A Journal of the Plague Year Day 62

Tuesday 19th May 2020

Having exhausted all possibilities on a Netflix blocked by algorithms, I resorted to watch one of its latest offerings, Extraction. Starring Thor Chris Hemsworth, getting ever more typecast into the action hero role of the Great White Hunter, it’s set in Bangladesh -what a welcome surprise! No Hollywood film would ever think that as a film location, with few even knowing the difference between India or where, what and who it is on a map. Ask your average Joe and Josette on that side of the pond what they think of Bangladesh and the likely answer will be ‘what?’ and if lucky, followed up by ‘poor’ (this side we have enough Bangladeshis, notably running most of our ‘Indian’ restaurants, to know what their food tastes like, and that insofar, they exist) .

So what a refreshing take to think hundreds of millions round the world would now be introduced to the country, inevitably exposed to the culture, the backgrounds, the characters.

s

The opening shot however was not encouraging.

There is a certain mustardy filter that has become a meme among US films, actively promoted by Hollywood and almost every Netflix production. That whenever setting a scene in the Global South (read: poor and hot) you cast a yellow glaze on all things -redolent of a dusty, dirty atmosphere. Dhaka, the capital of 21 million, was seething with it, as if a sudden sand storm had just blown in over the jungles of the world’s largest river delta, that sees in 4x the annual rainfall of London. Welcome to a giant broiling city of mass poverty, open drains and endless grit, like a Star Wars or Dune location (incidentally all scenes were actually filmed in India).

This should be called as to what it really is, a poverty filter, and racist projection.

s

s

Mexico is particularly prone to this same cast, the minute one steps over the border from a sunny California, and just as avoidant of the glittering city centres in favour of seamy bordellos, desert ranches and shantytowns.

s

s

s

This has its roots in the US Army office in Hollywood. When hiring out its weapons, fatigues and aircraft carriers it operates a PR scheme alongside which one has to agree to. This is understandable, who’s gonna lend out work if the crew in question is seeking to take down your establishment? Akin to gearing up a production and helping in all advice, while they advertise how shit and baby-killing you are.

This office has guidelines to toe, and Hollywood has fallen into step. Note how Western (read: White) locales have a certain blue tinge that psychologists put as making audiences alert, whilst promoting a sense of cleanliness and calm. However you’ll have to up this tint if dealing with Eastern Europe (notably Russia) to make it uncomfortable -overtly cold, calculating and emotionless, rife with degradation and akin to any horror flick. Meanwhile, we’re getting conditioned to warm colours equated to dirt, as any non-Western, poverty stricken nation is assumed to embody.

s

s

The seminal film that influenced a lot of this was Saving Private Ryan, whose use of desaturated colours became iconic. This in turn led to Black Hawk Down, a film notable in the fact it had to run past an Army and White House committee for approval. Directed by Ridley Scott, its beautiful cinematography and gritty realism at battle proved to be an operatic groundbreaker. Telling the true story of the chopper crew attacked by a mob in Mogadishu, and the ensuing gunfight that killed 19 American soldiers (and led to the withdrawal of the US from Somalia), it showed harrowing shots of firsthand experience.

s

One scene shows a Somali woman yelling angrily at the soldiers amidst the bullets. The soldier gallantly tries to avoid hitting her, hissing repeatedly at her to scram, but in the end he’s forced to shoot and she goes down, mad robes flailing. That snapshot employs the gritty realism the film was noted for, portraying the true-to-life decisions of every soldier, and winning the audience over in droves. -Or did it truly portray things? The reality was not that a few civilians were caught in the crossfire, and that the soldiers ummed and arred about taking one or two belligerent, bloodthirsty innocents down. It does play a bit like Zulu, the civilians shown dancing and gibbering like animals even as they’re fired at.

s

s

Journalist Mark Bowder who wrote the book on the Battle of Mogadishu even complained about the fake ‘realism’ in their translation. In reality over 1,000 Somalis died in the battle, not just soldiers but hundreds of civilians callously mown down -albeit posthumously portrayed as armed with AK47s and rocket launchers, or women and children employed as human shields by their own militia. The mob mentality against the US ‘peacekeeping’ presence in the conflict had long been united by the highest rate of collateral deaths since the Vietnam War, with 500-600 killed (inc. militia) and 2,000 wounded in that short time, plus high profile murders, torture and assaults on civilians committed by US soldiers.

s

Anyhoo, I digress. This isn’t so much an anti-US diatribe (all warring countries commit the same acts of violence and crime abroad – in Somalia Canadian soldiers were also caught torturing civilians), but a stab at the complicit narrative that democracy installs. As philosopher Jacques Ellul points out, democracies have just as extant a use of propaganda as autocracies, exacerbated by the fact just five right-wing families control most of the world’s ‘free’ media.

s

Anyhooooooo, back to the film. Yes. Great for the acrobatics of camera, with some almost seamless shots following the violence from room to room to window to falling to bouncing to the landing crash below, or out one windscreen into another as the explosion hits. One pounding shot lasts 12 minutes. Directed by Sam Hargrave, the stuntman double for Captain America, these are fight scenes as memorable as the Matrix trilogy, though not as groundbreaking. However, it does fall into a pit of the dated action movie, the formula being the Great White Straight Man/ White savour meme rescuing darkies and mostly shooting them down too. It is a different time these days, and Rambo is no longer as poignant or searingly poetic.

s

It is the kind of cliché where the American Aussie hero is repeatedly bulletproof even from machine guns a few feet away, is lone in his rescue of the locals, with superior strength and skillsets to be in foreign awe of, and is heartbreakingly haunted by the past. The foreign roles are extras, the one woman (immaculate, ball-breakingly ruthless) hinting at a love history and nothing more, the villains (cackling, hand-rubbing, sadistic) as single-faceted as a stage demon allows.

As farce it’s delicious for the ride, though it does repeatedly, weakly try to pretend it’s Jane Austen, with guns. You’d easily enjoy it if you forgot the attachments. But fuck you, too late. Nazi baby killers.

As mentioned, Bangladeshis watching this film will be offended for sure. Why Bangladesh? Well, no other country would have their police force mown down as the forgettable baddies, populating each bloodied action shot as unit after unit is gunned, stabbed, run over and er raked multiple times in every available body part as they bumble onto screen. The action starts off in India, but decamps to Bangladesh to portray the entire police as corrupt and in league with the venomous, casually torturing drug lords.

s

Imagine this, let’s take the NYPD. The head honcho of the force gets in league with the cities local mafia don, and orders the arrest of the hero and his rescued kidnap victim. Does Hollywood then wordlessly allow every policeman turning up to become bullet bait, making up the majority of a body count of 183? There would be outrage. No reviewer’s picked up on that, despite castigating the film for its plot and ridiculous scenarios, yet missing the disconnect with respect in a portrayal of a people.

s

s

This is why the film had to be set in a forgotten, forgettable small country and shot outside it -not India (too large, too important), not Mexico (too close), not the Middle East (too sensitive, plus a nasty reminder gunning down the civilians is what we do), not Eastern Europe (too White, the audience might notice/ identify that those being mullered are actually humans). Africa? NO, don’t even think abouddit, that just wouldn’t look good for er, historical reasons. Despite having a population of 165 million, none of these Bangladeshis matter, none of their voices deserve to be heard, slinking onto screen to be unworthy and fully deserving of their coming demise.

To finish off, some images of the city. We’re not going to pretend it isn’t poor, it isn’t sweatshoppy, it isn’t hot and steamy. But there’s more to it than a vast, festering crime-slum. Welcome to Dhaka.

s

s

s

s

s

s

s

s

s

ss

s

s

s

s

s

Garment workers protest for higher wages in Dhaka

s

s

s

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 9

Thursday 26th March 2020

A few minutes ago they started yelling. I thought it was a party, the clapping alongside, and when I went to the window another woman in the old folk’s home opposite was doing the same. We ignored each other (thank God).

The shouting rose, and rose, till I was running to the kitchen for a better view from the tower block. By then it had risen to crescendo with an army of car horns you could hear reverberating across the city; every window in the block opposite had people doing the same, all 24 floors of them standing in silhouette, backlit, most of them alone.

S0223152

I found out from J it had been organised on social media which I’ve avoided for days -that at 8pm tonight there would be applause for the frontline workers, the essential services from healthcare to police, soldiers to postmen. It was quite the sight, especially knowing it was nationwide too. We watched in wonder.

This was started in Wuhan where the first lockdown was, from sporadic yells of people trapped indoors for so long, that evolved into balcony bellowing and cheering, encouraging others to keep going. In Italy the same, cheering for emergency vehicles and police vans. It’s times like this we learn the power of community, and the value of spirit in trials of hardship. The NHS has now filled its 450,000 volunteer positions within less than a day.

Italy is hard come by, it’s toll climbed again, bucking the trend of a decline seen in the last 3 days, with over 700 succumbing last night. Rumours are Italy is not just handicapped by the older populace, but the strain is more virulent. News too, that the US will likely overtake both Italy in China within the next 24 hrs, and will become the new global epicentre for the pandemic.

s

Today I applied for Tesco jobs, inspired by a colleague now out of work and asking for a reference. I’m only applying for branches that will be reachable, with minimal commuting and thus exposure -it helps that I live next to such a busy station, so my radius is quite a catchment. There were literally 8 pages of positions for the company alone, all asking for immediate work on a temporary basis.

I’ve made some noises in the way of volunteering, though A says the NHS needs no one any more, and my working is volunteering enough to support my dependents. I’ve offered by CV building and job application services to some of my colleagues who don’t have as good English skills, my first foray into putting my money where my mouthpiece is. As opposed to endlessly writing about community spirit while popping out to forage, avoiding all contact and coming back with having done anything but purchase goods.

S0203149

The streets were sunny, spotless and mostly quiet, though occasionally a bottleneck of a whole 7 people would clog up certain crossroads and shop awnings. I posted off my collection of masks to The Fam (they’d run out entirely of envelopes so had to bop over to the last corner store), then it was the trundle through Lidl, which had restocked itself post-panic buying. Though of course bogroll and cleaning products is still mythical. Paracetamol was found, in a heavenly ray of light.

S0193148

A has spent a good few hours on the phone trying to get through to BA (who had charged him twice for a fictional flight), and the jobcentre, neither of which were ultimately reachable. We’ll try again tomorrow. Apparently they’ve been inundated with hundreds of thousands of calls, the latter likely in the millions, so cannot even accept new ones. It’s all left to a Tweet to do the talking, and like everything money related, has occupied a worrisome purgatory of loss.

Yesterday’s film was The Lighthouse, starring that good looking Cedric-from-Harry-Potter. Plus the vampiric looking Willem Defoe, now haggard in a strikingly accurate rendition of a grizzly Newfoundland seadog (they have a similar accent to the Irish), salt o the shanty-shaking blarney sea. An aria in solitude and madness, and how very close to home. The relationship between salty sea master and monosyllabic lug lurches between hate and love, sometimes within seconds, as they increasingly deteriorate into alcoholism. Entertaining past demons through their solitude, sometimes to memories of murder, or visions of mermaids and sea monsters (tentacles and all). Heads in lobster baskets, dripping jizz, that kinda thing. All very black and white, shot on a 5:4 format redolent of silent films, for which a great deal of this brooding study is.

s

A lonely island (a rocky New England shore), a haunted past and present, a backbreaking, mindbreaking roster, littered with secrets and intrigue, notably the semi-mythical light in the house itself, like a glowing gemstone. It doesn’t end well. Perhaps neither for us.

The performances of these actors are astounding, studded with rambling monologues that become increasingly poetic, ad hoc craziness and a certain sexual tension. I was glued to it. I wouldn’t call it enjoyable, but is one to savour, rather like a storm. Bat down the hatches; the city is once again, unearthly silent at 8:55pm.

Today’s offering was Gemini Man, starring Will Smith and Will Smith as himself, clone wise, and thirty years younger. From the start, the predictable hi-jinx of hi-fiving US spies acceptably murdering foreign subjects, notably the typical Hollywood East Europeans, casually evil (you can just tell as they sit in awkward, unshaven dourness on intercity train journeys). Then the usual ludicrous examples of American heroism: pinpointing a single passenger on a packed HSR from a couple of miles away, dodging hundreds of bullets hippo-sprayed by trained marksmen.

s

Oh and a British villain, of the craggy fifty-something suit and tie variety. Plus one of the spies is female, brilliant and beautiful (ssshhhooocker!) erm and at uni, where she’s studying Marine Biology, like most American students do and that hints at a lovey-dovey, swimming-with-dolphins-while-partially-dressed sprituality as well as sciencey, cerebral prowess. If I was an Orange County gal wanting a few million more hits on social media but also indicate I’m more than a candle-lit face, I’d lay out my paperwork next to stroking a dolphin.

s

Will Smith Jnr is sometimes quite accurate, other times a cringey CGI mould, gurning over a plasticised trajectory, as are the fightscenes, the kind where they speed things up a little too much and it looks like Tekken. Oh Ang Lee, master of suggestion and cinematography, where did it go wrong? I mean Hulk shoulda been a lesson.

ss

But hey, worth the respite. Nothing like a bitta mindlessness and killing to get you not thinking about the mindlessness and killing. Dinner has deteriorated – cold rice, soya sauce + sesame oil, and hammy sausage slices. Took a whole 40 seconds to prepare, and about the same time to consume in front of the box, eating and watching baloney. Must try harder.

I don’t know what isolation does to people, but the message is clear from Hollywood so far, put any two people together and they will compete, and make life Sartreanly hellish for each other. I do wonder if there will ever be a film without the struggle, about say two people being plonked on an island and just getting along. No giant apes, no sharks, no killing piggy. No bloody social stereotyping. The Netflix reality series, ‘Terrace House‘ does just that, whereby they get a bunch of Tokyoites from disparate backgrounds into a household, who aren’t lamped with pressing personality disorders or opposing political views, who aren’t say a calculating lion pride holed up with buxom zebras. And hey presto! They chat, show their fears, their heart, and fall in love at their own pace. Not Love Island, not Big Brother (of whom the German and Brazilian editions only found out about the pandemic a few days ago).

If I wrote a book where Once Upon a Time They Lived Happily Ever After would anyone even pick it up, let alone enjoy it? If there was no global crisis, would I even be writing, or you good friend, reading?

sss

Yesterday

Tomorrow