What to Watch, What to Read and What to Listen to in December 2021

Samu is an eerie 8 minute film. A nursing student is going door-to-door, selling windows on commission to make enough money for university. She stumbles into a house, with a lonely widow whom the nursing student talks into buying a new window.  Worth a look, here:

I generally don’t tout much about Xmas, but this ad is a delight.  It’s from the post office in Norway,   “When Harry Met Santa,” here.

This short British film, Of Thread and Almonds, is about a woman PhD student who becomes friendly with a coat-checker at the museum where she does research. Delightful.

The CBC series Diggstown is really good this season – topical and thorny legal issues and the scenery of an always sunny summer with blue skies shows off Halifax.  The acting’s not bad.  I watch it on CBC-GEM anytime.

I’m watching Mozart in the Jungle, a wonderful series about the musicians and the musical conductors of a fictionalised New York Symphony. Each half hour episode is a delight– the characters, the settings, the ambience– and the music. There is “Union Bob” who plays the piccolo and is the players’ union president, and Deedee the percussionist who distributes drugs. There is the fusty older ex-maestro British born and trained, and the new maestro from Mexico who is quirky, intense and radical. I’m into the second season now, and it’s great. Oh I see there are four seasons!! Here’s the trailer— it’s on Prime.

Photos: pictures without labels are from top right stills from, When Harry Met Santa; left, Working Man; and right: The Fall

Succession’s third season is a must-watch if you like to see a nasty, cut-throat family whose 80 year old father is not only an ogre, but who, at more than twice the age of his offspring, out-smarts them without breaking a sweat. I watch it on Crave. Here’s the trailer.

Also on Crave, I watched the series Mare of Easttown.  A small Pennsylvania town in an impoverished once industrial area is the setting for this series about a police detective, Mare (Marianne).  Her family situation is on a downward slide since her son’s tragic death a couple of years before.  Her household includes a teenaged daughter, a four year old grandson, and her acerbic and unsupportive mother.  Still she has to solve a murder in her own neighbourhood.  Gritty, tough, but she is an unforgettable character. And the teaser trailer is here.

On Prime you can watch The Fall, a gritty police procedural is a cut above. It takes place in Belfast, a city full of delightful Victorian red-brick buildings and tremendous poverty. I first saw all three seasons of The Fall a couple of years ago, but forgotten I’d already watched season three. So I watched the third season again. If you are interested in criminology, in psychology, what makes a bad guy a murderer, how he gets others to do his bidding these episodes are revealing. There is also the push and pull relationship the lead woman detective tries to build with the alleged murderer as well as a teenage babysitter who is in love with him. You don’t have to watch the first two seasons, because you’ll catch on to the plot easily, and the first two seasons are overly violent and simplistic. The third season is excellent. Here’s a trailer for it.

On Kanopy I saw a very good 2020 feature film:  Working Man.  I highly recommend it.  A 60-year old factory worker at a plastics plant in Chicago is one of the last 25 workers to be laid off.  The plant is closing, and there is no chance to save the workers’ jobs.   But the older man can’t bear to face unemployment, and more of the tedious home life he experiences with his wife. So he sneaks back into the factory, every day.  He brings his packed lunch, his coffee thermos plus a donut, and cleans equipment, sweeps the floor. He pretends. What happens next is exciting and unexpected.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Watch the trailer. 

If you like actor Charlotte Rampling (and who doesn’t?), a 2012 thriller to watch is I, Anna. Anna, a divorced middle-aged saleswoman is encouraged to put herself “out there,” so Anna goes to a singles party at a local bar and leaves with man. By chance a detective superintendent in the London police sees her and becomes infatuated with her. When she leaves a green umbrella in a pay phone, the detective sees the umbrella may give him an excuse to return it. But after a first dinner date, what he gets is far different from what he imagined. You see the gritty London streets, the tall buildings of the Barbican — all in rain and fog. It’s on Kanopy. Here’s the trailer.

On CBC-GEM, Hannah Gadsby’s Nakedy Nudes is a pleasant romp through a two-part series on the nude in art.  Gadsby’s an Australian comedian – here is the trailer. The 17th century Rokeby Venus by Velasquez  — the featured image above — will get you in the mood! Read more about this astounding painting here.

A B’tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) volunteer filmed at least four Israeli soldiers invading a Palestinian home in the middle of the night on September 3. The 2.5 minutes documentary is titled “Soldiers Invade Da’na Family Home: Conduct lineup for children in central Hebron”. The soldiers stormed in with their guns, boots and uniforms and ordered the two women plus ten children under age 10, to stand in a “line-up” so that one soldier could photograph each of them — for the Israeli military. Of course these family members are some of the millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza who are totally at the mercy of Israeli occupiers. Occupiers who, as you will, see are brutal and very scary. Some of the children are crying, others are numb as they have been woken from sleep. One woman holds a baby in her arms. Ask yourself who are the real terrorists? See for yourself — two minutes and 50 seconds here.

“This is the Price of War” Front page story in Ha’aretz newspaper, May 2021. 67 children were killed in Gaza by Israeli bombardment in May.
B’tselem released this photo of the children in the Hebron “line-up” as described above. Sept. 2021
IDF soldier breaking into a house in the Occupied Territories, from the Guardian (credit Mussa Qawasma/Reuters, 2020)

What to Read…

An excellent short story is Julio Cortazar’s, In the Name of Bobby.  It’s read by Ben Lerner in the New Yorker here.   The key character in the story is an 8-year boy who lives with his mother and his aunt.  It’s a rather claustrophobic household, any affection seems almost means-tested. The boy has few friends and often plays alone in the back yard.  Cortazar, a novelist and short story writer, was also a Marxist and a radical born in Argentina. He lived most of his adult life in France.  Nicely delivered story.   

In Esquire magazine there is a wonderful article about the late Black American writer James Baldwin.  There is also a very telling 1979 interview with Baldwin on ABC’s 20/20 TV newsmagazine.  20/20’s portrait is an illuminating  even intimate talk with Baldwin, a man with more than 20 books to his credit.  His 1956 book, Giovanni’s Room, was one of the first bestselling American novels about homosexuals’ experience in Paris.  The interview was all but buried for the last four decades – what a treasure. For a rather wonderful review of Giovanni’s Room, read this.

Some people have asked why I never go to the US – not for conferences, not for work, not for holidays. I haven’t gone since 2001, and it’s for this reason. Guantanamo is still in business; it’s still open. The Americans imprisoned to hundreds of Muslim men they captured and tortured (extra-judicially) after 9/11. The Intercept has investigated what happened to one Yemeni man held at Guantanamo for nearly 20 years. This article details the ugly reality of the so-called release (and fate) of one Guantanamo victim.  It’s here.

From the Intercept, photo of Abdulqadir al Mahfari, a physician’s assistant imprisoned in Guantanamo from age 25 to 45.

Assassination of a Saint…

I read Assassination of a Saint; The Plot to Murder Óscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice by lawyer Matt Eisenbrandt.  This 2017 book is written by a young American lawyer who was in kindergarten when the progressive Archbishop Romero, was gunned down at the altar of a church in San Salvador in March 1980.  For decades those responsible, including El Salvador politicians, a right-wing death squad and high ranking operatives linked to the CIA, remained unpunished.  Finally, an investigative team, including Eisenbrandt, detectives and human rights experts painstakingly followed faint leads and fainter evidence, finally found the shooter.  But that was just the start, as the book reveals.  I borrowed  Assassination of a Saint from the Halifax Public Library.  

37th anniversary procession for former Archbishop Romero in San Salvador, March 2017. (CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters)

This year’s Governor General’s Award for English-language Drama was awarded to Halifax-based Hannah Moscovitch.  Her play Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes is very good.  Though there have been other literary creations about older male professors who take advantage of their power and intellect to sexually assault and harass young women students (notably JM Coetzee’s Disgrace and Francine Prose’s Blue Angel) Moscovitch’s play stands out.  It stands out for several reasons.  First, in 90 brief pages the playwright managed to weave a spell over me – and probably over theatre-goers.  Secondly, there was no compulsion, and little coercion to (in this case) the professor’s sexual antics. Finally, the young woman managed to turn the table on the prof in a firm, but not conflictual or rancorous way.  I highly recommend reading it.  I know it’s going to be performed in Toronto, but I wonder when it will come to a stage in Halifax?  Can’t wait.  I read it as an e-book.

The November 9 issue of Frank Magazine has two stories about the Portapique massacre.  Investigative journalist Paul Palango interviews a woman who dated the now dead killer, Gabriel Wortman, for about a decade.  It’s a riveting article, yet quite disturbing.  In the same issue Palango writes another article about two members of the RCMP who, from the terrified perspective of local residents, shot up the fire station in Onslow-Belmont. The police have hidden much of what went on. Palango’s investigation of the wrongdoings and false narratives of RCMP and the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT )- are very shocking.

“But as the public should have learned by now, [Felix] Cacchione [Director SIRT] has proven to be not much more than a competent stenographer for his ability to scribble down dictation from the highest levels of the RCMP.”

Paul Palango, “Anatomy of a cover-up: Onslow-Belmont” in Frank Magazine, Nov. 9, 2021.

The Portapique inquiry — who knows when it will really take place, or how open it will be. The main question is whether or not the powerful and the politicians will allow testimony and evidence to be adduced through a feminist lens. As we can see from the devastating evidence given at the Desmond Inquiry, a feminst lens is needed to figure out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Read my article about that here.

Mystery neurological illness invades New Brunswick

The December issue of The Walrus has a good article about the “mystery” neurological disease that has profoundly disabled nearly 50 people in New Brunswick and has already killed a handful.  Journalist Matthew Halliday shows how the NB government has imposed secrecy and removed funding for medical scientists who were researching the disease. Read the article here.

Gabrielle Cormier, 19, is a student at Mt Allison University. She is from Dalhousie Junction in northern New Brunswick. (Credit: Chris Donovan, The Walrus)

What to listen to…

I listened to Striketober, a 90-minute podcast from The Dig, here. It’s quite wonderful.  A skilful interview- almost a conversation– allows two US left-wing labour journalists, Alex Press and Jonah Furman to fully discuss what’s going on in labour south of our border.  Fascinating.  Union activist Victor Bouzi, a union member in IATSE, also weighs in. 

Justin Podur is a podcaster, a novelist (!), an activist and a York University professor at York University in Toronto.  His podcast The Anti-Empire Project is well worth listening to.  However his special on Remembrance Day is particularly good as it features academic and writer Dan Freeman-Maloy on the British imperial origins of the day.  He shows us through the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, and the pro-war poem In Flanders Fields that we all dutifully recited as school children, how World War I, and the previous wars, were little more than murderous colonial adventures… This podcast called “On the racist who wrote Lest We Forget” is brilliant. Here it is.

Photo of the book Freeman-Maloy found in a used book shop, which he discusses on the podcast. Hear about why there are swastikas on the cover.

CBC Podcasts launched an excellent, new 6-part series called Carrie Low VS, by Maggie Rahr, a Halifax journalist and podcaster.  If this doesn’t make you want to defund a) the RCMP and b) the Halifax police I don’t know what will!

Photos, from top: Rally at Halifax City Hall (NSAdvocate.org); advertisement for CBC podcast; Carrie Low in the courthouse (GlobalTV.ca); photo of Supreme Court of NS; house in which AJF Thomas, 35, was found dead Nov. 14, 2021. He was accused of abducting and raping Low (Nicola Seguin/CBC)

Low went to a Dartmouth bar one spring evening and noticed two scary-looking guys eyeing her as she went from the bar to the dancefloor.  Someone must have spiked her drink with a date-rape drug because the next thing she knew, she woke up alone, naked and sore in a dumpy trailer on a street she didn’t recognize. Low reported the rapes, and went to the hospital where a rape-kit was administered. The police never seriously investigated her case—for example they told her to put the clothes she wore that night in a special sealed plastic bag but they did not pick up the bag for 10 days. Apparently, the 10 day lag spoiled the DNA evidence.  The cops re-traumatised her by repeatedly questioning her each time a new cop got assigned.  The series is shocking – but Low’s humanity, her deep understanding, her defiance of the routine humiliations and put-downs by the  “justice system” lifted my spirits.  She is a true hero.  Listen to the podcast here.

The BBC History Podcast has a fascinating interview with Zoe Playdon who wrote a book about the 1965 secret trial of Ewan Forbes, a transgender man who lived in Scotland. Playdon is a great story teller with a fascinating true story about the start of the end for trans rights in the UK — at least until the 1990s. She says that while gender affirming drugs and help were the norm in the UK and in the US prior to this trial, by the late 1960s, many psychiatrists in the US, then in the UK, pronounced trans people dangerous psychopaths that had to be confined to psychiatric institutions, drugged and often sterilised. Playdon’s book (reviewed here) promises to be excellent. And this 1 hr podcast is worth listening to here.

And –for all you ABBA fans— in early November, after 40 years, the Swedish group launched a new album Voyage.  Here’s Don’t Shut Me Down from Voyage.  And this video is a wonderful 6 minutes of fun and humour.


Featured Image Above: The Rokeby Venus, by Diego Velazquez (1647-1651). National Gallery, London UK)

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