Before the REvolution

A Film Review

Play Magazine

This past decade has seen the streets come alive with a symphony of loud-hailers. Once again the social tumult of Bernardo Bertolluci's 1964 picture Before the Revolution is achingly relevant. Fabrizio (Francisco Barilli) a young and anxious revolutionary finds himself at odds with his own family. To play a trick against his bourgeois destiny he escapes into an incestuours relationship with the jaded beauty of his mother's sister, Gina (Asti). While the lover's find new ways to escape, Morricone's arresting soundtrack bleeds through the film pouring living energy into the dying Italian landscape which keeps the lover's imprisoned. 

In one such sequence the camera sweeps across a rural landscape as a farm owner laments his new poverty and predicts the coming death of his world. Fabrizio, young and enraged, condemns the man for his class. The image is fraught with its own antagonistic energies- between the humanistic leap-of-faith inherent to love, and the 'science' of the intellectuals and their party. The melancholy is never finally resolved. Lines are painted across the dying culture of the Italian Peasants with these sweeping frames, but they are lines that emphasise the tragic unfolding of history. Manifest everywhere in this sequence is the subjectivity of Fabrizio in conflict not only with the outside world- in his sloganeering for revolution, but also with himself in his identification with the class that he must destroy.
The young Bertolluci's script sweeps through themes as if blowing away a dandelion-head.  Themes as grandiose as revolution, class, gender, pass off momentarily before they become forgotten, seeds that are still ungerminated.

A new audience must find Bertolluci's film and struggle with it. As they still want for many of the things that Fabrizio hungered for, change and safety, passion and love, all conflicting and wrestling in the traumatic time: before the revolution.

Nil by Mouth takes its name from the signage besides the bed of Raymond (Ray Winstone's) abusive father. Lying in bed, before death, Raymond's father (a terminal alcoholic) was declined the passage of food through his mouth. This name and the miserable setting of a parental death, emphasizes the drear minutiae of the moments in an alcoholics life that aren't the high. The long waiting that alcoholics report, the boredom, and the pathetic loss of function are recurrent parts of the characters' lives. Bodies in poverty that act at the whims of need; as if nothing else mattered, indeed in the acknowledgement that sometimes nothing else matters at all.

Nil by Mouth is ostensibly a stripped down South London story of two wideboys, that feature first and last, but also of their families whom have compelling stories of their own. Gary Oldman directs, and writes, and its clear that he has made some effort to de-centre character so that although the two men are the physically dominant figures, Raymond's wife Valerie (played subtly by Kathy Burke), and a younger heroin addicted Billy (Creed-Miles) have their own tales. Valerie strives for safety from her husband, as her pregnant body needs to be protected, while Billy grifts for money and heroin. But in each of these stories the passage of narrative is interrupted by the fists of Raymond that police the others with a terrifying, sobering, and unspeakably life-like violence.

Early in the film Raymond and his friend Mark (played as utterly unlikeable, by Jamie Foreman) act out a burglary somewhere off camera, and then play out a hackneyed crime narrative. Visiting Soho brothels and strip clubs with their earnings in order to realise the fantasy with the most immediate vigour; taking huge lines of cocaine to emphasize their wealth they become momentary high-rollers; proper, British, gangsters. But the high does not remain, the returning loss of function results in an episode of marital jealousy that sees Raymond beating Valerie hard enough that she miscarries. Raymond's subsequent breakdown sequence and the logorrhea of his drunken babble is an exceptional moment, as deep memory and mechanisms of repression all collapse together like the thought patterns of the senile. Earlier, a vhs in a smackhead's house plays out Dennis Hopper's monologue from Apocalypse Now, and in post-modern style the junky performs it. Now later, Raymond's state closely resembles that of Martin Sheen's inner devastation in that films prologue. Men in a crisis of work, or of war, the film gently allows the audience to draw comparisons. 

Nil by Mouth takes the everyday stories that go under-examined, under-empathised and creates a kind of cinema that isn't quite cinematic. It doesn't flow or weave together as plot, instead it tangles like a set of vignettes, closer to a TV soap or Play. Nil by Mouth, like the apocrypha that says the blind develop greater powers of hearing, is a story where character and dialogue are magnified by a lack. A delicately made, and challenging film.


A Film Review

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A Voice For a New App

Censored 2011 highlights and summarises the top 25 news stories of 2009-10 that have been overshadowed or misrepresented in the US corporate media.

The researchers show the perverse logic of profit behind Barack Obama's record budget for the US Department of Defence - now "the worst polluter on the planet". This is a budget that contributes to the future securing of the resource-rich frozen Arctic Ocean while simultaneously accelerating the melting of that ocean, opening it for capture and exploitation.

Other stories provide a frightening insight into increased authoritarian measures inside the US, many of which have been completely ignored by the British media. The Cyber Security Act of 2009, for instance, has given the president the ability to entirely shut down the internet in the US.

While the stories are compelling there is sometimes a disproportionate lingering upon the minutiae of the decade-old 9/11 conspiracy argument. This seems to pale into insignificance alongside information such as that of the new barbaric restrictions on water imposed on the Palestinians. The mistake arises out of a faith in the truth, rather than people, as the key agent of progress.

With this insightful collection of news, and a compelling piece of analysis on the media, Project Censored continues to oppose the co-opting of journalism in all forms. Censored 2011 could be a powerful tool for activists.

Censored 2011

A Book Review

Socialist Review