Why You Should And Shouldn’t Watch ‘V For Vendetta’

V For Vendetta

Well, what a surprise!

When I settled down to watch ‘V For Vendetta,’ I wasn’t expecting much. Maligned by one of its creators, dismissed as empty Hollywood flummery in many reviews and then the delayed release in the UK (it’s a 2006 film for us), all of that didn’t bode well.

I was riveted!

‘V’ is perhaps the most overtly political populist film I’ve seen since ‘Fahrenheit 911.’ Like that film, ‘V’ is by no means perfect. And the political points it makes are broader than, say, ‘The Weather Underground‘ or ‘Manufacturing Consent.’

But it felt exciting to be watching a big, Hollywood blockbuster that wasn’t yet another unquestioning blow-job to US militarism. Compared to ‘Black Hawk Down,’ ‘V’ is like a lecture by Marcuse.

There are some fine, subtle performances here too. Deeper than the average action-film fare. Without spoiling anything, there’s a particularly haunting scene with Stephen Fry that almost made me blub.

I love the little details in the film. The TV station BTN is a government mouthpiece. On a monitor in the corner of a scene, we see, entirely in passing, a brave Nordic woman being menaced by a stereotypical Muslim, sharpening a knife and cackling. Obviously, in the future, our TV scripts are written by Jack Straw.

It’s all these little touches that make the setting real. And it’s frightening because a lot of the dialogue the fascist ministers are spouting in this alleged work of fantasy is only slightly exaggerated from the language used by the US and UK governments now. This film is too close to the current truth for easy viewing.

Of course, simply because I loved it is no guarantee you will. I watched this film with my history, my experience, so that’s coloured my reception. If you’ve never been a particularly political person, whole swathes of this film may fly over your head. They’ll bore you. And if you are politically minded but you’re a right-winger… well, it’ll probably infuriate you with its relentless logic and appeals to basic human decency.

So, I’ve made it easy for you! Here you go!

Why you should watch it:
You’re not a fan of Bush and Blair.
You used to be in the Labour Party but want nothing to do with New Labour.
You enjoy lots of tiny, passing references in films.
You can cope with ambiguity.
You think all politicians are cunts.
You’re a socialist (but not a Stalinist).
You’re an anarchist.
You don’t really know what you are, you just dislike all governments of all flavours.
You know the ‘War On Terror’ is actually a ‘War For Oil.’
You think British imprisonment without trial / charges and Guantanamo are both continuations of Auschwitz.
You’re a Stephen Fry fan.
You believe all human life is equal and priceless and that none is more equal than others.
You’re not an absolute, Gandhi-style pacifist.
You read the graphic novel and enjoyed it.

Why you shouldn’t watch it:
You’re a Stalinist / Nazi.
You’re a nutsoid PNAC-loving Republican.
You’re an arselicking Blairite.
You’re Polly Toynbee.
You’re a New Labour apparatchik.
You think the British and Americans are doing a great job in Eyerak.
You’re old / British enough to know that kids weren’t taking the 11-plus in 1996. (Just found out I’m wrong on this – they were in the south!)
You think politicians do a jolly hard job for not very much money.
You don’t like films that make you think, it makes your poor little brain hurt.
You like films where the goodies and baddies wear big badges to identify who’s who.
You believe in law and order at any cost.
You don’t believe that the US and UK have just killed 665,000 innocent people in Iraq.
You believe that only the lives of you and your countrypeople matter.
You’re an absolute pacifist.
You read the graphic novel and enjoyed it.
You’re Alan Moore.

Can you guess what mask I’m going to be wearing this Bonfire Night, gentle readers? 😀

Toujours Truffaut!

L'argent de poche

Tonight, I watched ‘L’Argent de poche’ with my wife. She’d never seen it before and I think the last time I saw it must be over eighteen years ago.

It was made in 1976 and it’s one of my favourite ever films. Well, I feel I should qualify that: Truffaut is my favourite director. So, a lot of my favourite films are Truffaut films. Before you think I’m trying to come across as a film-snob, I must point out that another of my favourite ever films is Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I’d certainly put that in my top ten. I don’t like films because they’re arty or obscure, I like films that grab me, that involve me, heart and soul.

And for that, no-one beats Truffaut.

From seeing Les Quatre Cents Coups as a kid and being utterly, absolutely blown away to hunting down his DVDs decades later, Truffaut has always captivated me. I admit, I’m slightly obsessed. When people start talking about Tarantino or Scorcese, yes, I can appreciate aspects of their work. But Truffaut had it all!

Watching ‘L’Argent de poche’ tonight, I was entranced by the lightness of Truffaut’s direction. It’s essentially a film about being a kid, that kind of strange, roaming existence that people of my age had when we were little kids, thirty years ago. I know that culture has gone now – no kid would have the free-rein to get up to the kind of mischief we did back then. They’ll probably start RFID tagging the poor little bleeders soon.

‘L’Argent de poche’ brought all those adventures back to me. It helps that in ’76, I was around the age of the kids in the film, maybe a year or so older. So the clothes, the hairstyles, the cars, the look of the ’70s, that was all like watching a film of my own childhood. (The same thing is true when I watch ‘Gregory’s Girl’.)

There are multiple stories going on in the film, none of them earth-shattering narratives. They’re just small moments, what life is like when you’re a kid. Truffaut also catches the shyness of pre-teen boys and girls perfectly. I remember that uncertainty and… mystification. What are girls? Why are they so annoying? Why do they ruin all the our fun… but why do I like being near them?

If this sounds cloyingly sweet, it’s not. There’s a darker plot too, which I won’t spoil, and a couple of genuine moments of heart-in-your-mouth tension. This isn’t a Disneyfication of childhood. Truffaut, as always, is a master storyteller. You wouldn’t think a film about nothing really that much at all would be so gripping.

If you’re not already a Truffaut convert, please check out this film or any of his others. The best film ever made, ‘L’homme qui aimait les femmes‘ is now available on DVD for around five quid! Five quid!!

So, rent some or buy some but let some François Truffaut into your life. You won’t regret it! 🙂

Made In Sheffield

Made In Sheffield

Above is one of my Christmas pressies: Made In Sheffield.

Of course, I’m going to love this DVD. It’s my generation, it’s the pop music that I loved as a teenager and that shaped the music I make myself. For a couple of years, music made on guitars seemed completely irrelevant and outdated. Everything exciting, everything innovative, everything that was young and now was electronic. For a few glorious months, we thought we’d killed rock music and all its moronic, leather-clad conformity.

We were wrong. But watching Made In Sheffield certainly gives you a taste of those times. The documentary interweaves interviews with gig footage, one minute we see Phil Oakey now, the next we’re seeing him back in 1980, looking like a Dr. Who villain and worrying people’s parents. Perfect.

Cabaret Voltaire, Vice Versa (who became ABC), The Human League, Heaven 17 – all the famous Steel City electropop pioneers are there, along with people less well known now like The Artery (Peel favourites), The Extras, Clock DVA, I’m So Hollow and Def Leppard.

This is the only 80s music documentary I’ve seen that doesn’t go for the simple, obvious line. There’s depth here and an accuracy that’s often lost in these days of Channel 4 ‘100 Greatest Beermats’ or whatever. In fact, it was just great to watch a long piece of music television without the usual D-grade celebs popping up, rehearsed unfunny anecdote at the ready.

The stories in Made In Sheffield are from the people who were actually there, playing in the bands, writing the fanzines, doing the sound or whatever else makes up a vibrant music scene. Jarvis and Saskia Cocker pop up and Jarvis gives his own view of the Sheffield scene at the time. It’d only take Pulp another 14 years before they became overnight successes.

Made In Sheffield is a joy, a treasure. It’s a meaty, detailed documentary in an age of fluffy, celeb-culture nonsense. It eschews the easy “HEY IT’S THE ’80s!” perspective that blunts so many other accounts of British electropop. It’s sober, funny, charming and often heartbreaking.

Then, when the actual film finishes, there’s the special features. Loads of DVD extras including interview footage not used in the film. There are so many great stories here about how bands got together and the trials they faced on their road to stardom / obscurity. It is, indeed, a shit business. Then, when you think you’re full, there’s gig footage from Vice Versa, The Artery and I’m So Hollow. So, you’ve bought a 52 minute documentary but you get 128 minutes to watch. Yum!

Altogether now…

“Listen to the voice of Buddha…”

The Best TV Programme Ever Made


In 1969, the BBC wanted to make a series that would be a scientific counterpart to Civilisation, their highly successful series on Western Art, given by Lord Clarke. They turned, eventually, to Bronowski, though not without experiencing some difficulties. It was not a light undertaking for Bronowski, either, as he described later in the introduction to the book of the series:

“It demands an unflagging intellectual and physical vigour, a total immersion, which I had to be sure I could sustain with pleasure; for instance, I had to put off researches I had already begun.”
(Source: Dr. Bronowski.com)

I was about six or seven in 1973 when Bronowski’s hymn to reason, his history of science was first broadcast. I must have watched a repeat later when I was older, maybe ten or eleven? Whenever it was, it made an impact on me that even now, over thirty years later, remains with me. This TV programme changed the way I think and definitely changed the course of my life.

Over thirteen chapters, Bronowski gives a breathtaking overview of human history, culture and scientific progress. This is one of the best historical programmes you will ever see and that’s not even its central remit!

I was blown away by the precision and power of Bronowski’s expositions. I still remember how stunned I was seeing him sit on top of a hill and explain Pythagoras’ Theorem with just a few triangles. He made it real, and in so doing, made me understand the genius of Pythagoras. Maybe in these days of fancy-schmancy 3D CGI whizzing about in educational progs, Bronowski’s patient, slow explanation may seem like an anachronism but I disagree. In fact, Bronowski paved the way for many pop-science programmes with the huge success of ‘The Ascent of Man.’ Without Bronowski, would there have been the will to make ‘Life on Earth?’

What I also love about this series is that it’s an emotional examination. Bronowski throws himself into the stories behind thinkers such as Ludwig Boltzmann, Galileo and Alfred Russel Wallace. In particular, I remember my anger at hearing the barbaric treatment meted out to Galileo by the Catholic Church, simply for telling the truth, and that anger solidified my atheism into a deep abhorrence of all organised religions. The Catholic Church, with typical humility, did apologise for its persecution of Galileo, only 359 years after his trial.

The most moving moment for me is when Bronowski visits Auschwitz, where many of his family were murdered. I’ve quoted his voice-over of that scene many times, sadly it always seems apt:

There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit, the assertion of dogma that closes the mind and turns a nation, a civilisation, into a regiment of ghosts.

In the extra documentary that comes with the crisp transfer to DVD, we learn that this scene, where Bronowski plunges his hand into the pond and comes up grasping the ashes of the holocaust, wasn’t planned. It was just Bronowski, going with his feelings, connecting at more than a “narrator” level:


As he does this, his voice-over says:

We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

It’s a horrifying, intense moment. A testament to Bronowski’s view that television could be more than just an idiot-box, more than gameshows and sport, soap operas and celebrity. To Bronowski, television was worthy of being taken seriously

Throughout ‘The Ascent of Man,’ Bronowski takes familiar names (and some not-so-familiar) and fleshes them out, brings them to life for us. He skips from abstract concept to hard reality with a grace and deftness that’s sorely missing in contemporary television. At no time do you feel he’s out of his depth, either scientifically or historically. He has the ultimate historical skill: he stands back, shows you disparate points in history, different discoveries and revelations, and then manages to synthesise a sweeping overview.

But is any of this important? Sure, we need boffins to make flashy mobile phones for us but why care about science? What does it matter in our everyday lives?


A couple of years ago, I was watching a lunchtime news bulletin about xeno transplantation. A scientist was explaining to the newscaster how maybe one day it would be possible to breed pigs with enough of the right kind of human genes so that their hearts could be used to transplant into humans. The newscaster was horrified (as I am, but for different reasons) and asked about the dangers. The scientist was confused. The newscaster said, “What if someone has a pig’s heart transplanted into them? What happens when they have children, won’t their children have pig genes in them?”

The scientist did the same amazed face as I was doing at the telly and, in the middle of her astonishment, tried to explain the basics of germline versus soma. Basics the newscaster, a university-educated professional, should have understood. And if you’re as befuddled as him, have a slow think about this: if you get a tattoo, will your kids be born with that same tattoo? If you have your leg chopped off, does that mean your kids will be born with one leg missing?

This is a big problem with contemporary Western society: vast swathes of the population are ignorant about basic science. If you don’t have a grounding in reason, what takes its place is un-reason: religion, superstitions, rumour, fables, magic, astrology, new-age bullshit. All the intellectual clag that gums-up your brain and then makes rational thought as easy and pleasurable as shoving a fork in your eye. You become a gumby:


I believe that if everyone at some time sat down and watched ‘The Ascent of Man,’ they would be enthralled and enlightened. The world would make more sense, it would be far less frightening and opaque.

That’s a lot to claim for a TV programme. But then, this is the best TV programme ever made.