A GREAT VICTORY … AND TWO GOODBYES

A wonderful thing has happened in Europe. The European Parliament has voted to reject a draconian extension of copyright law, favoured by big content owners and the European Commission. The EFF reports:

“… with the support of nearly a million Europeans, MEPs voted earlier this month to reject the EU’s proposed copyright reform—including controversial proposals to create a new “snippet” right for news publishers, and mandatory copyright filters for sites that published user-uploaded content.”

Sometimes people are surprised when I say that I am against any extension of copyright law, and think that copyright and patent periods should be rolled back, not extended. After all, I am a ‘creative’ and must therefore benefit when the Hollywood studios and music industry get longer rights ownership/more power and money, right?

Not really. One thing the last ten years have shown us is that while the mega-rich get richer and richer, the rest of us do not. Copyright law extensions (via the Sonny Bono Act, the Berne Convention, the TTP and other scams) benefit multinational rights-holding  corporations and their owners. Criterion may bring out a beautiful blu-ray edition of SID & NANCY but neither I nor my co-author Abbe Wool will see a penny from it. Nor will Peter McCarthy, the producer. We all made SID & NANCY for a proper, ethical British company, Zenith. But Zenith is no more, and in the US our film is now owned by MGM, and sub-distributed by Fox, Murdoch’s company. Too bad for us…

A decade or two ago, Margaret Matheson and I tried to get a British TV series of H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS off the ground. We approached Ardman Animation about doing the special effects. We were counting on the book entering the public domain that same year (it was already out of copyright in the US, but still in copyright in England). Then the Berne Converntion was ammended to extend copyright periods by fifteen more years. We couldn’t convince the British “rights holder” to let us go ahead. So our project didn’t get made.

I don’t mean to complain – only to point out that anecdotes like these are the tip of a very large iceberg in which ‘creatives’ are frozen out of profit-sharing and the right to adapt other creative works. Copyright law – and extensions thereof – don’t benefit most creators in any meaningful way. Whereas creators would benefit if Copyright periods were much shorter and all creative works entered the public domain sooner. Then I could make my long-planned epic, GODZILLA VERSUS MARS ATTACKS MEETS CITIZEN KANE.

Meanwhile, sad news from the diaspora of REPO MAN. Robby Muller, the cinematographer, and Martin Turner, the stills photographer, both died last week. Robby’s passing was noted by the MSM, and he was rightly celebrated for some of the wonderful work he did. Our hiring him for REPO MAN was strictly fortuitous: Michael Nesmith, our executive producer, had rejected my first choice of cameraperson. Peter McCarthy told me, “Take this as an opportunity. Now you can ask for anyone you want!” Having been awestruck by his work on THE AMERICAN FRIEND, I asked for Robby Muller. Nesmith was all in favour, and we got him. It was his second American film.

Robby was a genius of lighting, and of composition. He didn’t like closeups, preferring wider shots which celebrated the performances of all the actors in the frame. He wasn’t much interested in camera movement when we worked together. On his other American film he’d been given a Steadicam. He and his crew took it out of the boxes, marvelled at how heavy it was, put it back in the boxes, and used them to sit on.

Robby was a great artist – as was Martin Turner, though he’s perhaps known to fewer people. “Stills photographer” doesn’t do justice to his work on REPO MAN, as he was also a supporting actor and – together with Jonathan Wacks – came up with the concept for the film’s finale. I met Martin at film school – what was then the Radio, Film and TV Studies course at Bristol. He and David Hutt made a highly ambitious student film called NEARLY WIDE AWAKE, based on Knut Hamsen’s “Hunger.” (We paid no attention to things like Copyright! We were students!) I acted in it.

Martin worked for Lindsay Anderson in the art department on THE OLD CROWD and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was responsible for the slide show which the guests in THE OLD CROWD enjoy, and which causes the death of “Tottie.” THE OLD CROWD greatly offended the London critical fraternity, and is rarely seen. I don’t know if a DVD exists. [Update — THE OLD CROWD does exist on DVD! A friend has found it in a set of TV Dramas by Alan Bennett, available on the Network label: Network clearly have good taste since they also distribute THE PRISONER.] But it is a wonderful film – perhaps Anderson’s best work of all, part Buñuel, part Brecht – and Martin had a lot to do with its insane inventiveness.

Back in the days of a government quango called “British Screen” Martin wrote two very good feature screenplays: THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS and INTO A DESERT PLACE (the latter was an adaptation of Graham Mackintosh’s book about travelling Baja California on foot; I was to direct it). I thought them great scripts. But times were increasingly conservative, money was said to be scarce, and if you didn’t have a TV personality from The Young Ones or The Comic Strip pre-cast, it was hard to get a British film going. Too bad! Because they were great stories – especially TORREMOLINOS, an original script in which Martin pitted the English hooligan class against itself, and everything else, in a Spanish seaside tower block.

Martin was also a painter and sculptor. He painted a number of canvases depicting dreadful scenes from THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS, and received a commission to display them at the Torremolinos Festival of Comedy, some years later. Martin and our mutual friend Karl Braun hung all the artwork, and went around the corner for a beer. In their absence the President of the Festival arrived, saw Martin’s art works, and ordered the building locked until the offending paintings could be removed.

Somehow Martin’s stories seemed to end that way: a great idea, a great piece of creative art somehow uncreated, or unseen, or banned, or – in the case of THE OLD CROWD – completed then mercilessly disparaged by clowns. No matter! Martin did his work. in the footsteps of Derek Jarman he moved to Dungeness, where he bought a lighthouse and renovated it, with his own hands. His wonderful partner, Brenda Morris, died a few years ago. Martin died at the lighthouse, at the end of last week. He’s survived by an ace daughter, Kathryn.

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DODGING THE BULLET VII: WHO BENEFITS?

In the films and tv shows I’ve seen, when the detective arrives at the scene of an unsolved crime, he or she usually asks the question, “Cui Bono?” He/she may not have asked it in Latin, but the meaning was, “Who benefits?”

When a great war crime is committed, it’s even more worth asking, “Who benefits from this?”

In the case of the greatest crime of all, the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, there are surprisingly few beneficiaries. In the US the development and maintenance of nukes has been a great boon to a tiny handful of big companies: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Between them, these five scooped up one third of all Pentagon nuclear weapons contracts.

There’s a good discussion of the enormous money made by a handful of big nuclear war companies, their army of lobbyists in Washington DC, and the political inertia which leads to endless spending on nukes, here.

Of course, many other corporations profit from nuclear weapons tech: high on the second-tier list are the Carlyle Group (which took over UC’s nuclear programs and has had former President George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Major on its board), Honeywell, General Electric (until recently the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures), and Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company.

Most of these beneficiary companies have shareholders, and so their shareholders, whether individuals or pension funds, might be said to benefit, if the share price rises. In this way many people participate in taxpayer-funded preparation for nuclear war. But in the wider world beyond the stock exchanges, most humans don’t have shares in anything, and gain nothing from the trade.

Do individuals benefit? Some do. Werner Von Braun was a Nazi scientist who fired rockets at London and the Netherlands. He ran his own concentration camp, Dora, where prisoners were worked to death, and hung. It would have made sense for him to be tried with the other Nazi war criminals. But Von Braun was no fool. He fled the advancing Russian troops and surrendered to the Americans. The US military swiftly brought him to the States, acquired him citizenship, and put him to work designing and building ICBMs — long range missiles which could carry nuclear warheads to Russia. Von Braun become something of a celebrity in the US, promoting rocket ships and nuclear platforms in space and being declared Time’s “Man of the Year”.

Another beneficiary, apparently, is Michelle Obama, the former First Lady. In August 2016 she “christened” a General Dynamics Virginia-class nuclear submarine. The boat was named Illinois, in honour of her home state. What did Ms. Obama think she was doing? Has this presumably intelligent person no imagination? No moral compass? One US nuclear submarine carries enough warheads to kill pretty much everybody in the world: just a couple of nukes could render her home state uninhabitable. Yet there was no outcry. In the “floating world” which professional politicians and opinion-formers inhabit, there seems no downside to promoting genocide: no horror or repulsion at the thought of what the boat she “christened” has been designed and equipped to do.

And another beneficiary of the nuclear-industrial economy was Sam Cohen, a physicist who worked with Edward Teller at Los Alamos. Sam was most famous as the designer of the Neutron Bomb – a radiation weapon designed to kill everyone in the vicinity, with minimal physical destruction. As the character in REPO MAN observed, “It kills people but leaves buildings standing.” The notion of a bomb which destroys life but respects property is entirely hideous, but to Sam it was not so. He was proud to be thought of as the “father” of the Neutron Bomb, which he insisted was a humanitarian weapon for which he had received a Peace Medal from the Pope. This last was absolutely true: Sam showed me his award, and left to his daughter in his will.

Are nukes really worth this nonsensical eccentricity? Profits for a small number of rich companies? Sam with his medal, Michelle “christening” a holocaust boat, Werner avoiding the gallows and going to work for Walt Disney?

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If you live in the US, or England, or France, or Russia or China, or one of the other nuke nations, you might despair and think there’s no way out: your politicians are too stupid, too hooked on power and “credibility”, too fearful of their own military and intelligence agencies…  But for most of the planet, this is not so. Most humans live in countries which don’t have nuclear weapons. Somehow, lacking even the most modest nuclear deterrent, they all manage to survive. Most nations don’t have nukes, and don’t want them. Entire continents – South America and Africa – are nuclear-free zones.

Narcissistic politicians backed/dominated by generals armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs are neither desired nor respected by the people of the wider world, and so, this year, the United Nations will debate and vote on a proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The negotiations will take place at UN headquarters in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017. In the UN General Assembly, 113 nations have already voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating committee. The treaty, which will almost certainly be passed by a massive majority, will likely prohibit a range of activities relating to nukes, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

Now, I’m as cynical as the next poor fool, and I know this sounds like pie-in-the-sky. The US, Russia, Britain, France, and most of the other nuclear powers oppose the treaty and can be expected, initially, to ignore it (promisingly, China has welcomed the treaty negotiations and has abstained rather than vote against them). These countries also opposed treaties banning land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs… at the outset. But the world-wide rejection of these devilish devices, codified in international treaty form, has had an actual effect. Russia and America have destroyed their substantial inventories of nerve and poison gas. Land mines have been outlawed, world-wide. And the US is increasingly isolated in its production and export (to that haven of democracy and women’s rights Saudi Arabia) of cluster bombs.

Even if the “great powers” don’t sign up for the treaty, they will be influenced by it, and by the world opinion it clearly conveys. We who live in the nuclear weapons states must not let our “leaders” forget that they are under an obligation – Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – to act “in good faith” to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

A year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King said, “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The US government currently gives 54% of federal discretionary spending to the Pentagon. This is almost half the entire world’s military outlay. President Trump intends to give the Pentagon and military contractors even more, and to continue with President Obama’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” In America, genocide has always been a bi-partisan affair. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. King described the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” With the US currently bombing several other countries, occupying Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and maintaining a web of 800 military bases around the world, things are even worse today.

I live in rural Oregon near three towns which the local paramedics call the “Crankster Triangle.” Unemployment is high, wages are low, and nutrition is terrible. Meth and heroin (from far-off Afghanistan!) are readily available. And there are for-profit jails in neighboring poor rural towns, ready and waiting.

This beautiful country is falling apart, abandoned by elites who don’t give a damn about any place without a private airport and a ski resort.

Can it be turned around? Yes. I think it can. It will be a tall order and will take a lot more than the abolition of nukes – only a fraction of the huge American military budget, but still an enormous saving of taxpayers’ money which could be applied instead to…

Environmental clean-up and remediation.

Infrastructure.

Writing off student debt.

A guaranteed minimum wage.

Single-payer health care.

If you’re a hardcore libertarian or conservative you may oppose all of the above. In which case, why not abolish nukes and simply lower taxes?

One of the smartest people I know is an English lawyer who lives outside Cambridge. In all his life he has only voted Conservative, or Green. He believes in conservative principles, which for him include actual conservation. Conservation. Beyond that, the differences he and I might have don’t matter very much. We both think that conserving and protecting the environment is humanity’s obligation, and most important goal.

Yes, global warming is real and disastrous. But – as Marianne Faithfull observed – nuclear war could come at any time, and there’s no point worrying about global warming if the climate change we’re looking at is a nuclear war-based ice age. And that’s what’s on the agenda this year, at the UN.

If the nine nuclear nations can come to their senses, and be shamed, or flattered, into reducing their hideous stockpiles, then there may be a foreseeable future. Only then will it make sense to prepare for the consequences of a warming climate change.

If you are a British citizen or resident, you can add your name to a petition instructing Parliament not to boycott the United Nations vote here.

(Ms. Faithfull’s Broken English video was directed by Derek Jarman, a wonderful man and a moral film director. He is greatly missed)