I confess, I was sure Phil Lesh would be the next to go. But it was their ‘other’ songwriter instead, John Perry Barlow, who died yesterday.
Not a famous man but one who wrote the lyrics to some of the Grateful Dead’s best songs with his childhood buddy, Bob Weir. He was also a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, being a political libertarian, but I’m not 100% sure that was a good thing (although his efforts to increase voter registration certainly were).
Here is a short selection of some of my favourite Weir/Barlow songs: Cassidy, Estimated Prophet, Looks Like Rain, Mexicali Blues, Lost Sailor/Saint Of Circumstance, Throwing Stones, Let It Grow, The Music Never Stopped.
Here’s an item that gf sent me from US radio, made following Barlow’s death but containing a very interesting and clear-sighted interview about cyberspace from 1996, with a significant Dead connection dropped in at the end:
You may have noticed the absence of this feature last week. I had a couple of attempts at spinning news items into a topic but, not only did I struggle to make a connection, I then had to look too hard for appropriate films. The project – or its author – is getting stale after 80 outings.
So this is maybe not farewell but it is at least adieu. I’ll leave you with a recommendation though: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s becoming the Oscar front runner and I’m very happy about that (the US Academy was never going to make Elle best picture…), as it is a beautifully played tragi-comedy where nothing is straight-forward and it becomes increasingly difficult to condemn the bad behaviour being indulged in.
Apparently, the leader of the free world acts like a child. Just as we thought. But I’ve seen plenty of child actors who behave better and more politely than Donny, even when left home alone for the second time. I’ve even seen children acting rationally and maturely, both in films and real life, so it is possible that Donny-boy may surprise us one day and do something that adds value to others’ lives, not just his own.
I’m asking this week about which child screen performances have impressed you. We’ve mentioned Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild and Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood in previous weeks but there are plenty of other impressive youngsters. I’ll leave the decks clear by picking Mark Cousins’ fascinating documentary A Story of Children and Film which, if your mind goes blank, provides many examples of performing children from cinema worldwide.
What films featuring child roles would you recommend?
Media pundits are examining the state of the world and shaking their heads at the prospects of 2018 being a safe and peaceful one, so let’s build on last week’s theme and encourage ourselves to believe. Maybe by considering films about overturning the odds we can inspire a few unlikely defeats for the dark and powerful forces currently in play.
At the risk of sparking some John Bull jingoism, I’m going to kick off with last years Their Finest. It may have been a tad corny but the basic tale of the victorious defeat at Dunkirk is enhanced by some additional small-but-significant victories against sexism. And Bill Nighy.
What films about overturning the odds would you recommend?
Well, the consequences of big decisions made in 2016 have started to manifest themselves this year and 2018 looks very unpredictable indeed. Will Donny continue his mission to become the World’s Greatest Ego by ignoring every person and every fact that contradicts him or will we end the year with President Pence and whatever new hell that might usher in? Will Theresa keep clunking on despite her complete ineptitude and the Tory weasels gnawing at her heels? Will Jezza ever make a policy statement about Brexit? Will men in general grow up and start treating women as people? Will women in general stop taking notice of the propaganda aimed at them and start being nicer to other women? Will we all be blown to kingdom come?
But let’s hope it all works out well, eh, and the human race starts to value difference as something good and enriching, rather than as a threat. Please. So tell us about films with a message of hope and/or resilience, something that stirs the soul and restores/ingites faith in humanity.
I’m going back to 2011 and thence, accompanied by the off-kilter narration of Werner Herzog, back a further 32,000 years to the Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. In 3D, the wall paintings shown in this film transported me back to a time when humans and animals were part of the same environment and, having not yet discovered how to commit mass slaughter, the humans seemed to have an understanding of their place in the world. We are the same creatures who want to record their lives (on cave walls rather than smartphones) and leave their handprints as proof of existence, yet we now also have the technology and understanding to find, analyse, record and enable others to experience things that happened thousands of years ago. In a strange Teutonic accent.
What films that inspire hope and resilience would you recommend?
As Donny (re-)delivers his version of the Team America refrain, I can’t help (re-)wondering if the man has any grip on reality. But if you always rely on your own perceptions and ignore everything else apart from Fox News, this, it seems, is the result.
There are many films glorifying America and its reverie and many where a more complex story is told. And much of American history has been illustrated and invented in films that have given us a feel of the country (and I’m using Donny’s definition, the USA) that we kinda know the place, even if we’ve never been there.
I’ve actually been to the location featured in my pick: The Florida Project. It’s set in a cheap motel block near a Disney paradise in Orlando; the place I stayed for a couple of nights wasn’t dissimilar. But I couldn’t live there, with kids, like people find themselves having to do in the not-so-great parts of America.
What films about America (the USA) would you recommend?
Against the background noise of people still believing stupid things like the Earth is flat, that we can do what we want to it with no ill effect and that truth is a matter of opinion, it’s wonderful to see the result of serious people doing serious work and getting closer to fighting Huntington’s disease (and many other things, like being able to edit genetic problems from DNA). I hope they find a cure for the disease of conceit (as Bob called it) sometime soon.
So, films with a scientific bent this week, preferably containing more fact than fiction (sci-fi is a possible future topic….). There have been many biopics of brilliant minds and accounts of scientific breakthroughs, so let’s hear which ones you were convinced and/or entertained by. I’ll pick the winner of last year’s Screen Actors Guild top award, Hidden Figures.
It may have been an imperfect film but it was a valuable lesson about the immense contribution made to space exploration by women of colour in ridiculously difficult circumstances, back when computers were actual people (albeit ones treated like inanimate objects).
What films about science and/or scientists would you recommend?