Important to read Dan Glazebrook and Sukant Chandan as they take apart the British ‘foreign policy’ machinations that help no-one here or there:
A dump post for bits cut from a manuscript. So yes, I will not be talking about Bababababadiouuuuu. But leave it here in case I need to retrieve it from the hungry mouse:
that atrocities here and there and the perpetual state of war cannot be swallowed whole means we need not agree with the philosopher Alain Badiou when he claims ‘being indignant’ about a state murder is insufficient because ‘a negative emotion cannot replace the affirmative idea and its organization, any more than a nihilistic riot can claim to be politics’ (Badiou 2011/2012). Badiou’s claim is contradicted by the evidence of consistent and sustained mobilisation against the violence of such encounters, and the question of deciding, far too quickly in Badiou’s case, where the violence begins and ends, and what is a riot and what is organisation. Useful insights can be realised through faulty representations but more generally, there is rage and organisation that goes together in opposition to the dominant. The point is to not join with the dominant so as to merely, even critically, help engross its surplus.
I guess it is easy to see why this needs to be cut, even if there is a point in there somewhere.
More seriously though, I also cannot use this now:
While in the USA this sort of policing occurs with armed officers more frequently, the extraordinary number of cases of, unprosecuted, police killing in the UK confirms that police ‘encounter’ is not a problem specific to any particular nation state. Flagrant examples piled up as I wrote these sentences from notes, white supremacy with a uniform, and a litany of the names of the dead makes for difficult ‘research’. Which is only to say – and saying it is never enough – that police violence is institutional, a part of state ‘counter-terror’ everywhere. In 1999 the Macpherson Report identified ‘institutional racism’ within the British police forces, in relation to the Stephen Lawrence investigation but with wider, limited, implications. Some years later, the ‘institutional’ narrative was brought out again with the disappearance of CCTV video of the police murder of Jean Charles de Menezes on Stockwell tube in 2005. Lists of the dead are abject, no wonder documentation of racist attacks sometimes appears in fictionaliased forms, in films like Sammie and Rosie Get Laid, in pop video such as Dog-tribe by Fun-da-Mental, but at the point of delivery the violence is real. Public sentiment is naturally to resist such violence. The reaction to the killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in 2011 suggested more in terms of popular sentiment – that police killings are resented, that the civil compact is fragile, that revolt could transform polite complacency in a matter of days – just as much as the force and violence of political suppression needs a massive tabloid buttress for legitimacy, and carnival sponsorship, or photo-opportunism with a broom in Clapham, cannot resolve the tension.
Just as no police officer has been jailed for a death in custody in the UK and the full weight of the law was mobilised to halt the uprising on the third night when the ‘rioters’ in 2011 turned their attention to well-to-do Ealing, rather than Tottenham or Lewisham, people see the operation of hypocrisy and can locate who to blame readily enough. Police duty of care is flouted and ignored, and free rein was offered in Ealing as was evident to anyone who cared to look. It is also not without significance to me that the following August in 2012, the police operation to ‘protect’ the public at the Olympics were lauded, in the press after the fact, as having helped heal the wounds of a scarred city. I do not want to minimise the losses suffered and livelihoods ruined by the events of August 2011, but it seems to me that some new angles on the uprising are required in order to see it as it was – a stage managed media ‘riot’ graphed over the top of legitimate youth frustration built up over months of repressive austerity, cuts to services, the education maintenance allowance (EMA), and the student protests of 2010-early 2011.
There was of course a gap between the predominantly black youth organising and protesting the removal of the EMA that had supported so many disadvantaged families in keeping teens in education and the white, often middle-class, students who somewhat selflessly were protesting education fees they themselves would probably avoid by finishing their degrees before the introduction of the fees. The administration-led privatisation of education, and the political debate about this, was always about much more than issue of course fees, a message even the mainstream news media at the time occasionally comprehended. Yet, since vernacular conviviality is to be subsumed into the regulatory, the evident gap between two kinds of organising, and indeed at the protests, between those who were standing around waiting to be ‘kettled’ and those up for dancing and or a bit of barney with the police – and often it was South Asian youth in the latter contingent – was clearly a part of a struggle that would set coming directions. More creative modes of protest and articulation of dissent within the police kettles and refusal of the A to B march orthodoxy of the usual student protests should also be mentioned, even if they did not in the end prevail. The lessons of horizontal and cell based organising taken from observations of the ‘Arab Spring’, to the extent that it was possible to know via media, and before it was sabotaged by the reaction, did complicate the picture in the student demonstrations, and perhaps even set some of the scene for the following August. Thinking of protest as carnivalesque, as an alternative to predictable routes, and A to B protest marches, opened the possibility of going beyond the political conventions. This itself was perhaps part of the reason for the Police crackdown on student protesters, including significant jail time for a surprisingly large number, which in turn fuelled a degree of militancy that had been building to confirm the congealing roles. The gap, however, also still prevailed in august, with two kinds of ‘protest’ occurring would only be ‘theorised’ at a distance by largely the same groups that had contrasted ‘spikey’ versus ‘fluffy’ in the Criminal Justice Act protests of the med 1990s. Without even going so far as the reprehensibly fluffy ‘clean up’ broom movement photo op in Clapham, the site of white activists marching in a relatively orderly formation through Lewisham chanting ‘This is what a revolution looks like’ was a symptomatic incongruity and pointer that the lessons are still to be learnt.
It is no surprise that the variety of film reference consumes space that might have been given over to a shared theoretical effort. With the production of one thousand films a year – estimates vary, but hover around the Scheherazade number. All before anyone can cast about for angle or perspective. Especially if from these thousand and one films, only a very small number of these are discussed by experts in film studies.
And this brilliant but orphan squib from SV:
“Film analysis too often
‘restages the obvious as a major discovery’ (Srinivas 2012:79)
talks itself into wanting to ‘pass’ in all contexts, then complains when this succeeds all too well, and hence benefits are withdrawn
‘Sometimes, you can’t understand what’s happening textually unless you are aware of the economic forces at work’ (Srinivas 2012:78)”
Srinivas, S.V. 2012 ‘Teaching India/Asian Cinema’, Journal of the Moving Image, 11:78-84
Srinivas raises key areas of problems for film studies: the different levels of attention, first of all to film and its excessive enjoyment; the pleasures of going to the cinema hall to sit in the dark awash with colour; to sit with others, on couches or in cinema halls or virtually, the problem of distribution; the grand claims of those who sit in the dark and proclaim themselves radical, subversive, pirates, revolutionaries, as if watching Jackie Chan in itself were progressive (see Srinivas 2012:79); that piracy can be reread and celebrated as theft and free content misunderstands both piracy and freedom (Srinivas 2012:81).
Moinak Biswas in a talk on ‘Ismat Chughtai and her Films’ (Biswas 2016) stresses the importance of Urdu writers in the development of Indian leftist culture and the movement of artists, writers and theatre workers and more from the Progressive Writers Association and IPTA into the film industry in Bombay.
Gehlawat would break with ‘adherence to a devotional paradigm’ (Gehlawat 2010:26)
‘On 26 June 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency, allegedly to prevent a conspiracy from undermining the progressive measures being undertaken by her. A national railway workers’ strike and broad-based popular campaigns in one of the more urbanized and developed states, Gujarat, and in one of the most backward, Bihar (campaigns which were both escalating into nationwide opposition movements) formed the background to the decision. Individual rights were revoked, including the right to move courts and the right to trial; over 100,000 arrests of political leaders and dissidents were made during the eighteen month period before elections were called side by side with political repression were measures to promote economic growth and equity, such as the Twenty Point Program, heralded as a ‘‘direct assault on poverty.’’ It gave priority to implementing laws on land ceilings, housing for landless labor, abolition of bonded labor and of rural indebtedness, and providing higher minimum wages for agricultural workers. Special teams were instituted in the large cities, to undertake house-to-house searches for undisclosed or undervalued property. Widely publicized campaigns against tax evasion and smuggling were launched, and within twelve months over 2,100 alleged smugglers were jailed and property worth over ten million rupees seized. Labor ‘‘peace’’ was achieved, with a dramatic decrease in strikes and lockouts of about 75 percent. The government’s aim appeared to be to stop at source all conceivable political opposition. Elections were suspended and press censorship instituted’ (Rajagopal 2009:47)
In Chandidas (1932, dir Deboki Kumar Basu) the burning of Rami’s home, and the fire taking the bird cage a poignant moment in the most poignant of films. Against the prohibitions of the bigoted temple priests, Chandidas chooses Rami and they leave for a new house
The game show format imparted, like cricket, to India is not offensive, nor should it surprise us that the abuse of legal process first devised by the British lingers. What we see played out on the hanging channel are the global effects of the terror psychosis that spread fear as revenge for national insult. 9-11 and 6/7 meant a bureaucratic anxiety was imposed as control. Internal Security, Homeland Defence, Prevent, Radicalisation and Human Terrain network Analysis are all variants of a prime-time police operation reliant upon fear of ideas and the burning of books. The pantomime factor is huge in the effort to make people in the west forget that they are far far more likely to die in a car crash than the proxy war of terror weapons sales push that occupies strategic imperatives in so-called ‘diplomatic’ planning.
‘The Indian films which pertained most to Third Cinema grew out of the New Indian Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, and it is this movement to which I devote some attention here for two reasons: it is not treated elsewhere in these pages while remaining one of the important cinemas neglected (for a variety of reasons) by Western criticism – this even though the films produced by these radical filmmakers outnumber those of the Nouvelle Vague and the New German Cinema combined; the New Indian Cinema also constitutes a superb illustration all the difficulties and contradictions that filmmakers and film critics encountered and continue to encounter wherever Third Cinema has come into being. India’s “Parallel Cinema,” as it has come to be known in some quarters, remains unparalleled in its richness as a case study’ (Guneratne and Dassanayake 2003: 20)
‘The vanguard of the New Indian Cinema that began to emerge in the 1970s either studied under committed leftist filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak at Pune or abroad either at such centers of filmmaking as Moscow’ (Guneratne and Dassanayake 2003: 21)
Understanding then Pather Panchali or Baishey Shravana in this code brings only sadness and despair to the nation. Poverty, not independence would be a more adequate context, especially in a filmmaker like Sen who will track the communist left and Maoist political lineage in Bengal.
No romance of the beleaguered ethnic community. Austerity accounts for all associations other than big business and what community there is that can be applauded is a community of struggle. Struggle is not yet success, but the aspiration remains. Even where beset by inner city problems – code for drugs, gangs, crime, violence, hip hop – there is organisation. In the face of a collapsing left, even a crack house might in some conditions be shelter.
Prepare yourself for trauma. John Hood’s book The Bleeding Lotus: Notions of nation in Bangladeshi Cinema (2015, Palimpsest) is not intended primarily as a gore-fest horror but is the more devastating for being a documentation of real and brutal violence on film, presented in relentlessly modest prose, requiring careful and sustained, if confronting, reading.
Hood begins his wonderful study of Bangladeshi cinema with an all too cute first line recognition that there were still many people who were ‘born in India, grew up in East Pakistan’ and who, he is writing in 2015, without having travelled, now ‘live in Bangladesh’ (Hood 2015:14). His next 200 pages document that bloody and violent history, tracking films from Zahir Raihan’s Stop Genocide (1971), Tariq and Catherine Masud’s Ontarjatra (2006) through to Nasiruddin Yousuff’s Guerrilla (2011), all the while in extended (short) book length commentary on Tanvir Mokammel’s epic three-hour documentary 1971 (2011). An elegiac annotation of the horrors of partition, language conflicts, civil war, and other assassinations and atrocities, the discussion is all the while shot through with solemn insights about Mokammel’s other films. Hood’s book casts up an ensemble – if that term can be used – that includes the rapist Pakistani military, the bloated bodies of murdered women, groups of dead children in a screen violence perhaps unprecedented, and a horrific witness: ‘deeply moving, powerful visuals’ (Hood 2015:75).
Hood knows Bangladesh, and his descriptions of movies that treat the events of the 1971 war, the Pakistan Army, the Razakar collaborators and the resistance, are comprehensive and relentless. Returning over and over to Mokammel’s 1971 with intuition and argumentation, the commentary and synopsis of a great many related films, documentary and feature, are hung on this bleakly enticing frame. The overwhelming humanity of the treatment obliges close attention (many of the films are online, albeit sans subtitles for non-Bengalis). No other film scholars are mentioned and little obvious debt to film theory is required, but the writing is fluent, engaging and engaged. One learns both of Bangladeshi film and and of the difficult birth of Bangladesh as nation, in a fraught emergence which cannot be reduced to a concert or a newsreel summation. Hood shows more clearly than anyone else I have read on this subject that the secularist revolutionary struggle for Bangladeshi freedom was heroic and so are the films, in various degrees of cinematic dress and competence, not spared any necessary critique where warranted, but all in all informative and done with care.
The problem of circuits infects film distribution as it does publishing or politics, imposing an hierarchy of visibility and voices according to who shouts loudest with which speaker system. Distribution costs money or favours and without vast resources, sensation and political intrigue substitute for worth. Thus it can be that the most widely viewed documentary ‘evidence’ of the Pakistani Army atrocities is a film that owed its international renown to a cross-border machinations by someone previously not much into the business of facilitating film reviews. As Hood argues in discussion of Zahir Raihan’s Stop Genocide (1971):
‘Released even before the war was over [this] was perhaps the earliest cinematic expression of a people’s aspiration for freedom in the face of an occupation army’s inhuman barbarity. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi bought the film rights and had it distributed around the world to project the excesses of the Pakistani military [and so] to justify the Indian intervention’ (Hood 2015:17)
Never previously had a twenty minute film found such unlikely international backing, as Indira also used the cover of the war intervention to quash urban Naxals at home. It is then not without irony that Stop Genocide begins with a quote from Lenin and a refrain from ‘The Internationale’, before shadows of palms and the sound of marching boots, barking dogs, and gunfire. Lines of refugees – stop – close-ups of hungry faces and wide abject eyes – stop – the return of revolutionary anthem as a pleading dirge at the end smears misery across the screen, exceeded only with a reference to Auschwitz – stop, stop stop Genocide across the final frames.
What further circulates, however, supported in turn by that indubitably well-meaning and necessary Concert for Bangladesh, starring George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, is the globally distributed image of Bangladesh as a space of trauma. Abject nationhood sells, in the hands of such philanthropic friends. Other films or images of a tranquil Bangladesh find distribution deals harder to come by unless they can market the exoticist angles.
Hood’s lyrical description of the opening sequence of Morshedul Islam’s Khalaghar (PlayHouse, Dir. Islam, 2006) illustrates the dual tendencies in more recent times:
‘The setting is a lush and dense tract of riverbank. The camera focuses on a boat coming along the relatively narrow and secluded stretch of the river. Other than the boatman nothing comes into view; the only other sound than the splash of water by the moving punt is a gentle twittering of birds. It is a truly idyllic scene, which lasts for just about two minutes before the boatman draws to the bank under the cover of low over-hanging branches and in scary silence six young men emerge from the jungle behind the camera to meet the boat. Without a word the boatman proceeds to unload a cargo of arms, passing out guns to the men on the bank. Not a word is spoken’ (Hood 2015:122-3)
Reflections in the water play an important role in the sequence, ripples and shimmering in the image, the youth collecting the guns framed under the tree, before a bell rhythm introduces the opening credits. It is a full five and a half minutes before a word is spoken, when the teacher is informed of news about the fight for freedom. The idyll contrasts with an indication of the guerrilla war. Hood is right to double up on noting that words are unnecessary for the effect. Bangladesh, like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are rendered as paradise with violence; only sand, dust, mountains, or swollen rivers are interchangeable, and these stereotyped images, along with the all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood ready reckoner, circle the globe. Partition horrors, the emergency and the pogroms dull the tune. Of course other images and critiques of stereotypes are possible. A counter-narrative is found in Humayan Ahmed’s Shyambol Chhaya (2004) where towards the end the Bengali freedom fighters approach a Pakistani Army post disguised as musicians, who, when they get close enough, ‘exchange their instruments for guns and grenades’ (Hood 2015:140). This book and these films take us beyond the lingering consequences of long years of colonial misrule, restoring initiative where there is otherwise only the fading of the vibrant Raj pink of Empire’s nostalgic fantasy – rose-coloured as if the Jallianwalah Bagh massacre of unarmed civilians or Churchill’s wartime ‘necessary’ famine were mere administrative anomalies. If Empire left its outcomes in arbitrary lines and compromises that were unworkable from the get go, Islam’s film Khalaghar, Mokammel’s 1971, and Hood’s book as a whole, alongside many other films and commentary (Prasad et al.,) are efforts to help us negotiate the difficulties and stereotypes that refuse, perhaps especially through invitation and containment, to otherwise succumb to critique.
‘As the world prepared for yet another Oil crusade, I was reading my daily paper, as you do. On the same page that reports the speech of Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council in the lead-up to the attack on Iraq – in his talk the General cited a plagiarized British MI6 research paper on Iraqi weapons while standing before a hastily covered-up tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica – there appeared an ad for the aid and relief charity Unicef. In the style of a soap powder commercial, this ad extols the virtues of the organization and what it could do for a girl called Farida. Tragically subject to domestic oppression (see Figure 1), she would be saved if I would just donate a few coins to the charitable cause. The face of someone I have never met, and whom Powell will never meet (with more sinister consquences), is used to demand an intervention. I feel like we have been here before…’
Read there rest here: Souvenirs and Infancy, Jrnl Vis Cult 2004
It has often been noted that war is hell, or ‘heck’ in the old 1970s ‘M*A*S*H’ anti-war comedy version, but the cold war too has its unwelcome replays as austerity today, this time as grotesque rerun of terror and economic malaise.
For many in the West, a first look at ‘Asia’ came with Altman’s 1970 film M*A*S*H following the adventures of a front line medical unit in the Korean war, but the Vietnam War was the allegorical context. The long-running television series featured Alan Alda as Hawkeye and his bumbling foil Major Frank Burns, an incompetent officer and surgeon played by Larry Lindville, who offered the mortal paraphrase – ‘war is heck’. An occasional character, the paranoid Colonel Flag, played by Edward Winter, should also be remembered for his surrealist reinforcement of the absolute winning incoherence of the phrase ‘military intelligence’.
- What is it to give offence? To insult with intent? To use insults as a mode of revenge? Are these only insults or always also weapons of mass destruction?
- What is humour in a time of war? Humour and culture – from the Keep Calm slogans to the Je Suis Charlie and ‘pardon’ image. The aesthetics and context of cartoons, and what can be said inside a box and not elsewhere.
- On cartoonists, translators, books, mosques, persons, countries, faith.
- Irony and contradiction. Freedom fighters opposing freedom of speech, and vice versa. The recoding of events as freedom of speech versus terror (Spivak 2002). Binary thinking that opposes civilisation and barbarism, liberalism and fundamentalism, occident and orient (Kay 2015) or medieval and modern, uneducated or sophisticated, religious and secular (Miller 2015).
- What is revenge? Militarily and culturally? Can anyone win in this sphere? Or are we dealing with perpetual war? – as distraction for other more fundamentally economic interests? Taking sides (Kumar 2015) and anti-racism, anti-imperialism, justice and the creation of Death Squads as traps for alienated youth (Chandan 2015).
[pic is of the collaborationist newspaper of the French Nazi’s edited for several years ’43-44 by Antoine Cousteau (yep, Jacques’ brother)]