Prostitution Proposals (or lack of them) in the Election Manifestos

Green Party

“The Green Party supports full decriminalisation of the sex
industry. Respected research by Amnesty International and the UN has shown that it is the safest legal model for sex workers.”

Terribly poor to not recognise the huge criticisms of Amnesty’s decision, including the entry-ism involved and the rejected research and Pimp involvement. Greens are displaying themselves to not be principled at all, but political faddists, more concerned with maintaining the vote of a small band of University based ‘Gender Equality’ soldiers. In any case, hugely likely to be decimated in the next election, and to return to former obscurity. Sad really, because their tendency to try and spread themselves thin on ‘any an all topic’ means their good record on the Environment has gotten lost in the mad mix.

Liberal Democrats

“Decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex, and the management of sex work – reducing harm, defending sex workers’ human rights, and focusing police time and resources on those groomed, forced, or trafficked into the sex industry. We would provide additional support for those wishing to leave sex work.”

At least they bother to mention that ‘management’ is a factor in full industry decriminalisation, (not that it is THE factor, mind you). They don’t mention what kind of ‘additional support’ they’d provide for those who want to leave (who can be bothered?!) or tell us why they think that anyone would want to leave an industry they believe should be legitimized and industrialized. Something tells me this part of the pledge would soon get lost down the back of the sofa….but again, they seem to be falling not rising in the polls as the have been unable to establish a narrative of difference outside of Brexit, which most people seem to have decided to now ‘just get on with’, so, meh, whatever…

Labour Party

Nothing on the subject (but does have stuff on women’s refuges and instating a VAW commissioner.) Interesting. Preferable of course to the above two, as the playing field is left open. One imagines due to the fact that there is dissent on this topic within the Labour Party itself, including in the Unions (with TUC Women voting for the Nordic Model recently). Could also just be because their manifesto has focused mostly on big issues as opposed niche ones, but somehow feels like a willful omission, especially given this is John McDonnell’s hobby horse. The ECP must be spitting feathers, thinking this one was a shoo-in.

SNP

Can’t seem to find anything, and seems generally quite sparse on women more generally. Disappointing given the recent vote that showed major support for the Nordic Model. But perhaps I’m missing it, if anyone knows more, do let me know.

WEP

Obviously the most thorough examination of women’s issues of the lot, and rightly calls for the Nordic Model on prostitution. Slight bone to pick; their motivation, they say, is not to win seats so much as put pressure on the major parties to adopt their policies, which is a a good way of looking at things given the slim chance of WEP ever winning a seat in the near future. But some of their actions, such as trying to pin their leader Sophie Walker into the Shipley constituency and asking the Labour candidate to stand down, despite the fact that she is an unknown quantity in that region… compared to the Labour candidate who came second against the MRA Tory MP Phillip Davies, and is likely to have a wider appeal. Walker said she felt Labour believed they have ‘a monopoly on virtue’, but it rather seems more likely that people are just very anxious to try and unseat Tories. This all tinged a little of political, personal opportunism and rather let them down.

Plaid Cymru

Nothing. To be fair to them it seems a party mostly concerned with more general Welsh issues and representation (but is good on the Environment and EU stuff) but a little sparse compared to the other manifestos in other places.

Conservative

Nothing to see here.


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Sex Worker Voices?

We have to listen to Sex Worker’s Voices. Quite who ‘We’ are and quite who ‘They’ are has yet to be solidly established. I guess on the surface the We is anyone who happens to be having any kind of discussion about prostitution, who has never been paid to flap about in gaudy knickers or been infiltrated by other folk’s body parts, at any stage in their pearl clutching, blue stocking, dry cunting lives.

Even if that discussion isn’t happening whilst your hovering over a bit of legislation. Even if your casually chatting in your back garden, with your feminist mates – who all hate sex – and who perpetually wear a  special form of mosquito net to prevent so-called ‘Men’ from touching their damsel flesh. Yes whilst you are having that oh so praxis garden party and you veer on to the topic of prostitution, a Sex Worker will be shipped over the wall – much like as happened at this 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas Debate – to ensure that you understand just how pathetically ignorant you are on this and, probably, any and all topics.

‘They’ of course are the opposites of ‘We’. They are the sugar coated, candy canes of postmodernist sexuality, who are largely made up of middle class PhD students, transwomen and heterosexual Chippendales, who sell intimacy and affection and counselling and  legal advice and vegan recipes, to disabled virgins  and poor hen pecked husbands, who spend the rest of their money on keeping their hag like wives happy. Despite the fact that said wives purposefully had their own vaginas sewed up just to spite them. Bitches.

I’m being facetious now, of course. Bad form. This is a serious topic.

Of course in reality who ‘We’ are, is rather more difficult to define, as is the case of who ‘They’ are. If anyone has spent any time fingering around the debate, you’ll notice how easily permeable those membranes are, how quickly and efficiently those boundaries can shift. A Sex Worker Voice might not only be someone who works in prostitution or stripping or pornography or webcam modelling. It might become someone who runs a brothel, who manages a strip club or who directs porn films. It might be someone who has worked for twenty years, or only two days.

Contrary wise the person who works in the sex industry but hates it, and openly criticises it, might have their story nullified as a ‘lone voice’ whose bad experience is an anomalous misfortune; sad, but not really of interest.  A charity or advocate who has worked for decades with women, damaged and troubled by prostitution, is a pesky interferer, who cannot be trusted to account for themselves/herself as witness. A former prostitute can be disregarded, at best, because her feelings ‘no longer count’. At worst, her whole public character may be  ruptured by accusations of duplicity, fraudulence, bitterness or insanity.

The Sex Worker who has been a webcam model for six months may find her voice counting more, than a former prostitute who has been schlepping about in the trade ever since that hallowed time before you could buy soft pornography at Poundland. That brothel keeper’s convenient advocacy for that apex of hyper capitalism – the Mega Brothel – considered of more value and authenticity than the women advocating for exit services.

Indeed, this flighty and idiomatic phrase seems to me to be predominately used to shore up a person who has their cards in the full, absolute no questions asked or futures considered, profiteering decriminalisation hat, and to undermine anyone who has even the smallest shred of ambivalence. To reiterate, for actual prostitutes who might disagree, there will be found another little crack for them to be pushed down. Heck, I’ve been witness to debates where a bloke who ostensibly has no stocks in the pro-prostitution conversation (ostensibly being the key word) mouthing off unabridged, and yet anyone who voices concerns has their tongues snipped at the root. Perhaps he once took photographs of his girlfriend in her underwear and then showed his mates down the pub. Perhaps that makes him a sex worker?

Ultimately, people are not ideas, and it is intensely problematic to try and utilize them as such. Such orchestrations of protest, sit dubiously and dangerously atop the thin floor of purported  objectivity. We are so petrified to express, openly, ideology, notions of morality, codes of ethics and philosophical questions, in our neoliberal society, that we just pretend that they simply don’t exist. The pro prostitution protest has done a phenomenal  PR job of selling itself as ideology free, as supported by Sex Workers, who don’t just have insight but Absolute Authority. Statistics that support them are in service of The Great Truth of absolute, full decriminalisation and any statistics that problematize their view are the flimsy nay sayings of troubled and troublesome women whose predominate interest in prostitution is really about defending their husbands from temptresses. Whilst also, curiously, hating men.

But the pro-prostitution argument is ideological. And moral. And subjective, and so too are the opinions of those who flog it. In the end, prostitution is not simply a private matter – it is a matter of commerce and social policy,  and everyone to greater or lesser degrees has cause to take interest. Everyone has their say.


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Hookers, It Isn’t All About You

Image result for sex workers opera

The blog posting platform Medium has a useful reading statistics organisation. Unlike on WordPress, it differentiates between people who have clicked on your post, and those who have actually read it. I don’t know exactly how it works this out (perhaps by counting all who scroll to the end, but this seems far from foolproof) but I do know that a great number of the hyperventilating people who tweeted angrily at me about an old post on said platform, were in the category of ‘haven’t bothered’.

Not that it matters. Because the post was about married (or paired up) men who use prostitutes. And the angry-s were members of the ‘ain’t sex work pretty’ Twitterati; those vested interests, their drooling male patrons and purported libertarian feminists who have come to ride the wave of populism.  They are usually the type of feminists that are nifty with a select bunch of stock phrases and sentiments and think dying their hair turquoise and having once kissed a girl, makes them  maverick supremos.

The type of postpostpostpostmodern maverick-ism that is still more or less constructed around a bourgeois, conservative lifestyle and outlook, but occasionally visits strip clubs, has a predilection for burning incense and buys ‘bohemian looking’ floral print cushion covers from House of Fraser. Like, way to gut the system, doods.

Or if they are the ‘sex workers’ themselves – the usually white, Western, good at feigning middle classness ‘sex workers’ who like to make an awful big meal out of themselves -they are the types that have reduced the feminist, civil and gay rights movements into a grim performance of self glorification, tinged with predictable photographs of their tan slicked bodies in shiny underpants and their legs kicked out into the air like they have just fallen elegantly from a tall building.

Combined they are like bad hippies, because at least the hippies had Joni Mitchell, comfy Nordic sweaters and a vague sense of collective optimism. Oh, and they ‘discovered’ the avocado.

And yes I can be so mean and catty because I am sure I used to be this narcissistic and self interested when I was younger. I used to muddy every delicate fraction and indentation  of the world into being Something to do With Me; I used to project out into the cosmos my own tediously thundering image of myself. And if what was occasionally reflected back at me wasn’t as painstakingly manufactured as the self-image I had created  in my own head, I would get pretty narked. Its this kind of psychopathology that ultimately leads people without any discernible talent to go on reality TV, before getting terribly upset when it doesn’t work out for them. I feel for us all, really, in this way, because mortality does often look and feel terribly bleak and life so aimless, that it is understandable that we try to make something… anything… out of it.

And also because writing that some people, these days, have vain and post-modernity pickled brains,  is at least no worse than being called a Bitch. Cunt. Prude. Pearl Clutcher. Moralist. Whatever that means. Oh I remember…its “Someone who has a different outlook to me.” Or it is Peter Hitchens. Or on this occasion, me.

I’m not entirely certain what response you are supposed to give to such epithets, other than “You know that never really hurt me much the first time I heard it. Certainly nowhere near as much as that article I wrote giving information to women about the behaviours and attitudes of married men who pay for sex, seemingly hurt you.”

The article didn’t actually say much at all about prostitutes themselves, other than to point out the fact that when a man rents a woman for sexual interaction, there is a pretty decent chance that she doesn’t really want to do it and what is more… he knows that. And doesn’t care. And possibly doesn’t much care if she is addicted to drugs, pimped or coerced either. He only knows that she needs the money. And even if a prostitute does loooovvvvve her ‘work’ she cannot reasonably deny that many don’t, and that that  makes the paying for it from any punter, inherently morally problematic. Because he can never accurately know which are which, seeing as there is an economic prerogative for all women involved to mask their truths. But again, I put it to you, that he mostly doesn’t give a jam sandwich.

Some of these pro prostitution agitators will often admit that many women in prostitution don’t want to be there, but they won’t draw the lines of the logic together. They would NEVER denigrate punters as a group, especially seeing as many of the most vociferous and outspoken use the same names and platforms to be ‘activists’ as they do to plug their wares.

But ultimately, what they don’t get, is that the article about punters and their personal lives are not about them. My piece was about the other women (who comprise a larger statistic, incidentally) who are married or with male partners and are not, even in a hipster tangential fashion, chouette about being in a  relationship with men who enjoy acting out sextube videos  with women who can’t wait for it to be over so they can go spend their 100 bucks on drinking away their childhood dreams. Oh that was close to the muscle, wasn’t it? Well I’ve been there. And I’ve seen it.

Women who have found themselves married to a punter, will have lived through  years of lies and condescension and  may often have developed, subtly or overtly, a deflated self esteem. If they do begin to develop an inkling and drop the question, they will have been gas-lit, stonewalled and furtherly and more endemically lied to. In other cases they will find out – having had no small clue – by being hit by a proverbial block of bricks that will smash them into the conscious realization that their conception of their own world was based on a scurrilous fib.

And  I don’t blame the women involved in prostitution at all, I just don’t think saying these things to other women has much, directly, to do with them. My ‘critics’ felt angry because they saw me paint a negative image of the world they seek to defend, but ultimately what women who are not in prostitution choose to think about it, in relationship to their own personal lives, is not their fucking business.

No, being a prostitute is not like being a racial or sexual minority. Those ‘sex worker’ critics of radical feminists are keen to assure everyone that they are not victims of the patriarchy and make a willful and happy choice. In which case it is  richly convenient to suddenly become a victim because someone else have a negative view on the industry that you are openly choosing to engage in. Especially if the negative view has specifically to do with your patrons or profiteers. You are welcome to argue that no-one should criminalize your punters, but you don’t have a right to say that no-one can criticize your punters. That is the line to be drawn between activism and lobbyism.

Those lobbyists are quick to tell silly wives that monogamy is not feasible, that it would be preferable for women to butt out their husband’s sexual business, or even that their presumed expansive attitudes to sex are something that all women should adopt. But they have no  right to impose their social values on to other women, or to dictate what conversations or knowledge exchanges that other women have, who don’t have such a romantic view of prostitution as they do.

But like Napolean the pig, they are intent on hacking to death  Snowball – the architect of the initial rebellion –  who simply wanted to de-stigmatise those women involved in prostitution, and create that heartfelt of all things, a better world.  Now, like the Stalin pig, they have a new mode of acceptable being for women. A new female ideal, a new do as we say,  a new  we-know-better landscape. But its over your parochial, domestic head, loves. You who gave up your job at 30, raised three children and made dear hubby a nutritious meal each night. Or heated up one squelched inside of freezer bag. Not that it matters. Because seemingly, nor do you.


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Why I Still Support Corbyn, Despite Decriminalization

 

When I was kid, I remember the general adult riposte to my regular protestation ‘Its not fair!’ being, ‘Well, life is not fair.’ Yes, the superficial vein was (dis)honest cynicism, but the adage has a more profound subtext. And it continues to be the most important political lesson I have learnt to date.

Life is nefariously, continuously, and variously always unfair. How it is unfair, in what capacity and to what degree, changes with the tide, the generations, in line with political, social, cultural and technological shifts. Sometimes unfairness is beaten like a bass drum. Social hierarchy is not only forgiven but taken as an absolute, a natural state of affairs. Sometimes such unfairness is more insidious. Women gain access to the vote, but not to full political representation. People of colour can no longer be kept hostage as slaves but suffer residual discrimination and social brutality. Working class people are no longer openly discussed as being intellectually and morally lesser, but blind eyes are made of the fact that social mobility is basically a myth, and meritocracy is a thin plaster atop a ripped off extremity. No real bandage against the chronic blood spewing of infrastructural, socio-economic inequality.

As they say, the price of liberation is eternal vigilance. A useful philosophical nugget, attributed to everyone from the Buddha, to Lincoln, to Jefferson, it lucks in to something rather fundamental about political progressivism. That if I or you or anyone wants life for humans (and variably other species) to be as fair as it can be now and proceeding, I recognise that I am always have to deal with some form of base level unfairness and I am always going to have to make some compromised decisions. Political pragmatism is dealing with the world as it is, not as I would like it to be. It is as though I am in a boat that leaks from multiple parts of the hull, as I mend one, so too another rips open. To stay afloat, I must be forever on my guard, forever mending, fixing… forever aware of the rain.

What has all this to do with Jeremy Corbyn?

As you probably know by now, Theresa May has gunned for a snap general election, in order to solidify her position and increase the Tory majority. Though Corbyn has welcomed the decision, you don’t have to be a political analyst to come to the conclusion that the timing is not exactly great. That we on the left could’ve done with somewhat more of it to shake off the rabid assault by the Murdoch presses on Corbyn’s leadership.

But no matter. We who support the party will have to do our best all the same. However, for me, the Jeremy Corbyn leadership has caused a small amount of difficulty for altogether different reasons. I was enthused by his election, excited by the growth of the movement that came with him and angered by the immediate backlash of hot potato throwing that occurred, painting him as any form of unreconstructed evil that the right wing presses could concoct. But, along came a quandary.

I am feminist who has vociferously opposed the full decriminalisation, industrialisation and neutralisation of prostitution. Not long after Corbyn’s ascent however, it was revealed that, to that political analysis he was at odds. My disagreement with his support for a laissez-faire economic policy surrounding prostitution is not, for me, a minority political sidewinder, but a fundamental core of my own personal and political life. Deciding to support him and the Labour Party nonetheless, has not been an easy decision for me to make. Bitter pills have been swallowed. But ultimately I have swallowed them because I still believe that a Corbyn led Labour Party would do more for those in prostitution, long term, than the Tories would in any term.

The growth of the acceptance of the commercialisation of usually poor women’s bodies, is inexorably linked to the conservative orchestrated neoliberal project which combines firstly, cuts to social security and an ever growing bifurcation of boss and worker wage slips, with a boisterous and delirious form of cultural individualism. The latter adequately preventing the sort of collectivisation needed to tackle the former. The desire to industrialise the sex industry is not simply an organic reaction to such a context, it is also an extension of the project. Corbyn, of course, understands and wishes to tackle this first issue, even is it is true that he hasn’t fully made the connection to the second. So half baked as it is, this still means he supersedes Theresa May in my estimation, who both supports austerity measures and has been opposed to progressive industry sex critical legislations.

Added, Corbyn himself is contextualised by the fact that the most open and vocal political party critics of the sex industry come from within the Labour Party’s ranks, with affiliated organisations such as TUC Women supporting the Nordic Model. Even if Corbyn himself supports industry decriminalisation, the idea that it would become party policy any time soon, seems hugely unlikely. Much more unlikely that the damn near probability that the Tories will continue on with lawn mower austerity cuts that disproportionately affect women and place working class women in particular within prostitution’s avaricious sights.

This is a compromised position. I, as a left wing feminist, would love to see a party on the ballot that fully and energetically stood against austerity cuts and understood the fact that the sex industry sits on an axis of sexed and classed based oppression, which would only be cemented or even furthered by industrialisation. But I don’t have that; I have a party that has been smashing up the welfare state and is looking to further its position as our absolute overlords on the right, and a party that seems to have a discordant and difficult relationship in its discourses between socialism and feminism on the left, with some of it admirable feminists such as Harriet Harman having previously supported welfare cuts on the one hand, and some its admirable socialists, such as Corbyn supporting, sex industry profiteering discrimination on the other.

But I have no choice but to veer left, with my nose held closed and my eyes stretched open. That willingness to compromise is needed, as is that eternal vigilance, to not allow any of the holes in our boats go unattended. It does not seem like a fair choice. But then as any good working class women will tell you, life is indeed, unfair. And it is that fact that gets me up each and every morning.


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Keith Vaseline

Image result for keith vaz cartoon

 

 

When Keith Vaz was discovered to have sought to rent sexual favours from two migrant men (and seems to have offered to buy cocaine for them and poppers for himself) it disrupted the lukewarm response to the largely agreed upon modest reforms that the HASC suggested. It proposed a decriminalisation of soliciting (and thus of street walkers) and a wiping of the slate of prostitute’s criminal records. It was ground safely and stoically observed to be popular on all sides and thus, on its own, politically shrewd.

There were  critiques of its dismissal of the Nordic Model and its long term suggestion to consider industry decriminalisation, but in all, the response to the report was muted because the actual propositions, not its wider problems and suggestions, were uncontroversial. Seas seemed calm.

When Vaz was exposed, the sex industry lobby went into full flurry mode, because those within it knew that the rejection of the Nordic Model would be  newly viewed in relation to Vaz’s sex buying, from many quarters. Some sought to affirm that the report could still be credited, however the basis made for this is no more than the pro-industry and problematic ‘listen to sex workers’ rhetoric itself, which has little to nothing to do with whether or not there is a problem with an undeclared vested interest chairing the committee.

Some pointed out that Vaz has previously supported the Nordic Model, using pop psychology to play to the idea that he is some kind of Fred Phelps character, obsessing over the criminalisation of punters as a response to his own desire to rent people for sex. However – seductive and prime time American drama though that is – his support for the Nordic Model could hardly be described as consistent, obsessive or easy to pin down. In 2014 he sat on the APPG panel, where he was a non chair member in a group of 27, that proposed the Nordic Model. In 2016 he sat on the HASC panel where he was the chair member in a group of 11 that, indeed, more or less rejected the Nordic Model. What to make of that? Probably not much.

Of course Magnanti, and others, have sought to argue that Vaz’s  sudden change of mind, is a result of the virtuoso of her and other industry ideologue’s testimony. Even in arrogance, that seems rather a stretch.

It could  be more sensibly argued, as the others outside of the political debates surrounding prostitution have done, that Vaz is simply a duplicitous, slippery, megalomaniac character whose views, self presentation and position cannot be trusted.

How often has Vaz paid for sex? When did it start? Has he always supported the Nordic Model? Has he always not supported it? Has he seen it as politically advantageous to do so at some times and not at others? How much influence did he exert on both committees? Is he actually just some Trumpian figure who believes and cares about nothing other than his own career trajectory?  Is he  willing to oscillate wildly and quickly between different forms of policies or values because he  imagines, simply, that they won’t extend to him? Questions, questions – and if you care about Vaz with respect of details of this report – no clear answers.

In the end, it is not with respect to the sex industry only that this sticky business of  Keith Vaz, and his almost shockingly exquisite Janus Face, is so bothersome.

The general public – general as in of all political stripes and persuasions – struggles to trust politicians, doesn’t see them as honourable members of the community whose integrity and intelligence of vision can be seen to represent us or care for our needs. Perhaps, because they talk often about being in Power, not Political Representation. Perhaps also,  because of the perception of politicians as serpentine circumnavigators of  their own manifestos, whose game playing serves to undermine the whole concept of parliamentary democracy . You have to know  what someone believes, at least broadly, to  want to vote for them. To really want to vote for them.

If they’re outright bloody liars whose political capriciousness comes served with a personal side ordering of self gratification, self indulgence and scandal, they are not fit for purpose. Vaz’s duplicity, in and off itself, is what fundamentally unseats his position  as a public servant, an occupation paid up by the public purse. Some may argue that it is a private matter – an argument made ridiculous by the specifities of the case  – but this is also to ignore the position of politicians more generally. These are people paid handsomely, in taxes, well above the average earnings of a British citizen (not to mention the expenses and second homes) who require no specific qualifications or experience to do the job. You don’t have to be a saint, or a political hero. You don’t have to solve all the problems or fight a war (and win) or reclaim the Empire or Make Britain Great or any other of the egocentric fantasies that some of you politicians no doubt have.

You can just be honest, and vaguely consistent.

You are also not being asked to only drink green juice, forego gluten, never have sex,  get drunk, fart, have a predilection for Status Quo or The Wombles, never go on holiday, or ever again make a silly face lest it gets snapped and shoved up on Have I Got News For You for yucks.  You are just being asked – as  a representative of a wide variety of politically minded people – to avoid ethically and legally contentious behaviours and to Tell The Truth as you understand it.

Being a politician might be difficult, but it is still one of the greatest privileges that anyone can have bestowed upon them, and it comes with responsibilities and sacrifices. In order for our parliamentary democracy to work we need at least to vaguely trust in its operators. It does not instill much trust when a politician such as Vaz, can be found to be as trustworthy as cat with a goldfish, and yet still sweep in to the Justice Committee of all things, with 203 MPs agreeing to only 7 in dissent. That doesn’t sound like he is being made accountable.

Westminster, you need to pluck the bugs off of your salad bed, if you want us to eat it with relish.


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My Favourite – Art Films

Image result for persona bergman
Persona

The art house cinema finds its definition, firstly, in how its main imperative is the need to achieve expressive merit… as opposed to entertainment value or commercial gain. That is not say that art films cannot, like high concept Hollywood, provide entertainment sustenance, but this is secondary to the aim of the continuous re-invention of what the cinematic form can be. As a result, the art house film is less easy to define, in some respects, than genre cinemas that have aesthetic and narrative specificities.

So art house cinemas are perhaps best approached in terms of creative history and film movements.  What constitutes an art film movement? Arguably the first art filmmakers were the Russian formalists. A group, mostly known by the works of Sergei Eisenstein, who helped re-invent film form via the utilisation of the ‘edit’. Soviet films like Strike and Battleship Potemkin, cinematic weaponry in service of the Soviets, employed editing techniques designed specifically for audience manipulation (it is worth noting that all forms of cinema have to degrees, employed their editing techniques ever since). Unlike previous cinemas, that imitated theatre techniques simply to ‘tell the story’, these films sliced shots together to ‘build a picture’.

It may seem obvious to us now, because we are so literate in cinematic language, but the early cinemas began by simply training the camera onto the subject or object and rolling the film. The camera was, then, a conduit for the ‘theatre spectator’. Eisenstein and his mates went their own way. They cut up the film reel and glued the shots back together into formed sequences. Instead of just watching the Tsarists forces crushing the proles,  those scenes are spliced into shots of a bull being slaughtered. Two different events, no literal relationship, montaged together, and you have a new meaning. And because this is an incredibly insidiously emotive methodology, you can manipulate your audience into making them feel what you want them to feel. Often, and eventually, so subtly, that the don’t even know it is happening.

Spend any time at all consuming not only films, but advertisements, music videos even party political broadcasts, with this history in mind, and you will realize that Sergei and the Formalists have a lot to answer for.

So on the one hand, art film is about recreating what the form can do (which can then be later assimilated into commercial culture) but it is also about recreating, re-evaluating, how we view the world, people, relationships. Not simply a mode for telling dramatic tales, but for exploring the nature of storytelling itself. Not simply a method for introducing characters, but for investigating what it means to be a character, or human more generally.

David Bordwell suggests that art cinema follows the modernist literature of the 20th century in this respect. Makes sense, like time wise, and stuff. The author creates protagonists that are psychologically complex and stories which may not achieve a simplistic resolution. However unlike the author’s pen, the auteur utilizes the ‘camera pen’.

Influenced by the previous decade’s Italian neorealists, and Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, members of the French New Wave, such as Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, wanted to move away from literary adaptations to realize the cinema as an art form in its own right. Not simply another way of telling old stories or bringing the theatre to the screen.

The New Wave’s work, in films such as Godard’s Breathless – an art house cult classic if there ever was one – and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, proved influential to the High Modernists of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Auteurs such as Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bergman created films that can be seen as the paragons of the art cinema. Bergman in particular, with his mode of high seriousness and philosophical inquisition, and Fellini with verbose tales of Italian society, sexuality and hypocrisy, were indeed the grand masters of the art cinema. Like the Hemingways and Scott-Fitzgeralds of literature, they weaved their creative worlds, employing distinctive styles recognizable across a body of work.

Since then, the auteur and the art house have been near inseparable. In the 1980s, this was as broad as Peter Greenaway’s theatre of debauchery and colour in films such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, David Lynch’s surrealism in Blue Velvet, and Kieslowski theology in Dekalog.

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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

In 1995, however, a group of Danish filmmakers, established The Vow of Chastity, a new set of rules for a new brand of filmmaking. The Dogme ’95 manifesto’s precepts included sole use of 35mm, on location shooting and handheld camera use,  and, importantly, a lack of film credit for the director. However, although it sought to disavow the auteur as the harbinger of the work, its proponents, particularly Lars von Trier, were nonetheless strongly associated with the manifesto’s creative vision. His first film associated with the movement, The Idiots, based on a group of people who play act idiocy and instigate impulsive orgies, helped forge Trier’s reputation as a cinematic provocateur par excellence.

In the last twenty years, directors like Iranian Akira Kiarostami (with films such as Ten, set entirely within a woman’s car) and Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-Liang (with a film like Vive L’Amour, containing very longs sequences often totally devoid of dialogue) have continue to push the cinematic envelope.

The movements of cinematic art are, however, far from concise. Its influence has proven discursive, as art house cinema’s influence can be distinctly seen in the larger Hollywood productions.  The indomitable Quentin Tarantino named his production company, A Band Apart, after the youthful Godard film of the same name, and Tim Burton’s aesthetic can be clearly traced back to the German expressionism of the 1920s. If you want to see Burton’s roots, watch The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.

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The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

 

At the risk of over-simplification, then, art house is less a set of distinct visual and narrative specifications than it is the result of creative desire. The desire to constantly re-form and re-create what the medium can be and do. Like many artistic forms, then, the periphery is always one step ahead of the centre; the art films often (but not always) precede in style the more commercial films that are influenced by them. But it’s far from a one-way street. Head back to the New Wave and you’ll see a set of art house directors heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker who displayed with finesse a personal style that long outlasted the commercial considerations of the then film studios.

Five of my Favourites

F.W Murnau Nosferatu (1922)

Often cited as the first vampire film, Nosferatu was, in fact, preceded by several other films now out of print and lost to the cultural consciousness – and almost itself disappeared. F.W Murnau’s German Expressionist classic was almost destroyed when the courts ruled it an unauthorized adaptation of the Stoker novel.With its stark chiaroscuro lighting and oblique, gothic style, Nosferatu embodies the art film’s potential for visual creativity as a representation of psychological realism. In this case, the psychology is the fear of the seductive capabilities of the dreaded other/unknown.

 

Jean luc godard, Breathless (1960)

 

Godard’s most well regarded film by both critics and audiences, Breathless ranks in the British Film Institutes poll of films as the best work by a still living director. Despite its art film status, Breathless utilizes some of the themes and tropes of the Hollywood gangster and film noir genres. Michel Poiccard, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, is on the run from the Parisian law after shooting a police officer.  Caddish, charming and whimsical, he refuses to leave the country for Italy, until Patricia, American Jean Seberg, leaves with him.The genre narrative is painted in a unique and creative style; Breathless is an example of jump cutting and fourth wall breaking interspersed with long and languorous conversations between the two title players. In this way, the film is a good example of the cross roads between art and entertainment cinema.

 

Ingmar Bergman, Persona (1966)

 

An ideal specimen of an art house picture if there ever was one, Persona is one of the most critically acclaimed of the Swedish directors oeuvre. David Bordwell specifies complex psychology as of major importance in art film and this Ingmar Bergman has it in bucket loads.A nurse and an actress come together in a beach house when the actress, Liv Ullman, relinquishes her power of speech. The nurse, Bibi Andersson, becomes enchanted by the muteness of the actress and, corrupted by the intensity of the circumstance, falling into a desperate desire for a contact that is unrequited. Identities merge whilst surrealist and horror imagery abounds. Persona is, then, as much a tale of the lady vampire, as it is of psychosomatic degradation, borne of the inevitable loneliness of being.

 

Abbas Kiarostami, Ten (2002)

 

Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten is set entirely within a young Iranian woman’s car in the capital Tehran,  and is predicated around a set of ten conversations she – Mania – played by Mania Akbar, has with her passengers. In it, Mania talks with a friend, her sister, an old woman and a street prostitute she gives a lift. The conversations often considering  the role of women in modern Iran. Her young, quite belligerent son also makes several inclusions in the film, and as the only male, it is arguably the case that Kiarostami is making a statement about the petulance and selfish self-aggrandisement of masculine society.

Even if not (and it is for the spectator to decide), a female focused film with a meandering, loose narrative and tightly interiorized setting goes against the American commercial grain, with its preference for exterior, male driven, action heavy and ‘resolvable’ narratives’.

 

Lars von Trier, The Idiots (1998)

 

A controversial remedy to more saccharine or simplistic cinemas, The Idiots is perhaps one of Lars von Trier’s most tendentious pictures. Seemingly splitting the critics down the middle, The Idiots deals in the performance of disability by a group of bohemians.

Trier’s film is both the tracing of its protagonist’s social discomfort and their sense of being on the borderline of society – as it is also a political manifesto arguing against the exclusive nature of Capitalism’s purported ‘meritocracy.’

My Favourite – ‘International’ Cinema

Originally Published in the now defunct Subtitled Online


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Persepolis

International film, or world cinema, is largely a sort of genre category utilized by film distributors and retailers in Britain to designate non-British, Australasian and, more specifically, American produce. The category is loaded with notions of otherness and exoticism, political, racial and sexual complexity and, in many senses, the highbrow. In effect… international cinema holds a firm place in the populist, collective consciousness as inaccessible, designed for the subtle eye of the critical spectator and not for mass consumption, or ‘entertainment’.

In truth, many world cinemas, like Hollywood, have their own brands of majority produce, designed to satiate the audience’s most straight forward leisure needs. Bollywood, in India, is a notable example, for its gargantuan output of romantic musicals and historical epics. China also has a long history of family dramas and, of course, its martial arts Wuxia pictures, and Egypt was termed the ‘Hollywood on the Nile’ for its large yield of tragic, often female centred melodramas. These films are not, in the main, what immediately springs to mind when one considers ‘international cinema’. Often less exported and translated for the English speaking audiences, much of these various national cinemas are created for, and consumed by, the home audience. In this sense, then, no cinema is ‘foreign’ or ‘world’ until it is transported or translated. And that counts for Hollywood, too.

With that in mind, this introduction is mainly concerned with summarizing a diversity of international pictures currently absorbed by the English speaking audience in, most specifically, Britain. What carries a film here from Africa, Asia, the Middle East or the rest of Europe is dependent primarily on the funding capabilities of that particular nation. It will probably come as no surprise that Western European countries such as France and Germany have much greater financial muscle that many African countries, where little or no money for production and distribution is available.  Aligned with that, exhibition at film festivals, such as Cannes and Sundance, is often imperative in getting a film to reach a wider, international audience and thus engage critical notice. However, combined with marketing and distribution costs, entering films into festivals is an expensive business. Finance is one of the primary reasons why most audiences will have seen more Hollywood pictures then French pictures, and even discerning audiences will have seen more French or Chinese than African or Latin American pictures.

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All About My Mother

Western and Northern European cinema is often considered the apotheosis of cinema as ‘art form’ due to the reputation of past masters ranging from Vittorio De Sica, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky, if one wanders as far as Russia. However, long after these cinema deaths, the legacy of the European masters continues with the camp and burlesque melodramas of Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother, 1999), the often sexually bleak dramas of Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4 Ever, 2002), the controversial experiments of Lars von Trier (The Idiots, 1998) and the psychological thrillers of Michael Haneke (Funny Games, 1997).

Veer to the Middle East and cinema production seems to be most heavily concentrated, contemporarily, in Iran. In the last two decades, the country has been responsible for a plethora of both male and female cinema authors, dealing often in the socio-political tensions of the age, to critical acclaim. Abbas Kiarostami, in particular, established a strong reputation with acclaimed pictures such as A Taste Of Cherry (1997) and Ten (2002). Aligned with this, a high percentage of female filmmakers’ projects have been exported. Samira Makhamalbaf, for example, has told the stories of Iranian and Afghani women in films like Apple and At Five In The Afternoon (2003). These socio-realist films are also complemented by films like the internationally successful Persepolis (2003) by Marjane Strapi, a darkly comic look at a woman coming of age during the Iranian revolution.

As mentioned, African films have struggled to find finance and, as such, much of its international head rearing has been intermittent. In the Northern country Tunisia, Moufida Tlatli,  achieved a hugely positive critical reception with Silences Of The Palace (2004). The film, about servant women prostituted in a Bey palace, demonstrated the relationship women have with nation, as representatives of nation. Travel further south to Senegal and you will find two of Africa’s most well renowned directors. Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki, 1973) and Ousmane Sembene (Borom Sarret, 1963) both dealt, in their differing ways, with the social traditions and tensions of Senegal, the hierarchies and sexualities of its people, and the corruptions of government.

Into East Asian and an eclectic diversity of film practice. Park Chan-wook has cultivated an aura of brutal creativity with the martial artistic The Vengeance Trilogy (2002-2005) and the vampiric Thirst (2009). Much less brutal, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films are slow and idiosyncratic, using themes of nature, sexuality and spirituality, in pictures such as Blissfully Yours (2002) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang has been lauded for his brave employment of slowness and sparse dialogue in Vive l’Amour (1994) and What Time is It There? (2001).

Some Latin American works, in Mexico in particular, have amassed large, global audiences. Alejandro González Iñárritu gained popularity with, what could be called, ‘gritty’ and complex narratives, in Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003). After these films, Babel (2006) completed what has become known as his ‘Death Trilogy’ – a film that incurred Academy Award success and belongs in the pantheon of global narratives, telling its story in Japan, Morocco, Mexico and the USA. Outside of Mexico, Fernando Meirelles drew British attention to the early mortality of the gangsters of the Brazilian favelas in the hugely acclaimed, MTV style film  City Of God (2002).

What is evidenced from this brief compendium is the English speaking audience’s proclivity for International films with political narratives. The inequities between men and women, between rich and poor and, specifically in Tsai Ming-liang’s films, between heterosexual and homosexual, and the anxieties that arise as a result, are common across the films mentioned. However, if one were to watch all these films, what would also be evidenced are the vast differences in the aesthetic and narrative qualities across, and within, nations. There is a heterogeneous miscellany evidenced between East Asian brutality or slowness, Senegalese casual performance, Iranian social realism and Latin American MTV culture creativity.

So, as suggested, International or world cinema is not a coherent category, but exists in terms of its opposition to the national product, in the first sense, and the commercial product, in the second. Once they manage to surpass the financial difficulties, in particularly in the instances of the developing nations, their ability to capture an audience’s attention comes from their artistic, cinematic handling of human difficulties that are both specific to nation, as they are also, transcendental across place and time. The troubles of women in Tehran, recall the upheavals of the Western feminist revolutions, and the poverties of the urban classes of Brazil echo the kitchen sink realism of 1960s British cinemas, and the trials and traumas of the working classes detailed therein.

 

Five of my Favourites

Pedro Almodovar, All About My Mother (1999)

In many ways, the Spanish auteur’s most highly considered film, All About My Mother is often credited with being a goal post in Pedro Almodovar’s creative maturation. The film retains the kitsch camp of his earlier works, but extends itself more fully in to the melodramatic.In a sense the film is not simply all about the mother, but all about the feminine and the performative nature of contemporary women-hood in Spain.

 

Marjane Strapi, Persepolis (2007)

 

A modern animation classic if there ever was one, Marjane Strapi’s adaptation of her own autobiographical graphic novel helped translate the dilemmas and tensions of the Iranian Revolution to the wider audience.Helped along with the vocal talents of legendary French actor Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, Persepolis looks at the growth of girl torn between her country’s conservative values, and the more liberal values of her parents.

 

Moufida Tlatli, Silences Of The Palace (1994)

 

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Moufida Tlatli’s film, a rare success for the North African country, traverses the decade before and after colonial Tunisia.Young Alia (Hend Sabri) is the daughter of a servant in a Bey palace. Unable to receive any formal education, and watching her mother, Khedija (Amel Hedhili), having to submit to servitude and sexual exploitation, the future for Alia looks bleak. However, in this reflective film, there is an aura of optimism for the emancipation for, not just women, but women as emblems of the Tunisian nation.

 

Tsai Ming-Liang, The Wayward Cloud (2005)

 

Image result for wayward cloudCherry picked out from the Taiwanese director’s oeuvre to demonstrate the true eclecticism of foreign pictures, this tale of love in the pornographic age has the capability to shock (possibly rather, surprise) even the most blasé cinema spectator.Set amidst some outré musical numbers and set pieces, often involving watermelons, Tsai Ming-liang’s exercises his common themes of sexual, romantic and familial repression.

 

Fernando Meirelles, City Of God(2002)

 

A good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with non-Hollywood produce, this Brazilian film from Fernando Meirelles harnesses the visual techniques of the music video – in a similar style to Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie – to tell its tale of corruption and violence in the Brazilian slums.When other young men around him are turning to cocaine dealing and gun toting, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) has dreams of becoming a photographer to make his escape from poverty and early death.