Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Film Review: ‘Springsteen & I’

17 Sep


Hyde Park 2011 - I'm on the left near the front...

I wasn’t sure how a film composed of five minute interviews with fans of Bruce Springsteen was going to work, but it did. Ridley Scott put together something much more than the sum of it’s parts, not simply an hour and a half of Bruce fans from all over the world telling you how they’ve loved his music since (insert age) and loved X concert and Y record.

 Instead we had cameos from people sharing intimacy and connection: a twenty-something American-Asian truck driver with a Masters degree and a quietly stated belief that Springsteen spoke not only to but for her; the groundkeeper at Copenhagen’s Parken stadium, John, who saw the Tunnel of Love tour aged 9 and been a fan since; the Manchester couple with the woman interviewing her partner, him telling how he couldn’t really be bothered with the music, wanted the concerts to be shorter but went all over Europe because his wife was a fan; the fifty-something American man calmly describing how Springsteen’s music had been a part of his life for four decades and then breaking down as memory and emotion overwhelmed him; the young guy told his relationship was over the day before a gig, who held up a sign asking for ‘I’m Going Down’ and who ended up on stage with Bruce, being hugged…… revealing insights into the human condition as much as a film about Boss fans.

 Interspersed were precious clips of Springsteen and the E Street Band playing, mined from the Thrill Hill archives and a joy to watch. The film, seemingly, ended with footage of the man and his band across four decades, playing ‘Born to Run’ and as the credits rolled to ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’, some Witney cinema goers headed for the exit.

 What they missed twenty seconds later was ‘bonus footage’ of Springsteen & The E Street band playing half a dozen songs from Hyde Park in 2012, the concert where Paul McCartney joined them on stage for ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.

 The cinematic scope and volume was akin to being there and the version of ‘Because the Night’ the best I think I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard dozens. And there was more.

 The Epilogue featured four of the film’s participants brought together for a concert and meeting Springsteen and Jon Landau after. The guy from Manchester’s face was a picture, the overwhelming feeling of the whole film being a sense of connection and shared space: a guy from New Jersey who writes songs that speak to people across the globe and forms part of their lives.

 Yes the guy is a musician and yes, you can just like the music but for millions of others, including this writer, Bruce Springsteen is more than that. This film shows you why.  

Jimmy Savile, the BBC, hypocrites and opportunists

24 Oct

The Jimmy Savile story has disgusted and shocked in equal measure and coverage reached a crescendo this week, with two BBC current affairs programmes, Newsnight and Panorama, involved in a civil war.

I won’t add to general outrage and disgust other than to say that I wouldn’t lose a second’s sleep seeing a child abuser hanging from a tree branch by their ankles with a roaring bonfire directly under them.

Betraying the trust and vulnerability of a child is unforgivable, end of debate.

But the attacks on the BBC merit closer examination.

I always worry when the right-wing press (Daily Telegraph, The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times and The Financial Times) is in full cry.

Not one day in the past 10 has gone by without these rags foaming at the mouth about the BBC’s internal culture, its complacency and possible complicity in acts of child abuse.

And not for them trivia like independent inquiries, ongoing police investigations, evidence and open decision-making to ensure the horrific mistakes of the past aren’t repeated.

No: this is their age-old enemy, a window of opportunity and the judge and jury have sat. It has been little more than a drumhead court-martial.

The reasons for this – and I mean the real underlying motive, not the outrage about Savile’s abuse and possible BBC uselessness – can be summed up by Polly Toynbee:

The BBC’s continued existence is a red rag to the blue press, an anti-market endeavour they long to privatise or shrink to insignificance like the American PBS channel.”

The default advice of ‘follow the money’ applies and if further proof is needed, let’s hold our collective noses and consider again Rupert Murdoch and his family.

In 1989, Murdoch gave the MacTaggart lecture and as well as predicting on-demand television, lambasted the TV license fee. Any link between his developing Sky Empire and a wish to remove the competitor which effectively sets industry standards is, of course, coincidental.

Twenty years on and plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose: James Murdoch gave the 2009 MacTaggart lecture and attacked the supposed dominance of the BBC with its “guaranteed and growing” income.

In one irony-laden phrase, the man whose News Corporation empire took journalism to unplumbed depths, described the BBC’s activities and future ambitions as “chilling”.

He said: “There is a (BBC) land-grab, pure and simple, going on – and in the interests of a free society it should be sternly resisted.”

A society, presumably, where Murdoch employees are ‘free’ again to hack into celebrity voice mails, rake through the bins of celebrities, put pictures of semi-naked women on Page 3, lie about the death of 96 football fans, publish confidential medical records, act as perpetual election agents for the Conservative Party and interfere with the a police investigation into a murder….

Let’s not mince words: the Right wants the BBC dead or dying.

If the free-marketeers had their way or if the Tories ever found the courage of their convictions, the licence fee would be abolished tomorrow.

We would then slide remorselessly down a very slippery slope, at the bottom of which lie two things: Fox News, a channel which sees itself as a shameless cheerleader for the Republican Party; and the corpse of public service broadcasting. If you want to see what the future looks like, think Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, smear campaigns, propaganda and endless repeats of the Jeremy Kyle Show and Judge Judy.

I have many criticisms to make of the BBC; political coverage is personality-driven and encourages a Punch & Judy Show; it only covers trade unions when strikes are ‘threatened’ or there is ‘disruption’ and ‘chaos’; it tries to compete with idiot/zoo television shows when it shouldn’t; it rarely backs a winner in making decent comedy programmes; and pays far too much to over-rated egomaniacs like Jonathan Ross and Terry Wogan.


It is publicly-funded broadcasting which sets the benchmark for coverage and quality. The BBC provides thousands of good quality jobs, training and development and is respected throughout the world. BBC Radio 2, 4 and 5 are bastions of excellence. The BBC’s coverage and promotion of live music is unparalleled.

When the nation wants to unite, as it did around Live Aid and the 2012 Olympics, it does so using the BBC. It is one of the cornerstones of a society which has not – yet – fallen into the toxic embrace of the Market.

In short, let those guilty of complicity with Savile’s crimes answer for what they did in public.

But let’s not lose sight of the fac that the BBC and public service broadcasting are worth defending against the new barbarians.

‘For me to speak about Cuba is a beautiful accident’: Che Guevara’s daughter in Oxford

21 Sep

‘For me to speak about Cuba is a beautiful accident; I am the dignified daughter of the Cuban people.’



Doctor Aleida Guevara spoke to 140 people packed into a hall in Oxford’s John Rushcliffe Hospital and opened with a candid admission that Cuba has made many errors, but reminded us that they had the right to solve their own problems, a right earned in blood.

Aleida cited the NHS as an example for Cuba’s health service and expressed sadness to hear of the threatened privatisation – ‘sadder yet that you would allow this to happen’.

As a paediatrician, Dr Guevara told us Cuban children are vaccinated against 14 diseases and conditions, and only 4 of those vaccines can’t be produced in Cuba. A new vaccine against lung cancer, no less, was not available outside Cuba because of the Blockade.

Yet ‘no multinationals steal from the Cuban people’ and in outlining a growing self-sufficiency she noted others in the so-called Third World couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the Cuban example because of the Blockade. Cuba doesn’t produce enough milk and has to import powdered milk from New Zealand at between 3 and 4 times market cost: yet southern US states produce enormous milk surpluses and can’t sell to Cuba. Ships delivering to Cuba are barred by the USA from entering American ports for six months.

The Carribean island has been subjected to an unrelenting economic, cultural and political war by the United States since 7 February 1962, a blockade condemned as illegal by the United Nations General Assembly every year since 1991.

This has involved support for terrorism, such as the bombing of a Cubana civil flight on 6 October 1976 when 78 people were murdered, and millions of US dollars spent supporting and fomenting internal discord, propaganda and opposition to Cuba’s government and civic society. For people like me who love the USA and the American people, the way the superpower treats the tiny socialist island is the single greatest stain on its modern history.

Before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was 60 in every thousand births. Today it is less than 5. In 1959 one in three Cubans were illiterate, today no-one is. No children sleep on the streets, not one child left behind. Cuba sends health professionals abroad to work in 66 different countries and education is free to citizens because it is a right.

Yet Aleida Guevara pointed out that Cuba’s very achievements are part of the twisted rationale fuelling America’s unrelenting hostility to the path chosen; irony doesn’t begin to describe it. It is ‘the threat of a good example’.

Aleida contrasted the fate of the Miami Five, Cubans who infiltrated Florida-based terrorist cells who were subsequently tried and imprisoned when they passed information to the FBI, with that of convicted terrorists like Luis Posada Cariles, ‘free to walk the streets of Miami’.

Doctor Guevara concluded by talking eloquently about Latin American solidarity but in describing what Cuba held dear, she struck a note which reminded us of her father’s values and resonated with those who believe in a better future for humanity.

‘We hold two things sacred’ she said ‘our children and our older people. Children because they are our future; they have an infinite capacity to love and to grow and our older ones, because they have done their duty and made their contribution. We Cubans live poor but die rich.’

Hasta la Victoria Siempre.

Viva Cuba Libre.

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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