Showing posts with label war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label war. Show all posts

07 August 2021

Film review: Emperor (2012) by Peter Webber, *****

Synopsys

Brigadier-General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is sent to Japan as a part of the occupation force. He is tasked with arresting Japanese war criminals, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

Before he departs, he privately orders his Japanese interpreter, Takahashi, to locate his Japanese girlfriend, Aya Shimada. 

After arresting Tojo, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur asks Fellers, whom he recognizes as a Japan expert, for advice about whether Emperor Hirohito can't be tried as a war criminal. Doing so could lead to a revolt, but the American people want the Emperor to stand trial for Japan's actions. MacArthur gives Fellers ten days to investigate the Emperor. When Takahashi informs Fellers that Aya's Tokyo apartment was bombed, he orders him to investigate her hometown, Shizuoka. 

MacArthur and Hirohito


Review

A well constructed historical drama, very close to actual events, interwoven with a love story that probably is not so realistic but serves the purpose of this film. The film does not answer the million-dollar question, was the Emperor responsible for the war? But it does help to understand he deserves some credit for Japan's decision to surrender and therefore end the war.

29 January 2021

Book review: The Gate, by François Bizot (2004), *****


Synopsys

In 1971, on a routine outing through the Cambodian countryside, the young French scholar Francois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge. Accused of being an agent of American imperialism, he was chained and imprisoned. His captor, Duch, later responsible for tens of thousands of deaths at the Tuol Sleng prison, interviewed him at length; after three months of torturous deliberation, during which his every word was weighed and his life hung in the balance, he was released. No other Western prisoner survived. Four years later, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Francois Bizot became the official intermediary between the ruthless conqueror and the terrified refugees behind the gate of the French embassy: a ringside seat to one of history's most appalling genocides.


Review

Bizot was incredibly lucky to see what he saw and come out alive, then move on to survive in Phnom Penh for several more years and write a harrowing and unique account of the Khmer Rouge rule. The gate of the French embassy, where many notables of the old regime had found refuge, and through which they will have to walk to their fate in the hands of the communists. A unique first-hand experience that very few western writers have been able to share so much in detail. He talks to many revolutionary soldiers and discusses politics as well as the details of day-to-day existence, the next harvest, education. Reading him is almost as good as having been there, without the dangers and the discomfort!

Read about my trip to Cambodia here.

See my reviews of other books on Cambodia here in this blog.



01 March 2020

Film review: Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) by Scott Hicks ****

Synopsys

Scott Hicks' screen adaptation of David Guterson's best-selling novel. On San Pietro Island, shortly after the end of World War Two, local fisherman Kazuo (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of another fisherman. The hearings are attended by Ishmael (Ethan Hawke), a local reporter who was also the childhood sweetheart of Kazuo's wife, Hatsue. As the hearings progress, Ishmael gradually begins to realize the extent of anti-Japanese feelings which still remains, and suspects that it could affect the course of the trial.


Review

A gripping historical novel about a lesser-known (unless you are a Japanese-American) aspect of domestic politics in the USA during and after World War II. A dark page in American democracy but a message of hope at the end. Also, it shows how immigrants in the American melting pot do not always, well, melt in the pot but keep cultural, if not political, affiliations to their country of origin.





You can buy the book here



Compra la versione italiana qui

04 February 2019

Peleliu island, Republic of Palau

My third time on this small island whose sand is soaked with history. Today for the first time with my wife. In between dives we took a walk around the pier, where we quickly ate some snacks and took a shower.

No time to do a full tour of the island so we were just taking a short walk ashore when a stocky man driving a pick-up truck approached us and asked how long we were staying on the island. 

I told him no more than a half-hour and he offered to show us the wreck of a Japanese Zero that had been downed nearby and the airstrip for which so many people had died.

500 people live on the island now, but boats of tourists come from Koror every day to restock a couple of minimarkets. Other than that, locals have to boat to the capital for shopping.

We can see a small house, nothing special but the building is proudly announced by signs and photos as the house where the Japanese Emperor and Empress rested during their visit to Palau and Peleliu on 9 April 2015.

The photos of the imperial visit show the couple, meeting local elders and children, and of course paying tribute to the fallen soldiers of both sides, Japanese and American.

There are two mausoleums on the island a Shinto for the Japanese and one for the Americans, though both sides, I am told, retrieved their dead to be buried in their respective homeland.

Peleliu offers better dive sites than Palau, I wish we had spent more time here. But I fear the liveaboard skipper wanted to save fuel...





















In the final dive of the day an incredible encounter with a leopard shark.



29 January 2019

Iro wreck dives, Palau


The "Iro" was not a "maru", like most wrecks in the Chuuk lagoon, ie it was not a merchant transport converted to military uses. It was an oil tanker built in 1921-22 expressly for the imperial Japanese navy. Funny she was powered by coal, was a steamer, even though she carried oil for the engines of other ships. One of only 9 oilers in the Japanese navy in WWII, a major weakness.

It participated in most major WWII operations, except Pearl Harbor. During the course of the war, it was hit many times but survived.

It was finally hit by a torpedo in her bow near the Philippines which chopped off a whole bite of the hull at the very front edge. In March 1944 it was limping on her way to Chuuk to be repaired when she learned of operation Desecrate, the American attack on Palau, and she was ordered to Palau, the next maritime line of defense for the imperial navy.


There she was again attacked and finally sunk.

It was salvaged in the 1950s, the Japanese recuperated the bodies and valuable metals but... the boat bringing the remains of the Iro's sailors and any valuables back to Japan sink en route!

The Iro now rests upright, stern sank first and is deep under the sand with prop and rudder clearly visible. A most interesting set of dives.



21 May 2018

Belfast and Giants’ Causeway




As we disembark we see piles of coal at the harbor, they tell us it is still extensively used for home heating! We have a guide who is obviously a Catholic nationalist, here is a few points from his explanations during the day.

Now Northern Ireland is trying to revive the shipbuilding industry concentrating on repairs, 800 workers, used to have more than 25000. The Titanic, of course, was built here. Biggest exports from Northern Ireland are farm products, lamb cheese, and machinery.

Belfast now has 500,000+ inhabitants, 10th largest city in the in the UK. In 1888 queen Victoria gave Belfast city status.

Giant causeway, since 1996 UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in NI. It was formed 50 million years ago by volcanic eruptions and is made up of about 40,000 stones.

According to mythology a giant from Scotland and one from Ireland were fighting. The Scottish giant bigger Irish ran back and wife.

The Vikings ruled here from the 9th to 11th century, then Anglo Saxons in 12th , build castles. Later English and Scottish domination take best land, Irish discriminated against.

1588 shipwrecks of Armada, uncharted waters on West coast of Ireland

1845 to 1852 famine 1 million died, another million migration to America
Catholics persecuted, Gaelic language prohibited during protestant reformation

Why the UK keep North Ireland after Irish independence in 1922:

- strategic reason: feel vulnerable to attack from Atlantic
- economic: 6 counties in ni richest, textile shipbuilding. At partition Northern Ireland had 80% of the island's gdp, today 9%.
- just over 50% in Ulster wanted to remain in the UK.

Unionists wanted NI to be a "protestant priority" land. In the late 1960s lots of catholic uprising, they were inspired by the American Civil rights movement, discrimination against Catholics similar to that against blacks in the USA
even segregation, created enclaves, separated by so-called peace walls still visible.

The army was sent in. In 1971 cases of internment of Catholics without trial
powers to army directed against Catholics, up to 5 years in jail without charge.

Demonstrations in Derry but the UK deployed parachute regiments
barricaded and 28 civilian shot 14 dead on bloody Sunday 1972

Belfast very divided city, conflict until 1994 the start negotiating. Good Friday agreement in 1998. But still divided, built more "peace walls" after the Good Friday agreement.

In many ways a backward country, everyone got the right to vote in local elections 1973, before that one had to be a  landowner!

10 May 2018

Film review: Youth (2017) by Feng Xiaogang, *****

Synopsis

When Xiaoping joins the military, delicate dreams are dashed by the events of a China undergoing revolution. The devastating Sino-Vietnamese war crashes into 1970s China, changing the lives of the Army's young new recruits forever.

In this epic spanning several decades, Youth shows Comrades of the People's Liberation Army fight amongst themselves as much as on the battlefield – and cause as much damage as the war that tore their lives apart.


Review

Incredibly passionate and captivating historical film about life in China during the huge transformations that took place after Mao's death. A love story starts during the excesses of the cultural revolution with the "great helmsman" still in power, and the trauma of the war against Vietnam in 1979. After that, rapid reforms make many Chinese rich, and many officials corrupt, but the human story of the protagonists carries through the ages. One man's good deeds are taken for granted and not appreciated any more.

The film was supposed to be released just before the 2017 party congress but it was held up until after the congress itself for some reason. Maybe because it contains thinly veiled criticism of Mao and also raises many questions about the new system of the country.

A strongly recommended film about how China became what it is today.

See other film on China reviewed in this blog.






10 November 2016

Book review: Hunan Harvest (1946) by Theophane Maguire, ****

Synopsis

Diary of a young American Passionist missionary who is sent deep into China to preach and help. Theophane is just twenty-five years old when he travels to Hunan, learns the language and starts four years of intensive work against all odds.

According to the Passionist Historical Archives, Father Theophane Maguire, C.P., St. Paul of the Cross Province (1898-1975) was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He attended St. Joseph's Jesuit Prep in Philadelphia. There he became interested in the Passionists and decided to enter the novitiate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On August 13, 1917 he professed his vows and received the name Theophane. He was ordained on October 28, 1923 and quickly was assigned to the Passionist mission in Hunan, China. After he returned from the mission in 1929 he wrote Hunan Harvest which was published in 1946.

Back in the United States he went to Pittsburgh and eventually to Union City where he was editor of Sign magazine. Later in Pittsburgh he did fund-raising and worked at the retreat house. His later years were at the Passionist monastery, North Palm Beach, Florida. His last days were spent at the Passionist infirmary of Brighton, Massachusetts.


Review

Unique book by an ardent Christian missionary in one of the least known provinces of China. Magire writes well and draws the reader into the harsh reality he experiences every day.


He is very dedicated to the people of Hunan, but even more to their souls, which he wants to "harvest" for Jesus Christ. It is an attitude one often finds in Christian missionaries around the world.   While he humbly serves his superiors and is truly compassionate with the Chinese, he does betray a kind of complex of superiority. He writes (p.24) that training of missionaries in the local languages is a good idea because "it is a matter of results, which in this case is to be reckoned in souls. We were to deliver a doctrine entirely new to these people. We were to deliver a message that is supernatural. It is opposed to beliefs that are rooted in centuries of obstinate tradition. it slashes at old habits and widely observed superstitions." Well many Chinese are superstitious indeed, but I am not sure they are more so than Westerners on average, and in any case the incredible wealth of Chinese culture can hardly be dismissed as just a matter of superstition,. many would argue that religion itself, any religion, is superstition.

While he does endure lots of suffering, one can see he and his colleagues are often privileged compared to their fellow Chinese helpers: for example he is depicted as traveling on horseback while his Chinese companions are on foot.

At the end of the book, he seems to worry more about the future of Christian proselytism in Hunan than about the horrors of the civil war or the gathering storm of the Japanese invasion.

Another interesting aspect of the book is that he pays a lot of attention to the minorities of China, especially the Miao people whom he met on several occasions.

He is also a careful painter of scenes of everyday life in rural China where warlords called the shots and the rule of law enforced by the state was nowhere to be seen: the Emperor is far away, as an old Chinese saying goes.

The book is also valuable because it contains lots of drawings that convey a sense of the atmosphere where father Maguire worked for four years. I reproduce them here.

























12 June 2013

Film review: Flags of our Fathers (2006) by Clint Eastwood, ****

testo italiano di seguito

Synopsis

The film is about a photograph by James Rosenthal, one of the most famous war pictures of all times. Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic.

In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities – and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign – after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.


Review

A typically Eastwood approach. He takes a highly unusual point of view to reveal the lesser known aspects of a very well known subject matter, in this case the flag raising photograph of the battle of Iwo Jima. Of the six men, three were killed in action a few days later. This is not a film meant to show bravery, though there is plenty of it. It is a cynical film to show how the American war propaganda machine manipulated the three survivors of the flag raising to ... raise money for war bonds. We learn how the flag itself was a coveted object of contention among politicians and military leaders. And how in the end those who were less interested in the iconic photograph were the people in it. They were there to do a job, and being in a photograph was not part of it.

Pretty amazing CGI. For example, technicians artificially reproduce the Pacific theather as a background for the rugged terrain in Iceland where the film was actually shot! You can see it's not real, but it's pretty close to look real.

Watch this film together with "Letters from Iwo Jima", also by Clint Eastwood, that tells the story of the battle from a Japanese point of view. I will review this most interesting film soon in this blog.

Region free BD



Buy the book here





Recensione

Approccio tipicamente Eastwoodiano. Clint affronta l'argomento da un punto di vista molto inusuale per rivelare gli aspetti più nascosti di una vicenda ultranota, in questo caso la celebre foto della bandiera di Iwo Jima. Dei sei uomini nella foto, tre sono morti in combattimento nei giorni successivi. La macchina della propaganda bellica americana ha manipolato gli altri tre allo scopo di raccogliere fondi per finanziare il prosieguo della guerra. (Siamo a Febbraio 1945 ed il Giappone non ha ancora nessuna intenzione di arrendersi.)

Alla fine si capisce come i sei personaggi nella foto erano i meno interessati alla foto stessa: erano a Iwo per uno scopo ben preciso, e posare in una fotografia non rientrava nei loro compiti.

Buoni effetti speciali: i tecnici hanno ricreato lo sfondo dello sbarco e lo hanno inserito dietro le montagne islandesi dove si sono svolte le riprese. Sembra quasi vero.

Consiglio di vedere questo film con "Lettere da Iwo Jima", sempre di Clint Eastwood, che racconta come quella drammatica battaglia fu vissuta dai giapponesi.

BD in italiano



Compra il libro in italiano qui



19 March 2013

Film review: Casablanca (1942), by Michael Curtiz, *****

Buy the poster by clicking here
Synopsis

Casablanca: a French colonial city during WW II: still governed by unoccupied Vichy France, with a daily flight to neutral Portugal, from where ships sailed regularly to America. A city easy to enter, but much harder to leave, especially if you're wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American in love with Victor's wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart. Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo's transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more...

The film is bursting with memorable quotes!


Review

So much has been said about this film that it would be presumptuous of me to add anything. I will try to sum it all up in one question, however. Casablanca is about a fundamental choice some people have to make at some crucial point in their lives. The question this film leaves us with is a difficult one. What is more important: finding love or fighting for freedom? 

Rick, the eternal cynic who did not stick his neck out for anyone, chose to fight for freedom. I am not sure what I would have done. Perhaps I would have chosen love. Maybe I am a wimp, or maybe I take freedom too much for granted, as I never had to fight a war for it.



16 March 2013

Film review: The Burmese Harp (1956), by Kon Ichikawa, *****

Synopsis

A rhapsodic celebration of song, a brutal condemnation of wartime mentality, and a lyrical statement of hope within darkness; even amongst the riches of 1950s' Japanese cinema, The Burmese Harp, directed by Kon Ichikawa (Alone Across the Pacific, Tokyo Olympiad), stands as one of the finest achievements of its era.

Mizushima taught a Burmese boy to play his harp
At the close of World War II, a Japanese army regiment in Burma surrenders to the British. Private Mizushima is sent on a lone mission to persuade a trapped Japanese battalion to surrender also. When the outcome is a failure, he disguises himself in the robes of a Buddhist monk in hope of temporary anonymity as he journeys across the landscape but he underestimates the power of his assumed role.

A visually extraordinary and deeply moving vision of horror, necessity, and redemption in the aftermath of war, Ichikawa's breakthrough film is one of the great humanitarian affirmations of the cinema.

Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and honoured at the Venice Film Festival. You can watch a trailer here.


02 March 2013

Recensione: "Il mio cuore è più stanco della mia voce" (2012 postumo) di Oriana Fallaci, ****

Fallaci in Vietnam
Sinossi

Prima il Vietnam, poi Città del Messico e infine la storia d’amore con Alekos Panagulis, eroe della Resistenza greca, simbolo dell’opposizione a qualunque regime liberticida. (Puoi leggere le sue poesie qui.) Dopo la pubblicazione di Un Uomo, Oriana riesce a creare un incantamento globale: vorrebbero essere come lei i tanti giovani e molte donne, per le quali la scrittrice rappresenta la realizzazione di un sogno.

In quegli anni Fallaci accetta i sempre più frequenti inviti a incontrare i suoi lettori stranieri, nelle città e nelle università del mondo. Questo libro raccoglie alcune delle sue conferenze di maggior rilievo, pagine rimaste finora inedite che rivelano il suo rapporto con la scrittura, la sua passione per la politica e per l’impegno civile, la sua “ossessione per la libertà”.

È il suo autoritratto più autentico, una sorta di manifesto in cui Oriana rivendica e difende con vigore il diritto a “stare dalla parte dell’umanità, suggerire i cambiamenti, innamorarci dei buoni cambiamenti, influenzare un futuro che sia un futuro migliore del presente” (dalla sovracoperta del libro)

Ad Oriana Fallaci  è dedicato un sito web.


15 February 2013

Film Review: Confucius (2010) by Hu Mei, ****

Synopsis

From the acclaimed producer of John Woos Red Cliff and Jet Lis Warlords, comes this powerhouse biopic of the legendary Chinese philosopher, Confucius.

In 500 B.C., during China's Spring and Autumn Period, Kong Ze (Confucius), a commoner reverred for his outstanding wisdom, is made Minister of Law in the ancient Kingdom of Lu. Under his inspired leadership, Lu ascends to new heights but becomes a target of conquest for the warlike nation of Qi. Threatened with annihilation by their powerful neighbour, a desperate people turn to their greatest teacher to lead their most powerful army. When Confucius delivers a stunning victory against all odds, a jealous aristocracy sets out to destroy him, but they under-estimated a remarkable man whose wisdom is more powerful than the sword.

With breathtaking cinematography from Oscar-winning director of photography, Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Confucius is a compelling invitation to discover the remarkable story of one of history's greatest heroes.



Review

An impressive big budget movie that will teach you a lot about Confucius and China in the VI-V centuries B.C. Huge sets have been build to replicate imperial palaces and other scenery. Acting is excellent, with Chow Yun-fat at his best.

The script is a bit confusing however, maybe it needs to be watched a few times. Too many intrigues and intertwined stories make it hard to follow.


For travelers, the most famous of innumerable quotes by Confucius is «A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

You can watch the theatrical trailer here.

You can see a selection of movies on China I have reviewed on this blog here.



07 February 2013

Film review: The Thin Red Line (1998), by Terrence Malick, ****

Synopsis

After directing two of the most extraordinary movies of the 1970s, Badlands and Days of Heaven, American artist Terrence Malick disappeared from the film world for twenty years, only to resurface in 1998 with this visionary adaptation of James Jones’s 1962 novel about the World War II battle for Guadalcanal. A big-budget, spectacularly mounted epic, The Thin Red Line is also one of the most deeply philosophical films ever released by a major Hollywood studio, a thought-provoking meditation on man, nature, and violence. Featuring a cast of contemporary cinema’s finest actors—Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, Milk), Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides, Affliction), Elias Koteas (Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flynt) among them—The Thin Red Line is a kaleidoscopic evocation of the experience of combat that ranks as one of cinema’s greatest war films.


12 November 2012

Recensione libro: In Pace e in Guerra (2004), di Enrico Mannucci, ****

Sinossi

I mezzi d'informazione propongono quotidianamente scenari di guerra, convenzionale e non, che richiedono l'utilizzo di forze speciali e quelle di più vasto impiego. Questo libro presenta un quadro completo dei reparti destinati a intervenire con varie funzioni nei diversi teatri di operazione che la cronaca propone. L'autore ne descrive la storia e l'evoluzione nel tempo, la struttura e l'organizzazione, i particolari compiti operativi nei quali ciascuno viene impiegato, l'addestramento, le armi, le attrezzature, oltre agli episodi più significativi o particolarmente drammatici in cui essi sono stati coinvolti, dalla Bosnia al Kosovo, fino a Nassiriya. Con un intervista a Francesco Cossiga.


Recensione

Un libro essenziale per saperne qualcosa di più sui reparti speciali delle forze armate italiane. Narrato con passione ma senza eccitazione, con conoscenza dei dati, delle persone, dei fatti. Ottimi i racconti delle esperienze sul campo ma anche i riferimenti storici.


22 October 2012

Proiezione fotogafica: BLEEDING BLOSSOMS di Shades of Women

L'associazione Shades of Women propone per il secondo anno una interessante serie di proiezioni di reportage di fotografe in giro per il mondo, a documentare il dramma di molti popoli in guerra. Puoi leggere qui un'intervista con Ilaria Prili, fotografa ed organizzatrice di questa serie di eventi.

Nadia Shira Cohen - Arab spring
Her personal website is www.nadiashiracohen.com

Rena Effendi - Georgia conflict
Her personal website is www.refendi.com

Simona Ghizzoni - Just to let you know that I’m alive
She works for Contrasto.

Sofie Amalie Klougart - Going to war.
Her personal website is www.sofieamalieklougart.dk

Benedicte Kurzen - Nigeria, a nation lost to the gods.
Her personal website is http://benedictekurzen.com

Ilvy Njiokiktjien and Elles van Gelder - Afrikaner blood.
Her personal website is http://www.imagesbyilvy.com

Lana Slezic - Forsaken
Her personal website is http://www.lanaslezic.com

Here is a link to the next event of this series that I attended.

Interessantissima proiezione di drammatici documentari di guerra e rivoluzione al Teatro Due di Roma, in Vicolo due Macelli. Sala piena, fotografia di alto livello. Da consigliare la prossima proiezione del 5 novembre.

Teatro Due Roma

teatro stabile d’essai

Vicolo due Macelli, 37 (M Piazza di Spagna)
Tel. 06/6788.259 – fax 06/6793.349




09 September 2012

Book review: The Dark Tourist (2010), by Dom Joly, ***

Sinister looking WW I artillery on Monte Grappa
Synopsis

'Dark tourism is the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions which have real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre as a main theme'

Ever since he can remember, Dom Joly has been fascinated by travel to odd places. In part this stems from a childhood spent in war-torn Lebanon, where instead of swapping marbles in the schoolyard, he had a shrapnel collection -- the schoolboy currency of Beirut. Dom's upbringing was interspersed with terrifying days and nights spent hunkered in the family basement under Syrian rocket attack or coming across a pile of severed heads from a sectarian execution in the pine forests near his home.

These early experiences left Dom with a profound loathing for the sanitized experiences of the modern day travel industry and a taste for the darkest of places. The more insalubrious the place, the more interesting is the journey and so we follow Dom as he skis in Iran on segregated slopes, picnics in the Syrian Desert with a trigger-happy government minder and fires rocket propelled grenades at live cows in Cambodia (he missed on purpose, he just couldn't do it).


17 July 2012

Book review: Prisoner of the Japanese, by Tom Wade, *****

English prisoners freed in Japan, September 1945 (AP Photo)
Synopsis

On 15 February 1942, the Japanese captured Singapore and took 130,000 Allied prisoners of war. One of those prisoners was British Lieutenant Tom Wade. For the next three and a half years he was to suffer the indignity and hardships of captivity and the torture and brutality of his captors, first in Changi, then in Korea and finally in Tokyo.

This book is the story of those years in captivity. They were years of horror and despair, characterised by harsh treatment at the hands of sadistic guards who believed that a soldier who has surrendered has lost all humanity. At Tokyo Headquarters Camp in particular, Wade and his fellow POWs had to suffer the paranoid beatings and victimisation of Sergeant Matsuhiro Watanabe, who successfully avoided prosecution by the War Crimes Commission at the war's end.

Wade's moving account of his period of captivity is characterised by the sense of determination, hope and endurance which sustained all those who shared his experience.


10 July 2012

Film review: Sand Pebbles (1966) by Robert Wise, ****

Synopsis
"The Sand Pebbles" tells many stories. It's the story of China, a slumbering giant that rouses itself to the cries of its people - and of the Americans who are caught in its blood awakening. It's the story of Frenchy (Richard Attenborough, passionate!), a crewman on the U.S.S. San Pablo who kidnaps his Chinese bride from the auction block. It's the story of Shirley (Candice Bergen, not her best performance here), a teacher and her first unforgettable taste of love. It's the story of Captain Collins (Richard Crenna), ready to defy anyone for his country's defense. Most of all, it's the story of Jake Holman (Steve McQueen, who does great, maybe his best ever!), a sailor who has given up trying to make peace with anything - including himself. McQueen gives what is probably the best performance of his career. It's not surprising that he, Mako and the movie were up for Oscars. Portraying a character with conflicting loyalties to friend and flag, McQueen expertly conveys the confusion that leads into his final line: "What the hell happened?" It's to his credit that we already know.

Review
A movie made at the time the Vietnam was escalating and beginning to raise questions in America. The parallel is obvious: China in the 1920s was a divided country with foreign powers meddling in its internal affairs and supporting the opposing sides of the civil war. Japan had invaded, the USSR supported the Communists, the Western powers supported the Nationalists. Western powers did not invade but had a military presence on the coast and, as this film shows, inland as well.

It is an anti-colonial film too. It shows how China, while not strictly speaking colonized, had been in fact the object of foreign interference and prevarication for many decades. Yet the film also shows the brutality of the colonialists' victims, with Chinese killing Chinese, sometimes for very little reason.

The human dimension of the film reminds me of Vietnam too. Frenchy falls in love with a Chinese woman and wants to marry her amidst many difficulties, just as it happened for many GIs in Vietnam.

The Blu-ray edition also contains interesting extra features, like an interview with the director and cut scenes, as well as a "the making of" featurette. This was before any CGI of course, so it is interesting to see how special effects were done in those days.




01 July 2012

Photo exhibition: Robert Capa in Verona

Today I went to see the Robert Capa photo exhibition in Verona. Organized by Magnum Photos, the historic photographic agency founded in 1947 by Robert Capa himself, the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and other great photographers of that time, the Verona photo exhibition intends to pay homage to Robert Capa, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.

Sicilian farmer showing the way to an American soldier
Description

The Verona exhibition presents some of the crucial moments of the history of the past century, documented by Robert Capa during his many trips. Almost one hundred photogaphs are shown, all B&W, which represent a compendium of Capa's work over a quarter century.

Born in Budapest in 1913, Robert Capa (born Endre Friedman) started working as a photographer in Berlin, and soon got in contact with an important photographic agency. With the rise of Hitler Robert Capa left Berlin and followed his restless soul across Europe until the start of World War II when he decided to move to New York and started working for “Life”.

The earliest pics are the photos taken in 1932 during the Leon Trotsky conference in Copenhagen, when for the first time the violence of Stalin regime was exposed.

D-day landing in Normandy, 6 June 1944
We then move on to the Paris riots of the late 1930s. Capa then goes to war: first the Spanish civil war, then the Japanese invasion of China and finally the Second World War, where he followed the Allied landings in Sicily and then D-Day. On that fateful day he took over 500 pictures, but only a dozen or so survive because a technician screwed up the development of the rolls he sent back to England!

The exhibition in Verona also contains a display of photos showing some of Robert Capa’s friends, such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Matisse and Picasso.

We can also see photos taken in the Soviet Union in 1947, as well as the founding of Israel and finally his last photos taken in Indochina, where Robert Capa travelled to document the independence war and where he was killed in a mine field on 25th May, 1954.

Finally we see pictures of his lover Ingrid Bergman.


Review

I always loved his most quoted teaching to photographers around the world: "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough."

He certainly did get close to the action. He risked his life in many a war theater, often at the front line, and eventually died doing so. It is then surprising that he seems to have faked the most important image of his entire career. But then, at that time he was not a famous photographer. He was trying to scrape a living and might have given in to the temptation of creating a moving image when he could not find one.

I had a conversation with the exhibition guide about the famous picture of the "death of a militiaman" or "falling soldier". She argued it is genuine, the true instant when the loyalist militiaman was shot dead by Franco's forces. The picture has been controversial for a long time, but now the majority of scholars agree it was most likely staged. Another argument is about whether or not, if the photo was indeed staged, Capa was nonetheless justified in publishing it to send a political message. In my view, he was not. There is a difference between a mock image and a fake one, as it has been argued very well in this article (in Italian).

Some disagree, like my guide today. One famous article to argue that Capa's photograph was not staged was written by Robert Whelan in 2002.

Be that as it may, Capa remains a towering figure of photography. Another of his quotes I like, and try to implement in my travels, is: "Like the people you shoot and let them know it."

You can buy books with Capa's pictures on Amazon:




Here is his autobiographical essay on his work at the front.