The good thing about this book is that it exists at all. I mean, who
would be interested in a paperback of the complete screenplay along
with accompanying photos of an obscure Swedish art- house movie made
I Am Curious (Blue) by Vilgot Sjoman sets itself an impossible
task, really; so is it on a hiding to nothing? I think it might be.
Trying to make some sense of and pin down in black and white a film
that intentionally doesn't make a lot of sense in the normal filmic
meaning of the word is like trying to square a circle. But then
again, I'm not actually sure if this book is even meant to be read?
It seems to me to be more of a curiosity item. A paperback for the
To the uninitiated, at first glance it might appear to be a movie
tie-in for a Seventies Swedish sex film but of course, it's nothing
of the sort. The 'blue' in the title refers to the blue in the
Swedish flag in the same way as the 'yellow' in Vilgot Sjoman's other
film, I Am Curious (Yellow), referred to the yellow in the same flag.
The same idea was used years later by director Krzysztof Kieslowski
in his Three Colours trilogy of films (Blue, White, and Red) denoting
the colours of the French flag.
Actually, Vilgot Sjoman has a lot in common with that other great
film director, Jean-Luc Godard, as in his use of disjointed
narratives, existential inserts and intrusions, voice-overs,
experimentation, and importantly, a political point.
I Am Curious (Blue) is about a film being made of a film about a girl
questioning Swedish society; its class structure, the relationship
between Church and State, social democracy, prison (non)reform, and
sexual attitudes. It doesn't really offer any answers or potential
solutions to the social problems it highlights but instead throws
everything into question, which at the time when the film was made
and the book published was probably enough.
Nowadays the film and this book stands as little more than curiosity
pieces and as an ode to cinema as an instrument for social change.
This is still, however, more that can be said of others and for this
reason gives them a value as historical documents if nothing else.
ROLLE: HIS ARCHITECTURAL LEGACY IN THE LOWER OTTER VALLEY - ALAN FORD
Am I a geek?
Rather than spending time down the gym or shopping online or whatever
it is you're meant to be doing these days, I sometimes just walk
around (with my head in the clouds) looking at the local
architecture. I tell you, it can be a rewarding experience.
Of course, it's not quite the same thrill but just as rewarding can
be reading books on local history, one such book being Mark Rolle:
His Architectural Legacy In The Lower Otter Valley by Alan Ford.
Let me cut to the quick immediately and say yes, it's a weird and
wonderful book. Essentially, the Rolle family once owned half of
Devon and in 1842 at the tender age of six, Mark Rolle inherited the
lot. By all accounts he was a very moral man of 'delicate
constitution and retiring disposition', and in 1865 for no
financial gain on his part started a building programme in East
Devon, repairing and building new properties for many of his tenants.
And that's it, basically. That's what the book's about. It's almost
as if it was written for me personally because who else might
possibly be interested in reading about this?
If you walk around East Devon and look at some of the old properties
here - in Budleigh Salterton, East Budleigh, Otterton and so on -
you'll see a lot of them have a signature stone at the front
inscribed with the initials MR, and then a date. These are the ones
that Mark Rolle had a hand in building or repairing.
There's a subtext to this story, however, and that's all to do with
the abject poverty that many of the farmers and workers on the Rolle
Estate were living in at that time. These people were paying rent for
the pleasure of living in what can only be described as hovels.
For sure, Mark Rolle had no obligation to improve their living
conditions and so Alan Ford praises him for doing so but I suspect
none of it would have happened were it not for the subtle
machinations of Rolle's land agent at that time, Richard Lipscomb,
who I would say is the true hero of the story.
This is indeed a weird and wonderful book containing a great number
of lovely photos of local barns and cottages to boot.
Eldridge Cleaver? Fuck off. And I'll tell you as to why:
'I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I
started out by practising on black girls in the ghetto and when I
considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out
Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was
defying and trampling upon the white man's law, upon his system of
values, and that I was defiling his women - and this point, I
believe, was the most satisfying to me because I was very resentful
over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black
woman. I felt I was getting revenge. From the site of the act of
rape, consternation spreads outwardly in concentric circles. I wanted
to send waves of consternation throughout the white race.'
And then there's this:
'I, for one, do not think homosexuality is the latest advance over
heterosexuality on the scale of human evolution. Homosexuality is a
sickness, just as are baby-rape or wanting to become the head of
And then just to add icing to the cake, Cleaver ended up being a
born-again Christian and becoming a conservative Republican. All well
and good and all very normal you might say but what makes it all so
very problematic is that sandwiched between his early rapist years
and his latter day Republican stint, Eldridge Cleaver was the
Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party, kicking some
serious revolutionary ass and putting the frighteners on practically
everyone in America possessed of a conservative bent.
Soul On Ice is a collection of Cleaver's writings, composed
whilst serving time in California's Folsom State Prison. Published in
1968, what the book does is to chronicle Cleaver's transformation
from a racist, woman-hating nihilist to a fully-fledged black
revolutionary able and willing to work alongside other New Left
radicals of whatever colour, class or creed.
Cleaver's conversion is brought about by three people: firstly -
himself, through the reading of books by the like of Rousseau, Thomas
Paine, Voltaire, Marx, Lenin and Bakunin. Interestingly, he admits at
one point to taking Nechayev's book Catechism Of The Revolutionist as
his bible - the ultimate advocacy of the 'by whatever means
necessary' school of thought if ever there was one.
Secondly, through the inspirational and compassionate teachings of a
teacher at San Quentin by the name of Chris Lovdjeff, whom Cleaver
nicknamed 'The Christ' (and who he later metaphorically crucified
after telling him he didn't love white people - Lovdjeff himself
And then thirdly, through the words of Malcolm X whom Cleaver threw
his full support behind and in doing so abandoned his racism and
dropped the black supremacist ideas of Elijah Muhammed, the then
leader of the Nation of Islam.
It's here that Cleaver was at his peak, casting a radicalised eye not
only upon himself but more importantly upon the state of American
society and the position of black people within it. With the help of
his lawyer, Cleaver's writings were published to much critical
acclaim from the liberal Left; the problem here being the general
lack of criticism.
Were they blind-sided by him coming across as the real deal: a black
man from the ghetto serving up cutting and insightful sociological
and political analysis? Should he not have been pulled up for calling
rape 'an insurrectionary act'? Should he not have been called out on
It was a different time and a different place back then, of course,
but is that reason enough to forgive and to continue turning a blind
eye? For sure, Cleaver regretted and rejected his past self and his
early life and admitted he was wrong but then later as a born-again
Christian and conservative Republican he did the same again but in
regard to his Black Panther days. Which begs the question: When
exactly was Cleaver right? When exactly was he not wrong?
The answer, I would argue, is to be found within the pages of Soul On
Ice but a discerning eye is required. His observations and thoughts
on the assassination of Malcolm X, Vietnam, Muhammad Ali, the Watts
riots, and American culture are penetrating and spot on. Other times,
however, he's way off the mark, particularly when writing about
It needs to be asked as well, who exactly was Cleaver writing for?
Who was his target audience? Was he writing for himself or for his
fellow black men (and women)? Was it for anyone and everyone, or were
his writings aimed specifically at a white readership? At black
America, or white America?
Not for one second would he have had me in mind but just look at
who's ended up reading him now in 2016, in Babylon Devon, in the Exmouth ghetto...
"They open doorways that I thought were shut for good, they
read me Gurdjieff and Jesu. They build up my body, break me
emotionally, it's nearly killing me but what a lovely feeling. I love
the whirling of the dervishes, I love the beauty of rare innocence.
You don't need no crystal ball, don't fall for a magic wand, we
humans got it all, we perform the miracles.
Them heavy people hit me in a soft spot, them heavy people help
me. Rolling the ball, to me."
So it was that I was first introduced to Gurdjieff - via a Kate Bush
song. I was just naturally curious and on hearing his name mentioned
I wondered who he was? There was no Internet in those days, however,
(can you imagine?) so it wasn't just a question of a quick
Google search. No, for anything like this it required a bit of
research and a bit of effort.
He liked his drink, did Gurdjieff, particularly armagnacs which he
would sink by the bottle. In fact, Meetings With Remarkable Men
starts with him gleefully contemplating the 200 bottles sitting in
the wine-cellar of the house where he's resting. He intends to have
the lot and not from typical liqueur glasses but from larger-sized
tumblers, with the intention of establishing a rhythm of thinking to
enable him to wiseacre in full blast.
Gurdjieff didn't half go on sometimes though, as evidenced by the 31
pages-long introduction from him at the start of his book which
leaves you wondering why he didn't edit it down a bit and just get
on with it.
So what do we know about Gurdjieff? Well, that he was born in Russia
in 1877 where he trained as a priest and a physician before heading
off for the remoter parts of Central Asia for 20 years in a bid to
understand the meaning of human life. Like the prodigal son he then
returned to Moscow where he began teaching his system of knowledge.
On his escape from revolutionary Russia (or the time of 'the great
agitation of minds', as he puts it) he ended up in Paris where he
established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.
Gurdjieff passed away in 1949.
Meetings With Remarkable Men is exactly what it says on the can,
describing and telling stories of the men who helped shape
Gurdjieff's philosophy. And what exactly is Gurdjieff's philosophy?
Now, that is the question.
What Gurdjieff seems to be telling us is that there's more to life
than meets the eye. That there's another world alongside our own that
the old philosophers of the East still recall but that us in the West
have all but forgotten about. The gist of his message is that we need
to wake up and become aware of this 'something other'. Either that or
if we don't then we'll continue to slumber through life like
And what don't we know about Gurdjieff? Well, the main thing is that
we don't actually know if he was genuine or if he was simply a liar,
a fantasist and a con man.
'My aim is that the reader should obtain instructive and really
useful material', he writes. I regret to inform you, however,
that Gurdjieff provides neither or not in this particular book at
least. Instead, all that Meetings With Remarkable Men does is to
cause the reader to question the veracity of some of the stories.
What happened, for example, to the pre-sand map of Egypt he claimed
he had? What happened to the idea of discovering a city of buried
treasures beneath the Gobi desert? Did he and his brotherhood really
journey to the centre of the Gobi desert on stilts? Why would they
abandon such an expedition upon one of them being killed by a rogue
camel? And why, just as Gurdjieff is about to reveal a holy truth as
told to him by one of his remarkable men does he suddenly stop and
say he's not going to expound upon it now but instead save it for his
next book he intends to write? Why doesn't he just get on with it?
Was Gurdjieff bonkers and seriously so? In all probability yes he was
though that's not meant as a criticism. Was Gurdjieff a master of the
mystic arts? I'll pass on that one because after all, who am I to
judge? I never met him so all I've got to go on are his books but
reading them in this day and age what with all we know about the
world (and what we know that we still don't know) it would seem that
you'll get just as much enlightenment from watching the latest Doctor
Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch than from reading Meetings
With Remarkable Men.
With the intention of promoting Exmouth as a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site, a trail of life-size model dinosaurs is being set up throughout the town. The initial plan is for the dinosaurs to be in place for a year but at a recent town council meeting, Councillor Brian Bailey gushed: "I'd like to propose we keep the trail as a permanent fixture. It would be totally worthwhile for a year but it would be better for 10 or 15 years! To be known as the 'dinosaur town' would be a good attraction for Exmouth."
All well and good but it would appear Councillor Bailey doesn't get out a lot or else he'd know Exmouth ain't no dinosaur town - this is psilocybin country. Magic mushrooms, man. They're everywhere. The fields, the parks, the verges are coated with them. Exmouth is awash with natural, free, hallucinogenic drugs. They're so abundant it's almost rude not to eat them. In fact, it's nigh on impossible not to have them as part of a mainstay diet.
So, in regard to these life-size model dinosaurs popping up everywhere - perhaps now it might be understood why they're really starting to freak everyone out...
Do you sometimes have trouble sleeping? Do you dream in colour? Have
you ever had the feeling that the life you're living is not the one
you're meant to be living? That your destiny might lay elsewhere?
That fate might have other plans for you? When you're reading
Kierkegaard do you ever have a problem with him?
Cited as being the father of Existentialism, Kierkegaard rang the
bell for melancholia but I suspect he was no less happy than most
other men. 'I can say of my sorrow,' he wrote 'What the
Englishman says of his house: my sorrow is my castle.' Which is
quite a witty line if you think about it and one that he was no doubt
amused and pleased by.
I think it's a truism that what Kierkegaard did was to get to the
core of it as in what is man's individual purpose in the world? What
is the point of his existence? The distinction he made was of that
between the individual man and mankind - and it was an important
distinction. Whilst political systems at that time were a dialectical
relationship between the individual and the community in the
representative individual, Kierkegaard didn't care for being merely
represented so he sought his own system.
He recognised that culture was his enemy and so too that religion as
represented by the Church was not his friend but for all that he was
irrevocably tangled up in Christianity. To be fair, when reading
Kierkegaard we need to consider the age in which he was living for
not only was it before the Internet was invented (I know, it's hard
to imagine there could have been a world before the Internet, but
try) but it was before the exploration of space was even
considered, before the World Wars, before the rise of Fascism and
Communism, and so on and so forth. Christianity and God was all there
really was as ways of understanding the world. Like the good
Christians Kierkegaard wanted us to be, we have to forgive him
for his lack of religious, philosophical, scientific or political
instruments. But still...
To Kierkegaard, Christianity was God's thought but had little to do
with such things as Christmas and Christmas puddings and the
perception of it as preached by Ministers to the masses. Rather, it
was all to do with becoming a moral character, a witness to the
truth, to be willing to suffer for the truth and to be ready to give
up worldly wisdom. It was all to do with loving one another.
He wasn't seeking to reform the doctrine of the established Church
but to reform us all because the lives of his fellow men - in his
eyes - were wretched. Salvation was only to be found in the spiritual
and those in most need of it were the poor.
If God, as John Lennon once surmised, is merely a concept by which we
measure our pain then using that as a methodology, Kierkegaard was in
On reading The Journals Of Kierkegaard as edited and
translated by Alexander Dru, it left me wondering: Does anyone give a
flying fuck about Kierkegaard nowadays?
One last thing: Christianity as represented by the established Church
these days is like a gift-wrapped box sitting in the corner, trying
to look like a present for mankind. It's like the bottle that Alice
drinks from in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland but rather than
saying 'Drink me', the label on the box says 'Open me'. So you open
it up and what's inside? Tony fucking Blair, soaked in the blood of a
million dead but still wearing his convictions rather than his heart
on his sleeve, grinning maniacally and repeating ad nauseam "I'd
do it again, I'd do it again..." And then there's another box in
another corner but labelled 'Islam', and there's something just as
horrific moving around inside of that one that's trying its utmost to