes him even more human, he never claims to have all the answers or even any of them, but he does hold a lot of opinions but there seems to be plenty of room in his ideology to accept that he may be wrong. The is a contentiousness to some of his dialogue also especially regarding the IRA, but then have grown up in an extended family who remember the Black and Tans being a dominant force in Ireland would justify views which today may seem somewhat radical.
Despite the alcohol and pill laden past, MacGowan comes across as articulate and very knowledgeable on many topics, Irish Literature, soul music, history, politics and religion and the interviews are peppered with his often witty and philosophical views of everyday life. Like most people in the public eye, when we get a chance to really get inside them, as this book does, what we find is often not what we expected. Underneath that image that most of us have probably formulated from shambolic Top of The Pops shows and even more chaotic live footage comes and unexpectedly refreshing and human image. You come away from the book admiring his artistic integrity, lack of pretension, refusal to conform, his ability to remain totally unimpressed with rock stars and celebrities, his generosity and compassion, his idealism, his romanticism, his sense of self ridicule and above all his ability to not be smug or self aggrandising in the face of his successes. Believe me, there are enough bad traits to balance these out, this is no St Teresa we have here, but if you read this book I think you will find that the man that is Shane MacGowan is a very different person from the image most people have of him.
Thor Heyerdahl came to the attention of the world at large when he sailed a small balsa wood raft from Peru to Polynesia, but to have him tagged as a mere explorer or adventurer is like saying Neil Armstrong liked to travel or Einstein was pretty good with numbers. The Kon-Tiki expedition was just the tip of the iceberg that makes up this fascinating Norwegian and this book is a good overall introduction to the other marvellous facets in his life, facets that to most have remained under the water. The main thing that strikes me about this book is the way it is laid out, in that it doesnt adhere strictly to a rigid chronology but rather spends some of its time in the present day as the author muses on his past and other times retelling those stories from their proper time setting. This allows us some insights as to how the experiences have shaped the man throughout his life and how modern events are linked to and trigger thoughts of his earlier years. That said, it is not as random and disjointed as I may have painted it, just wonderfully mobile in its contexts and delivery.
The book opens with the author planning his third wedding in a small town in Western Sahara, an event that gives cause to reflect on the previous two marriages and the women who shaped his life as much as his work and travel has. It also allows him to introduce a theme that reoccurs in the book on a regular basis and that is one of mans bizarre inhumanity towards each other, on the excuse of race, religion, politics or whatever, Western Sahara at that time being a place of religious divides and hostile undercurrents. In fact throughout his life, cultural harmony has always a major consideration, this is reflected in the many organisations that have heaped praise on his work. But before long the book slips into a more chronological ordered style. We learn of Heyerdahls childhood, university studies as a biologist and his first adventure where he and his first wife lived in a back to nature style on the remote pacific island of Fatu- Hiva. The war saw him recalled to work in special resistance units in Finland and Norway and had a dramatic affect on his view of mankind. Witnessing the deaths of many comrades more often to booby traps in the wake of the retreating German forces rather than actual combat, Heyerdahls faith in god actually became stronger and his belief in the need for mans harmonious co-existence increased.
The post war peace saw him return to his studies and develop an interest in Anthropology, specifically the movement and colonisation of the pacific islands. Scientific understanding of the time suggested that the south Pacific had been populated from South East Asia; Heyerdahl argued that it is possible that it had been populated from the other direction that is from South America. When his ideas were treated by the academic elite with a wall of ridicule there was only one thing to do. He built a balsa wood raft, collected a crew of ex-army friends and sailed from Peru to Tahiti, a journey of nearly 4000 miles, proving that if a modern day Norwegian with only limited knowledge of ancient boat building could make the journey then early man in the Pacific, who would have generations of knowledge behind him, would have no trouble doing the same. It still took many years for Heyerdahls ideas to be accepted and for the man himself to be regarded as an equal by his peers, not merely an adventurer but a scientist who happened to conduct very large anthropological experiments. It is after this fashion that he set to prove other theories relating to the movements of ancient people, firsts by sailing Ra a reed boat from North Africa to South America and then a second called Tigris from Iraq to India and then to Madagascar to prove that ancient contacts between far flung civilizations was possibly more widespread than is commonly believed.
But its not just a book about facts and events, it has a much deeper side. Heyerdahl was truly a citizen of the world, rather than any one specific country. His work not only furthered history and anthropology but also broke down cultural divides, especially in the later years when he was a friend with ministers and nobility and world leaders such as Castro and Gorbachev. It is also a book that highlights how complex the world has got as it pitches simple journeys against a world of complex borders and red tape. What the book conveys more than anything is the authors overwhelming sense of wonder at the world both past and present. It also shows a respect and appreciation for so called primitive cultures on the one hand and a suspicion of western culture on the other. On many of his expeditions he has always sought a fully international team to reflect his goals of cultural tolerance and striven to show that people can work with nature rather than against it. It is wonderful story and is a compelling read, even for those who have know interest in the historical and scientific aspects of his work. A mixture of adventure, history and cultural ideology and all woven together with a healthy dash of common sense philosophy and a good starting point for anyone wishing to know more about the man and his massive contribution to our understanding of the world we live in.
People have been reading the bible for nearly two thousand years. Some have taken it literally, others figuratively and others symbolically. Some say it was divinely dictated, revealed or inspired, others that it is a human creation. They have acquired more copies of it that any other book. It is quoted (and misquoted) more often than any other book; it is translated (and mistranslated) more than any other book. It is seen as a great work of literature, the first work of history and it is at the heart of Judaism and Christianity. Ministers, priests and rabbis preach it, scholars dedicate their lives to study it, people read it, admire it, distain it, write about it, argue about it and love it. People have lived by it and died for it. But do we know who wrote it?
No matter how strongly you believe the Old Testament to be the word of God, there is no denying that the hand of man wrote it. In this book Richard Elliot Friedman sets out to see if he can identify specifically which hand. Now this may seem futile and even sacrilegious depending on your viewpoint but on closer examination of the nature of the books creation shows that it may not be such an impossible task. As for the argument of sacrilege, might not knowing the author even strengthen the character of the book, especially if it turns out that a well respected and easily recognisable name is actually responsible? I will say as part of this introduction that the although this book is penned from a historical and scholarly viewpoint, it is at no point trying to impose any religious ideas, beyond those which deal with the job at hand. Friedman retains a healthy respect for his subject at all times as you would expect for such a well respected writer, a writer who also happens to be a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Religion. If anyone is best armed to undertake such a quest to find the Old Testament author, a task that needs to combine sensitivity with superior scholarship, it is Richard Elliot Friedman.
There are certain traditions in place regarding various authors, Moses, Jeremiah and David are all supposed to have had a hand in the penning of certain parts, but are these assumptions correct. Like all good authors Friedman sets these assumptions aside and starts from scratch examining firstly the world that created the book and importantly the reasons why these various oral teachings were assembled in one place in the first place. With an understanding of the events of the ancient Middle East the reasons for its creation and evolution can be seen more clearly. A lot of store is put by the specific viewpoint that a particular piece of writing shows. If a story makes detailed reference to particular religious rituals or the inner workings of the temple, as some clearly do, then it follows that the author was probably a priest. Similar lines of thought can be upheld for tales more militarily or agricultural based themes. With this in mind it is possible to argue for a number of different authors to the stories. Similarly an understanding of the political set up of the area is important. The lands of the Hebrews was based on twelve tribal groups aligned with one of two kingdoms, Israel and Judah and the allegiances of the writer also has a bearing on the way many tales seem to have been written. There is also a visible evolution of the stories over time, as you would expect from texts rewritten through out successive generations, the changing mindsets, political considerations and important events all playing their part in this.
What the author manages to show the reader is the complex process that brought various important stories to be collated in one place and its ever-evolving meanings. It is a book that manages to bridge a gap between the religious academic and the general reader in a subject area that has long been the ivory tower of the professional biblical scholar. It is a book that at times seems to be part detective story, for the very reason of that is the only way to approach such a subject. It brings the subject to a wider audience and does so in an eminently readable style full of new insights and fresh discoveries. Although a very specialist subject, if you have any interest in this area, this is a must have book for your collection
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
To some people the idea of Richard Dawkins writing a book about the religious ideology and the very nature of God, may be on par with, if Enoch Powell had written a book on multi-cultural integration or Tipper Gore of artistic freedom of speech. As Britains highest profile Atheist, as well as being a staunch evolutionist (for which he has earned the nick name of Darwins Rottweiler) it would almost seem that the debate he has to offer would be a bit one sided and the conclusions a bit foregone. In the hands of lesser writers this may have very well been the case. What needs to be borne in mind here is that Dawkins was recently voted into the top three intellectuals worldwide, along side Noam Chomsky and Umberto Eco, indicating that this book may offer a more considered journey through the subject matter than you might expect. Indeed it does. Another consideration is the target audience. Although this is book contains a wealth of elegantly intellectual arguments and closely considered reasoning, Dawkins would probably be the first to concede that for all its heavyweight philosophising, it will still fail to dent the armour of the true believer, but then this book isnt really aimed at them in the first place. Proof and literary critique not only has no place in true faith it is almost the antithesis of it. That is not a criticism, for faith is on one side of the coin and proof is on the other and as they say proof denies faith. In my opinion this is aimed at the dont knows, those that maybe have a token membership to religious path, but who, if pushed, would have to say they are not sure either way and in modern society that is an ever growing quarter. To use the terminology of Chet Raymo, this is aimed at the sceptics rather than the true believers. This book may also very well appeal to the broad-minded believer, in that only by knowing the arguments can you truly be part of the debate. It is beneficial to read widely across the spectrum, after all even the devout Thomas Aquinas said beware of a man with only one book and he was hardly a fence sitter when it came to god.
The obvious starting point for someone of Dawkins viewpoint is intelligent design verses Darwinism, put more simply the biblical creation versus evolution. As I said earlier, the author is not one to dismiss the opposing view to the one that he holds out of hand. But if there is a crucial point to be made regarding the literal truth of the Bible it is this. Many people today are willing to dismiss elements of the Bible, particularly the earlier stories such as the Garden of Eden, Noahs Flood and Moses Red Sea crossing, as allegorical teaching or parables. In their place many can accept more modern and scientific explanations for the deluge and the age of the world as a whole. But either the Bible is the unabridged word of God, divinely revealed or inspired, or it is not. If you accept some but not all of the stories, are you not then in a situation where by you are just picking what works and sweeping what doesnt under the carpet. And this holds for every holy text, in fact through out the book Dawkins in the main manages to avoid picking on any one religion in particular and instead talks about religion with a small r.
A wealth of topics is covered in his travels through the various pathways that explore religious belief. Monotheism verse Polytheism, Religion verses Secularism, (with some interesting things to say about Americas founding fathers) arguments for and against gods existence, the differing types of agnostic and even the idea of religious thought as being the by-product of the way we are genetically programmed to obey as a child. One of the more interesting areas covered is the idea of morality, good and evil in a non-religious environment. Many of the things religions have to offer can after all be found in non-religious community environments, maybe an organised theological teaching offers a focus but it is not the only way to measure right and wrong. One of the more controversial areas that made the media for the wrong reason is, what he terms religious child abuse. The abuse he is talking about here is the idea of bringing up a child in the religion of its parents without him or her being able to have any options. After all saying an eight-year-old child is a Muslim or a Jew is surely no different from saying they are a Marxist or a Capitalist, why is one accepted and the other not. Even in the seventeenth century there was a group called the Anabaptists who believed that the religious path a person was to take should be freely chosen by them as the enter into adulthood and were experienced enough to be able to make a considered choice.
Even if you dont agree with the overall conclusions of the book, and there are many that wont, it is still a marvellous read for the broad-minded and the undecided alike. The debates that are worked through and the examples used are eloquent and enlightening and at no point does it degenerate into an attack on the spiritual path. Instead the thrust of the argument is to offer more logical alternatives to those offered by religion. There is even room in Einsteins theories for God, maybe not one that the Pope would recognise, but a God nonetheless and if the architect of modern view of the universe has a place for him then maybe its not about is there a god but maybe more about defining what we mean by the very word. The God Delusion is a wonderfully crafted debate, a reasoned and articulate read and to those fed up with being brow beaten by the virtuous, tired of hearing that we must have faith and believe in mystery and superstition beyond our understanding, this will sound like the trumpet blast of reason. To finish on a marvellous quote from the jackets blurb, It feels like coming up for air.
I have always been someone that, whilst having faith in science and understanding its place in the advancement of mankind, I also have reservations about it. It can at times, by its very nature, be too focused, self absorbed and clinical and often reluctant to see the bigger picture or admit that it doesnt have the best approach towards understanding the world around us. I am also someone who has an active interest in environmental issues as well as being open to more mystical and spiritual ideas. It is within these middle grounds that some of the more interesting ideas regarding the unseen workings of our surroundings are to be found. The late Pope, John Paul II said, Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. And I think that the message that opposite beliefs can act as checks and a balance against each other is an important concept to remember. It is because of these often conflicting views of the world that I carry around in my head that I find the work of James Lovelock so intriguing a man who is seen as a visionary by some and a fringe lunatic by others, but some of the most successful theories have started off in these marginalized areas, Copernicus, Giordano and even Galileo were vilified in there time for such radical ideas that the earth is not the centre of the universe but now are seen to be the people that made the big breaks through to our modern understanding of the universe.
Before I launch into the book itself and my opinions of it, it will be necessary to explain the Gaia Theory, as Im sure many readers will have little or no understanding of it. By his own admission the theory is yet unproven, but everything is theory until it is accepted by enough people and has enough evidence to back it up. I for one dont have a working knowledge and detailed understanding of electricity, but I am sure that when I turn a light switch on the room will light up, and if it doesnt its not because the ideas behind electricity are wrong but because one of the possible variables in the system has changed, that is the bulb has probably blown. Similarly, I dont have to fully appreciate the whole of the theory to put faith in it and maybe one day these ideas, or elements of them will have their place in the mainstream, but for now they are seen as being a bit left field, but bear in mind those eminent scientists I mentioned above and you will realise that Lovelock is in good company.
The idea behind Gaia is a fairly simple idea to grasp but a massively wide ranging and complex to dissect but we should begin with fact that Lovelock proposes that the earth is alive. Right before you close the page and move on to another review of the latest washing machine with childish images of a man in the moon face or quasi-pagan goddess worship, let me explain. Think of Gaia as a control system for regulating life on this planet, an evolving system made up of all living things, plants and animals as well as rocks and the atmosphere. It is self-regulating, acting as a series of reactions, no foresight, no planning; we are not talking about teleology (the suggestion of design or purpose in nature) here. We are not talking about the earth being alive in the same way the ancients saw it, as a deity in its own right, but alive more like a tree. A tree doesnt move but it is endlessly conversing with the soil, sunlight, water and nutrients. It slowly grows and changes, it can be harmed, it can wither, it can die, but everything about it is done so imperceptibly that the old oak tree at the bottom of your garden looks the same as it did when you were a child, yet you know that it is alive. View the earth as a similar system and you have Gaia.
One of the problem people have with a concept such as Gaia is that it doesnt fit our understanding of life. But what is life? Ask different groups of scientists and you will get different answers. A physicist will define life in terms of entropy and energy, a Darwinist will talk of evolution and natural selection, a biochemist will talk in terms of chemical potential and genetics. Ask a geophysiologist and you will find an answer along the lines of a living organism is a bounded system open to a flux of matter and energy, which is able to keep its internal medium constant in composition, and its physical state intact in a changing environment This is known as homeostatis and this is a good summation of Gaia. The problem with science, as I proposed at the beginning is that it is too focused on its own areas and definitions, to understand Gaia you need to take a more holistic view. So how does Lovelock back up his living planet argument? Well the book is a very well laid out series of analogies, scientific facts and easy to follow diagrams that take you through the various elements that support his theory. It is aimed at the laymen, no real scientific understanding is required, as such it is an easy read and although we are dealing with some large concepts here, he has managed to break them down through the use of simple metaphors with systems and objects that you will already be very familiar with.
The bottom line of the argument is this. Has life on earth evolved in reaction to the random changes of the planet, its atmosphere and surface activity, or has life itself regulated the planetary conditions for its own betterment. Lovelock puts up a good argument for the latter but it will be for the reader to decide if his arguments hold water. It is a very interesting book and we are lucky to be living in a time when people can publish new theories with only the fear of ridicule and criticism rather than persecution and I think that the notion of the Gaia Theory is one that will have a major part to play in our understanding of the world around us.
I must confess that fantasy literature is something that I lost the taste for many years ago, having found it increasingly cliched becoming almost a parody of itself. Maybe I was reading the wrong books but everything I read seemed to contain the same elements, rag to riches heroes, powerful mages, a quasi-medieval European backdrop, dramatic landscapes of the type that New Zealand provided for the LOTR films, wily thieves and mischievous halflings (must nt say hobbits ) enchantments, clear cut good and evil and all the usual trappings. After finding myself short of something to read I found amongst a pile of books, probably belonging to an ex-lodger (its one of those houses where people come and go but the books only ever seem to increase) a novel with an intriguing cover. A mechanical dragon flying over a modern looking urban sprawl and subtitles an alchemical fantasy,(dooyoo's image shows a different cover so you will have to trust me on this) The Iron Dragons Daughter by Michael Swanwick seemed to possess and intriguing image and so I was re-acquainted with the genre. Right from the opening few pages I knew I was on to a winner, this was a writer whose style and writing ability, vocabulary and turn of phrase was so much better than anything that I had read in a long time, but more than that this was a writer with vision, a writer who was as far removed from the usual fantasy fare as, say the film Memento is from its genre of modern film noir, but thats a whole other story.
Jane is an adolescent human working in a factory, a dragon factory at that. Its a Dickensian backdrop of indentured work house orphans slaving for long hours in blasted furnace rooms and industrial decay, an environment that mixes the magical powers and arcane arts with printed circuitry and high tech engineering to created mechanical dragons who are sort of the jet fighter of their day. These dragons are a mixture of artificial intelligence, human pilots, magical essence, turbines, gears and motors, the precise balance of which you are never sure of, just how alive and how created they are is never fully revealed. If the setting seems futuristic, the denizens of the world are not. A mix of Elvin children, sprites, pixies and strange otherworldly creations fill these bleak rooms, a collection of characters that would seem more at home in Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream than in the industrial landscape that is offered up to the reader. Janes fortunes change and she eventually finds herself out of the factory and thrust into a world of schools and shopping malls, thievery and adolescent issues. Again even on the outside of the factory there is a fantastic mix of settings. Modern shopping malls are peopled by magical store owners, schools are run by strange fey creatures and brutal trolls and the melting pot of worlds, times and geography keeps you from defining the genre. Landfill tips sit next to alchemy shops, high rise buildings host pagan rituals, contain magical portals and have talking gargoyles wandering over their concrete and steel exteriors, the innocence of youth is entwined with, drugs, sex and emotional upheaval.
It is a world that has no real past, nor seemingly any future, not ones that we are ever a party to anyway. For all its modernity and urbanisation there are some ancient themes running through the story, the idea of power through knowing peoples true names is always promoted, the theme of lovers reincarnated in different guises to be thrown together across many lives is also central as is the idea of pre-ordained destiny, and always in the back ground is the Goddess, real or not, we just dont know. There are many themes here that we would call Pagan, which is usual for the genre, but to see these ideas played out in the harsh urban decay of a world that in many ways is familiar to us all is an interesting concept. There is also a dream like quality to the story, often imagined worlds and dreamed people collide with the main story making you question where this reality starts and ends. There is also a dark under current to Janes existence, as if she doesnt belong here, as if she is subconsciously trying to get back home, her dreams of her mother may be memories or wishful thinking we dont know, but they do seem to be important. It is also a book that in its last chapter turns on its head, in the same way that films such as The Sixth Sense caused you to rethink the main characters position in all of the scenes, the conclusion of this book will have you questioning, who much of this is real, is it all an analogy for a different story, and if so what to those analogies actually represent.
All in all I found this to be a fantastic read, one that restored my faith in the fantasy genre. It is a vague story but one that seems to be written in great detail, like looking at something under a microscope and missing whats going on in the broader world surrounding it. It is a story that seems to be a mix of all times and genres, flirting with many and sitting comfortably in none. It is also a human story, dealing with inner struggles and turmoils rather than the clash of armies and the fall of empires and all that makes for a refreshing change. I mentioned that there is a very Dickensian feel to the setting, especially in the earlier part of the book, but the language is also reminiscent of his style, though more accessible. I also found in the language, the same thing that drew me to Mervyn Peake and the Gormenghastseries, that dark, slightly older world style of writing. Its a book that almost demands a new genre to be created for it, though I dont know what you would call it. One where the past sits entwined with the future, faith confronts secularism, the otherworld meets stark reality and the lives of the strange folk of this strange environment seem to have the same concerns as you and I making us able to understand them and see them as real people in their own right. A challenging and thought provoking read but one of the best I have read in a long time.
If anyone was going to write a book exploring the development of the Islamic worlds volatile relationship with the West, then Malise Ruthven, author of numerous books on fundamentalism and religion in general and the Arab peoples and Islam in particular, was a good candidate. It is a book that was written in the heat of the moment as the author himself states, following the attacks on the Twin Towers and although the book is even subtitled, the Islamic Attack on America, it is actually about so much more that the relation ship between the two. The author is honest enough to venture the fact that he sees the book as offering very little that hasnt been written before. What is new about the book, however, is that it draws on the full range of resources to but its case together, from popular opinion, however misconceived, to specialist papers and academic reports that are not normally easily attainable to the man in the street. He is also brave enough to state in his opening salvo that whilst, at one extreme, popular media opinion is happy to tar a whole religious philosophy with the same brush and at the other political commentators have gone out of their way to exculpate the moderate majority of Muslims from any sympathetic attachment to the Twin Towers attacks, the answer is less clear cut. He sees the Muslim tradition as being a system that is not entirely blameless. In justification of that point he is also at pains to balance the argument with the fact that all three monotheistic Abrahamic traditions (that is Christianity, Judaism and Islam who all revere Abraham of the Old Testament) contain within their doctrines some justifications for violence which can easily be exploited by terrorism and evil deeds, but also in the name of patriotism, national resistance and even the promotion of human rights. Anyone who looks for a black and white picture on the subject will not find there answers here.
The book itself does open with the logical starting point, at least from a western perspective, September 11th. An examination of what little we know of Muhammad Atta and his network and planning is covered in the books first chapter. The natural progression of this is the whole philosophy of violence and suicide attacks within the Islamic scheme. As has been stated before by strict observance of the Koran (the Islamic holy book) violence, accepting self-defence and suicide are not permitted, which then leads into the argument of how representative of the faith are theses attackers. Maybe they are using religion as something to hide behind and their aims are more secular, political or plain anarchic. If you consider the target, how representative of the west is it? If they were making a statement against American foreign policy surely military and political targets would have been chosen, if western culture and ideals, wouldnt the Metropolitan Museum been more relevant? Instead they hit New York in its economic heart, the place where her financial power base was, and considering the range of nationalities based there not altogether representative of America herself. These ideas are deeply explored along with the ideology of all such suicide attackers.
With the obvious thrust out of the way the book then becomes much wider in its scope and much more interesting. Whilst many of us are familiar with the events of that day and since have seen many discussion on the matter, the more interesting arguments lie within the recent evolution of Islam itself. Whilst a bit of room is given over to the early days of Islam, one of the most interesting characters is Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) seen as the father of modern Islamic activism. Whilst the doctrine of jihad (the struggle or holy war) seems to remain unchanged since the creation of the Islamic code in the seventh century, in modern times the application of that has changed and an understanding of Qutb and those who follow his ideas is a key to understanding both the internal and external struggles of the faith and much space is devoted to this end.
Obviously such a book must touch on Bin Laden, but his personal philosophy is not the main issue here. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is covered in much detail, as this period really is a turning point in the way that Islamic extremists viewed the west. Ironically both the AlQaida and the Taliban are the legacy of American foreign policy in central Asia. The former are the remnants of the CIA funded mujahadin, a volunteer militia from all over the Islamic world put together to expel the Soviets from Muslim territory and the later are what became the power base in the vacuum left by the Soviet withdrawal and the American disinterest that followed. There is an argument that America has made a bed for itself in the way that it plays its game elsewhere in the world. An interesting analysis of the Saudi connection with the west highlights some interesting ironies as well as some warnings for the future. Saudi Arabia exports two things freely to the west, oil and fundamentalism, both of which are finding eager buyers in America. There is an interesting appraisal of the connection between western terror groups, such as Bader-Meinhoff and the Red Brigade and their seeming opposites in the Islamic world. It seems that these groups borrow more from the west than they admit to, ideology, tactics and mutual support are clearly seen and again the question is raised as to their nature, religious fanatics or anti capitalist anarchists. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is an argument that can be used to justify many unlikely pairings but is difficult to condone when dealing with a purely religious standpoint.
I found the book both detailed and full of a wealth of information and also compelling, being that it is, or should I say was, a subject I knew nothing about. The conclusion of the book is that if left unchecked, pressure from America and Israeli religious fundamentalists and the forces we have already seen at work within the Muslim world are putting the world on a collision course towards a clash of civilizations. Its an important book that goes a long way to understanding the reasons behind the rift between east and west. It is not an apologist work, understanding is not the same as condoning, but at a time when there seems to be a frenzy of intolerance and deliberate misunderstanding, a time when a discussion on the whole issue of the wearing of veils leads directly to talk of terrorism, it is a book that we can all benefit from reading. The world is not black and white; it is a complex mix of faiths, culture, secularism, policy, economics and patriotism, as well as so much more. If we can begin to understand someone who we may perceive as an enemy, then we are on the first step to seeing where the common ground and compromise lies, where a more tolerant and harmonious co-existence lies and where the only assured future of our very species awaits.
Well I guess you knew Id have to put my two pennies worth in sooner or later with such a hot topic as this. I was going to leave this one alone but after reading so many, in my opinion, misinformed, blinkered and right wing view points, I thought it was my duty to put up a more balanced argument. There have been a few well-argued reviews and they know who they are, but by and large many seem like they were written by ex-members of the Einsatzgruppen, so clutching a biography of Wat Tyler in one hand and a portrait of Tony Benn in the other I will leap into the fray. Ill warn you now, it could be a bit of a long-winded rant, and you know what Im like. Before getting down to the whole central theme of the wearing of veils and Muslim culture in a wider sense, the one thing that many of the previous discussions seem to pivot on is a very us and them view of the debate. Us, being taken to mean I suppose, white Anglo Saxon Protestant British and them presumable Asian Muslims, but lets look at the two parties involved.
Us and Them Part One The British.
So who are the British, well thats easy, isnt it? Well not really no. Britishness is an elusive quality really, it has its uses when a place like the Falkland Islands are under attack and we need a unifying theme to get behind, but go to Scotland and Northern Ireland and the whole idea of Britishness seems as popular as Robert Kilroy Silk So lets try to define whom this British person that so many people claim to be so proud of being really is. Well, go back just over two thousand years and we find a country made up of the mixed remnants of various waves of migrants from central Europe, the last of whom we know today as the Celts. We like the idea of Celts, the fierce tribal ancients who stood up to the might of Rome. They had a rich culture, striking artwork, proud ideals and a quick temper and some impressive moustaches. With the Roman invasion, or should we say assimilation, the gates opened to new stock, not so much to a race of Italians but as their troops were levied from all over the know world a massive mix of races enter the melting pot. There were Germanic legionaries in Colchester, there were Middle Eastern cavalry on Hadrians Wall, there were Spanish troops in York and many of theses settled and raised families after their military service was over. After the collapse of the Roman system new settlers arrived from Northern Germany and Jutland, a group that we remember as the Anglo Saxons, never a unified people, not to begin with at least, a mix of tribes as diverse as a Dutchman from a Dane from a Pole. In 1066 the Normans arrive and take over the country, basically fourth generation Danish Vikings who had been ruling Normandy, who add their chaotic genetic make to the mix. As the Middle Ages move on even more mixing takes place French merchants, Dutch religious refugees, Flemish traders all go into the mix and with the expansion of British Colonialism we have people from all over the globe becoming part of the British make up. So when you try to define yourself as British, unless your family lived up a tree for the past 50 generation then quite frankly genetically, historically and culturally youre a bloody mess, a mongrel nation of the highest order.
If you analyse peoples so called patriotism it seems to fall a bit sort anyway. I love my country I do, well not Scotland or Wales obviously and I dont like northerners, but the rest I love. Except the Midlands its all a bit poor there, and theyre all thick in the West Country and inbred in East Anglia, but London I love. Well not North London obviously its full of wide boys, but South of the river, you cant fault it, well not the east end, and all the Jewish bits, my street I love my street, well not them at number 22 . Patriotism in this country has always seemed to be more about bashing foreign countries rather than being proud of our own. After all its our national duty to hate the French ist it?
Us and Them Part Two Behind the Veil
So as we are talking about the wearing of veils, lets try to define whom it is we are discussing here. The problem with the whole them and us argument that so many people resort to is that where as Britain is a defined geographical place, the other camp is less easy to define. Islam sets out dress codes for both men and women, loose fitting garments for both, a long skirt and scarf for women, the Hijab. Although many people have used quotes directly from the Koran to help form their argument, they are missing the point somewhat. In the Bible Adam and Eve are portrayed wearing fig leaves in the Garden of Eden, but would anyone seriously advocate that. The wearing of such clothing is not a dress code as such; it is a statement of devotion and an overall attitude, an extension of their religious practice, the Halal. Remembering that Islam is a faith and not a place means that there are many Islamic identities and interpretations amongst its diverse make up of peoples and some are therefore culturally more strictly enforced. Some will wear an open face scarf; others will wear a more full face covering with just the eyes showing. There are differences of interpretation within the broader framework. But isnt that the same with any religion, Catholicism is always seen as more strict in its Christian application than Protestantism for example and the same holds true within Islam. The them argument is also difficult to uphold considering that the women in question may be second or third generation British Asians who rightly regard Britain as their homeland. They may have been born here, they make a home here, they work here, they pay taxes here, they vote here. So British by any definition.
The idea of the Hijab being an attitude reflected in a dress sense is echoed in other religions. Although largely died out now, Jewish women up until the nineteenth century would cover their heads as a symbol of pious observance and some of the stricter Hasidic sects still use wigs for this very purpose.
In the Christian tradition St Paul had some interesting things to say about the covering of heads.
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head" (I Corinthians 11:3-10).
Bet that sits fairly uncomfortably with some of you and it walks all over the argument that Christianity doesnt make some strict observances on anyone wishing to take it strictly by the book. And if you argue that its an out dated requirement and open to modern re-evaluation then surely Islam is allowed to undertake its own interpretations of its codes and laws. So it would seem that the idea of covering the head through religious devotion appears in all Abrahamic traditions, whether people chose to observe it to the letter is a different issue, the fact remains that according to all three religions of the book there is a strong tradition of head covering and Islam though the centre of the debate at the moment is by know means alone in this.
Everyone is someone elses weirdo.
So what are we objecting to here with the wearing of veils. They dont look like the rest of us, is that it? Well nor do I half the time, my wardrobe seems be made up of a combination of Mad Max leathers and Lord Byron silk shirts, does that mean that because the rest of you have different dress sense, I should get the bling out and Chav up. If its the dress code then where else are we going to draw the line of common acceptability, Goths, Punks, people who mix checks and stripes, people who were pink, tweed jackets. Surely on a purely dress code, its everyones given right to be able to undertake what the Americans call the pursuit of happiness and that includes what they wear, be it for religious, practical, fashion or what ever reason.
So assuming we all agree that we want to live in a society where there is no fashion police and you can where what ever you want, meaning that everyone else can wear what they want too, where does that leave us. Many people have argued that being a country that is Anglican it is in poor taste for people to wear clothes that represent so adamantly an anti establishment view. Well considering that Sunday attendance amongst Church of England worshipers is now around 1 million, a sixtieth of the population I would say that there isnt actually much support for the official religion of this country. There has always been a wide range of diversity amongst the Christian Church anyway even to the point of long internal disputes, assassinations and war, so who are we to advocate our brand of religion when it seems no more safe and stable than any other. Cultural mixing and religious evolution are ongoing factors in any country and the mixing of Islam and other eastern views with western doctrine is nothing new. One of the accusations that helped close down the Knights Templar on that fateful Friday the Thirteenth in 1314 was the charge that they had become too influenced by Arabic thought and learning, still you can blame the introduction of algebra to the west on them, and the European numbering system, and astronomy, chemistry and much more. The other religious military order of the day, the Knights Hospitillars gave us . wait for it, the St Johns Ambulance, I know which one I would be most impressed by.
We dont seem to object to Sikhs wearing turbans, Hasidic Jews in big hats and ringlets, Krishna devotees in their colourful garments handing out vegan food, so why are we getting so wound up about the covering of a womens face. People have previously levelled the argument that you cant wear crucifixes in Muslim countries. There are a few things to say on this. Firstly, statistically you are probably not one of the one-in-sixty that actually goes to church so why are you bothered? The second point is that this is actually wrong. In the stricter countries, such as Saudi Arabia this may be the case, but I went to a Coptic Christian service in Egypt just for the experience and it was very openly Christian, which is hardly surprising as the Copts make up nine out of fifty seven million of the population.
I also find the argument that if you cant wear a cross in Mecca then you cant wear a Hijab in Leicester to be childish. Saudi Arabia is a long way away, why continually compare us to a country that bears little resemblance to use. What is so wrong with being able to say that we like the fact that we are more tolerant of other cultures than some of our neighbours, otherwise everything spirals down to the lowest common denominator. So if we have broken down the argument that being religious is hardly a requirement for being British, apologies for the one in sixty but you know what I mean, and that religious and cultural interaction have brought some useful advances to this country and that we like the idea that we are free to dress how we like. Where do we go now? Although I dont see it as even remotely related as others have covered the following point with great passion, if not eloquence, we should proceed to the whole security issue.
Take cover, that woman is wearing a veil, she might explode.
The so called war on terror is being used as a lever for any policy the government wants to enforce, such as security cards and arming the police, when the real reason for its efforts is actually because war makes money, especially if you have shares in Haliburton and Abrams, makers of the US number one battle tank (Bush, Cheney etc). In the wake of 9/11 and the London Bombings the whole Muslim identity has been put under the microscope, but how representative of the Muslim faith were the perpetrators. Well probably about as representative as the IRA are of the Catholic Church. Just because a group with a grudge against western foreign policy happen to be Muslims does that mean that they are pursuing a religious cause, of course not. We dont call Basque separatists Christian Fanatics so why do we assume that Middle Eastern anarchists are acting out of religious fervour. Its just easier to believe that there is a religious crusades taking place, after all George Bush thinks so, and remember the man with his finger on the button is a fundamentalist himself, he believes in Adam and Eve and the world being 6000 years old, but hes our deluded psycho killer so thats alright I guess. Are veiled women any more of a security risk that anyone else. Well no veiled women ever dropped a bomb on Japan, no veiled women ever invaded another country against strong public and legal opinion, no veiled women ever shot Kennedy, okay a bit flippant but to be honest if you are going to commit a crime wearing a floor length burka and head scarf is hardly inconspicuous. Terrorism has always been in existence, when the Tartars first fired heads of dead soldiers over the walls of the Black Sea ports, when the Mongols made an example of a city through total annihilation, that was terrorism, its always been there and I suspect nobody was saying ban the wearing of veils and everything will be alright So what are we left with, an irrational media frenzy to sell papers, well the Daily Jackboot err Mail at least and a few small class room incidents that would had have gone unnoticed if it wasnt Muslim women at the centre. In six months time it will all have blown over, the Labour Party will be worrying about the change of leadership, the Tories will be worried about their continues non-electability and Bush will still be kicking the crap out of the Middle East, and all eyes will be on Im a Celebrity or some such drivel and we can all forget this was ever an issue. Mind you if they ever strike oil in Bradford!!!
It the beginning was the word, well a few words really and the words were can you write some music for an Airline commercial? Thus begins the story of Adiemus, a series of musical works that have now stretched to four albums, international fame and critical success. Its creator Karl Jenkins is now a well-respected composer in the field of classical music but his route to his exalted position today began in jazz music being a member of the bands Nucleus and later Soft Machine, one of the seminal bands of the 1970s. Despite winning awards for his work with such bands and later for film scores and advertising music, it is perhaps the Adiemus projects that have become his best known work, a music that seems all encompassing in many ways and non-categorisable at the same time. A piece of work that Jenkins had in mind for another recording project was pitched to the aforementioned Airline company (Delta, if you must know), they loved it and from the initial track Adiemus a concept was born. For a type of music that is no stranger to Classic FM it is surprising that the music is reminiscent of many new age bands such as Enya, Dead Can Dance and Deep Forest but with the main emphasis on vocal work rather than any prominent instrumentation. In the words of the man himself, "When I conceived the Adiemus concept initially, I was thinking of it purely as a recording. My intention was to compose a work based in the European classical tradition but with vocal sound more akin to ethnic or world music." Although initially in a fairly defined heritage, the work has grown over the years to include African, Celtic, Arabic and even ecclesiastical themes and sounds. The percussion, the main accompaniment to much of the work also incorporates diverse beats and rhythms that suggest Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese and even Australian styles as well as those of its original brief. This album, Journey is a compilation of the four albums to date and contains nineteen original and beautiful tracks.
Opening with the most famous piece of the project Adiemus is a song that you will already be aware of even if you dont know that you know it, its one of those pieces of music that just stays in the back of the mind for later recall. This one piece does really sum up the magical qualities of the concept. Soloist Miriam Stockleys voice opens on an almost Arabic chant as tribal background beats pick the song up. Its when the backing group of singers join in the piece that it really kicks off, vocal waves wash over each other each reaching higher than the last in a fashion that sounds like a strange South American tribal choir. The sound structures are awesome, powerful, beautiful, spine tingling and otherworldly and when they have reached their highest peaks they drop away to be replaced by a subdued and haunting flute or a contrasting solo voice. It was after hearing this one song that I wanted to learn more about the music, not only was it totally original, there was something about the voices and language that that enthralled me. Upon doing some digging I found out that the Adiemus singers are Finish, the soloists British, and the backing music largely by a little known band called The London Philharmonic Orchestra. What surprised me more is the concept behind the lyrics, there are none! As Karl puts it "The text in Adiemus is written phonetically, with the words viewed as instrumental sound. The human voice is the oldest instrument and by removing the distraction of lyrics, we hope to create a sound that is universal and timeless. I must admit that I am a big fan of using the voice as an instrument and as I listen to a lot of Gaelic and world music the concept of not understanding the language is not a problem, here there is no language to understand. Its odd that I have heard from people the argument of I couldnt listen to music where you cant understand the words but then advocate bland dance music or misogynistic rap music which is saying nothing anyway.
Its impossible to separate one track from another here for reasons of description as the whole body of work seems to be created as a large piece rather that as individual tunes. All have a lot in common, lush female vocal harmonies, sometimes en mass, sometimes sparse and gentle. The mix of cultural identity makes it a totally global product, East meets West and every compass point in between, some conforms to its original design of a European classic tradition, others are totally Amazonian in flavour, Arabesque solos sit along side Chinese back beats, Gregorian whispers flit through African celebration dances, Polynesian chants and even Strauss like waltz time signatures have their place. There is also a lot of pieces here that will already be well known to you, subliminally through TV adverts but also because the themes are so universally recognisable as cultural markers.
Although I found that not every thing on this album matches up to the brilliance of the original theme, it also acts as a good reference for which albums to buy. I seemed to find that as successive albums were made, the music tends to move slightly away from what it was that initially caught my attention in Jenkins work. I there fore now know that probably only the first two albums are suitable for me, but everyone will have their own favourites and this compilation is a good way of finding which ones to go for, especially if like me you managed to pick it up for next to nothing on e-bay. This is one of those albums that is good for the me time. That is; lounging in the bath, relaxing on the sofa after a hard day down the mine or just dropping off to sleep. I seem to be reviewing a lot of that sort of thing recently, must be getting old. And the last word from our main man, To me, Adiemus transcends labels. That fact that it reaches people of different backgrounds, faiths and cultures gives it a universal appeal which is special. The compositions can be spiritual, religious, meditative - it's open to 'move' people in a way that they choose to experience.
For those that insist on having all of the buying information spelt out for them e-bay, Amazon, music shops, blah, blah, blah .its not rocket science.