Hold Your Fire

Powerful documentary recounting the events of the 1973 hostage taking inside John and Al’s Sporting Goods store in Brooklyn, New York. It speaks to all the people involved, cops, hostages, gunmen. And because the incident became a media circus, it’s full of contemporary footage showing exactly what went on.

For me, this is another one for the file marked All Cops Are Bastards. Although, maybe two exceptions can made in this case. Ben Ward, the only cop the gunmen trusted to arrest them, who was the first African-American police commissioner in New York. And Harvey Schlossberg, a beat cop with a PhD in Psychology, who from this incident goes on to have a world-renowned career in hostage negotiation and de-escalation tactics. He, along with Jerry Riccio, are the heroes of this film, responsible for saving the lives of as many people as possible.

Guns, racism and toxic masculinity are the major problems in this, and maybe not in that order. The cops’ blatant disregard for life is sickening, and the hostage takers have an entirely accurate idea of what awaits them if they step outside. So the innocent bystanders in the shop become their only bulwark against wholesale slaughter, and thus they in turn terrorise others to feel safe.

The story begins before they ever set foot inside the store. Shuaib Raheem was a 24-year-old African-American Sunni Muslim from Brooklyn. After a troubled youth, he converted and found peace. However, he drew the ire of the Nation of Islam for debating doctrine with their members. Without having time to go into it, I’ll just say the Nation of Islam is to Islam what the Mormon church is to Christianity. This was very dangerous at the time because the Nation of Islam included many fanatics, who attacked non-Nation Muslims.

After he started receiving death threats, and in fear for his family’s safety, Shuaib applied for a license for a gun. But even while filling it out, they were like, ‘You know you’re not gonna get this right? You’re a Black Muslim with a history of troublemaking.’ Cue total silence from the NRA. Then the Hanafi Muslim Massacre occurred, where 7 Sunni Muslims were murdered by Nation of Islam members. And Shuaib felt he couldn’t wait any longer. He made the decision to rob the John and Al’s Sporting Goods store, and take 4 guns, one for him and one for each of his three friends who were experiencing the same intimidation.

Jerry Riccio was the owner and working the cash register that day. Four men burst into his shop, drew a handgun on him and demanded 4 shotguns in a bag with plenty of ammo. He kept calm, complied, and tried to keep the robbers calm too.

But as they were leaving, a witness outside the shop had alerted the police, and a cop was standing out front. They tried to exit through the back, and holy god, there was every cop in Brooklyn armed to the teeth and staring down their guns at them.

It’s here the nightmare began.

Jerry noted that the bunch of them didn’t seem to have thought this through. They picked a store with a giant glass front, where they could be seen from anywhere on the street. Anybody outside could see them stick up the cashier, and call the cops, and that’s exactly what happened. They hadn’t thought about how they would carry a bag full of shotguns and ammo, which was actually quite heavy and not easy to move.

In fact most of the guys have never been in any trouble with the police. They were total amateurs, punks with no experience, who were just scared shitless by the Nation. Dawd Rahman, referred to by Jerry as “The Quiet Guy”, was 22, an undiagnosed autistic, and completely out his depth. Yusef Abdallah Almussadig was 23 and Salih Ali Abdullah was 26, all of them Shuaib describes as “squares”. Their lack of experience actually works against them in this situation, as they struggle to understand and anticipate police reaction.

Shuaib says they actually initially tried to surrender when they first opened the back door and saw all those cops out there. But he had been holding his gun at the time and they just started screaming conflicting instructions at him – “Freeze!” “Put down your weapon!” “Don’t move!” – and he started to lower the gun, they opened fire on him.

As the police fired blindly at the store, they nearly hit the hostages, who subsequently were moved to the upper level of the shop with a bit more cover. Yusef was gut-shot and looked likely to bleed out there on the shop floor. When Shuaib returned fire to beat a retreat, he injured two policemen. And somewhere among the gunfire, officer Stephen Gilroy was shot in the head. He was 29 years old, had a family, and was just weeks away from taking up his promotion to sergeant.

Debate has always raged about whether Gilroy was killed by friendly fire or by shots from the hostage takers. The fact the forensics were never presented against them suggests it wasn’t the robbers, because if they were able to match that bullet to their guns, they would all be going to the lethal injection room for cop-killing no doubt in my mind. But as Shuaib says himself, “It don’t really matter”, ultimately he is responsible. If he hadn’t tried to stick up the shop, Gilroy would never have been there. Doesn’t matter whose bullet it was on the day.

Inside the store, the gunmen were terrified. One of them was badly wounded and lying in a pool of his own blood, they’re listening to the radio to try to find out what was happening outside. They heard reports come over the wireless, saying 4 terrorists from the Black Liberation Army were holding hostages inside John and Al’s Sporting Goods. And their blood just runs cold. Because they realise they are not being viewed as petty criminals who need to be taken in, but as members of a terrorist organisation known for killing cops. This means the police will have no hesitation in killing them, and would probably prefer that outcome to send a message to terrorists in general.

And then they hear on the radio that a cop has been killed. And know they’ve signed their death warrant.

How they manage to survive, how Jerry manages to protect the hostages, how Harvey Schlossberg manages to convince the NYPD to use a different tactic to resolve the situation without further loss of life, is one of the most fascinating, compelling, and moving stories.

Honestly go see this, it’s incredible.

Pictures From Iraq

From the success of Pictures From Afghanistan, David Pratt returns with Pictures From Iraq. He’s a photojournalist who has spent most of his career in the Middle East. He returns to speak to his contacts and fellow journalists there.

Pictures From Afghanistan felt very personal, it was a memoir of his experiences of the country. Pictures From Iraq is more an attempt to put the country itself at the centre, and have it more just be structured around David meeting up with his old contacts. There’s also a foregrounding of Iraqi journalists, of the people who are crucial to telling the story if you want to represent it with any accuracy. Whether you are seeing their work carried through the major media outlets, or just see how they have helped, informed, and contextualised information for non-native journalists, their impact is massive.

David is a photojournalist who has worked on the front lines of many conflicts in his time in Iraq. He’s mostly been based in the Kurdish region of Iraq, which is just a fascinating area. The situation is hugely complex, it would be impossible to cover everything in an hour-long documentary, but David does his best to sketch out the mix of cooperating and competing interests.

We visit an officer in the Iraqi-Kurdish peshmerga, Iranian-Kurdish female freedom fighters, and Iraqi volunteer forces. Together they have fought ISIS and sectarian extremists, but their differing causes could put them in conflict once those threats are defeated. Iraqis want a unified Iraq. The peshmerga want to maintain the status of the Kurdish Autonomous Region within Iraq. And the Iranian-Kurds want an independent Kurdish nation, comprised of the Kurdish regions of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. You can see how complicated that could get.

He speaks to Iraqi-Swedish journalist Urban Hamid, who he worked with back when ISIS were making strides across the country. They drink tea while looking out at the city, and discuss how the situation on the ground has improved, while still having its challenges. He meets up with Iraqi photojournalist Ali Al-Baroodi, who documented his home city of Mosul under ISIS occupation, at great danger to himself. He shares his hopes for the city, unbroken by a lifetime of war.

Really interesting documentary.

The Hermit of Treig

The Hermit of Treig is a documentary about Ken Smith, who has lived for the past 40 years by himself in a log cabin of his own making on the hill overlooking Loch Treig. Now in his 70s, he must reckon with how his way of life will shape his end days.

Originally from Derbyshire, he lived much the same as anybody until he was in his mid-20s, when he was the victim of a random, violent attack which almost killed him. He was left comatose with bleeding on the brain. When he awoke, he was told he would never walk or talk again.

He’s a man of some spirit, because he kept at until he did walk and talk again, and it left him with a determination to live life on his own terms. A great lover of the outdoors and very physically active, he travelled to Canada and, almost on a whim, decided to make his way on foot through the forests of the Yukon. When he hit the sea, he decided to return to the UK, and make his home in the most remote place possible. Obviously Scotland was the place for that, up by Loch Treig. He made his own log cabin by hand and has lived there ever since.

How he lives is pretty incredible. There’s no electricity, no gas central heating, no running water. He chops wood and carries it in a sack on his shoulders back to the house for burning, despite now being over 70 years old. He fishes, and grows his own fruit and veg in a garden next to the house. He is also very knowledgeable about which of the local flora is edible.

It’s a life living in simplicity. And with an appreciation for nature.

But time fucks us all. Ken has a stroke one day, and was found lying outside in the snow. He had to be airlifted to the hospital. Since the stroke he has trouble with his memory, some numbness in one arm, and vision problems if he moves around too quickly. It brings home to Ken, that he must make his preparations for the end.

A meditation on mortality and an examination of what is a life well-lived. Fascinating film.

Julia

Eat something before going to see this! Thank god I did, because you’d be ravenous within the first 5 minutes.

Julia is a documentary on the life and legacy of Julia Child, America’s first TV chef. And it’s actually a pretty interesting life. Although cooking on television was what she was famous for, she didn’t start that until she was in her 50s.

She was born in 1912 to a wealthy family of Republican wasps. She was expected to do nothing more than marry well, her father had picked out a suitor who was the son of a lucrative business contact. But Julia rejected the proposal and rejected the life, and when the war began, she signed up.

She was put to work in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, typing up spy reports. She got posted to Sri Lanka, where she met Paul Child, a polymath and self-made man. At first meeting, he found her irritating and she disdained his “unbecoming moustache”, but slowly and surely they fell in love. Paul was a self-taught artist, he could speak multiple languages, he was a photographer. It was Paul who introduced her to really good food and enjoyed discussing his love for it. And it was here Julia found her passion.

After the war, Paul was stationed in France, and Julia fell in love with French cuisine. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu school for chefs, and was the only woman on the course. She did meet a like-minded female chef, Simca, and together they came up with the idea of writing a book to introduce French cooking to America.

Julia decided to try to promote the book on American public TV as the publishers had little faith in it selling well. To jazz up the segment, she decided to cook an omelette while discussing the book to demonstrate how easy the recipes were to follow. This little segment became the birth of the TV cooking show industry.

It’s easy to forget just how dreich American food was in the 50s. Everything was marketed as convenience food, tv dinners and frozen meals. There was the weird obsession with jell-o or aspic, where you would put salad, or cut meat, or veg in a mould of jelly, and serve your dinner like something suspended in formaldehyde. Spam was considered a versatile main stay. Tinned soup doubled as a cooking sauce. Julia wanted to show that food was not a chore that should be done with as little time and strain as possible, but something you should put love into, and get love out of.

Her popularity on screen came in defiance of all the rules about women on television at the time. They were meant to be petite, slender, delicate, soft-spoken, demure, pristinely put-together, young and beautiful. They were not meant to be 6ft 2″, square-shouldered, with a plain face, and a commanding authorative voice, fearlessly confident, with her hair falling loose, sweating in the heat, at the age of 50. And yet she carved out a career that was unlike anything that had come before. She was constantly asked when she was going to retire, because she already “too old” for television when she started, so she kept going for as long as she liked, until she was almost 90.

In 2022, where everyone is obsessed with food, and food porn is its own genre, and celebrity chefs are so ubiquitous as to be interchangeable, it’s hard to imagine just how much Julia changed things. It was really fun to watch what an interesting life she had.

If you like this…

Rebel Dread

Don Letts narrates the story of his life in Rebel Dread. It’s a pretty amazing life, being at the nexus of iconic cultural moments in music.

Growing up in Brixton in London, when it was a Little Jamaica, it was a community of first generation Black Britons, Jamaican immigrant families, and working class white folks. Letts remembers it fondly. As a kid, he was aware that racism existed, but in his community there seemed to be a commonality among folk, even when they hung out in their own crowds, they coexisted together without issue. It wasn’t until he got to secondary school that racism was brought to the forefront.

Enoch Powell, that old bastard, did his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech, and Don went from being Lettsy in the playground to a spat upon outsider. Racist epithets were hurled at him, National Front slogans went up, all the bullshit began. The most consistently racist interaction he had was with the polis. The sus law was used to stop and search any black person coming and going at any time. It was basically a blank cheque for perpetual harassment.

At the same time the social situation was heating up, Letts saw The Who perform, and his head burst wide open to rock and roll. He decided to become a rebel, reject this assimilation, good school, model citizen path his parents had chosen for him, and decided to make rock music his life, with all the style and attitude that went along with it.

Whenever the police pulled him over, he’d jump up on his car bonnet, attract a crowd, and start stripping, since he was such a ‘suspicious character’ after all. He put the police to shame for their attempts to denigrate him, making their racist tactics visible to the whole street. Taking back a bit of power by making it a stage.

On the music and politics front, Letts became unique for touching on a lot of different scenes. He was a great lover of the rasta music played throughout his neighbourhood, he hung out in the queer scenes that worshipped Bowie, and he ran with the white punk rockers, as that genre began to emerge. Constantly at every gig at The Roxy, he’d invite folk back to hang at his, and there’d be Bob Marley hanging with Souixie Sioux and John Lydon and whoever else. Countless bands and artists credit him with introducing them to new music and helping influence their work.

He began filming what was happening, without a plan beyond that he wanted to capture this really creative time. Someone eventually suggested a movie, and he ran with the idea, making The Punk Rock Movie, a documentary of the early years of punk. He was getting film developed and then editing that shit by holding it up to the light, cutting, and sellotaping bits together. Fucking madness.

From this he became the videographer for his mates in The Clash, directing their music videos, including London Calling. This launched him into the world of filmmaking. He directed numerous music videos, documentaries and films. He toured with his own band, Big Audio Dynamite, seeing the world.

While Letts provides the main narration, the talking heads that chime in with their piece of the story reads like a list of headliner bands, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and so on. There’s so many people you just swipe past, like Elvis Costello, The Beastie Boys, Ice-T. His life really is a mad ride.

Really interesting film, and really satisfying to hear it told first hand by the man himself.

If you liked this…

My Old School

My Old School got a standing ovation – and too bloody right! Absolutely cracking movie.

It is a documentary about the Brandon Lee incident, when a 32-year-old man enrolled in secondary school as a 16-year-old boy. The reasons why are as bizarre as the story itself, but what makes the movie is it is not just a tale about one sad and slightly strange figure trying capture a part of life that escaped him, but an ensemble memoir of this odd event by the pupils who lived it. The film is a bit of a high school reunion, with people retelling stories, and misremembering, and being corrected and cajoled by their mates. It’s also fucking hilarious.

So it’s the 1990s, and this new kid shows up. He’s looks about ten years older than everyone but he’s Canadian, so folk figure, they must mature earlier or whatever. He sits his tests, makes friends, does homework with the other kids after class, and stars in the school show. He’s a bit weird, but it’s secondary school, everyone’s a bit weird. And he seems sound.

He has this long back story about travelling all over the world with his opera singer mother, until she died in a tragic accident. His father was a professor who wanted him educated, but had no desire to raise him, so sent him to live with his grandmother in Glasgow, and enrolled him in Bearsden Academy.

The film pays particular attention to the role of class in all this. Anyone from here will know Bearsden is the poshest place in Glasgow. You go along the road out Bearsden until you get to Drumchapel, and the average life expectancy drops by a decade. Your postcode can make Glasgow a very different city for you. Many of the ex-pupils interviewed came from Spam Valley, the part of Bearsden which was a little more downmarket, and got its name from the saying that the folk who moved there ate spam every night of the week just to be able to afford to live in Bearsden. People wanted in because it signalled an opening up of opportunity to them and their kids, a different kind of life. The filmmaker, in the Q&A admits he and his sister only moved to Bearsden Academy after his sister was hospitalised due to the violence at Clydebank Secondary. Similarly, Brandon’s family had wanted the same.

Because his mother wasn’t an opera singer, his father wasn’t a professor. His dad was a lollipop man and his mother worked in the old folks’ home. Whether the belief had come from him or his mother, the narrative got passed back and forth between them until it was gospel – she could have been a doctor if only she’d had the opportunity, and he WOULD be a doctor. She moved into a rented flat in Bearsden to ensure he got the best education, and he excelled academically.

But he had no friends, no social life, no real connections outside his mother. He went to Glasgow Uni and, without any support system and under pressure to complete this supposed destiny of medicine, he had a breakdown of sorts. He doesn’t describe it as such, focusing on his bodily symptoms, but as someone who also took a breakdown in her first year at Glasgow Uni, it’s readily identifiable.

After feeling lost for a number of years, he eventually tried to re-enroll, only to discover he was now considered too old. 30 was the age limit for commencing study in medicine, due to the number of years it took to complete, so what’s a man to do? Let it go? Change your mind? Pursue a different career?

Brandon Lee re-enrolled in school, resetting the clock back to the last time he had been a high achiever. He went back as a 16-year-old to sit his secondary exams again.

What’s batshit bananas is he did it at his old school, the one he went to the first time. And, and, AND was taught by some of the same teachers who taught him first go around. That’s barmy!

So the film is structured around Brandon’s story. He gives an audio interview but doesn’t want his face to be shown, so it is played/lipsynced by Alan Cumming (yum!). But, as I say, it’s not just about him. A bunch of his classmates give interviews, and you see them trying to piece together the puzzle, try to separate the rumour from the truth. Which is great, coz you get them retelling different stories or retelling the same story different ways, and it’s all animated.

I really loved the animation style. As soon as I saw it, I said, “Daria!” and in the Q&A the director said that was his inspiration. Because the story was full of those classic 90s high school tropes – the mean girls, the bullies, the outsiders, the music geeks. When I first saw the animation in the trailer, I was a bit like, hmm, dunno what I think of that. But it really works.

And the voice acting is great, with Alan, Lulu, and Clare Grogan. And the music is ace, from Shelly Poole, of 90s iconic band Alisha’s Attic. Everything comes together really well, it’s just superb.

When asked in the Q&A, why he didn’t notice that Brandon Lee was hiding the fact he was a 32-year-old-man, the filmmaker said, because he was too busy hiding the fact he was a 16-year-old gay boy. I think that does explain a lot of it. Brandon hid in a place where everyone was hiding, he was odd and awkward in a place where everyone was odd and awkward – and he did it in Glasgow, where everything’s mad anyway.

In another city, a documentary like this might be framed with ominous tones and fades to black-and-white. In Glasgow, it’s just one big lol. A fucking cracking watch, go see!

The Dissident

The Dissident tells the story of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It is gripping, enlightening, and moving.

This film was quite an eye-opener for me, going into a wealth of context I did not know. I followed the story in the news at the time, but my reaction was “Brutal regime murders journalist. No mystery there then.” I didn’t feel the need to dive much deeper into the details because it was so obvious that no explanation seemed needed.

But there is a huge amount of pertinent context to Jamal’s killing. Firstly, the idea of Saudi Arabia as a place that always has been and always will be as oppressive as it is now, is a reductive over-simplification. Reporting usually has slightly racist connotations of the ancient (and backward), brutal rulers of the ruthless and opulent East, this image of sultans chopping off hands, in an unchanging and unvarying stereotype from a timeless age. This obscures the truth of what is actually happening in the 21st century in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And it makes it harder to tackle the reality of government oppression, and denies and erases the reality of activists and citizens who resist on a daily basis.

In Saudi Arabia, 8 out of every 10 citizens is on Twitter. There has been for generations a suppression of free speech there, but the boom in social media has overturned that in an extremely short time frame. With IRL speech dangerous, online is the only place to have open discussions about the state of the country. It reminds me of a joke in the movie Rosewater, another movie about a journalist being targeted by the state, where his interrogator accuses the protagonist of disseminating anti-government propaganda through newspapers, and the journalist replies that there would be no point doing that, it’s a dead medium.

The Saudi Arabian government has reacted quicker than most to the digital revolution, and has strategies to neutralise online dissent. They have a building with 1000 government staff all with multiple dummy accounts who flood Twitter with pro-government propaganda, to drown out the noise of any differing opinions. Like Russia and China, it has top-level hackers.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s government is changing. While yes, it is a monarchy, not a democracy, the king used to have a wide range of other royals as government appointees. To our ears this sounds worse, because then you’ve just stacked ever more of the same powerful family into positions of power, but it had the converse effect of dispersing power among a range of powerful individuals. Yes, not great, but what is happening now is worse. Because Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) is wildly ambitious, and has been strategically removing from office other royals, and concentrating power solely on him. And up until Jamal’s murder, he was doing so with excellent spin. He was seen as a reformer and moderniser, purging corruption from within the royal ranks. He pushed through many popular policies, such as allowing women to drive, and allowing cinemas and concerts.

So where does Jamal fit in this story? Despite how he is seen now, as a martyr for free speech, Jamal spent most of his life in government reporting institutions, he was part of the establishment. He was a supporter of MBS, seeing his values and goals for the country as aligned with MBS’s espoused vision. He considered himself a patriot, and was not particularly bothered by the Saudi style of reporting, which he saw as basically telling the truth while not being disrespectful to the honoured institutions of the royal family. While he met with reprimand on some stories over the course of his life, he was considered a loyal servant of the state.

So how did he get from there to here? Step-by-step, and very much against his will. While speech was always limited in Saudi Arabia, MBS’s rise to power saw a crackdown. And several journalists, colleagues of Jamal, were arrested. Jamal, as someone considered friendly to MBS was let off with a warning, but even the intimidation he faced was enough to make him flee the country. Even then, he believed he would return, that things would calm down, that he would watch for the release of his colleagues. But things got worse, and he was now seen as a defector. His wife had to divorce him to protect her and their kids. He was fired from all his Saudi Arabian outlets, and he became targeted by trolls on Twitter. It was MBS’s overreaction that drove Jamal from someone content to see the country change little by little to someone who became an activist against increasing government tyranny.

And that was why Jamal was considered so much more dangerous. Because he had spent his entire career on the inside of the establishment, he knew how they worked, he had powerful connections, he knew MBS, and he had a large following because he had mainstream exposure. And now he was going rogue, using his platform and knowledge to speak about against MBS, and hiding behind the shield of American residency and employment at the Washington Post.

He was not just any journalist. And he was considered far worse than any protestor who was on the outside of things. MBS took Jamal’s defection and criticism as a personal betrayal.

And worse, when Jamal started to meet up with other dissidents like Omar Abdulaziz, he became a mentor to the younger generation of activists, and they in turn radicalised him and educated him on how new technology was being utilised for surveillance and oppression. He learned of the government tactics on social media, the new frontier of propaganda, and started to organise an online resistance. And for the Saudi government, if you are trying to counter their cyber attacks, that means you are engaging in war against the state.

That is the big picture part of the story, but this film also has the very human part of this story. Jamal was a man, who at the age of 60, had the life he had built for himself taken away. And while he had his integrity, he facing a lonely life in a strange land. And then he met Hatice Cengiz, and fell in love. And they planned to marry and start a new life together. And while he had taken every precaution to stay clear of his government’s reach, if they were to wed, he had to get a marriage document from the Saudi embassy. So he and the woman he loved turned up in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, and he told her to wait for him outside while he stepped inside and got it. And she stood. And she stood. And she stood. And hours passed, and she began to worry, and she called the police, she called journalists, she called Jamal’s friends with political clout. And she stood there until 1 in the morning. And he did not come out. And that’s because she had stood outside on the street while he was being murdered in that building. It is a nightmare we cannot even imagine.

And now this is the future she has, trying to hold to account her fiancé’s murderer. It is not what she wanted, but it is what has come to pass.

It is a deeply moving story, showing the best in people, who act with love and integrity, and the worst in people, who act with cruelly and callousness.

City Hall

Four and a half fucking hours that took! Fucking hell. I don’t know why you would insist on that being a movie rather than a miniseries. I mean, it’s the filmmaker’s perspective, but I dunno. Maybe he thought the minutiae of municipal governance wasn’t something that would get people tuning back in, and he needed to trap people in a cinema in a oner to get them to watch it, preferably under a big net.

He needn’t have worried though. This is an interesting documentary. I would tune in again, and maybe with a bit more merriment that after being killed by a marathon run time. City Hall is a close-up look at how democracy actually works. Not elections, not campaigns. What happens on a day-to-day level to keep a city running, and ensure what it’s doing is representative of the will of the people.

It’s basically a year in the life of Boston, and covers a huge variety of topics. It feels like the director shot nearly every municipal meeting. There’s something quite exhausting about the scale of it. They say if you wanna get away with something evil, hide it in something boring. That also works for good too. City Hall tries to unearth from interminable meetings and concept-level discussions a city-wide movement towards redressing economic, racial and gender disparity. In the dull and mundane maintenance of school buildings, business building permit community consultations, and fact-finding enquiries, lies the hidden successes of the lowest unemployment rate in the city’s history, the increase in Latina women business leaders, and a far larger engagement in furthering civil rights than has been seen in half a century. People are getting off drugs and being supported in addiction recovery. Improvements are being made in providing services to homeless queer youth. Discussions about mental health and trauma are being foregrounded in every aspect of community work.

Quietly interesting is how I would describe this film. There are no car chases or explosions. There are no cast of characters where you can boo the baddies and cheer for the goodies. But if you slow down, and accept the pace of intent listening, you will find the stories of a whole city’s worth of people. There is a gallery of individual experiences being interwoven to give a portrait of how a city hangs together.

It’s also about how democracy functions. Because at first I was like, “Ahghugh!” and nearly had my head roll of my shoulders in protest at having to listen to a council meeting. And that’s kinda the issue. We don’t want to do good, we want good done for us. Democracy is so important, but please, don’t make me hear about it. So how do you ensure people’s will at the ballot box perpetuates itself for the next 5 years? And not through media reports of scandal when it goes wrong, but all those boring days it goes right. That’s what City Hall looks at, and comes up with a lot of answers and also no answer. Is it people’s dedication? Political will? Good habits and routines set by policy and culture? Community relations? An engaged population whose sustained attention will hold you to account? All? Something else?

It’s a good one for thinking about. And a good one for slowing down and listening to. Take it more like a podcast than a movie. But worth your attention, definitely.

Eye of the Storm

My favourite bit in this is when he tells of getting the first exhibitions of his work, this wee Glasgow fella, son of a shipyard worker, and his painting is hanging in Kelvingrove Museum. It’s of Athole Gardens, which is on a slope, so the buildings look all askew in the frame. And there he is, standing anonymously in the gallery, marvelling at his achievement, in front of this painting, when a fella comes up, takes one look at it, and turns to him and says, “It’s aff a’ square. Aw they uprights in the picture, they should up upright. They’re aw laid back, aff a’ square. And it’s our fucking money that’s being spent on that picture that’s nae good at all.”

I fucking love this city.

Eye of the Storm follows James Morrison in the last years of his life, as he tries to continue to paint despite his failing eyesight. His career spans more than 60 years, as he goes from painting Glasgow tenements to rural landscapes, first in Scotland and then around the world. I enjoyed the use of animation to illustrate his memories, done in his style of art, really bringing to life his little tales. Painting in the Arctic and being come upon by a polar bear, or drawing in Paris and finding his favourite brushes.

I could have done without the constant interruption of quotes from famous artists, one at the beginning was quite enough, thank you. And I wasn’t so keen on the inclusion of the animator talking about her process and contribution to the film, I’d have preferred it stayed focused on Jimmy.

But other than that, a pleasant journey through the life’s work of a local man whose art had a global reach.

If you like this…

Handsome

Eeeeeee. A profoundly uncomfortable watch. Handsome is a documentary about Nick and his brother Alex, who has Down’s Syndrome, as they talk to other siblings in the UK, USA, India and Vietnam about providing lifelong daily care for a sibling with Down’s.

So, as someone with lifelong mental health issues, my teeth are immediately set on edge whenever it comes to other people’s problems with your disability, like it’s about them, not you, and other ableist tropes. And my back gets immediately up when you see able-bodied people talking to each other about disabled people’s experiences over their heads like they’re not even there. But to pull away from my knee-jerk reaction, I also have no experience of what it is like to provide 24 hour basic daily care for someone on a indefinite timescale.

Alex is 23 and still cannot wash and dress himself, and even sometimes has issues using the bathroom. That’s a level of care beyond my experience. And as life expectancy grows for adults with Down’s, Alex can expect to outlive his parents, and the question is, who will provide his care then?

Nick wants to become Alex’s full-time carer and is currently living with him, but as he enters into his mid-20s, he is having to look frankly at their future. The discussions with the other siblings highlights issues like careers, starting your own family, and potentially having kids in the future. If Nick were to pursue a career and increase his earning potential, he could provide for Alex financially, but wouldn’t be available for that full-time care. Also, such responsibilities are going to make dating and finding a partner more difficult, and how will those responsibilities be balanced if young children come on the scene? At the start of the film, Nick’s focus seems to be gathering info on how he can make his and Alex’s life together work, but by the end, he seems to have come to the decision that he needs to pull back, and establish his own life first, before he can make a place for Alex in it.

I found so many things about this documentary problematic, literally too many to reiterate, but I was particularly struck by the choice to show Nick washing Alex. Nick constantly emphasises how little Alex understands, which makes me question what his understanding was when he consented to being filmed naked for the documentary. This is just one of a thousand choices that just made me cringe.

I suppose you have to give the film credit for being unyieldingly frank, and close to the bone regarding this hugely important and intimate issue. At the same time, it comes with a weight of massively problematic ideas, and while I don’t want to downplay the reality, it can feel very difficult to watch at times.