Tuesday, December 30, 2003

terrorists manual

so apparently if you're seen carrying one of these around you're liable to be hooded and cuffed and whisked off for a free holiday in guantanamo bay - so don't say you weren't warned.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Sunday, December 21, 2003

flawed truth

"This front page of Al-Moutamar newspaper published in Baghdad on Thursday shows a picture of Saddam Hussein, shaven and in captivity, sitting on the floor across from Ahmed Chalabi, a member of Iraq's American-picked Governing Council."
this is how the Fort Worth Dallas News captions this pic.
but look at the pic - Chalabi is obviously sitting on a stool, and Saddam, equally obviously, is sitting on a low stool, but Chalabi is elevated because his stool is perched on a step up from the floor of the cell - the iconography of reversed status is quite well enough established by that visual statement without having to embellish it with petty, obvious untruths. saddam is not sitting on the floor, in lowly abasement before his captors, but that's how this newspaper wants us to remember this picture, and that's how the american media have been bamboozling the citizens of that poor benighted land throughout this tragic set of misadventures - by feeding the collective fantasy of moral outrage against this monstrous dictator, and thereby disguising the unacceptable truth about this black episode in american history. one only has to look at this pic with eyes undazzled by the hype to realise that the caption is untrue - not mistaken, untrue, because picture editors are not stupid - but it's the notion conveyed in the caption that matters, so it becomes true enough, because it's what we want to see, therefore unquestionably true.

roll of honour
jg ballard, lucian freud, albert finney, doris lessing, michael frayn, claire tomalin, bernie ecclestone, humphrey lyttelton, john cleese, helen mirren, john cole, alan bennett, ken loach, david hockney, david bowie, inter alia: I may have been a bit snooty about some of you in the past, but I salute you all now.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Jessica Lynch - Plural

an exhaustive, brilliantly illuminating and admirably dispassionate article by Stan Goff - a former special forces master sergeant and father of a serving soldier on active duty in Iraq - that exposes all the hypocrisy, lying, and shameless political opportunism surrounding this sorry episode.
(via xymphora)

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

so can I have my cake................

..............................................and eat it?

Monday, December 15, 2003

creeping golliphilism

snapped this earlier today hanging outside a small shop in the high street. hard to say which I find the more odious - this continuous local flaunting of a diehard blindness to the racist overtones (as evidenced in the local carnival - blogged last month here and here), or the whimsical jolliness of this smirking ex-pat's utter carelessness about all that silly pc stuff.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

dick cheney behaves like a dick and kills a few things for fun. no surprises there. but the malodorous no-brains of the nra and the safari club have even more fun at what they jauntily call their canned hunting trips, where the obese obscenities dispense with the tiresome business of hunting altogether - no cut to the chase, just cut to the kill.

cunning secret of north korea's success - a refreshingly sapient message from
president kim jong-il.

the definitive identity of the rhino (not sure about the tie):

You're an Indie Pop Kid. You like songs about
relationships and the prettiness of nature.
You're sentimental, but not certainly not emo.
Oh, and if you aren't an English Major, you
should be.

You Know Yer Indie. Let's Sub-Categorize.
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

seminal art

There are those who come in and decide they're going to be blasé, and then there are those who are really disgusted and disturbed. As an artist who needs to send his kids to school, the best reaction is, "Oh my God, these are so disturbing, these are so beautiful, I'm buying one."
nerve interview with photographer ashkan sahihi
der spiegel review of his latest new york (where else?) exhibition.

a screamingly obvious connection, of sorts, has apparently been discovered between this

   and this  

Thursday, December 04, 2003

it's so reassuring to find that there's still such love and beauty in this nasty old world.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

the pelvis of a young medieval woman, containing the remains of her unborn child. although the birth process had begun, the labour was probably complicated, and mother and baby must have died of exhaustion. she was buried at St John's, Clerkenwell, London.
(Museum of London)

the nose knows

what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

brace yourselves

it's early december - a beautiful, crisp, sunny winter's morning - and what better way to spend it than to go out on the moor and kill something?

it's degenerated somewhat, the sport of kings, from the good old days of the gormless, the chinless, the talentless, and the titled gathering to see how many brace of birds they could bag before luncheon. the aristos themselves - crippled by death-duties, poor dears - can only afford their traditional pleasures now by hiring out their killing fields to the corporate upstarts, the meeja hoes, the rock stars, the pimps, the visiting sons and daughters of the Russian mafia - and the usual americans. these people have to have it explained to them that it's a sport, of course, otherwise they'd come onto the moors blazing away with uzis and M47's.


children, of course, are brought up to understand that 'sport' is something involving skill and rules.


a typical driven pheasant shoot (anything between £600 and £1,000 per gun per day) involves waiting around with a loaded shotgun in your hands and the other in your loader's whilst the birds fly overhead. (guns are sold in pairs - the Holland & Holland 'Royal' side by side sells at £96,250 plus VAT per pair - but you commoners can probably pick up a pair for three grand or so.) you'll be one in a group of six upwards - in the good old days a line of Edwardian shooters would extend over half a mile or so of gorse and heather, but things were less well-regulated then, and they did tend to accidentally shoot each other with tedious regularity. at a given signal, the beaters - hired for the purpose from the local Surly Mumbling Locals Agency - who have been waiting invisibly and silently in another long parallel line opposite you some half a mile or so off - start moving forwards, noisily. between you and the beaters is a confused flock of pheasant.

this is their day, this is what they were hatched for, and cosseted in well-appointed pens supervised by the only person in the present assembly with any skill at anything - the gamekeeper - a curious atavistic hybrid of naturalist, stock-keeper, farm manager, tracker, vet, and policeman. having raised the birds to maturity, he has earlier supervised their release from their protective cages into the concealing shrub of their moorland habitat.
pheasant spend most of their lives on the ground. they are designed for protection on the ground. they are better at hiding and running than at flying, and are, in fact, unwilling to fly unless all other methods of escape from predation (ie concealment or running) have failed.
right now, they are a little dazed and confused. they pick listlessly at the grit. they are not hungry - they have never been hungry - just a bit nervous.
naturally shy, as the beaters' line gets nearer, they start to run away.
when they realise that the beaters are getting even closer, the first of them decides to take off.
they are slow to take off - they are powerful creatures, with well-developed leg muscles (good for chomping down on later) but insufficiently developed wings for prolonged flight - so their method of flying is to flap up to around ten metres or so, then glide, when they arrive at a top speed of about 40 mph.
perfect for game.
as soon as the first bird arrives overhead, you fire.

you don't have to be particularly accurate.
a typical cartridge case contains about a hundred little lead balls the size of a small bead - the shot - packed tightly into a fat four-inch tube. once the firing pin strikes the percussion cap at the base of the cartridge, the shot is propelled from the barrel at a muzzle-velocity of around 1,400 feet per second. depending on the barrel's 'choke' (the amount of constriction in the barrel's bore), this mass of lead spheres spreads out in an expanding conical pattern, so that at a distance of 40 metres (or the 'killing range limit' of 35 yards) it is scattered over a distorted circular lens about 1.5 - 2 metres in diameter. at that range, and with that degree of spread, you only need to wave your gun vaguely in the right direction and pull the trigger at the right time to stand a fair chance of hitting a bird. it's rather like throwing stones at a tin can. some smartass will always end up grabbing a handful of pebbles and flinging them all in a spraying arc in order to knock the can over. you really have to be a complete moron to miss. on a driven shoot, the average expectation is a ratio of four shots to one kill.
the velocity of a non-aerodynamic projectile such as a piece of lead shot decays rapidly through air-resistance after firing, and has lost more than half of its original speed - the lost energy converted to heat through friction - by the time it reaches a distance of 40 metres. however, a pea of hot lead travelling at nearly four hundred miles an hour is more than enough to inflict devastating damage on a bird averaging 3lb in weight.
it is never a clean kill. this is one of the myths of game-shooting. think about it. the chance of a single piece of shot entering the body of the bird at a point which would cause instantaneous death is so slight as to be negligible. what happens is that the piece of hot shot tears into a wing-muscle, or penetrates some part of the torso, causing sufficient damage to interrupt the bird's capacity to fly, so that the injured bird falls from the sky, still alive, flapping frantically to no purpose. this stalling fall isn't vertical, of course: depending on how high it was when you shot it, and how fast it was flying, it describes a parabola that will finally thump onto the ground as much as a hundred metres away behind you. you, however, have better things to do right now than to walk over and retrieve it - that's what gun-dogs are for.
the beaters have now advanced well into the field, and half of the flock has been flushed, flapping noisily towards you, each bird gamely fulfilling its destiny, doing exactly what it's supposed to - flying directly over a line of blazing guns.

you and your neighbours are banging away as if your lives depended on it. you're experiencing the kind of rush that's associated with all the defensive postures of sport - the batsman facing the fast bowler, the goalie facing the penalty, the tennis player waiting for the ace serve, the full-back facing the winger. it's irrelevant that the 'threat' is threat-less - that this isn't a charging sabre-toothed tiger. the point is that it's alive, it's moving, and, unlike in most other sports, you're allowed to kill it to stop it.
as soon as you've blasted off both barrels, you reach behind you and exchange your smoking gun for the freshly-loaded one that your loader has ready: he will then re-load whilst you shoot again, and again, in a bang-and-swap relay, until the air reeks of cordite, your ears are ringing, your shoulder is bruised from the recoil, your cheeks are flushed with arousal (you'll laugh it off as the heat of the barrels), and all the birds have, finally, lifted and been dropped.
a few will escape, of course - they'll eventually make their way back to the safety of their pens, until the next time.

meanwhile, once the mayhem subsides, the dogs are sent to find and retrieve the bodies littering the moor behind you (lifting the dying birds in ironically gentle jaws), necks are finally wrung, whisky flasks are unscrewed, the banter about whose bag is best begins, the beaters trudge on to their next starting line, and the gamekeeper's landrover moves discreetly in, rocking over the tussocks with a fresh batch of birds in tow to freshen up another part of the moor for the next drive.
roast pheasant is an-over-rated, acquired taste: the stall price of game is kept artificially high for its snob-value. and the meat has other, hidden drawbacks: aristocrats have famously bad teeth, easily and frequently cracked on the pellets of shot left embedded and undiscovered in the preparation of a shot bird's carcass.

cave venator.

the hunters 'n' shooters are fond of blathering their mealy-mouthed protestations that it's 'unsporting' to kill an animal unless it's for the table or for culling purposes. the truth is, pheasant as food is not the point. who really needs that excuse? the point is, it's early december - it's a lovely, crisp, sunny winter's morning - and what better way to spend it than to go out on the moor and kill something?

Thursday, November 27, 2003

durham, north carolina. 1940 (photographer: jack delano)

photographers working for the Farm Security Administration Historical Section (later transferred to the Office of War Information) were encouraged to document continuity and change in many aspects of life in America during the years the unit was in operation. they were particularly encouraged to photograph billboards and signs as one indicator of such developments. although no documentation has been found to indicate that photographers were explicitly encouraged to photograph racial discrimination signs, the collection includes a significant number of this type of image.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Bill Clinton to become fashion model

Bill Clinton is reportedly set to become the face of a men's clothing brand based in China.
The former US president will be paid around £1.3million to model for Fapai, in Wenzhou, eastern China.
According to Taiwan's United Daily News, Fapai chairman Peng Xing has been trying to enlist Clinton's endorsement for the last three years by sending him a selection of suits, shirts, ties and shoes.

Friday, November 14, 2003

my local paper - today's front page

(sometimes it just makes my toes curl)
(and yes, I have fired off an e-mail to the editor, phoned my local councillor, and spoken with the Mendip DC racial awareness officer - I am a wee woolly guardian-reading liberal, after all.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

heartbreaking and profoundly moving - this story from the miami new times about how street children in miami - in common, apparently, with homeless children in many other places as well - have developed a mythology as dense and descriptive as any in the orthodox canon.
"On Christmas night a year ago, God fled Heaven to escape an audacious demon attack -- a celestial Tet Offensive. The demons smashed to dust his palace of beautiful blue-moon marble. TV news kept it secret, but homeless children in shelters across the country report being awakened from troubled sleep and alerted by dead relatives. No one knows why God has never reappeared, leaving his stunned angels to defend his earthly estate against assaults from Hell. "Demons found doors to our world," adds eight-year-old Miguel, who sits before Andre with the other children at the Salvation Army shelter. The demons' gateways from Hell include abandoned refrigerators, mirrors, Ghost Town (the nickname shelter children have for a cemetery somewhere in Dade County), and Jeep Cherokees with "black windows." The demons are nourished by dark human emotions: jealousy, hate, fear."
full story here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

behold - the ten-point bulleted path to happiness:

  • inherit a genetic propensity to happiness
  • marriage
  • make friends and value them
  • desire less
  • do someone a good turn
  • have faith (religious or not)
  • stop comparing your looks with others
  • earn more money
  • grow old gracefully
  • don't worry if you're not a genius

assez simple, non?

Nigerians are the happiest people, and Romanians the unhappiest, apparently - according to this report from the New Scientist.
(I'll save the path to melancholy for another time)

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Judith Scott, a fifty-five year old woman with Down's Syndrome, has spent the past ten years producing a series of totally non-functional objects which, to us, appear to be works of sculpture, except that the notion of sculpture is far beyond Judith's understanding. As well as being mentally handicapped, Judith cannot hear or speak, and she has little concept of language. There is no way of asking her what she is doing, yet her compulsive involvement with the shaping of abstract forms in space seems to imply that at some level she knows. Judith possesses no concept of art, no understanding of its meaning or function. She does not know that she is an artist, nor does she understand that the objects she creates are perceived by others as works of art. Whatever she is doing she is definitely not concerned with the making of art. What then is she doing? More here

Friday, November 07, 2003

one tiny little jewel in the steaming pile of last night's mtv awards - a rather surprising 'best video' to sigur ros for their video of 'untitled #1' (aka 'vaka') - track 1 on their most recent album '( )' - which is available for download

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I'm a couple of weeks late in noticing this, but iTunes is now available for Windows! Slashdot has a review here
so (provided you're on 2000 or XP) trash that woefully inadequate Windows Media mess with all its associated msn crap and download the real thing - you won't regret it.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

O! Ondine!

See! See! The charming, the lovely, the exceedingly strange nymph of the waves! - a dainty mpeg if ever there was one.
(thanks to consumptive.org)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003


the only instrument that the rhino's limited dexterity allows is
this one . (Thank ee koindly ye gentlefolk at ye BBC)

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Monday, September 08, 2003

Thursday, September 04, 2003


they were coming down the tor behind me. their conversation drifted into my consciousness.
"...they must have been travellers." (female)
"what are you talking about?" (male)
"them we saw. either travellers or gypsies."
"same difference. travellers. gypsies. all filth. contaminate the land they squat on..."
the sort of conversation you know happens, but still knocks the breath out of you.
I stopped and pretended to admire the view. let them pass. late fifties. he half-bald in pressed viyella beige shorts, white socks, trainers, stocky, thick-necked, pink meat-eating flesh; she in blue flowery crimplene, pale, aetiolated, hair as if coated in dust, a lifetime of cleaning and cooking his tea.
I caught up with them again at the bottom of wellhouse lane. they were looking the road up and down as if it owed them something. they caught my attention.
"excuse me." the male. perfectly polite and smiley. "do you happen to know where the chalice well gardens are?"
"of course."
the entrance is hidden ten metres along a wall to the right. the other way heads out of town. edgarley. west pennard. pilton. shepton mallet, eventually.
I wonder how far they got before they started arguing about what exactly he'd said, that bloke back there.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

truth and reconciliation

I was brought up a christian, but realised fairly early on that turning the other cheek is nine times out of ten guaranteed to get you twice the beating you'd otherwise have received. obviously, to have been raised a muslim or a sikh wouldn't have protected me from these early lessons in applying God's mediated advice about forgiveness, either, and yet the secular notion of the nobility of restraint, the moral superiority of forgiveness over revenge is strangely pernicious. certainly, a continuing attachment to the ethics of restraint is an essential counterbalance, at the domestic level of parenting and schooling, to the pragmatics of the current realpolitik which seems now to have reverted completely to a level of tribal simplicities that dispenses at a stroke with a thousand years of hard-earned liberalising (not to say civilising) checks and balances.

as long as the great nations persist in behaving like badly-behaved children (and profiting by it) it becomes most important that we parents continue to explain to our own children how and why they should not follow their example.

self-evidently, a violent response to a violent provocation always escalates. there are some cultures (the Irish for one - the SerboCroat for another) whose endless mutual recriminations refer back to an initiating outrage that predates living memory - by centuries, sometimes. clearly, it is possible for the vendetta to become so woven into the tribal consciousness that it becomes almost a self-replicating entity - a sort of non-biological gene - imprinting itself so firmly through patterns of ritual repetition that it becomes a totem of identity. (the northern irish orangemen's annual 'marching season' is a familiar example - it's very difficult for anyone other than an orangeman to identify with his - no women on the marches - 'right' to march along his catholic neighbours' roads banging drums, piping triumphalist anthems, and flourishing the banners and provocative accoutrements that 'celebrate' the protestant 'victory' of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. hatred and revenge are, after all's said and done, nationalism's nectar and ambrosia.)

equally self-evident is the truth that the only right way forward from a perceived wrong is to forgive and forget - the south african truth and reconciliation model as the polar opposite of the jew/arab kill-for-a-kill.

at such times as these, forgiveness becomes a moral imperative, even if forgetting seems, at first, impossible. but it (forgiving) is not something that just emerges, together with table-manners, as part of the domestic didactic package. it may be necessary to experience what it is to be forgiven before forgiveness has any real meaning, and in order to understand how to forgive great transgressions, it may be necessary to have transgressed greatly, and to have been forgiven. there is still much to forgive in the league of nations - no great nation is innocent of collusion in the worst crimes imaginable, of having sealed up a shameful cellar whose walls still ring with the screams of the uncountable innocent.

arguably, it may be possible to transgress so greatly against someone that they become effectively deprived of the capacity to forgive - if the damage done them has compromised their capacity to dissolve the corrosive links that chain the transgressor to the transgressed - in which case they're likely to become enmeshed in that murky, crypto-neurotic state of semi-resolution that's probably far nearer to the truth of most 'reconciliations' - both personal and political - than the sacharine and media-friendly felicities of 'closure' - that despicable hollywood placebo. hatred, after all, is only the twisted and bitter fruit of unwatered love - the hate-object as much a source of (malign, bilious, forever inadequate) nourishment to the hater as the lover to his ravenous love.

assuming the possibility of forgiveness, however, what does it actually mean?

does 'I forgive you' mean simply 'I release you from the threat of revenge' for example? or does it mean 'I absolve you henceforth of your burden of blame and guilt'? the former is the version the child understands - the latter is the evolved, grownup version - the hard one. to forgive someone is to assess the genuineness of their contrition, to accept it, and to release them of their share of the burden - for them, of remorse, for you, of pain. it is to accept that the one seeking forgiveness has come to understand and partially share the pain their actions have caused, and to allow him or her to divest themselves of that encumbrance - to proceed, enlightened, forgiven.

remorse, however, can be simply (cynically) an expedience - the effectiveness of a courtroom apology is often a reflection of the quality of the performance - and it is here, when the apology is perceived to be transparently insincere, or, tougher still, when there is no apparent contrition at all, that the notion of forgiveness becomes most personally challenging.

again and again, it is with astonishment and profound respect that one listens to or reads the always quietly spoken victim of some atrocity - terrorist or simply criminal - pronouncing their forgiveness on the often unidentified perpetrator of the violent act that has broken their heart. it is as if, in these moments of personal apocalypse, a door of perception is opened to some people, randomly selected by tragic happenstance, to reveal the absolute truth behind the moral relativism of the notion of forgiveness.

god willing, it will not have to come to this for more than a tiny fraction of us, but it is for us to listen and learn from them the necessity - the absolute necessity, if there is to be any progress in our efforts to secure a peaceful future for our descendants - of drawing that line in the sand that says, this is where history ends - beyond this all is forgiven.

Monday, August 11, 2003

music for healing

cathy b's offer was timely: she's been studying spiritual healing and wanted a practice body to work on. I remembered the last time (the only time) I'd experienced this, so didn't hesitate.

she worked on me for about forty minutes, a week last Sunday - eight days ago. knowing that she'd probably like to have some specific 'targets', I'd selected from my various pains the most intrusive - right shoulder, right knee, left ankle, and that pesky point between the shoulder blades that's been my achilles heel (strange but true) for a long, long time.

well, gentle reader, I don't know how to break this - but, since you're asking - nop, no more pain. now, of course I know that, except in chronic conditions, minor injuries that incur pains like that are self-limiting, and that there have been other contributory factors - I've not been taking my daily climb up the Tor for the last week, for instance, and mel and the boys have been away since last Wednesday, so it's been very relaxed here. but still (quick real-time self-diagnostic - right shoulder - aches, but not badly; right knee - painless; left ankle - painless; back - painless) a recovery's a recovery, and I have no doubt the cathy effect played a significant part.

I shall beg for more - and this time maybe I'll direct her towards the deeper psychic anguish (on second thoughts, I don't want to be responsible for the effects of the corrosive feedback from all that).

one tiny problem: how, discreetly, and without offence, to persuade her that that CD of appalling pastiche Chopin (edited and 'improved' by The Tranquil Hippy™) has to go!?

its teeth-grinding inanity acted like a tethered deranged madman throughout, so that one part of my consciousness was constantly engaged in trying to filter it out. I saw her (too late!) take it out of a jewel case entitled 'Music for Healing' and began to scream.


wrong! how can they get it so wrong?

am I utterly mistaken in supposing that people who are attuned to the chakras and the delicate equilibrium of the cosmos and who can sense others' imbalances through their fingertips and assist them towards health and at-oneness with the universe with a discreet psychic nudge here, a gentle thought there, ought to be able to distinguish between, on the one hand, music, and on the other, excruciating bilge!? I mean, silence would have been fine, sigur rós good, labradford acceptable. but the endless, endlessly tacky drivellings of that moron-on-a-stick with his tacky piano and tackier synth - just what is this? it's some patronising fuckwit capitalising on a culture infested with patronising fuckwits who have no more sense of aesthetic discrimination than the parasites on an axolotl's turd, that's what it is.

healers of the world unite!

you don't have to buy in to the package - the kit they flog at those psychic trade fairs where wafty hippies drift around in a haze of patchouli and the dominant colours are all Steiner-approved. your gift is your own - it doesn't have to be supported by anything other than your own confidence, and the trust you engender in your patients. there are some, doubtless, for whom 'Music for Healing' works - it will insulate them from the buzz of their lives and memories for a while, whilst your sensitive hands hover over their bruised auras. but these are injured people - their antennae have been damaged in the maelstrom of life - to them, anything you provide is good. you, therefore, have an obligation to provide good, nourishing music - if you feel that 'background music' is necessary at all - rather than this pulped cardboard.

music, after all, is a healer of itself - a very effective one.

'Music for Healing' is neither.

Sunday, August 10, 2003


Watching Soderbergh's and Tarkovsky's Solaris back to back last night was a sharp indicator of just how far and how long 30 years has come to be.
I'm fairly shocked to find that I much prefer Soderbergh's remake - and not for the obvious technical reasons (it's a fairly faithful, if compressed - from 3 hrs to less than 2 - version of the 1972 original, replacing clunky old Russian fx with state-of-the-art digital) - but because Soderbergh has extracted from the still-tortuous narrative precisely the spiritual/psychological core that drives it (and indeed drives all of Tarkovsky's work). In reality, this secularisation (or perhaps agnosticisation would be more precise) of Tarkovsky's take on Lem's novella about the disturbing first contact between a sentient planet and the inhabitants of an orbital research station should drain it of meaning, but, curiously, it achieves the opposite. Soderbergh's Solaris is undeniably, and unusually, about something - it addresses fundamental questions about the nature of love, about its power for both redemption and (Lazarus-literally) resurrection. but this (Solaris II's) 'love' is, crucially, erotic - unburdened, that is, by the shame and the guilt and the sense of sin and sufferance and atonement incumbent on Christians in general and the congregation of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Church in particular.
Poor Andzrej never got past that - it's why he's a genius, after all, because he had to struggle with his personal demons in that historically fertile shitscape of cultural oppression characterised in the Brezhnev era of the CCCP by religious intolerance on the one hand, and international cultural brinkmanship on the other. The Mosfilm minders were perpetually engaged in censoring Tarkovsky's wilder flights of cinematographic fancy for fear that his multi-layered metaphors might transgress the humanist/rationalist party line (such as it was - it was forever being argued, never agreed - perhaps the only actual manifestation of the principle of permanent revolution that ever worked).Oddly, though, they let pass one of the best wet-T-shirt scenes in cinema history - Hari's revival after killing herself by drinking liquid oxygen. There are three thoughts on why they might have done this: a) it's alright because it falls into the high art s&m box - a secular version of that perennial gay icon - St Sebastian of the Hedgehogs - and as long as it looks painful, and there's blood coming out of her mouth and nose, then that's OK; b) they thought it might be medically instructive; and c) after two interminable hours of slow pans across ponds and still-lives and paintings, and ponderous philosophical conversations of the like of "perhaps we are here to perceive, for the first time, humans as a purpose for love" (hmm - it's got to sound better in Russian) - they'd all either dozed off or snuck out to the bar.
At its first Western release, Tarkovsky's film was hugely applauded - a more 'intelligent' 2001 - but, somehow, those plaudits seem to ring now more than a little of cultural élitism - a jaded and threatened intelligentsia (where are they now?) 'discovering' the exoticism of the paradoxical - a faraway culture in which the poetics of cinema still obtained - behind the iron curtain! The truth is that much of Tarkovsy's version seems, now, almost absurdly over-extended and self-indulgent - a historical quarry for the fine art student, but ass-numbingly tedious for all but the buffiest film buff.
In the end, both Tarkovsky's and Soderbergh's versions subscribe to the same myth - one of the most tenacious and therefore the most enduringly consolatory. Soderbergh's, ultimately, is no more credible, but strikes me as the more honest. (Plus you get a three-second flash of George's nekkid bum - not my thing, but hey.)