Cinema Asia

Yes, another free borrowing from Wollongong Library!

Cinema Asia (2007) is a five-part documentary series that takes the viewer into the most dynamic film scene on the planet.

Asia houses some of the world’s biggest film industries: India boasts that it is the Number One film producing country in the world, while China, at Number Three is nipping closely at Hollywood’s heels. Taiwan, Korea and Iran have film industries that are smaller, but no less vibrant. Punching far above their weight these national cinemas have taken their place on the international stage.

Long trapped within their own national boundaries, these national cinemas have in recent years burst onto international screens. They have even taken the charts Number One slot in the home of cinema itself – Hollywood.

Cinema Asia offers the viewer a rich mix of clips from some of the most important films produced in recent years. Interviews with their makers provide a unique window not only on the world of film-making, but on the cultures that have made them.

In an age of incessant and irresistible globalization these programmes show how national cinemas fight against the Hollywoodization of global cinema.

A delightful snippet from Part 1: China. And what a wonderful expressive face! When you think of all she must have lived through. (I think of M’s mother in Shanghai, born in 1935 – as was my brother, but what different worlds, and yet in a way they meet in this 21st century!)





China is now the world’s third-largest producer of cinema films. Since the Ground Zero of the Cultural Revolution, when film-making virtually ceased in China, the Chinese cinema industry has come storming back.

Cinema Asia: China reveals that the Chinese renaissance began humbly. Emerging from the darkness of the Cultural Revolution, art-house films such as YELLOW EARTH and RED SORGHUM introduced the world to a new kind of cinema.

Realizing the box office potential of Chinese exotica, films such as RAISE THE RED LANTERN and FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE, established that Chinese films could work in the mainstream as well. And recent Chinese blockbusters like HERO and HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS beat Hollywood at its own game and fill cinemas around the world.

Today a new generation of Chinese filmmakers is making a new kind of film. Frequently banned in China, these filmmakers dodge the censors to get at the true heart of China.


See Review: Cinema Asia (2007):

For some unfathomable reason — I usually keep an eye out for these things — I missed SBS’s broadcast of the five Cinema Asia documentaries when they were shown earlier this year. So I was more than chuffed when Madman kindly sent along a review copy of their DVD release, which packs all five on to two discs.

Cinema Asia is a series covering some of the history and the state today (well, in 2007 when it was made) of five cinema industries in Asia: China, Taiwan, South Korea, India and Iran. Each episode takes a look at the the background of each national cinema, the things that make it unique, and cuts together interviews with actors, critics and prominent directors.

Episode one, China, focuses on post-Cultural Revolution cinema, particularly those films made by the so-called Fifth and Sixth Generation directors, as well as China’s relatively recent emergence as a domestic audience to reckon with. Particular attention is paid to Zhang Yimou’s Hero, which made enough money domestically to focus filmmakers’ minds on big-budget movies for the domestic market. In contrast to these are smaller films made by younger filmmakers; these generally don’t make it into cinemas, and are often sent directly to film festivals overseas (sometimes at the director’s peril) or distributed locally through other channels…

Asian Cinema Cafe looks well worth visiting. See also The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society in Transformation from the Harvard Film Archive and Full Translation of Jia Zhangke’s Essay on Sixth Generation Cinema Now Available.  From the latter:

Jia_Zhangke-300x300I still remember vividly one passage from the newspaper that I bought. It was said that for his film The Days, Wang Xiaoshuai climbed up onto a freight train bound for Baoding in Hebei province to buy cheap black-and-white film stock. I have always imagined it in my head that in those days, the young man must have looked nothing like the puffed old man now; he must have been robust and exuberant. Amongst the numerous howling trains that traversed the bustling Hebei plain was one that once carried a young man with the dream to make films.

Wouldn’t you say that this is also a dream about freedom?

At the time, majority of Chinese were not aware of their agency and did not think much about using film for self-expression. There were 16 state-run studios. Only they had sufficient financial support and grants to make films. All the other film productions were considered “illegal.”

Like the group of people who left state enterprises to do private businesses, many of the independent filmmakers who turned their backs to institutionalized practices became acutely aware of their right for self-expression. Their works testified the credos of the independent film movement by introducing new angles of speech-making that necessarily expanded the freedom for expression and the freedom that people had in society in general. Therefore, I have always regarded the independent film movement as my first lesson on democracy.

I was a 21-year old young man from Shanxi at the time. I had read a few novels, I had a not-so-solid foundation in art, I was a follower of “the Sixth Generation,” and I regarded them as my teachers. I knew that they formed the oppositional force against the authorities, and they were doing everything they could to fight for the freedom for self-expression. Many years later, when I heard others referring to them as an unfathomable community, quixotic Don Quixotes, and ill-timed and deviant monsters, I laughed.

Here’s a poem by the Syrian poet Adonis:

The sea does not have time to chat with the sand,

It is always busy with producing waves.

Adonis is an open-minded poet and is worth applying to “the Sixth Generation.” However, I still want to ask, have we forgotten everything?

If you get a chance, do watch all episodes of Cinema Asia. And think how much more has happened in the six years since its first release!


Well, what do you know?

This appeared in my WordPress Notifications.

Happy Anniversary!


You registered on 7 years ago!

Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!

I had been blogging for a while on Blogspot and before that on Diary-X, Geocities, Angelfire and Talk City, back to 2000 in fact. I took to WordPress after more than a degree of dissatisfaction with Blogspot and have found WP reliable and definitely always improving. Also tried Journalspace for a while.


06 APR 2006

One of the delights of reading Ruth Park’s autobiographies is the insight they offer into her novels. The rat, for instance, that in Fishing in the Styx (1993) sits on a window-sill, ‘a composed leisurely rat . . . murderous as Set, a kitten-eater’, the sneering and frightening but not otherwise harming rat we’ve already met in The Harp in the South [1948] nibbling a baby. It is ferociously murdered by the child’s mother, the young and once more pregnant Roie, but not before it has run up under her skirt and needed to be beaten off. When Roie dies in childbirth shortly afterwards the reader remembers the rat and lives the horror of it all over again.

I can assure Marion Halligan that the descendants of that rat are alive and well and have been causing havoc on my front balcony and in the garden fronting Belvoir Street.

Perhaps building work at the Belvoir Theatre has made them move down the road a piece?

Anyway, I have taken to leaving nasty surprises for them. Last night two packets were taken. I await results

Don’t Blitz Iran — Brian Cloughley

18 APR 2006

Image hosting by PhotobucketThe Poet has been taking some very good non-erotic photos. The one on the right is called Bellarine Rainbow, and shows the part of the world where he now lives. It is a nice counterpoint to the following.

The Poet has also sent quite a few news items in the past few days. This one he says is a must. I agree. Brian Cloughley was deputy head of the UN mission in Kashmir (1980-1982), Staff Officer 1 (Force Structure) in Australian Army HQ (during which time he was appointed to the Order of Australia, or AM), Director of Protocol for the Australian Defence Force, and Australian defence attache in Islamabad (December 1988 – July 1994). He now lives in New Zealand.

…Even if Cheney and Bush are not lunatic enough to send their cruise missiles and bombers to attack Iran they might manage to have harsh economic sanctions imposed, additional to the unilateral ones in place by the US for years. They usually ignore warning signals, so doubtless they dismissed the unmistakable threat in September 2005 that Iran could endure a self-inflicted cut in oil exports in the national interest of combating what it would consider rabidly hostile action. It is estimated that cutting exports would raise the price of oil to $80-100 a barrel. This wouldn’t matter to the rich in America, who are all that Cheney and Bush care about. But it would matter to the average man and woman who are even now struggling to make ends meet as a result of the rich-supportive tax policy of the present Administration.

There is no point in putting the moral position against attacking Iran. The Cheney-Bush administration has shown itself impervious to argument, and presenting a case against killing thousands of innocent people cuts no ice with blinkered zealots. The planned blitzkrieg of divine strikes will probably take place. It will alter the entire world and create hatred of America that will never be eradicated. And there is nothing we can do about it. At this Easter time (and Thai New Year), God help us all.

By the way, I have cut back on the rants I put up about the state of the world, compared with a couple of years back on the late Diary-X. What is the point? There is little I can add from where I sit. However, people who do have worthwhile things to say may be found in the links on the right.

I do share with The Poet a clear conviction that the patients have taken over the asylum so far this century.

More of my recent reading, some of it controversial

I am currently reading V S Naipaul’s Beyond Belief (1998). According to the London Review of Books (September 1998), linked to the title:

Beyond Belief is the narrative of Naipaul’s five-month journey to India, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia – a return to the countries he visited, and often the people he interviewed, almost two decades earlier. The book begins by making two major claims. The first is that it is a work of pure transmission through transparent writing: ‘This is a book about people. It is not a book of opinion. It is a book of stories.’ Let the speaks fact for themselves, an impeccable sentiment to be sure. Naipaul, so he tells us, is just a ‘manager of narrative’. All the writer has to do is ‘listen very carefully and with a clear heart to what people say to him’.

‘Is that so?’ the reader mutters, head cocked sceptically at the conjuror’s artless artfulness. The voices will address us directly, in stories without opinion, unsullied by anything save translation and ‘management’? (I recall Christian priests and Muslim ulema in Egypt assuring me with equal fervour that all the other side had to do was to study the Bible/Quran with a sincere heart and conversion would naturally follow. A sigh, with thirteen hundred years of pious disappointment, and polemic, behind it. The trouble is . . .) And isn’t a man who proclaims his own clarity of heart, like the would-be saint who advertises his own deeds as miracles, inviting the irreverent to have a go at him, just to see?

The second claim, a ringing denial of the first, is that the inhabitants of the countries on his itinerary are convert peoples who have adopted the ‘imperial’ religion of Islam. And Muslim converts, even if the conversions took place hundreds of years ago, are fundamentally (and in multiple registers) dislocated – externally, because the holy places are in Arabia and the sacred language is Arabic; internally, because the convert ‘rejects his own’ and lives in fantasies about who and what he is. (Not only the convert, the reader mutters.) He – the convert is nearly always a he – is trapped in an endless repetition of turning and turning away from self and place. Such countries ‘can be easily set on the boil’. This is shallow stuff, which seems to imply that only some autochthonous group which has never converted can have ‘their own’ faith.

The convert, in Beyond Belief, is doomed by this monolithic, ahistorical Islam to neurosis and nihilism, rather than to the rage and resentment of Among the Believers. Either way, it’s a puzzle that Asian Muslims bother with religion at all. Quite apart from the intellectual emptiness of Naipaul’s writing, you wonder at the wilful censoring it takes to pass over in silence the history of different forms of imperial and eagerly conversionist Christianity in Africa, the Americas and Asia – an unfinished history, and as aggressively competitive as any mullah’s dreams of a paradise for a sect. Moreover, Naipaul’s sheer ignorance, or ignoring, of all the different varieties of thought, symbol and practice in which often eclectic forms of Islam have been enmeshed in Asia leaves only strident assertions in place of an argument. His is an Islam which turned the radiance of the Indian sub-continent ‘into the light of a dead star’ and, because of its devotees’ fantasies and confusions, bears all responsibility for the horrors of Partition. The violent and dangerous activities of Hindu nationalists go unremarked….

Needless to say the book has stirred up controversy,  most recently in 2012. See Excerpts: Girish Karnad takes on V.S. Naipaul: Noted playwright claims Naipaul has consistently mischaracterised Indian history. See also Gothic Horror and Muslim Madness in V. S. Naipaul’s Beyond Belief: ‘Orientalist’ Excursions among the Converted People and V S Naipaul and Indian Muslims.

Naipaul says, “Islam is in its origin an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands.” It is true that Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, was revealed in Arab. The seed of this faith, like any other faith, traveled to different parts of the world from that epicentre. However, it is a misnomer to label it as an Arab religion. This term gives the impression that it (Islam) was meant only for the Arabs. A Priori, it may also imply that those non-Arabs who converted to this faith were somehow illegitimate or inferior in doing so. However, it was Islam, which preached the message that no one—Arab, non-Arab, white, black, tall, short—is superior or inferior to any one else, except in terms of piety. Naipaul’s second assertion is historically unsound. The fact is, even the first generation Muslims who became Muslims on the call of prophet Mohammad were converts—converts from their pagan faiths. Not even the prophet was a born Muslim. After he got enlightenment, only then did he become the messenger of God. Taking the logic further, can we ask if we can call the Europeans converted Christians or the American Jews as converts?

And yet – and so far I am still on the first section on Indonesia – the book is really very informative. This reviewer, not entirely unjustly, characterises Naipaul’s method thus:

It is possible, going by the ethics of Beyond Belief to visit a country, select men and women at random, interview them and gather enough material to create a book that supports your pre-formed hypothesis. Though Mr. Naipaul cautions his readers not to arrive at any conclusions based on his work,—how is that possible?—it is easier to jump than to think.

But in Indonesia the “random” men and women included Abdurrahman Wahid, to be President of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001, B J Habibie, President 1998-99 but not at the time of Naipaul’s visit, and influential intellectual Imaduddin. The result is rather better than random and well worth reading in the light of what has happened in Indonesia since c1995.

The book also has major sections on Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia.

A light-hearted comic adventure/crime fiction/thriller set in Korea is among my recent eBooks: Bagged in Korea (2013) by Brent Meske. “Brent is a husband, father, teacher, writer, and sometimes artist living in Seoul Korea, originally from Detroit, Michigan.”  I have not been to Korea but have in the past 25 years had much to do with Koreans.

There am I, third from the left, with a Japanese Christian and Mr Kim from Korea on my right, a couple of Indonesian Muslims, Rui from Tianjin China, two more Indonesians, a Korean, and another Indonesian on my left. It’s a long time ago now, and I have always been better with faces than names. This is just one group from the hundreds of students I came to know in 1990 to early 1991 when I ventured into the overseas student world. Most were those Chinese who had left their country in the wake of Tiananmen. Rui, for example, was a scientist.

Some of them did experience racism or at least xenophobia, often of the petty kind: finding people would not sit next to them in the train, for example. (On the other hand, I read of a black American in Korea who found an entire swimming pool suddenly empty of people when he dived in.) Some of them, like the thirteen Nepalese mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald today, found themselves conned or ripped off, though the perpetrators were quite often of the same ethnicity as the fleeced. Some overseas student agencies were ethical and indeed excellent, as is still the case, but some were shysters. Some private colleges were shonky, very shonky, and some were not. Some were owned by Indonesians or Chinese, some were not.

One Korean student reported racism to me once: taxis would not stop for him. I investigated by asking him what he did to hail a cab. He demonstrated with a hand movement which would work in Korea, but in Sydney would be interpreted as “I don’t want a cab.” Correct hand movement taught, the problem was solved.

June 2009

A sample from Bagged in Korea:

Simon’s become my lifeline, and that makes him my best friend. Instead, I pull out a green man won bill and hand it to him, then gesture inside.

He looks like I have just resuscitated his puppy. Am I Santa Claus? Am I God? Should he bow before me and pay tribute by chopping off a finger? I can’t help but chuckle at the blind adoration on Simon’s face. Kids here, apparently, don’t go roaming around with lots of cash.

Simon comes back out a minute later with a packet of ramyun and a bottle of Amino Up. These are two Korean favorites. The first is just like ordinary ramen noodles, only my kids like to eat them as snacks. The second is essentially Pocari Sweat with a sensible name.

“Hey Simon…”

“Yes teacher?” He’s so prompt, so clipped and quick.

“When do you usually go to bed?” Because when I was twelve or thirteen, I headed to hit the hay around ten or ten thirty. We’re well past that.

“Twelve maybe?” he sort of asks.

“You mean you don’t know?”

He shrugs. “I do homework first. Finish, and sleep.”17

Those footnotes, gathered at the end of the novel, are a treat in themselves.

17: This means homework every day. Homework for his elementary school, his piano school, math school, science school, English school, and any other academies he might have.

A custom replicated by Koreans in Sydney – and see my On welfare issues with Korean-Australian students (2007).

Another footnote from the novel:

I didn’t know this before, but there are about 28,000 [US] troops stationed in Korea. There are bases all up and down the country, from up in Uijeongbu near the DMZ, down to Pohang and back. Around a hundred and eighty American military bases spot the South Korean landscape.

Finally another eBook that is hot (in several ways) and deals very directly with the issue of adolescent homosexuality: Richard Campbell, The Natural Couple (2004).

Set in London in the nineteen seventies, the story concerns fifteen year old Martin Jackson, the product of a broken home who lives with his career oriented and domineering mother. In spite of his talent he is a diffident boy, and struggling to come to terms with himself and his sexual orientation. When he meets Jimmy, three years older than he is, his life takes on a new meaning. Jimmy eventually comes to love him, encourages his writing, appoints himself as his protector and is determined to remove him from his mother’s oppressive influence.

The book contains explicit gay sex scenes. If you would be upset or offended by them, please do not download it.

The title itself is a provocation.

“I would like to ask you just one question James,” she began.

          Jimmy who was seldom called by his full name stared at her and looked impossibly insolent.  She decided to plunge straight in instead of building up to her point gradually as she’d planned.

          “Did you know when you indulged in those,practices, that they were wrong, and that you were both breaking the law?” she snapped.

          If she had hoped to intimidate him, she missed her mark.

          “I didn’t believe that they were wrong then, and I don’t believe they were wrong now,” he replied, then went on before she could speak.  “As for your second question,” there was a titter from the public gallery which inflamed her further, making her flush slightly.  “As for your second question,” he repeated, enjoying it, “It’s the law that’s wrong.  Not what Jon and I did.”

          Martha noted the judge’s reaction to this out of the corner of her eye and determined to pin him down.  “Will you repeat that please?”

          “I said that it’s the law that’s wrong, ” Jimmy said in a clear, carrying voice.

“Have you studied law?” she asked in a cold voice.

          “No, of course I haven’t.  But I don’t have to have to be a lawyer like you to know hypocrites when I see them.”

Yes, the sex, when it occurs,  is very explicit, so  be warned – and yet I would hesitate to call it pornographic. The book is in fact very well written and raises some very serious issues. I did find aspects of the plot stretched credibility a little. The protagonists may perhaps be just too aware, at times.


  “Thank you My Lord.  Now Jimmy, please tell us why you feel the law is wrong.”

          “It discriminates against me because I’m a boy.  I’m sixteen and I was sixteen when I fell in love with Jon.  If I was a girl, I could have an affair with anyone I liked and no-one could say anything about it, or do anything about it.  And if I had sex with a girl, provided she was sixteen too, it would be the same.  But because I’m a boy, I have to wait five years before I can have sex with who I want to.  It is unfair, and it is hypocritical, and it is notright, and it is not just! I don’t think that any other group of people is discriminated against like this because of the way they are born.  People like me don’t choose to be the way we are, it just happens.  And for people to be persecuted for the way they are born is the sort of thing that happened hundreds of years ago.  I think it’s time it was stopped.  That’s why I think the law is wrong.”

          “Is there anything else you would like to add?”

          “Just one thing, sir,” he said ignoring the judge’s irritated movement.  “I was doing a project on the second world war at school last term and I found out that boys just a year older than me were called up to fight and I realised that if we had a war again, I could be sent to fight and probably killed in a few months time when I turned seventeen.  The government that makes the laws can send boys to fight knowing that lots of them will die while they sit safely in parliament, not doing any of the fighting and not taking any chances themselves.   I would be old enough to be killed according to the law, but I would not be old enough to choose what sort of sex I can have.  I can vote when I’m eighteen, but I can’t choose what sort of sex I have.  I’m responsible enough to drive a car when I’m seventeen which can kill lots of innocent people if I’m not careful, but I can’t choose to go to bed with a boy or a man.  A type of sex that does no harm to anyone, is more important than dying for my country or killing people on the roads! If that isn’t wrong and if that isn’t hypocritical, I don’t know what is.”

          There was silence for a minute when he finished.  He was panting slightly and a lock of his dark blonde hair had fallen over his forehead.  Jonathan felt his heart turn over with love, and marvelled at how much he had grown up in the months that they had known each other.

What I have been reading lately

Thanks to the University of Adelaide I now have a very clear eBook version of George Orwell’s “Looking Back on the Spanish War”.

…But the laws of nature are not suspended for a ‘red’ army any more than for a ‘white’ one. A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you are fighting for happens to be just.

Why is it worth while to point out anything so obvious? Because the bulk of the British and American intelligentsia were manifestly unaware of it then, and are now. Our memories are short nowadays, but look back a bit, dig out the files of New Masses or the Daily Worker, and just have a look at the romantic warmongering muck that our left-wingers were spilling at that time. All the stale old phrases! And the unimaginative callousness of it! The sang-froid with which London faced the bombing of Madrid! Here I am not bothering about the counter-propagandists of the Right, the Lunns, Garvins et hoc genus; they go without saying. But here were the very people who for twenty years had hooted and jeered at the ‘glory’ of war, at atrocity stories, at patriotism, even at physical courage, coming out with stuff that with the alteration of a few names would have fitted into the Daily Mail of 1918. If there was one thing that the British intelligentsia were committed to, it was the debunking version of war, the theory that war is all corpses and latrines and never leads to any good result. Well, the same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in 1937 were denouncing you as a Trotsky-Fascist if you suggested that the stories in New Masses about freshly wounded men clamouring to get back into the fighting might be exaggerated. And the Left intelligentsia made their swing-over from ‘War is hell’ to ‘War is glorious’ not only with no sense of incongruity but almost without any intervening stage. Later the bulk of them were to make other transitions equally violent. There must be a quite large number of people, a sort of central core of the intelligentsia, who approved the ‘King and Country’ declaration in 1935, shouted for a’ firm line against Germany’ in 1937, supported the People’s Convention in 1940, and are demanding a Second Front now.

As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis. In the intelligentsia I should say they result rather from money and mere physical safety. At a given moment they may be ‘pro-war’ or ‘anti-war’, but in either case they have no realistic picture of war in their minds. When they enthused over the Spanish war they knew, of course, that people were being killed and that to be killed is unpleasant, but they did feel that for a soldier in the Spanish Republican army the experience of war was somehow not degrading. Somehow the latrines stank less, discipline was less irksome. You have only to glance at the New Statesman to see that they believed that; exactly similar blah is being written about the Red Army at this moment. We have become too civilized to grasp the obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and those who don’t take the sword perish by smelly diseases. The fact that such a platitude is worth writing down shows what the years of rentier capitalism have done to us…

Robust as ever.

It so happens I just finished Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes. It is a slightly fictionalised account of photojournalists Robert Capa and Gerda Taro with the emphasis on events leading to Taro’s death in Spain in 1937.

Until Gerda Taro’s death, and the onset of the Hemingway-Gellhorn legend pushed them from the public gaze, she and her lover, Robert Capo, were the  ‘glamour couple’ associated with reporting on the Spanish Civil War. The pair were supporters of the anti-fascist republicans before that stance became fashionable amongst American and British literary elites. They arrived in Spain before Hemingway and Gellhorn, spent more time on the front lines than the two Americans,  constantly exposed themselves to battlefield dangers (which eventually ended in Taro’s death) and provide more extensively documented coverage of the war in words and photos than any other journalists. Capa since became legendary for his photo-journalism yet Gerda Taro is now an obscure figure. Yet her written and photographic accounts of the conflict, especially her moving portrayals of the innocent and suffering civilian victims of war, provided a model which Gellman copied in her journalistic contributions.

Gerda Pohorylle was born  in 1910 into a Polish-Jewish family in Germany. When her family later moved to Leipzig she became involved in left-wing politics and shortly after the Nazis came to power to power in 1933 was arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest. After that she left for Paris and met a Hungarian photographer Andre Friedmann. The pair became lovers. Gerda developed her own photographic skills and helped organise Friedmann’s business.They then reinvented themselves, constructing for Andre the fictional identity of  ‘Robert Capa’ and for her ‘Gerda Taro’, names mimicking the Hollywood director Robert Capra and the star Greta Garbo.

The pair left immediately for Spain when civil war broke out there in July, 1936. Both wanted to document the conflict and support the republican cause. They arrived weeks before the influx of foreign correspondents such as Hemingway and Gellhorn. They went to the front lines and besieged cities, accompanying the Republican forces and reporting, sometimes together, sometimes separately, sending in their photographic and written despatches.Their written and photographic work became increasingly sought after and the couple became for a time the heroic and glamorous face of reporting on the conflict. Gerda was an increasingly skilled photographer. In crucial ways she was a template for Gellhorn. She made full use of her good looks -Gerda was nicknamed La Pequena Rubia, “the little blonde”- and wore fashionable shoes and clothing to the frontlines. She and Capa were both well aware of the publicity and commercial value of  a two lovers working  together in war zones. She visited scenes of intense fighting, disregarded journalistic objectivity with her fervent support for the anti-fascist forces, and concentrated on documenting the war’s impact on the most vulnerable. All these features were quickly taken up by Gellhorn when she arrived. Interestingly, while Tara’s reporting made much of the role of Spanish women as republican militia, Gellhorn had little to say about this feminist aspect of the conflict.

In July, 1937 Taro went to Brunete, near Madrid, to report on the bitter fighting there. She was accompanied by her new lover, a Canadian journalist, Ted Allen. On 25 July the pair joined troops retreating from an air raid by jumping on the running board of a car. An out of control  Republican tank hit  the car, flinging Taro and Allen to the ground. She died the next day. Taro received a spectacular funeral in Paris, attended by thousands and where she was proclaimed an “anti-Fascist martyr”.

The novel sticks quite close to that historical account. (Interestingly, while Hemingway briefly appears in the novel Gellhorn does not.)


Gerda Taro, Republican woman training in Barcelona at the beach, Spain, August 1936

the falling soldier

Robert Capa, “The Falling Soldier”. The novel has a rather convincing if speculative back-story on this classic photo.

See also Robert Capa and Gerda Taro: love in a time of war.

I greatly enjoyed The Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi.

Mohammadi’s vivid narrative brings the sound and taste of Iran to the reader, she brings the history of Iran to life in a way that at least I have not seen, read or heard before and provides a first-hand insight to the experiences of the revolution and Iran’s development to a near Middle Eastern superpower. Even to those like myself who are widely read on Iran, Kamin brings something new to the fore. She writes from a personal perspective, of what she felt, heard and experienced around her, with the Iranian culture illuminating from every page. You find an understanding of Iran and Iranians through each sector of society from upper to lower classes, which for a half Iranian herself was enlightening. The exiled second generation Iranians all know what happened in 1979 but rarely do we get an articulate first hand insight as this…

Then, very different, I also enjoyed The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson, even if I had not read the middle volume in the trilogy – which I must now do.

If you’re a latecomer to the Stieg Larsson phenomenon, here, briefly, is the deal: Larsson was a Swedish journalist who edited a magazine called Expo, which was devoted to exposing racist and extremist organizations in his nativeland. In his spare time, he worked on a trilogy of crime thrillers, delivering them to his Swedish publisher in 2004. In November of that year, a few months before the first of these novels came out, he died of a heart attack. He was only 50, and he never got to see his books become enormous best sellers — first in Sweden and then, in translation, all over the globe…

Finally, my considered opinion after rereading (forty years on!) Patrick White’s The Vivisector is that the man was a genius. See also My walk to the shops… and Treasure from Wollongong Library.

Few writers so deeply capture what it is to grow old, just to name one of the motifs in this very rich novel. And White does have a sense of humour, as in this rather Hitchcockian moment on page 563: “If you want me to tell you why you’re a misfit, Patrick, it’s because you hate everybody.”

Naj on Washington DC, old posts, and a great history site

Looking at my archives under “Iran” I find quite a few posts I can look back on with continued interest, even a smidgin of pride in having done not too bad a job, for a blogger. Here is a selection.

But what had gone before? And why might the Ayatollah’s revolution at first have seemed appealing? Here is one interesting account by NPR Producer Davar Ardalan. And here is another: Former Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, Fereydoun Hoveyda, “speaks to Global News Net for three hours on issues of both heart and mind. These include his thoughts on the dangers of fundamentalist Islam; the past and future of Iran; Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and son; the forces which resulted in the Iranian Revolution of 1979; the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and Yassir Arafat; George W. Bush; and the lasting legacy of his martyred brother, former Iranian Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda.”

See Wikipedia on the last Shah of Iran, a very mixed blessing that one. See also The United States and the Shah.

Sadly, the worst of Iran seems likely to triumph in the current elections there. It could be argued that George Bush’s sabre-rattling has assisted these Iranian troglodytes.

No guarantee all the links in that quote still work, but it is interesting that this was a topic that came up in conversation with my Iranian neighbour last night, when I asked him to have a look at Naj’s blog, especially the last two posts there and maybe tell me what he thinks.  I find these posts extraordinarily thought-provoking.

First An Ode to Life in America (19 March 2013).

On the eve of Persian New Year, sitting on my bed, looking out at the dark midday skies over Washington DC, from a window with one of the “most patriotic” views in the country: looking down onto the Capitol Hill, and Washington monument and even Pentagon if I stretch myself a bit, with the Marine Corp graves at walking distance, and the war-supplying BAE systems not too far.

I am posting it because this freshly decorated house was just set up two hours after I received the official letter of my termination from a job that I did not even start. Hubby and I decided to have the little furniture pieces I bought two weeks ago shipped, so I can enjoy a normal home for a few months, vacationing in DC as a tourist…

My 4-week ordeals in America have been educational and to have joined the American health-care workforce was a great experience (although financially costly and hassling):

Lesson 1: There is no freedom of speech in America!
Lesson 2: Corporates in America are criminal!
Lesson 3: The health-care market in America is scammed by insurance industry!
Lesson 4: American workers are prisoners to corporations, self-censoring, ratting on each other, scared and timid to ask, to question, to challenge anything that is ordered to them from above…

Second, The Heart of Dystopia: Washington DC (25 March 2013).

My newyear sun rose on Washington DC; the city where I moved to because of first curiousity and next the promise of “sky is the limit”. Those who knew me, warned me that I was not the sort to find happiness in America. they were right. I am leaving, in a hurry, there is too much WAR in this city for me to survive it sane or healthy. I must leave.

This city is depressing me. Not because my “free-speaking” led to my prompt termination based on the “employment-at-will” law of DC; but because in every corner of this capital city I look, I am reminded of  WAR…

Naj’s blog was a great source during 2009 especially, when Iran experienced that period of democratic protest – in which, incidentally, my neighbour was involved. Back to Naj:

Dystopia has now a real tone for me, after spending a lot of time talking to various government offices, with people introducing themselves with their agent-code and speaking to me in a tone that has made me pause in a few occasion to ask: sorry is this a human or a voice-robot. No, I am not kidding.

In Washington DC, the hub of the WAR industry, the heart of the “country of the free”, I am learning that those who “would NEVER live under the Iranian dictatorship”,  would also not risk losing their livelihood that is tied to DoD, Pentagon, CIA or the Hill. For there is this thing in DC called “employment at will”, that enables those in the upper food chain, to just fire those below without really needing to explain much. Association with a “careless” “opinionated” person like me might be too impudent for someone’s income. It is an illusion perhaps, but it is a strong illusion, one that makes you pathologically paranoid, and forces me to be in the “offensive” and “defensive” simultaneously–it is making me into a fighter, the wrong kind though.

Is this merely reflexive of Naj’s personal life issues, or is it an indicator – albeit disturbing – of the reality of this current world?

I also now have a Pakistani neighbour. He is a friendly person, but does appear to be a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. The Pentagon/CIA did it. We have had quite civil discussions where I expressed some scepticism about this, but I know a lot out there subscribe, perhaps especially in places like Pakistan. Perhaps as the latest drone buzzes overhead it all seems a touch more plausible there. I was rude enough to mention Elvis and moon landings, however.

My neighbour does construct an orderly narrative, in which much depends on a detailed account of the chronology of 9/11 and the subsequent action in Afghanistan. Now I have come upon an excellent resource – perhaps for the neighbour as much as myself: Complete 911 Timeline on History Commons, which has been called “the undisputed gold standard of truth research.”  It begins thus:

July 2001: Member of Al-Qaeda’s Hamburg Cell Detained in Jordan and Then Let Go

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan and then let go. According to a German intelligence official speaking in 2002, Zammar is in transit through Jordan. However, the official will not say where Zammar is going, where he is coming from, or why he is held. Zammar is detained for several days and then deported back to Germany.[WASHINGTON POST, 6/12/2002] When Zammar is questioned by German intelligence shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11-October 27, 2001), he will mention his detention in Jordan. He will say that Jordanian officials “asked me about Afghanistan, the people there, my beliefs, contacts in Jordan, and my party membership. By party membership that meant whether I was a follower of Hezbollah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, or Osama bin Laden.” [NEW YORK TIMES, 1/18/2003]Interestingly, in the beginning of July, CIA Director George Tenet made an urgent request to allied intelligence agencies to arrest anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives (see July 3, 2001). In 1999, US intelligence determined that Zammar was in contact with one of Osama bin Laden’s senior operational coordinators, and the US notes Zammar’s terrorist links on numerous occasions before 9/11 (see Summer 1999), so Zammar would be a likely candidate for Tenet’s list. Zammar also was the target of a German intelligence investigation that started in 1996 and lasted at least three years (see 1996)…

Speaking of Afghanistan, did you see Four Corners last night? An extract from the interview following:

KERRY O’BRIEN: And of course the military and the police are there to act as a secure force to back the rule of law, but what is the rule of law in Afghanistan? What is the state of governance in Afghanistan? Is there an area of government anywhere in the country where corruption and abuse of power are not entrenched?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think you’re putting your finger on what I think is actually the most important aspect of this whole thing. A lot of people are worried about the military side and how are we going to get to 2014? How are we going to hand over to the Afghans effectively and prevent the Taliban coming back?

And I think that’s the issue but it’s not the most important issue. The most important issue is governance and politics. And I would centre it on a couple of issues that you mentioned – corruption and rule of law, but also on the specific event of the 2013 Afghan presidential elections.

President Karzai right now is in his second term. The Afghan constitution limits the president to two terms and when he comes to the end of his term, there’s no identified successor, and there’s going to be some significant transitional issues politically across Afghanistan.

And when you add to that very pervasive corruption and abuse of rule of law, I think you’ve got some really significant challenges that to my mind actually dwarf the problems of the military transition.

I think we’ll get there. I think we’ve actually done a pretty good job militarily in defeating the Taliban in the field. We’ve done an okay job in standing up the Afghan military. That’s all messy but it’s going to hold.

The issue is the political side and the governance side. If we can’t get that to hold then everything we’ve done will be for naught.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But that’s…

DAVID KILCULLEN: And that I think is still very much an open question…

Also one must acknowledge the excellent series in the Sydney Morning Herald lately by Paul McGeough — and also here.


I recalled another archive of my posts:  especially The march of folly and the guns of war (20 September 2007).

Still true, as is Don’t Blitz Iran — Brian Cloughley (April 18, 2006). But they won’t take any notice of me, will they?

See also: Inside Iran (August 27, 2007); Iran, Hilaly, The Heathlander, and trying to keep some perspective… (April 10, 2007); Visiting Israeli fascist’s advice spurned? (February 17, 2007); Dissenting Jews on Israel (February 6, 2007); They would have to be mad of course… (February 3, 2007); Eteraz on Iran (December 16, 2006); Building peace on a foundation of lies? (December 14, 2006); Robert Scheer tells it like it is… (August 3, 2006); From The Poet: How We Miss Yitzhak Rabin (July 31, 2006); Three from Truthout (July 26, 2006); The new war in the Middle East — Sojourners (July 22, 2006); Strong stuff from the grumpy old man from Burgundy (June 3, 2006); CounterPunch: always provocative, sometimes enlightening (May 15, 2006); Raed Jarrar is hard to rebut on Iran (May 13, 2006); The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion (April 28, 2006); Zbigniew Brzezinski: Been there, done that (April 24, 2006); Yet more from The Poet (April 13, 2006). So I really have had a bit to say, or I have added thoughts to this“commonplace book” of my blog, on quite a few occasions. I just don’t see much point to banging on about it every day.