At the London Film Festival, three very different, compelling films.
In the third year of the Great Patriotic War a nameless boy and his sick mother make their way back to their home in Ukraine. The train they travel on rumbles like artillery fire, a fellow passenger curses, “We will suffocate in here like a gas chamber.” The boy’s story is just one in a disparate sea of millions as humanity washes back to shore, the Nazi dam ruptured under the weight of Stalingrad, Kursk and the annihilation of Army Group Centre.
China gets to justify prejudice against Muslim minorities not only on the terms of its own racial hierarchy, and not just to a Han majority, but to the world on Western ones.
Western China is far from the happiest place in which to be Muslim right now. At the end of December, police killed seven people in Xinjiang, an area traditionally dominated by the Uighur Muslim ethnic group, using some very sketchy justifications. Days later, the government destroyed a mosque in Ningxia that was just set to reopen after refurbishment, prompting a fight in which at least two more people were killed. The details available on these events have been sparse and often in stark contradiction. It might seem as though we have wandered back in time to the Cultural Revolution, but we’re looking at a very twenty-first century brand of Islamophobia, infused with a legacy of ethnic tensions.
Carney powerfully argues that the “red market” traffics in the commodification of bodies, their parts, and their fluids in a world that has increasingly relied on black market commodities to create and maintain flows of capital to the already-wealthy at the direct expense of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people across the globe.
It sounds like the stuff of nightmarish urban legends: in rural India, men desperate for money or a meal are promised both, then held captive in “blood farms” where their blood is siphoned constantly and sold at a hefty profit to blood banks. In various developing nations, young children are taken from their parents by orphanages connected to largely unregulated “adoption agencies” and, for a price, are placed with Western couples looking to adopt transnationally—all while the children’s terrified biological parents grow increasingly desperate.
One refugee camp for South Indian survivors of the 2004 tsunami is known in local parlance as “Kidneyvakkam” due to the large number of people residing there who have sold a kidney for money on which to survive. These stories may sound too outlandish to be true, but they are all indicative of the rise of a horrific, often insidious black market that applies the logic of global capital to bodies, body parts, and bodily fluids.
Wired editor Scott Carney’s first book, The Red Market, updates the reach of the black market to the 21st century. Carney powerfully argues that this “red market” traffics in the commodification of bodies, their parts, and their fluids in a world that has increasingly relied on black market commodities to create—and maintain–flows of capital to the already-wealthy, often at the direct expense of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people across the globe.
Canadian electropop group the Junior Boys have released a string of consistently great albums, and new record It’s All True is not exception.
Junior Boys, It’s All True (Domino Records 2011)
In a field where careers can last as long as a remix and whole genres are ephemeral, Canadian electropop group Junior Boys have had a surprisingly long career. Starting off with their 2004 masterpiece Last Exit album, Junior Boys have released a string of consistently great albums, and new record It’s All True is not exception.
When I spoke to Junior Boys’ frontman Jeremy Greenspan earlier this year for Billboard magazine, he sounded like a conflicted man–caught between burnout with the industry and revitalisation from recording part of this album in China. While the lyrics of the album certainly reflect this struggle, Greenspan and bandmate Matt Didemus have crafted another set of immaculately written and produced songs.
This is a collection about collisions, metaphorical and literal, in an evolving China where the boundaries of society are shifting. Some characters are left behind while others keep up, and communication gaps loom large between old and new, traditional and radical.
Su Tong, Madwoman on the Bridge, Transworld Publishers, 2008.
Su Tong is a Chinese author who has gained international recognition for his work, recently being nominated for the Man Booker International Prize awarded to Philip Roth in controversial circumstances. Wives and Concubines, later adapted into Raise the Red Lantern, is perhaps his most famous works in the West. Madwoman On the Bridge, translated from Josh Stenberg, is a collection of sparse, elegant short stories that hint at a fantastic literary outpouring in contemporary China. The availability of his works in translation is a source of much delight; these are stories that will sneak into the back of your brain and lurk there long after you are finished reading.
Many of the stories are slightly macabre, and it’s an overall theme in the book as a whole; ‘How the Ceremony Ends’ was a particular favourite of mine that exemplifies the almost playfully grotesque nature of the tales in this collection. A folklorist travels to a rural village to study an unusual tradition, and asks the villagers to enact it for him, finding himself sucked into the narrative. The villagers, caught up in the revival of an old custom, carry it to its logical conclusion and bring the reader along with them. Other characters in the story are surprisingly prosaic about its outcome, treating it as nothing more than an interesting curiosity.
The same unsettling physicality comes up in ‘The Giant Baby,’ which also underscores another theme that runs through these stories, one of poor communication, where characters say one thing and mean another, or operate in entirely different words. The titular character in ‘The Madwoman on the Bridge’ and the girl in ‘The Water Demon’ both appear to be inhabiting a place beyond reality, but to the discomfort of other characters, their world often intersects with the mundane one to reach and touch the people who would deny or exploit them. In ‘On Saturdays,’ the inability to communicate ruptures a friendship and the characters live in a sense of unresolved, lingering regret.
We want to decide what our children should learn…
In Hong Kong, Directly-subsidized schools (DSS) have coped with public image damage lately. The Audit Office of the government issued a report blasting the financial mismanagement of some DSS schools. These have not allocated ten percent of their incomes for granting scholarships or grants to poor schools under the government guidelines.
“I think today this heroical status is completely unthinkable for an artist.”
Artist Rinus Van de Velde works and lives in Antwerp, and his last exhibition was in Seoul, at Korea’s International Art Fair.
At first glance, Van de Velde’s works looked to me like old photos, taken from the archives of National Geographic and Life with seemingly random texts attached. The actual nature of his work, however, is far more interesting than that.
Jonathan: First of all, in your recent exhibition in Nuremberg, you highlighted your “relationship” with the Russian poet Valdimir Mayakovsky. Why have you been interested in what I call “virtual friendships” with the dead, rather making “ real friendships” with the living? Why did you choose Mayakovsky? (more…)
What other band can manage to attract fanboys like Cobain while singing songs about cats and tasty snacks?
After nearly 20 years in the business, Shonen Knife are still neither bored nor boring.
The punk/pop band from Osaka has always been a trio, but there have been quite a few lineup changes over the years. Guitarist/singer Naoko Yamano is now the only remaining original member.
It’s still the same old Shonen Knife, though. As soon as they hit the stage you could see why Kurt Cobain once said that the first time he saw them he turned into a 12 year old at a Beatles concert. (more…)
“I feel like women have become much stronger compared to ten years ago.”
After 10 years in the business, Japan’s Red Bacteria Vacuum is a perfect example of how to do women in punk the right way. Powerful without being over the top about it, by turns aggressive and fun, their reputation as a killer live band has earned them slots at SXSW and as part of the Japan Nite tour 2 years in a row.
We caught up with bassist Kassan at home in Tokyo shortly before the band set out on their American tour. (more…)
The film leaves the audience with more questions.
To this jaded New Yorker, the recent political brouhaha surrounding Tibetan filmmakers Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin’s “The Sun Behind The Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom” seems much ado about nothing. The documentary, shot throughout 2008 leading up to the Beijing Olympics and structured around the biggest uprising in that Chinese-controlled country since it lost its independence in 1959, was the reason the state-run China Film Group pulled its feature “City of Life and Death” from the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (more…)
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