Clint Eastwood

On Springboks & Rainbows: Invictus reviewed

Having come a long way from his days as “The Man with No Name” and “Dirty Harry”, veteran actor-turned director Clint Eastwood has proved that at nearly 80 he still has that magic touch.

You don’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy this film, a highly uplifting morality tale on the strength of the human spirit and the concept of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – in a sporting and psycholoogical sense.

One of the film’s opening scenes features archive footage of Nelson Mandela being released from his long incarceration with a voiceover making the statement “Mandela is now a free man” – surely an intentional pun on the name of the lead actor. Morgan Freeman is uncannily accurate in his portrayal of Mandela as the highly charismatic and charming individual that he was – and continues to be. Although it should be noted that such parts – ie the world weary wise old sage who has a knack of influencing those around him as in films like The Shawshank Redemption and Driving Miss Daisy – are his stock in trade.

John Carlin in his book Playing the Enemy on which Invictus is based sums up the spirit of worldwide revolution that was in the air in the lte1980s/early 90s:

“The world was changing fast. The anti-communist Solidarity movement had come to power in Poland; demonstrations in Tiananmen Square were calling for Chinese reform; the Soviet army ended its nine-year occupation of Afghanistan; the Berlin Wall was tottering. Apartheid belonged like, communism to another age.”

Mandela’s philosophy of in order to make progress you need to know your enemy is one of the central tenets of the film. Freeman is excellent in putting across Mandela’s extraordinary lack of bitterness towards his former oppressors following 27 years of incarceration.

When questioned by his black colleagues about his enthusiastic support for the Springboks who had previously represented the oppressive game of the white Afrikaner Mandela says “If I can’t change when circumstances demand how can I expect others to change?”

Despite the heavy overall message of Invictus its not wihtout its comic moments. A notable example is when the white presidential security guards who had previously worked for FW de Klerk under the apartheid regime report for duty to their boss who is now black – and suspects he is the victim of some kind of joke. But in reality it is all part of Mandela’s grand plan to heal the divisions and unite a once bitterlydivided nation which had not so long ago been on the brink of civil war.

Although Matt Damon doesn’t look like your average rugby player his portrayal of Springbok captain François Pienaar is convincing as is his Afrikaner accent. The scenes on he field of play are also well choreographed as are the reactions from the crowd.

The sickly sweet feelgood factor is perhpas a little overdone by the end of the film,with the final scenes of the jubilant team and their supporters now both white and black, but this doesn’t detract from what is a fantastic piece of cinema.

ENNIO MORRICONE: MUSICAL GENIUS

The Dreaming Arm’s occasional contributor Philip “We like birds we’re ornithologists/Postman Plod he’s a miserable sod, the tattoo on Biffa Bacon’s Mum’s arm, it’ll be ye ootside and ye’ll hoof us in the knackaz” Larkin is back to pay homage to arguably the world’s greatest living composer (and without a shadow of doubt the world’s greatest ever composer of soundtracks to 1960s spaghetti westerns and films about 18th century Jesuit missionaries in South America) Ennio Morricone.

ennio

I  am sitting down to write this small tribute to one of the greatest modern composers for the blog before it is too late, and he has passed on.  CW and myself have prevaricated and “hummed and hawed” about this piece, but happily the legend that is Morricone still remains with us today.  Morricone will never read what I have written, but I feel it only fair that the blog should acknowledge him:  CW and I are both big fans.  I very much regret not going to a concert of his in London a number of years ago, but if such an event ever happens again (and I hope that it will), you may bet that I will be in the audience, whatever my circumstances may be.  I am writing this piece to the haunting strains of the “Ecstasy of Gold” which accompanied the frenzied searches of Tuco for buried gold in the vast cemetery during the final scenes in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Some people in this world have an instinctive genius for being able to stir deep emotions within us, accessing these by a profound knowledge of what fires our most primitive senses. Winston Churchill was able to do this through the medium of words: his speeches remain possibly his greatest legacy to the United Kingdom and its people. Laurie Lee, in his Cider with Rosie had a similar talent for choosing exactly the right combination of words to evoke pictures in our mind’s eye of a young boy growing up in the Cotswolds in the 1920s. I would say that Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer of whom I write, similarly possesses this wonderful talent, except that he expresses it through the medium of music. It is as if he visualises human emotion like the cords of a violin, and knows instinctively which ones to play in order to produce a wonderful reaction in each of us.

good-bad-ugly

I do not know much about his background, except that he is obviously Italian and has been classically educated in music. For those who are unfamiliar with the name of Ennio Morricone, he wrote the music for many of Sergio Leone’s  Western Films, for example, A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Once Upon a Time in America, to name but a few. Practically everyone knows at least some of these tunes. In addition to the work he did for Leone, Morricone also composed the highly memorable soundtrack for the film The Mission, and so many other pieces that it would be tedious to try and catalogue them here.  I feel personally that his music works in particularly perfect harmony with Leone’s films, their look and feel, their mood, and their environment. This partnership may have worked so well because both were Italians and Latins, and had an instinctive understanding of what the other was looking for.

Morricone’s background music never fails to capture the right mood in a film scene, and almost draws the viewer deeper into the ambience of the picture. Who can fail to be moved by the strains of “Death of a Soldier”, when Clint Eastwood’s ministers to a mortally wounded young confederate, dying alone, in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?  In that same film, (and with a similar music score), during the scene when Tuco and the man with no name enter the monastery for help, we are filled with empathy and compassion at the sight of the monks in simple brown habits binding and washing the wounds of the helpless, starving, confederate refugees. Sticking with The Good…etc, remember that part when our two anti-heroes, Eastwood and Wallach, are marched into a dust caked, fly-blown prisoner of war camp by their Union captors?  By the use of the whistling and ever-so-slightly wistful marching tune, we almost can believe that we are being shepherded to the same camp.

Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson in Once Upon A Time in the West

Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson in Once Upon A Time in the West

Changing the film and the mood entirely, remember the wonderful score in Once Upon a Time in the West which accompanies Claudia Cardinale’s character as she alights from the train and we see the birth of a bustling new western town, and the music conveys both hope for future progress, but also wistful regret at the demise of the old “Wild West” and its (often warped) code of honour? In our deepest core we know, without realising it, that civilization as represented by the new town spells death to the Old West, yet the mere footage in this film of the stage town alone could not convey this knowledge to the viewer: Morricone’s musical score darkly hints at the notion in our sub-conscious. Sometimes the melancholy invoked by Ennio’s pieces can be almost overpowering: I would not recommend anyone in a dark mood to listen to “Deborah’s Theme” from Once Upon a Time in America.

Part of the reason for Morricone’s success is that he is prepared to be highly innovative in his approach to musical scores. For instance, during one duel scene in For a Few Dollars More, the feverish, oven-like tension is accentuated by the sepulchral strains of organ music punctuating the classic Western stand-off. Similarly, no other composer could have made work as well as Ennio the frog croaking “wop, wop, wop” “March of the Peasants” in A Fistful of Dynamite. Neither, as with the “Ecstasy of Gold”, was he scared to use female soprano singing in the score. Somehow, the music seems entirely appropriate to the scene of the film.

Some people take a very snobbish view towards composers such as Ennio Morricone, accusing them of being “populist”, and selling their work for pure profit. I do not agree. Ennio’s work has touched the lives of millions of people, even without us being aware of it, and brought fine music within the remit of those of us who do not ordinarily know our Rachmaninov from our Tchaikovsky.

Good on you Ennio! 

 

A Reasoned and Considered Rant against Big Corporate Brands and Globalisation

The anti-globalisation movement hasn’t had the best public image, with the stereotype of the dreadlock-adorned, dayglo-wearing lentil and organic rice-eating new age type with multiple piercings and henna tattoos. But in the age of global economic meltdown and credit crunches, such beliefs are becoming more mainstream.

Opposition to the dominance of big corporate brands over small businesses and traditional cottage industries shouldn’t by any means be in the exclusive interests of dreadlock-adorned, dayglo-wearing lentil and organic rice-eating new age types, nor even of the political left. We should all be concerned.

Do we want the traditional earthy pub like the Blue Tiger, the Frog and Fuck, the Puke of Pork – with their real ales beloved of bearded chunky sweater wearing CAMRA types, the old guy in the corner who reminisces about the old times to anyone who’ll listen to him, the barstool bore who knows the solution to all the world’s problems but will only tell you if you buy him a pint, the amateur Casanova who, despite rapidly expanding beer belly and thinning hairline tries (however unsuccessfully) to chat up the well-endowed barmaid – to be replaced by shallow, characterless chains like Whateverspoons or All Bar None frequented by pin-striped city types crying into their Pimms or trendy designer lagers, (a bottle of which costs the equivalent of the government bail-out of the said banks) after being made redundant by Deutsche Wank and blowing their million pound pay-offs on coke and hookers.

Imagine your local town centre being taken over by Starfucks, Boots, Specsavers, McDonalds, O’Neills (the plastic Paddy Irish pub chain that is, not the popular Irish sportswear manufacturer), WH Smiths et al. Or has this already happened?

It’s a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the comedian and Socialist Workers party supporter Mark Steel in his latest book “What’s It All About”:

 

“Now you could go to a shopping centre in Croydon, Penzance, Lincoln or Dundee, and guarantee there’d be a Body Shop, Clinton Cards, Going Places Travel, HMV, Waterstones, fake Irish pub, Wetherspoons, Pizza Hut with a little glass screw-top jar of Parmesan cheese, JJB Sports, Burger King, a bloke in a green pullover trying to recruit you into the AA and a bunch of Peruvians playing ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ on the poxy panpipes”.
 

 

Go to an independent café rather than Starfucks or Costa Coffe (Costa Fortune more like) and you invariably get more generous portions often of superior quality and value for money. Who wants to go to Caffe Grande Cazzo sponsored by Figlio di Putana casual wear and pay £5.50 for a prosciutto and mozarella pannini (basically a glorified ham and cheese toastie) or £3.00 for a thimble full of espresso which you can down in one go and it barely fill a cavity in your tooth?

An Americano used to be what Clint Eastwood in a poncho was called by the Mexican bandits in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but now it’s a fucking coffee.  And I thought moccachinos were what Italian American Indians wore on their feet.

You couldn’t make it up.