Ritigala

 

 

‘Ritigala Archaeological Site’ is not the most enticing name for a tourist attraction.  It suggests excavations, holes, trenches, mud and dirty, barely recognisable artefacts that have just been pulled out of the ground.  That might be the reason why Ritigala is one of the less well-known attractions in the Cultural Triangle of north-central Sri Lanka, which encompasses the historical cities of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polunnaruwa and other tourist draws such as Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Caves.  Well, I say ‘less well-known’ in an international sense.  The day that my partner and I visited, we saw just three other foreigners there.  However, the site was still bustling, thanks to the arrival of a coach-party of Sri Lankans and the presence of a number of Sri Lankan students, presumably archaeological ones, who were busy surveying parts of it.

 

Ritigala is also off the Cultural Triangle’s beaten tourist tracks.  We went there by tuk-tuk from our hotel in the town of Habarana, which involved travelling down a series of ever-narrowing and ever-less-tarmacked roads and into ever-deeper woods.  Among the trees, bushes, ferns, brambles and long grass encroaching on the roadsides, we spotted several peacocks, while occasional vortices of white butterflies would suddenly and chaotically change patterns as they entered the slipstream of the tuk-tuk.

 

Among the historical names linked with Ritigala include King Pandukabhaya, who ruled during the fourth century BC and is said to have established a garrison there as well as, according to the site’s Wikipedia entry, building a reservoir called Banda Pokuna near to the present site’s entrance; King Lanji Tissa, who reigned in the second century AD and founded a monastery there, with the monks living in local caves and rock-shelters; and King Sena I, who reigned in the ninth century AD and whose endowment led to the construction of a whole monastery complex at Ritigala.  By the end of the 12th century AD, however, the monastery had been abandoned to the jungle and it wasn’t until 1872 that its remains were discovered by a British surveyor called James Mantell.

 

 

The site covers 59 acres and is traversed by a path that winds and twists roughly northwards from the entrance.  It begins by negotiating two sides of the reservoir, Banda Pokuna, which nowadays is full of vegetation rather than water.  Bordered by terraces of long stone steps, it slightly resembles a Roman amphitheatre.

 

 

Beyond Banda Pokuna, the path disintegrates and there’s an arduous descent down one rocky and rubble-strewn slope and then a climb up another one, which we found hard going.  Gradually, though, the rocks coalesce into a twisting stone staircase that, from some angles, struck me as being like one of those head-scratching illustrations by M.C. Escher.

 

 

The path links up several spaces that contain the foundations of vanished monastery buildings.  A map we’d seen at the entrance used the English word ‘library’ for one such spot, while describing others as padhanaghara, which in Sri Lankan Buddhism are buildings for meditation.  The patterns made by the rectangular depressions, the low, straight lines remaining of the walls, the stumpy remnants of pillars and the shallow trenches that once formed little moats around the structures give these places the look of giant, primitive, stone-hewn circuit boards.

 

 

Also along the route are two circular areas whose circumferences were composed of a dozen or more curved stone segments.  They’re like traffic roundabouts along a road but without the islands at their centres.

 

 

Once we’d navigated the steep, broken parts of the path just above the entrance, we found subsequent stretches of it lovely.  It becomes a miniature forest roadway, bounded by lines of long, narrow stones, paved with roughly oblong slabs of various sizes and lengths that fit together like a giant jigsaw, and punctuated by occasional sets of stone steps.  We visited on a day of fine weather and it was dappled with tree shadows and speckled by shafts of sunlight that penetrated the leaves and fronds.

 

 

In places along the path-sides, we passed big, crudely conical mounds of dried brown dirt, which were sinisterly pitted with small black holes.  I assume these were termite-mounds.

 

 

The far end of the path is no longer paved and becomes just a forest track.  Here we went by a banyan tree with an immense and elevated root system that made it look like a tangle of giant spaghetti oozing off a giant fork.  There were baroque gaps in the root-mass at ground-level where it seemed to somehow hoist itself up into the air.  The first time we passed the tree, it’d attracted a squad of kids from the coach-group who were clambering up, over and inside it and posing for photos and selfies.  When we returned along the path a little later, the kids had gone from the tree and that was when we took some pictures of it.

 

 

Though the site is rewarding to explore, it comes to an undramatic end.  The track finishes at a northern perimeter, described on the map as the ‘boundary line’, which is simply a wire fence displaying a green sign with some writing in Sinhala.  At the bottom of the sign, someone with a warped (possibly heavy-metal-ish) sense of humour had scratched in English the name ‘Satan’.

 

Finally, as my partner and I are animal lovers, I should end this account of Ritigala with a mention of the cute dog who was living on the site and who intermittently accompanied us during our walk up and down it.  Here’s a picture of him posing at the top of some steps with his tail cranked up proudly in the air.

 

 

Into spring with Jim Mountfield

 

© The Horror Zine

 

Two weeks ago I reported here that Witch Hazel, a short story I wrote under the pseudonym Jim Mountfield, had just appeared online in the February 2020 edition of The Horror Zine.  That story should be available to read for the remainder of February, here.

 

In addition, Witch Hazel is among the contents of the Spring 2020 print edition of the Horror Zine, which is now on sale.  Edited by the tireless Jeani Rector, the collection features a dozen short stories, poetry and some excellent artwork, and can be downloaded onto Kindle here.  Enjoy!

 

Peebles High School Film Club

 

© Handmaid Films / Python (Monty) Pictures / Orion Pictures

 

The death of Terry Jones last month prompted many tributes – obviously because he was a member of Monty Python, one of the most influential comedy teams of the 20th century, but also because he was a skilled (though underrated) film director.  Indeed, a few of the tributes cited the Jones-directed Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) as being the funniest movie of all time.

 

I don’t know if it’s the funniest, but I’d surely put Life of Brian in my favourite half-dozen comedy movies.  One interesting thing about the film is that it’s practically part of the DNA of modern British cultural identity.  Lines like “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a  very naughty boy!” have become national catchphrases and Eric Idle got to sing the film’s climactic song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.  Yet at the time of its release, it was incredibly controversial.

 

Its tale of an amiable, innocuous oaf called Brian (Graham Chapman) born in the Holy Land at the same time as Jesus, and then getting continually mistaken for Jesus as he bumbles through life, put more than a few religious noses out of joint.  In Britain, the film attracted the ire of the usual sanctimonious suspects: Mary Whitehouse, Malcolm Muggeridge, the Nationwide Festival of Light and Glasgow’s Pastor Jack Glass (a Scottish Mini-Me of the Reverend Ian Paisley).  It was banned in various municipalities.  The Welsh town of Aberystwyth was a particular hold-out – it didn’t get publicly shown there until 2009 when, amusingly, the town’s mayor was none other than the former actress Sue Jones-Davies, who’d played Judith Iscariot in the film.

 

And yet, despite it being such a hot potato, I remember being shown Life of Brian at the start of the 1980s, when I would have been about 15, on a big screen in the assembly hall of my school, Peebles High School.  It was shown to an audience of a hundred or more pupils by one of the teachers.  When I think about this now, and recall the censorious and disapproving mood of the time and how much the religious establishment detested the movie, I find this pretty amazing.

 

Life of Brian was shown as part of the programme for that year’s Peebles High School Film Club. The club was run by an English teacher called Dr Mike Kellaway.  I have to say that these days when people my age gather in a pub in Peebles and Mike Kellaway’s name comes up in the conversation, it’s usually greeted with sighs, winces, shaking of heads and rolling of eyes because the guy had some serious failings, which I’ll talk about later.  However, just now, let me relate the story of the Film Club, which I actually believe reflects well on Kellaway, or as he was also known, ‘the Doc’.

 

First, some historical and geographical context.  In the 1970s Peebles was a small country town of several thousand people.  It had its own cinema, the Playhouse, up until 1977.  Then the Playhouse closed down and thereafter, if you wanted to go to see a movie in a cinema, you had to travel to Penicuik (10 miles away), Galashiels (18 miles away) or Edinburgh (21 miles away).

 

Your only other way to see films was to watch them on the era’s three terrestrial TV channels.  Talk of cable and satellite TV still seemed like science fiction to most people, and concepts like the Internet, YouTube, online streaming and so on were incomprehensible.  Miss a film at the cinema and you had to wait four or five years before it might appear on TV and of course you were still limited by what the programmers chose to show on their schedules, already congested with TV series.  Also, there were no such things as DVDs and DVD players, and video cassettes had barely made an appearance – even by 1982, only 10% of homes in the UK owned a video cassette recorder.  So in other words, if you were a film-lover in a Scottish country town without a cinema in the late 1970s and early 1980s you were, basically, screwed.

 

The Film Club was meant to address this problem.  Membership was open to pupils from third year to sixth year.  They paid a membership fee of a few pounds at the start of the academic year and got to see a film – sometimes two on a double bill – most Monday evenings during term-time.  Occasionally, certain films would be for pupils in fifth and sixth year only ‘because of their adult nature’, as the club’s promotional leaflets put it.  So Monday evenings at the school would usually see the assembly hall turned into a cinema auditorium.  A big screen was erected at the front and Mike Kellaway, the Doc, would set up a projector on a table at the back.  Into this projector were fed spools of film that he’d ordered from a catalogue designed for private film clubs like ours.

 

I joined as soon as I could, in 1978, and renewed my membership every year until I finished school in 1982.  One thing that strikes me about the club now was that Kellaway was potentially walking on thin ice because some of the films he showed, like the aforementioned Life of Brian, could be accused of having content unsuitable for schoolkids.  One way that he circumvented this danger was by opening the club’s membership to parents as well.  You could get your folks to come to the school  and watch the films with you.  This was in keeping with the AA film certificate that existed in British cinemas up until 1982, whereby certain films were deemed “suitable for those aged 14 and older… those under that age must be accompanied by an adult.”

 

© British Lion Films / F.A.R. International Films

 

Actually, I don’t remember many Film Club members taking the Doc up on this offer and inviting their folks along.  I certainly didn’t.  Although I recall a guy in my third-year class bringing his mother with him to see one of the first offerings that year, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).  Sitting next to your mum during the long, explicit sex scene that takes place between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in the middle of that film can’t have been much fun.

 

Thinking about it now, I suspect many of the films shown during those four years were ones close to the Doc’s heart.  He’d have been a young man in the mid-to-late 1960s when a new generation of stars, writers and directors took hold of the reins in Hollywood and elsewhere: Robert Altman, Lindsay Anderson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Warren Beatty, Albert Finney, Mia Farrow, Jane Fonda, David Hemmings, Dustin Hoffman, Norman Jewison, Sidney Lumet, Malcolm McDowell, Roman Polanski, Nicolas Roeg, etc.  It must have been great being a film-fan whose youth coincided with all this.  Everyone in those films was radical and cutting edge on one hand and cool and beautiful on the other, and it was easy to imagine you were those things too.

 

Accordingly, the Film Club’s choices were frequently either socking it to the Man and His traditional conservative values, like If… (1968), Easy Rider (1969), M*A*S*H* (1970), Performance (1970) and Le Cage aux Folles (1978); or simply exuding a glow of youthful, affluent, liberal gorgeousness – usually American, occasionally French or swinging-1960s British – like Blow Up (1966), Un Homme et une Femme (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), The Graduate (1967) and Heaven Can Wait (1978).

 

Alas, having worked for many years as a teacher myself, one thing I’ve painfully learned is that to preserve your sanity and faith in humanity, you should not expose your pupils to your favourite things – films, books, music – and expect them to react with the same enthusiasm.  Nothing is more depressing than playing your most cherished late-1960s Rolling Stones album to a class and then discovering that the little thickos think Ed Sheerin is better.  So it was with the Film Club.  Some of those films, which surely meant a lot to the Doc, we just didn’t get.  It didn’t help that we were teenagers.  We saw ourselves both as knowing, blasé hipsters and as tough, hardened cynics reared on the mean streets of, um, Peebles.  If anything struck us as unintentionally funny, silly or lame in those films, we reacted immediately with jeers and laughter.

 

We were particularly unforgiving to any film that seemed old to us.  There were notable exceptions, but I remember us barracking the black-and-white The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) and Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954).  Samurai we didn’t like because we knew it’d been the basis for John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960), which we thought was much better because (1) it was in colour and (2) it didn’t have subtitles.  Today I find it ironic when I hear middle-aged film buffs complain that modern kids are cine-illiterate and incapable of enjoying the classic movies they enjoyed in their youths, back in the 1980s.  In fact, the gap between 2020 and, say, ET (1982) is three times greater than the gap between 1978 and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which we had such a problem with.

 

© Warner Bros.

 

Another film we were brutal towards was Franco Zeferelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet.  The moment that Leonard Whiting’s Romeo first came onscreen wearing a pair of medieval tights, some tosser in the audience shouted: “Imagine gettin’ a hard-yin in those!”  Thereafter, the crotch area of every male character’s tights was watched rigorously; and if we thought we spotted a slight curvature, we screamed with laughter.

 

With depressing regularity, when we got out of order, a disgruntled Doc would have to turn off the projector, switch on the lights, come down to the front and give us a bollocking.

 

Significantly, as my classmates and I progressed through four school grades, got older and acquired a little wisdom and maturity, we found our attitudes to the films changing.  We were baffled by the non-linear structure of Roeg’s Don’t Look Now in 1978 (though fortunately it had Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s sex scene, and a good, graphic throat-slashing, to hold our interest).  Yet four years later, we were discussing Roeg’s no-more-linear Performance in enthusiastic and hopefully intellectual-sounding tones.  By 1981 I’d even asked the Doc if he could book David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) for next year’s Film Club – to which he replied, deadpan, “I think most people would find that one a bit obscure.”  And as we grew up, we found ourselves getting increasingly annoyed at the braying, cackling third and fourth-years whom we had to share the club with.  “Those stupid wee shites!” we raged on more than one occasion at the end of a viewing.  “They totally ruined that film for us!”

 

Thankfully, there were plenty of films on the club’s programmes that everyone enjoyed.  Comedies did very well. In addition to Life of Brian, we got Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Jabberwocky (1977), the Billy Connolly tour-documentary Big Banana Feet (1976), at least four Woody Allen efforts – Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Play It Again Sam (1972) and Sleeper (1973) – and at least three Mel Brooks ones – Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974) and Silent Movie (1976).  The Doc was evidently worried about how we’d react to the later scenes of Blazing Saddles, when the film becomes increasingly ‘meta’ and characters burst out of its western setting and invade the settings of other movies, and he gave us a talk before it started and explained the anarchic effect Brooks was trying to achieve.  However, we hardly noticed when Blazing Saddles broke the fourth wall because we were still guffawing about the much-earlier scene involving the campfire, the plates of beans, and the cowboys farting like mad.  We were such sophisticates.

 

Also approved of were action / thriller movies, such as The Mechanic (1972) and Death Wish (1974), both of which were directed by Michael Winner – the Doc, though he had good taste in movies generally, seemed to have a blind-spot when it came to le cinéma du Winner.  Curiously, the action movie I remember provoking the biggest and most visceral response during my four years in the club was, of all things, Peter Hyams’ Capricorn One (1978).  The audience almost blew off the assembly hall’s roof cheering that film’s finale, when Eliot Gould and Telly Savalas swooped down in an old crop-duster plane and rescued James Brolin from the bad guys.

 

© Paramount Pictures / Shamley Productions

 

What I feel especially grateful for now was that the Film Club allowed me to see certain films where they ought to be seen, on a big, cinematically proportioned screen, as opposed to on a pokey little television set.  I was four years too young in 1979 to see Ridley Scott’s X-rated Alien when it was released in cinemas, but the Film Club gave me the chance to see it in its full, terrifying immensity a couple of years later.  That big screen also gave much, extra impact to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971) – of which Stephen King once said, “In terms of ideas, the film is an idiotic mishmash.  In terms of image… the film is brilliant” – and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), whose white backgrounds seemed especially suffocating on a large scale.  Best of all, though, was seeing Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey in correspondingly epic dimensions.  I felt I was hurtling alongside Keir Dullea through that stargate at the movie’s climax.

 

And not only did you get to see movies in large form – you got to see them in the presence of a lot of other people too.  This could be a pain when many of those people didn’t appreciate the film, as I’ve said.  When they did appreciate it, though, and the hall was filled with a shared and palpable sense of excitement, the experience was electrifying.  I’ll never forget the terrifying final scenes involving Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin in Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark (1967), which caused everyone in the audience to jump six inches off their seats.  Meanwhile, we shouldn’t have enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) because it was old and monochrome and relatively bloodless.  But it managed to scare the bejesus out us while we watched it communally.  In fact, I feel privileged that I got to see Psycho on a big screen, with an audience, at a time when the film’s twist ending hadn’t yet become common knowledge.

 

As I hinted earlier, things didn’t end well for Mike Kellaway at Peebles High School.  Shortly before I finished school, he was discovered to be in a relationship with one of his pupils.  She was above the age of consent, but nonetheless he broke the bond of trust that’s supposed to exist between teachers and pupils and caused much hurt and embarrassment to his family and colleagues.  Astonishing though it seems today, he was allowed in those more lenient times to quietly move away and start a teaching job in another part of Scotland.

 

I really wish I could say that was the end of it.  However, years later, he took his own life after he was suspended at another school over allegations that he was in another relationship with a pupil.  The investigation into these claims was dropped immediately after his death.  And that’s all I know of the matter.

 

Anyway, in Peebles, when my contemporaries and I reminisce about school, Kellaway’s name sometimes crops up and inevitably the conversation turns to the scandal he was embroiled in.  But occasionally we go on to discuss his Film Club and we agree that, whatever pain and mess he caused in his professional and personal life, he showed his pupils some great films, in optimal circumstances; and in some of those students at least, he encouraged a love of cinema.  Look at me now, for example.  I’m obsessed with films and rarely shut up about them.  A good quarter of this blog, if not more, is devoted to the topic.

 

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

 

Incidentally, here’s a list of all the movies I recall being show at the Film Club between 1978 and 1982.  But I’m sure there are a few gaps in my memory and a few omissions in the list…

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), Airplane! (David and Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, 1980), Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979), Allegro Non Troppo (Bruno Bozetto, 1976), Bananas (Woody Allen, 1971), Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968), Barefoot in the Park (Gene Saks, 1967), Big Banana Feet (Murray Grigor, 1976), Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963), The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963), Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974), Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966), Le Cage aux Folles (Edouard Molinaro, 1978), Camelot (Joshua Logan, 1967), Capricorn One (Peter Hyams, 1978), Car Wash (Michael Schultz, 1976), The China Syndrome (James Bridges, 1979), Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974), Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974), Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971), Don’t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973), Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), Every Which Way but Loose (James Fargo, 1978), From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963), Fun with Dick and Jane (Ted Kotcheff, 1977), The Graduate (Mike Nicholls, 1968), Gumshoe (Stephen Frears, 1971), Heaven can Wait (Warren Beatty, Buck Henry, 1978), Un Homme et une Femme (Claude Lelouch, 1966)…

 

If… (Lindsey Anderson, 1968), Jabberwocky (Terry Gilliam, 1977), The Jokers (Michael Winner, 1967), Kelly’s Heroes (Brian Hutton, 1970), Kes (Ken Loach, 1969), The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick, 1955), Lancelot Du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974), Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1970), Lord of the Flies (Peter Brook, 1963), Lord of the Rings (Ralph Bakshi, 1978), Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971), M*A*S*H* (Robert Altman, 1970), The Mechanic (Michael Winner, 1972), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979), Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976), Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1980), The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976), The Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1968), Performance (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1970), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Blake Edwards, 1976), Play It Again Sam (Woody Allen, 1972), Pleasure at Her Majesty’s (Jonathan Miller, Roger Graef, 1976), Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)…

 

The Quiller Memorandum (Michael Anderson, 1966), Rollerball (Norman Jewison, 1975), Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeferelli, 1968), The Rose (Mark Rydell, 1979), Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954), Silent Movie (Mel Brooks, 1976), Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973), Snoopy Come Home (Bill Melendez, 1972), Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959), The Spy who Came in from the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965), Stardust (Michael Apted, 1974), Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen, 1969), Tess (Roman Polanski, 1979), That’ll be the Day (Claude Watham, 1973), The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973), To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962), The Ultimate Warrior (Robert Clouse, 1975), The Vikings (Richard Fleisher, 1958), Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967), The Wrong Box (Bryan Forbes, 1966), Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974).

 

He was Spartacus

 

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

 

And so the dimple-jawed movie legend that was Kirk Douglas has passed away at the very venerable age of 103.  Here’s what I wrote about the great man three years ago in celebration of his 100th birthday.

 

“During the late 1950s, it seemed that cinematically Kirk Douglas could do no wrong.  I’m not old enough to have seen his 1950s movies when they were released in the cinema, of course, but they never seemed to be off the TV when I was a kid in the 1970s.  As Ned the harpooner, he rescued James Mason from that pesky giant squid in Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954).  As Vincent Van Gogh, he sawed off his own ear in Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life (1956).  And as Doc Holliday, he overcame his tubercular cough to help out Burt Lancaster in John Sturges’s Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957).

 

“He played a Norseman alongside Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine in Fleischer’s testosterone-charged, hardly-historically-accurate but thoroughly enjoyable The Vikings (1958).  It’s Borgnine, not Douglas, who gets the film’s best line – after listening to treacherous English nobleman Lord Egbert (James Donald) describe the custom back home of dropping prisoners into a pit of ravenously hungry wolves, he exclaims, ‘You see?  The English are civilised!’  But an earlier retort by Douglas to Borgnine is pretty funny too: ‘Oh, stop shouting.  You sound like a moose giving birth to a hedgehog.’  The Vikings, though, isn’t all fun and games.  Watching it as a kid, I was traumatised by the scene where Douglas loses an eye to Curtis’s cantankerous pet falcon.

 

© United Artists

 

“In 1960, of course, he played the leader of Rome’s rebellious slaves in Stanley Kubrick’s epic Spartacus.  The film’s most moving and memorable scene is surely the bane of the British police force on Saturday nights, when it has to deal with damage caused by a drunken stag parties / rugby clubs / gangs of engineering students.  ‘All right.  Will the person among you who broke the window identify himself, please?’  ‘I’m Spartacus!’  ‘I’m Spartacus!’  ‘I’m Spartacus!’  ‘I’m Spartacus!’  Etc.

 

“But it’s in another Kubrick movie from the same era, 1957’s Paths of Glory, that Douglas perhaps enjoys his finest hour.  He plays Colonel Dax, a French officer trying to save three of his men when they’re court martialled for refusing to take part in a suicidal assault on a German position during World War I.  The film’s historical and anti-military themes proved so controversial in France that it was denied a showing there until 1975.

 

© Universal Pictures

 

“After that, Kirk Douglas’s film roles were never quite as good again, although I’m partial to his turn in Anthony Mann’s tale of World War II Norwegian resistance fighters The Heroes of Telemark (1965), a movie that’s ingrained on my memory because during the 1970s the BBC seemed to show it on TV every other week.  And I like him in Burt Kennedy’s The War Wagon (1967), where he spends most of his time getting wound up by John Wayne.  ‘How are we going to take it?  With the Prussian Army?’  ‘With three other fellas.  Five of us.’  ‘Five.  I’m kind of glad I didn’t kill you tonight.  You’re funny as hell.’

 

“Perhaps his last good film was Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978).  Still, he manages to improve the quality of a couple of movies afterwards – just by being in them – even though essentially those movies are puddings.  I’m thinking of Don Taylor’s shonky fantasy The Final Countdown (1980) about a modern US aircraft carrier being catapulted back in time to the week before the attack on Pearl Harbour; and Stanley Donen’s sci-fi effort Saturn 3, in which Douglas and Farah Fawcett are menaced by a killer robot that’s been programmed with Harvey Keitel’s libido.  I bet these days Martin Amis keeps it quiet that he wrote Saturn 3’s script.  Not even Kirk Douglas, though, could redeem Alberto De Martino’s Holocaust 2000 (1977), a British-Italian horror movie about nuclear power plants and the Antichrist that truly has to be seen to be believed.

 

“He’s given great performances in some classic movies that are among the most robustly-entertaining things Hollywood has ever produced.  Congratulations, Kirk, on reaching treble figures.”

 

© Universal International

 

Littler Britain

 

© BBC / From indy100.com

 

Well, that was edifying.

 

On one side, a succession of European Members of the European Parliament trying to be as gracious and magnanimous as possible on January 29th, whilst saying goodbye to the British MEPs who were departing the institution and whose country was departing the European Union generally – even bursting into a rendition of the venerable British (Scottish, actually) song Auld Lang Syne to wish the British farewell.

 

On the other side, Brexiteer-in-chief Nigel Farage telling the European Union that he and his party hate them and bragging that ‘the British are too big to bully’, before he and his acolytes whipped out a bunch of miniature union jacks and waved them at the European politicians across the chamber like a rabble of drunken English holidaymakers on the Costa del Sol trying to annoy the locals by whipping out and wiggling their booze-shrivelled willies.  His acolytes included Claire Fox, the former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and IRA supporter who turned super-right-wing-British-patriot as soon as she realised what way the financial wind was blowing for political careerists; and former Tory minister Anne Widdecombe, who’s a grotesque combination of Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Zelda from Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks and who’s animated by enough toxic bile to fuel a knab of cane toads.

 

Two evenings later, at 11 PM (midnight Brussels time) on January 31st, Britain officially took its leave of the EU and the gravitas on display from jubilant British leavers was no more refined.  Hordes of ardent Brexiteers shambled into Parliament Square to hear speeches from the finest brains that their movement has to offer, such as Julia Hartley-Brewer and Tim Martin, owner of the world’s most rubbish pub chain™.  They also sang patriotic songs whose words they don’t know except for the bits that go ‘Rule Britannia! Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of hope and glory… er…’  And no doubt they emoted to one another about how this was the proudest day of their lives since World War II, back when they’d watched that Great Brit Clint Eastwood machine-gun lots of Germans in Where Eagles Dare (1968) and that equally Great Brit Steve McQueen escape the Nazis by flying his motorbike into Switzerland in The Great Escape (1963) on Christmas-time TV.

 

Meanwhile, hoping to waylay a few of the Brexiteers lurching off to celebrate in Tim Martin’s rubbish pub chain™, other pub owners up and down the land (England, actually) organised their own Brexit parties, where the only good British music was played – for example, music by Kylie Minogue, from Australia-shire, and an up-and-coming outfit I haven’t heard of till now called ‘The Beetles’.

 

From twitter.com

 

To return to Auld Lang Syne, mentioned a few paragraphs earlier – this was a poem written by celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns and put to the tune of an old folk song.  Elsewhere, in the poem To a Louse, Burns penned some lines that are especially pertinent for the Brexit farrago (or Farage-o): “To see oursel’s as ithers see us / It wad frae mony a blunder free us…”

 

Prior to Brexit, I’m pretty sure – and my sureness is backed up by the fact that I’ve spent a good part of my working life employed in several Asian, African and European countries – that most of the world saw Britain in a reasonably positive light.  It was a middle-ranking power that admittedly dragged an unfortunate colonial history behind it; but in modern times it wasn’t one of the out-and-out bad guys and its reputation was immeasurably bulked up by its soft power: its universities and educational opportunities, its capable diplomats, its wealth of classical and popular culture, the BBC, the English language.  Well, that perception is gone, or at least is on its way out.

 

Britain has managed to reinvent itself in the world’s eyes as a hapless, cantankerous, xenophobic and self-harming misfit that’ll soon end up as handmaid and pet poodle to Donald Trump’s USA in its desperation to win that all-important American trade deal.  (Expect the country’s most cherished institution, the National Health Service, to be chucked under the bus soon.  Trump and American big pharma are eyeing it as hungrily as the vultures used to eye the hero during the bit in old western movies where the villains left him staked out in the desert to die.)

 

Come to think of it, the revellers on Brexit night shouldn’t have sung Rule Britannia or Land of Hope and Glory.  It would have been more appropriate if they’d sung the football chant beloved by supporters of Millwall Football Club, No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care.

 

One modicum of comfort in all this was that in Edinburgh the other day members of the Scottish Parliament voted to defy Brexit and keep the European flag flying above their building.  Well, the Scottish National Party and Scottish Green Party MSPs did – the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs voted to pull it down.  And what a useless, craphole wee party the Scottish Liberal Democrats are.  For a party whose election slogan two months ago was ‘Bollocks to Brexit!’, they seem to have totally shed their cojones.

 

(Not to be outdone by Edinburgh, citizens of Glasgow showed solidarity with Europe by replacing the traditional traffic cone on the head of the Duke of Wellington statue outside the Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street with one emblazoned in the blue and stars of the EU flag.)

 

From the BBC / © Mark McGillivray

 

I realise this doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things – real power resides in Westminster, which is dominated by buffoon Boris Johnson and his right-wing anti-Europe Conservative Party – but at least it signals to the couple of hundred thousand EU nationals living in Scotland that their presence is still valued.  Meanwhile, the whole Brexit shitshow just makes me support the cause of an independent Scotland in the EU more than ever.