The refugee crisis isn’t about refugees. It’s about us | Ai Weiwei

12 hours ago

I was a child refugee. I know how it feels to live in a camp, rob of my humanity, says the artist and activist Ai Weiwei

Quentin Tarantino apologizes for Polanski defense: ‘I was ignorant’

3 days ago

The film-maker has said sorry for a 2003 interview in which he justified Roman Polanskis rape of Samantha Geimer

Darth Vader actor ‘not interested’ in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

6 days ago

Dave Prowse, who appeared as the evil Sith Lord in the classic original trilogy, says he has not even seen the trailer for JJ Abramss film

In terms of rampant hype, it is even giving the original space opera trilogy, which helped usher in the Hollywood blockbuster era and sold hundreds of millions of plastic lightsabers, a run for its galactic credits. But the British actor who appeared as Darth Vader in all three movies says he has not even seen the trailer for JJ Abramss Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Dave Prowse, who portrayed the deadly Sith Lord onscreen for Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), told Yahoo! Movies he wasnt the slightest bit interested in any of Disneys new Star Wars films at least four are currently planned unless he got to play Vader once again.

It depends, he said. It depends if Im playing the part of Darth Vader in it Yes then Id be very interested. But if theyre putting somebody else in Darth Vaders mask, then Im not the slightest bit interested.

Of the latest, apparently final trailer for Abramss film, which has been viewed a staggering 50m times on YouTube, Prowse said: I havent seen it at all. No. Ive seen nothing about it whatsoever. No. No.

He added: The new film, I know absolutely nothing about. I dont really want to talk about it as I know nothing about it whatsoever not being involved in it, I really havent got much interest. You know not a lot, no.

Watch the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

The 80-year-old actor and former bodybuilder was in the Vader suit for much of the Sith Lords screen time and reputedly even got to speak his lines on set, though his west country tones were dubbed over with those of American actor James Earl Jones in post-production, and many of the fight scenes featured British Olympic fencer Bob Anderson. To add insult to injury, when Vaders face was finally shown to audiences as he lay dying in 1983s Return of the Jedi, producer George Lucas chose to cast the British stage actor Sebastian Shaw instead.

Abrams should perhaps not take the slight on The Force Awakens personally. Prowse has previously signalled his disinterest in Lucass oft-maligned prequel trilogy, which attempted to tell the story of how Jedi Anakin Skywalker was turned to the dark side. I didnt like Star Wars I, II and III at all, he told the Hull Daily Mail in 2013. I think the common opinion now is they were really bad movies. Theres no comparison with the original movies. They had a much more believable story.

Yet intriguingly, Prowse has still been tweeting about The Force Awakens, the latest trailer for which features crossguard lightsaber-wielding Vader fanboy Kylo Ren addressing the ruined helmet once worn by the dead Sith Lord.

Dave Prowse (@isDARTHVADER) October 20, 2015

So, he thinks he can finish what I started does he? #DarthVader pic.twitter.com/83wxvshdtB

Prowse is not the only Star Wars alumnus left nonplussed by the hype surrounding The Force Awakens. Lucas himself said in April that he had not seen the films previous trailer, though the Funny or Die website was quick to imagine him doing so.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Martin Scorsese film recalls martyrdom of Japan’s hidden Christians

One week ago

Ban on Christianity in early 1600 s, the focus of movie called Silence, forced converts to practise in secret, leading to a localised sort of the religion still practised by a few dozen people today

At low tide, Shigetsugu Kawakami can just about make out the prohibited stone from his home overlooking the beach in Neshiko, a tiny village on Hirado island in southern Japan.

According to verbal testimony, at least 70 villagers were taken there and beheaded in the early 17 th century. Their crime had been to convert to Christianity. When we were children, the adults told us that if we climbed on to the rock the village would be cursed, said Kawakami.

Today, ascension rock is a permanent reminder of the atrocities of almost four centuries ago. But the martyrdom of Japans concealed Christians is in danger of being forgotten.

Tens of thousands of Japanese Christians were executed, tortured and persecuted after the Tokugawa shogunate banned the religion in the early 1600 s. With a wary eye on Spanish rule in the Philippines, the authorities dreaded Japan could be the next country targeted by European powers that used Christian teaches as a catalyst for colonial rule.

The ban left Japans 750,000 converts with a selection: renounce their religion or continue to practise their religion in secret, in the knowledge that discovery would almost certainly mean death.

Discussion of Japans Christian heritage has largely been absent from public life since the mid-1 960 s, when Shusaku Endo explored the martyrdom of early converts in his critically acclaimed novel Silence.

Now, Martin Scorsese hopes to ensure their narrative will not be forgotten with a cinema based on Endos novel that is due for release next year.

Starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield, the cinema also called Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who are sent to Japan in the early 1600 s to investigate reports that their mentor has committed apostasy. They arrive to find Japanese converts in the midst of a brutal crackdown by the Tokugawa shogunate.

While no official records are kept of the number of modern-day kakure kirishitan ( hidden Christians ), local experts say perhaps merely a few dozen people still consider themselves believers.

Once its saviour, clandestine adore has contributed to a sharp decline in the number of believers. Blended with dwindling, ageing populations on the islands where it once prospered, disciples fear their crypto-Christian tradition is at risk of dying out.

Kawakami, 64, is one of the few concealed Christians who is happy to talk publicly about his faith. We dont practise our faith in public because we are effectively still in hiding, he said. We usually remain quiet and never out ourselves as Christians by appearing on Tv or giving interviews. We dont hold special ceremonies or pray in public. In fact, we dont do anything that would risk dedicating ourselves away.

Remote southern islands such as Hirado demonstrated fertile ground for Catholicism after St Francis Xavier and other missionaries introduced it to Japan in 1549. After a nationwide prohibit was enforced in the early 1600 s, converts devised ingenious ways to keep their religion alive.

They gathered in private homes to conduct religion ceremonies, and figurines of the Virgin mary were altered to resemble the Buddha or Japanese dolls. To the uneducated ear, their prayers voiced like Buddhist sutras, even though they contained a mix of Latin, Portuguese and obscure Japanese dialects. Scripture was passed on orally, since keeping bibles was considered too great a risk. None wore traverses or other religion accoutrements.

The need for secrecy during the course of its 250 years that Christianity was banned meant the version of the religion observed by Kawakamis ancestors little resemblance to its mainstream Catholic origins. Instead, early Japanese Christians incorporated elements of Buddhism and Shinto into their faith until it became a polytheistic creed of its own.

In many styles it was a very Japanese version of Christianity, said Shigeo Nakazono, curator of the Shima no Yakata museum on Ikitsuki, an island near Hirado.

But even this localised sort of Christianity met with fierce opposition from the Shogunate authorities, who devised a singularly cruel exam of loyalty to uncover converts. Suspects were ordered to prove they were not Christians by trampling on fumie images of Christ or the Virgin Mary engraved from stone or wood or face being hanged upside down over a cavity and slowly bled to death.

When the Meiji government lifted the prohibition in 1873, an estimated 30,000 secret Christians came out of hide. Now, Christians of all denominations make up less than 1% of Japans population of 128 million.

Japan was coming under the influence of European industry and technology, and that meant that old objections to Christianity weakened, Nakazono said.

Nakazono wondered whether Scorseses film would bide true to Endos novel, which some have criticised for being preoccupied with martyrdom. If all hidden Christians had been martyrs, there would have been none left, he said. But there were enough people willing to stamp on the fumie , denounce Christianity and then pray God for forgiveness.

At Neshiko beach, ascension stone physical proof that there were those who refused to abandon their faith is half submerged by the incoming tide. Even today, centuries after the last executing, locals remove their shoes before defining foot on the beachs fine white sand as a sign of respect.

Like the rites of the kakure kirishitan , the memories of the executed converts have been preserved by word of mouth a tradition that devotes Kawakami hope that their courage, and faiths, will not be forgotten.

We feel we have a duty to pass it on to future generations, he said. This is something our ancestors risked their lives to tell us.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Captain America: Civil War review – an aspartame rush

29 days ago

Entertaining mayhem ensues when some of the Avengers reject government oversight following a botched operation

Should the Avengers be nationalised? This is the explosively controversial idea that ignites a civil war among their ranks in this exciting superhero extravaganza. Its crazily surreal, engaging and funny in the best Marvel tradition, building to a whiplash-twist reveal that sports with the ever-present idea of duplicity and betrayal within the Avengers ranks themselves.

The innumerable civilian deaths and collateral damage that always follow the Avengers spectacular city-pulverising showdowns have become impossible to ignore and now the Avengers are faced with having to submit to UN political oversight and control.

After a catastrophic Avengers action in Lagos that resulted in Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) inadvertently trashing part of a building and killing innocent people, a political summit in Vienna is convened in which the Avengers must sign away their superheroic independence. Its an unthinkable humiliation the superhero equivalent of the Treaty of Versailles. And some of them arent having it.

Captain America (Chris Evans) makes a stand for the Avengers autonomy. Lining up behind him are the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch.

But ranged against him, deciding to go along with the new political reality, is Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), and joining him are War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Vision (Paul Bettany).

But wait. However real these divisive issues are, might they have been deliberately triggered by a sinister German agent, persuasively played by Daniel Brhl, who sets out to exploit the dangerous, destructive potential within Winter Soldier a dark secret dating back to a 1991 Russian military experiment revealed in flashback?

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Alan Cumming: ‘If Donald Trump is the president, we are screwed’

1 month, 5 days ago

In an appearance at the New York Public Library, the actor talked about Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky and, naturally, the rise of Donald Trump

Many years ago, the actor Alan Cumming happened to attend a birthday party at Carrie Fishers home. He arrived early. He was so early, in fact, that he was the first guest to arrive. The second was Elizabeth Taylor.

Rather than drum up small talk with one of the great Hollywood stars of the 20 th century, Cumming told a mob at the New York Public Library on Wednesday night, he chose to slip into another room and get a drinking at the bar. Fisher, he told, then approached him and hissed, in a kind of stage whisper: What are you doing? Do you know how many homosexuals would like to be in your position? Cumming returned to the living room and promptly he and Liz fell into an enjoyable conversation.

This is the sort of anecdote Cumming tells in his new volume, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures, out this week in the US from Rizzoli. I wanted to give people literal and figurative snapshots, Cumming told the NYPLs Paul Holdengraber last night at the first event of the library Live at the NYPL series. Probably the most touching of these is a shot of himself with his grandmother. On the working day the photograph was taken, Cumming told, his grandmother defended him from relatives who are seeking to tease him about his newly bleached blond hair. If I was young, she said, Id be a freak like Alan too.

On the stage last night Cumming was not much like the characters he plays. He was constrained, spoke slowly and carefully and sometimes even sadly. He was wearing a T-shirt that earnestly extol him a Library All Star and implored, Get in video games, read! And at least at one point, he was visibly riled with Holdengrabers topics. This was when Holdengraber tried to draw a parallel between Cummings troubled relationship to his father, and his troubled relationship with the writer and critic Gore Vidal.

Vidal befriended Cumming in the early 2000 s, he told the audience, and he aimed up having mixed feelings about the relationship. He was flattered, at first, that Vidal liked him, but the more he got to know the famously caustic critic the more he was saddened by Vidals lack of exhilaration. I dont think he was a very nice person, he told Holdengraber. He recalled a visit with Vidal and Vidals partner, Howard Austen. The pair had been together for 50 years. But Cumming said he was shocked to hear Vidal say in front of Austen, Well, Ive never loved, of course. This seemed a cruel thing to say.

Still, Vidal had plainly profoundly affected Cumming. He said he had want to get title his book, I Wrote This Book Because Gore Vidal Told Me To, but his publishers hadnt let him.( That title was instead used for the one chapter in the book where he discusses the relationship .)

Another of Cummings disagreements with Vidal, he told, was over the Monica Lewinsky affair. Vidal was unsympathetic to Lewinsky and especially defended Bill Clintons famous statement that he did not have sex with that woman. Cumming is a good friend of Lewinskys and grew very serious talking about it.

The way that, you know, the most powerful man in the world and this 23 -year-old girl who was in love with him, this thing happened, this unfortunate thing happened, yet she was the one, the weak one he said, reaching for the words to describe his feelings. He was the one who abused his power, and she was the one who was berated, and denigrated, and whose life was made a misery.

Cumming also had opinions to share about Donald Trump. If Donald Trump is the president of this country, we are fucked, ladies and gentlemen, severely, he told.

In the book he writes about the style that Cabaret, the musical whose 1993 London revival was Cummings big breakout role, gradually immerses the reader in the prospect of Nazism. Holdengraber called this passageway prescient as to the present trend of politics. Cumming blanched at the thought. Six, seven, eight months ago, it was funny , now its not funny at all, he said.

The fact that he has been a candidate of a major party, Cumming continued, its a victory of the lack of value this country puts on education. We have allowed a generation of people to be uneducated, to not be able to analyze, to not care about what is happening in the world, to also be in a place where if they are told the same thing again and again and again, propaganda basically, they believe it to be true. He cited Brexitas another example of the same phenomenon.

The demographics of this country have changed so radically in the last generation, and Im hoping that rich, white, entitled humen like Donald Trump, their days of being able to say contentious, racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic things, are over, Cumming told. But Im not certain. And that fills me with such horror.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Eddie Izzard:’ Everything I do in life is trying to get my mother back’

1 month, 8 days ago

Transgender hero Eddie Izzard has done standup in French and German, operate dozens of marathons, and is now in a period drama with Judi Dench. But, he uncovers, his can-do attitude has a melancholy source

There was a literal turning point in Eddie Izzard’s lifelong pursuit of personal freedom. It went one afternoon in 1985 when he had gone out for the first time in a dress and heels and full makeup down Islington high street. He was 23 and he had been planning- and avoiding- that moment for just about as long as he could remember. The turning point came after he was chased down the road by some teenage girls who had caught him changing back into his jeans in the public toilets and wanted to let him know he was weird. That pursuit objective when eventually, faced with the screamed question” Hey, why were you dressed as a woman ?”, he decided simply to stop running and turn and explain himself.

He spun around to give an answer, but before he got many terms out the girls had run in the opposite direction. The experience taught him some things: that there was power in tackling dread rather than avoiding it; and that from then on he would never let other people define him. After that afternoon, he says, he not only felt he could face down the things that scared him, he went chasing after them: street performing, standup slapstick, marathon running, political activism, improvising his stage show in different languages- all these things felt relatively easy after that original coming out as what he calls” transvestite or transgender “.” You think, if I can do something that hard, but positive- perhaps I can do anything .”

The ” anything” he has been doing most recently is to take on the challenge of acting opposite Judi Dench and Michael Gambon. In Stephen Frears’s interpretation of the true narrative of Queen Victoria’s late-life relationship with an Indian maid, Victoria& Abdul , Izzard plays a full-bearded, tweed-suited Bertie( afterward Edward VII ), reining in his comic instincts to occupy the outrage and scheming of a son considering his mother apparently making a fool of herself. Izzard has done plenty of movies before- he was in Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen alongside George Clooney and Brad Pitt and the rest- but nothing that has required quite this level of costume drama restraint. He loved it.

Watch a trailer for Victoria& Abdul .

He and Dench are old friends. She has been a regular at his stage shows and has been in the habit, for reasons forgotten, of sending a banana to his dressing room each opening night, with” Good luck !” written on it. Assuring her channel Victoria at close quarters was a daily masterclass. The movie was shot partly at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight( the first time any film crew had been allowed inside by English Heritage) and the cast would let their hair down in the evenings. One time, Izzard remembers:” I was dancing with Judi to Ray Charles’s’ What’d I Say ‘. She felt like a young lady, a young teenage girl virtually. Judi has this amazing triggered of vitality that traces all the way back to her youth .”

Watching the cinema, you’re so ready to see Izzard slip into one of his wayward meanders of consciousness that for a while it seems odd that he stays on script. Does it feel that style to him too?

” Not now ,” he tells.” My early run as an actor wasn’t very good because I only switched all my comedy muscles off, and I didn’t know what to replace them with. I believe I have learned more how to just’ be’ on cinema now. It is just like knowing how to both ride a bicycle and drive a car. If you are in a automobile you don’t want to lean sideways to turn a corner. You know the difference .”

Ever since he bunked off school and conned his route into Pinewood Studios as a 15 -year-old and strayed the film sets for a day, he has imagined himself an actor. The first thing he did when his comedy finally took off after years of trying and often failing to stimulate people laugh was to get himself a drama agent and see if he could pursue a twin career. He has never been satisfied with just doing one thing, and it appears that determination to diversify has only grown. He’s 55, and because of his running- which peaked at 43 marathons in 57 daysin the UK and 27 in 27 days in South Africa for Sport Relief– he looks lean and almost alarmingly bright-eyed. We are talking in a hotel room in London, and he is garmented sharply in” boy with eyeliner” mode. He works on the faith, he tells, that human beings were never made to sit still or settle, but to place themselves in challenging situations, and then work up how to cope.

” World war two is a good example ,” he indicates.” People get fallen behind enemy lines with no idea of what they were going into. They had to learn to do a great deal under extreme pressure and on the move. And they proved they could. In a very different style, I believe coming out as transgender allowed me to set myself in other terrifying situations and work them out once I was in them. I knew I would get through the bad, scaring bit- and there was a lot of that when I was a street performer- and eventually get to a more interesting place .”

Running
Operating one of many marathons for Sport Relief in July 2009. Photograph: Alfie Hitchcock/ Rex
He has, of late, paused to reflect on the motivations behind that impulse, first in a documentary film,
Believe: the Eddie Izzard Story , made by his ex-lover and long-term collaborator Sarah Townsend, and then in an autobiography, Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens . The first two elements of that latter subtitle largely resulted Izzard back to his mother, who died of cancer when he was six years old. Building the cinema, Townsend came to suggest that all Izzard’s inspired digressive habits circled around this truth, and in his volume, in opening chapters too poignant to read easily, he expands on that thought.

” Toward the end of the movie, I started talking about my mother …” he recollects.” And I said something revelatory:’ I know why I’m doing all this ,’ I said.’ Everything I do in life is trying to get her back. I think if I do enough things … that maybe she’ll come back .'” When he said those terms, he tells, it felt like his unconscious speaking. The thought remained with him that” I do believe I started performing and doing all sorts of big, crazy, ambitious things because on some level, on some childlike magical-thinking level, I thought doing those things might bring her back .”

I wonder, having got those things out into the public, nearly half a century on, if it has changed how he thinks about himself?

” I surely feel I am in a better place ,” he says- but also it has given him a sense of his own strangeness.” There is that thing where people say wow about the marathons or whatever. And I kind of tell wow too, because there are some things I did that, looking back, I don’t know how I did them. Running a doubled marathon on the last day in South Africa. It was 11 hours of not fun. And about five minutes of euphoria. I’m not sure how I did that .”

One of the things about marathons- even if you are running, as he was some of the time in the UK, followed by an ice-cream van blaring the Chariots of Fire topic- is that there is an nasty lot of period for supposing. Does his intellect ever pause for breath?

” I have a luck thing ,” he says,” which is that I am interested in any question- how did we get here? all the religions. I can think about anything. For example when I did the 43[ marathons] I ran past a sign telling’ the Battle of Naseby: 1 mile’ and I’m immediately off thinking about Cromwell and Fairfax, Prince Rupert maybe, and how this road I was operating on would have been a way back then and perhaps the cavalry came down it, how did they get cannon round that bend, all that, at every moment …”

Campaigning
Campaigning for Labour during the general election in 2015. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/ PA

Talking to Izzard, and watching him perform, you sense he has a kind of need of not ever wanting to miss any scrap of experience. It’s partly, he suggests, why he has widened his repertoire of doing standup in different languages in recent years.

” German has been the hardest in so far ,” he tells. He is doing Arabic next, scheming a show in the Yemen( he was born in Aden, where his father worked for a time for BP) to draw attention to the brutal civil war there, and after that, Mandarin Chinese. As he explains this, blithely, I’m reminded both of the passages in his volume where he writes about the strategies he developed to overcome severe dyslexia as small children, and his uneasy relationship with his late stepmother, Kate. The antithesis of performing as a younger human for the memory of his mother was a refusal to be limited by Kate’s efforts to control him. She wanted him to be an accountant because he was good with numbers, if not with read. He remembers her once telling him:” You’ve got to understand that you are a cog in the machine. As soon as you understand that, you can fit in and get on with life .” You can only imagine how that was downed. Does he ever think he will become more accepting of restrictions?

” I have a very strong sense that we are only on this planet for a short duration of hour ,” he tells.” And that is only growing. Religious people might think it goes on after demise. My impression is that if that is the case it would be nice if just one person is coming and let us know it was all fine, all confirmed. Of all the billions of people who have died, if just one of them could come through the clouds and say, you know,’ It’s me Jeanine, it’s brilliant, there’s a really good spa ‘, that would be great .” He pauses.” Although what if heaven was merely like three-star, OK-ish. You know,’ Some of the taps don’t work …'”

He sets his success down not to any particular talent, but to his being” brilliantly boring. Some people are maybe brilliantly interesting. But I have the opposite gift .” That, and stamina, and that unlimited curiosity about the world.

For a BBC series about genealogy he went to Africa to trace percentages per of his genetic make-up that was Neanderthal. It reinforced his sense that there was nothing new for the purposes of the sun, that people had always been the same.” We never think of cavemen being envious of the neighbours with the very best cave, but without doubt they were ,” he says.

In villages in Namibia, females were fascinated by his nail varnish; some of the men, too.” You know if you have a football and some nail burnish and a smile you can walk into any village in the world and find friends ,” he tells.” There are 7 billion of us on the planet now and we should be connecting up more. Ninety-nine per cent of us would be live-and-let-live and’ Hi and how are you ?’. But the 1% aren’t happy with that, they want to actively stir it up and tell us that is not the way to go on .”

Meeting
Meeting the Bakola Pygmies in Cameroon for a BBC series to trace his genetic make-up. Photograph: BBC

Talk of politics is a reminder of Izzard’s interventions in last year’s referendum campaign, in which he tried to use his experiences of doing slapstick in French and German and Spanish as an example of how Europe might be a place where you could share culture, rather than be defensive about it. In those fevered weeks, his arguments were sometimes made to look naive; the Mail and the rest roasted him after an awkward encounter with Nigel Farage on Question Time .

He admits that he is sometimes still learning in politics, but is unrepentant about his efforts to try to advance a cause that he has been engaged in as a performer for a long while.

” Running and hiding from Europe cannot be the way forward for us ,” he tells.” The notion that Britain can go back to 1970 and it will still be all the same simply can’t be an option .”

Does he think there is still hope for Remainers?

” It seems to me people are always capable of being either brave and curious or fearful and suspicious. If you track humanity all the way through, the periods of success for civilisation are those periods where we have been brave and curious .”

There is plenty of anxiety and mistrust in the world though. How does he think it will go?

” I don’t know. If you look at the 1930 s there are obviously clear examples of how individuals can spin these kinds of dreads and twist them, and then you get what historians usually call mass-murdering fuckheads in power .”

He have all along talked of looking to run as a Labour MP in the elections. Is that still the lawsuit?

” Yes, the scheme was always to run in 2020, though Theresa May has changed that with her failed power grab. So now it’s the first general election after 2020.”

He will also put himself forward for Labour’s national executive committee at the party meeting this year. He didn’t make it last hour, though he got 70,000 votes. And if and when he has become a MP, he will give up acting and performing?

” I would. It’s like Glenda Jackson; she gave up acting for 25 years to concentrate on it, then she turns up back as King Lear .”

With
With Ali Fazal, Judi Dench and director Stephen Frears for a screening of Victoria& Abdul at the Venice film festival. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/ Getty Images

I wonder if another ambition, to eventually have infants, still applies?

” I always said children in my 50 s. But I also always felt that I had to do things first. Get this stuff done. But yes, I haven’t given up on that .”

For someone who was dealt an early lesson about the fragility of life, his long-term planning audios odd. Does he feel that contradiction?

” I think we should all choose a year we would like to live to, and do everything we can to construct that the project works. I mean it could all go wrong at any point, plainly. But we also know that if we don’t get ailment or get hit by a bus we can help ourselves by drinking enough water and maintaining as fit as you were when you were a kid. As we get older and we get a bit creaky we take that as a sign to stop doing stuff. My sense is we should push through creaky. I was feeling a bit sluggish lately, about a month ago, I believed right, I’ll do seven marathons in seven days. And off I run. The first four were a bit rubbish, but you push on through that .”

He must have good joints?

” I mangled my knee up a while ago, trying to leap over a fence ,” he says.” But it healed up, and now it complains only when I don’t use it enough .”

Is there some genetic explanation for his energy?

” Dad loved football, played until his late 30 s. I don’t know about Mum. She liked singing and slapstick and Flanders and Swann but I’m not sure about athletic .”

I hear his voice breaking just slightly. Izzard still can’t really talk about his mother easily, at the least not in an interview. In his volume he describes how in the immediate aftermath of her demise he and his father and his brother wept together for half an hour and then stopped in case they went on for ever. In place of therapy papa bought his sons a model railway set and they construct it in the spare room and immersed themselves in it. The situated lately resurfaced when Izzard had it restored and donated it to a museum in their home town of Bexhill-on-Sea, another part of his excavation of that time.

” Dad encouraged us with it after Mum succumbed ,” he tells, by way of rationale.” He made a table for us and we spent hours and hours constructing it. Then in 1975 my stepmother, Kate, came along and it was put away into boxes and never “re coming out” again. It ran from Dad’s attic to my brother’s attic, and he didn’t know what to do with it. I thought, why not give it to the museum in Bexhill? I guessed there might be plenty of model railway enthusiasts in Bexhill, and they rebuilt this thing, it’s kind of a collector’s item. They are now going to build another one, a Christmas version. We had a grand opening and Dad came down to see it .”

He likes the fact that he is in a position to make these kinds of things happen. Is he happier now than ever?

” I always wanted the kind of profile that you can leverage to do the things you want ,” he says.” There is no path into it. You have to work out how you get there- over the wall, or tunnel your route in. I always supposed doing the same thing was actually going backwards. And if “youre starting” saying’ Hi, I like chicken’ on some advert, you know you have probably reached that phase .”

You hesitate a little to ask him what he is working on next, but I do anyway.

” I’ve written my first film ,” he tells.” It is called Six Minutes to Midnight , set in the summer of 1939. I’m developing a show in French in Paris. This December I am going to be on a boat, only below Notre Dame, doing two presents nightly. What else? I’m not a good reader but I always wanted to read all of Dickens, so I have found someone who will let me read them as audiobooks- I have done a third of Great Expectations and it took four days. So: 12 days. And then there is the premiere of Victoria& Abdul for which Dad is coming up from Bexhill to expend his 89 th birthday with Judi Dench …”

Out of all the things he has done, I ask, of what is he proudest?

” Mostly I hope I have done things that help other people to do them ,” he tells.” That was the thing with coming out as transgender, and it was the same thing doing the marathons, or learning the languages. I hope people might guess, well if that imbecile can do it, why can’t I? I entail, I’m just some guy, right. Nothing special ?”

I’m not quite convinced.

Victoria& Abdul is released on Friday 15 September. Believe Me is published by Michael Joseph( PS20 ). To order a transcript for PS17 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99

Read more: www.theguardian.com

10 Cloverfield Lane Will Have You Writhing The Whole Way Through

1 month, 11 days ago
Nowadays the film industry seems tospend so much period building up the hype that by the time a movie makes the big screen weve insured a teaser, three trailers, and pretty much know exactly whats going to happen including spoilers .

10 Cloverfield Lane is a freshening change from that somewhat saturating tradition. It wasnt until January, merely two months prior to the opening of the films release, that we were even made aware that it existed.

Its not really a sequel to the alien attack movie Cloverfield, but more like a distant, less showy relative, with both having spawned from JJ Abrams production company Bad Robot. Whereas Cloverfield showed us the Statue of Libertys head crashing into the street as a whole city disintegrated, 10 Cloverfield Lane barely leaves the underground bunker in which most of the film is set.

Being less showy doesnt mean its any less entertaining, though. The movie will have you either writhe or jumping out of your seat from before the opening credits are over, right up until the very end. It’s director Dan Trachtenberg’s first feature length cinema, but he pulls ofthis spiraling thriller as though he’s done it a thousand times before.

The film starts out with Michelle( Mary Elizabeth Winstead) dismissing bellows from her fianc as she drives in her car. After being run off the road she wakes up in an empty room where she soon gratifies her captor or saviour Howard( John Goodman) who tells her that the world outside is a nuclear desert, and that they must live underground for at the least a year to remain safe. We live Michelles dread with her, questioning the legitimacy of Howards claims and motivations as she slowly tries to decipher exactly what “the hells going on”. Is Howard right? Does leaving the bunker entail certain demise? Or is something more sinister happening?

The third character in the mix is the jovial Emmett( John Gallagher Jr ), a local worker who has known Howard for some time. Emmett provides the only glimpses of light relief from the incredibly weird and intense Howard.

John Goodman plays Howard brilliantly, his huge frame and sketchy stance combining well to intimidate the whole way through. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr are equally as good, and its the three of them that elevate this film from a tight script and well thought out idea to something that really get under your skin.

The less you know before ensure it, the more you will enjoy the film, so we wont be revealing any spoilers here. What we will say is that if your heart rate and stress levels don’t go up during the course of its movie then you really are made of stone.

10 Cloverfield Lane is out in cinemas this Friday .

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He who must not be named: how Harry Potter helps make sense of Trump’s world

1 month, 27 days ago

For fans of the wizard series, the new political order is Dumbledores army v President Voldemort. Is it merely a juvenile comparing or have JK Rowlings books shaped a generations thinking?

Every generation has its go-to pop-culture political analogy. For decades, it was Star Wars. Its easy to see how Reagans 80 s space-based weapons shield initiative earned its nickname, for example, but the reference has endured, to the extent that White House chief strategist Steve Bannon expressed his admiration for the dark side in a recent interview: Darkness is good. Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. Thats power. But one name was missing from that listing: Voldemort.

The Harry Potter villain has risen again over the past couple of years, as fans have described comparisons, often humorously, between a world under threat from a narcissistic tyrant and that of the Harry Potter volumes. In February, Bannon was the subject of a Buzzfeed quiz that asked, Who Told It: Steve Bannon or Lord Voldermort ?; it was harder than you might have thought. JK Rowlings readers have grown up at approximately the same pace as Harry, Ron and Hermione, and with its hundreds of millions of book marketings and the massive success of the movie adaptations, the series reach has been enormous.

What Harry Potter has given a generation is a simple narrative of good triumphing over evil, and, as a result, it has been a frequent and controversial point of reference in this time of political divisiveness. At the worldwide Womens Marches in January, there were plenty of homemade signs that indicated Princess Leia as the face of a new resistance, but there were as many Potter ones, such as Dumbledores army, inspirational quotes from the series and references to Hermiones role in Harrys survival. Perhaps these placards had been inspired by an outpouring of affection for the books following the US election in November, as people began to post quotes on Twitter. Order of the Phoenix, mount up, wrote Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. There is even a Chrome extension that changes any mention of Donald Trump or his cabinet to the name of a notable Death Eater. Install it, and your browser will instantly refer to Betsy DeVos as Dolores Umbridge, Jeff Sessions as Antonin Dolohov or Rex Tillerson as Draco Malfoy.

Placards
Placards at the Girl March in Washington DC. Photo: Patsy Lynch/ REX/ Shutterstock

I would have been nine or 10 when I started read it, tells Jamie MacColl, 26, the guitarist in Bombay Bicycle Club. Last year MacColl set up the campaign group Undivided, which aims to ensure young peoples voices are heard in Brexit negotiations, and he recently appeared on the BBC Question Time panel. I remember the craze to read each new volume within minutes of it coming out, and queueing up in the midst of the night at the bookshop to get it. He says that he can only think of their political or social message in light of JK Rowlings transparently left-leaning Twitter presence. I think she has a similar kind of politics to me. But one of the things that struck me at the time was that it didnt matter who you were. Hermione had no wizard blood and was by far the most capable.

The broad central message of the Potter volumes is diversity and acceptance of difference. As the characters grow older, and the books more complex and matured, the political the effects of not heeding this doctrine become darker and more imperil. The baddies insistence on the superiority of purebloods over mudbloods has overtones of ethnic cleansing; the Death Eaters are fascistic. It would be mean-spirited to spoil the carefully guarded plot of The Cursed Child for those with tickets to see it, but it is fair to say that there is plenty in the play that stimulates this association clear.

Its a lot of fun to update the references and see how Rowlings vision works for the current epoch. Throughout the series, the Ministry of Magic is full of incompetent, pervert, bumbling figures whose only ambition is to cling on to power. The press is untrustworthy and hysterical. In a magical premonition of phone-hacking, the journalist Rita Skeeter transforms herself into a beetle in order to report on details nobody else could know about. The Daily Prophet is often used as a marionette of the system in order to sway popular positions. About the recent Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling told, I was partly inspired by the rise of populism around the world .~ ATAGEND The explanation of the anti-magic sentiment rippling through 1920 s New York in the film could be taken from Brexit Britain: When No-Majs[ American for muggle] are afraid, they attack.

Steve
Steve Bannon, who recently told: Darkness is good. Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. Thats power. Photo: REX/ Shutterstock

In 2013, Anthony Gierzynski, a prof of political science at the University of Vermont, published a study called Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation, co-authored with Kathryn Eddy. It aimed to answer the question of whether the Harry Potter narrative had influenced the politics of millennials. In the introduction, Gierzynski discusses, with what now looks like quaint naivety, online comparings that at the time variously likened Voldemort to Rick Perry and Dick Cheney.

To say the political scenery has changed is an understatement, he tells me. We have a chairwoman whose rhetoric promotes intolerance and who fits the typical authoritarian personality. I would think the Harry Potter lessons are even more relevant today than they were for the 2012 election.

Rowling herself nodded to a Trump/ Voldemort comparison back in 2015, when Trump first proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US. How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near even worse, she tweeted. The connect has been made by others, and often; there are countless memes comparing the president to He Who Must Not Be Named.( Intriguingly, when criticising Trump in recent speeches or interviews, celebrities such as Meryl Streep and Kristen Stewart have declined to address him by name, a stance shared with many US activists .)

In the case of Trump, Gierzynski indicates, a better reference point would be an incompetent Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge-type figure. But he also points out that hurling names around is unlikely to be helpful in the long run. Calling anyone Voldemort is problematic in terms of the debate you might have. It shuts down the debate, he tells. If you have a discussion[ about] what happens with these kinds of leaders, and how this leads to an fanaticism of out groups that is where the value of the Harry Potter series is, to me. It can provide lessons about how you deal with that sort of injustice and intolerance.

In 2016, Diana Mutz, prof of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics, published a paper called Harry Potter and the Deathly Donald, which cautiously was contended that reading Harry Potter or watching the movies lowered Americans opinions of Trump and his policies. Stories can sway peoples opinions; Harry Potter is just one that happens to have been read and viewed by a massive number of people. This stimulates it potentially more influential than most tales, she tells me by email. Fictional stories are more than simply analogies; they are a time-honoured style of influencing sentiments. Think of Uncle Toms Cabin and American attitudes towards slavery.

Michael
Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Photograph: Warner Bros/ Sportsphoto/ Allstar

Like Gierzynski, Mutz suggests that the messages of tolerance and diversity in the Harry Potter world have influenced the beliefs of its readers, rather than reflecting an existing point of view. But she was surprised by the strength of the backlash she received upon publication of the paper. I have never received more hate mail than in response to this study; its a bit scary, to be honest. Clearly, people who like Donald Trump are uncomfortable with the studys findings, but with empirical data, you dont get to choose your findings. They are what they are, she says.( The current climate is so toxic that Gierzynski also expressed concern. Theres a bit of fear in our discourse. Usually, when I talk to journalists, I wouldnt worry, but these days I do .)

Trump advocates are not alone in criticising the use of Harry Potter as a political analogy. In a scathing post-election column for Esquire last November, Corey Atad wrote that even though he considers himself to be an enormous Harry Potter fan, he found the comparison of Trump to Voldemort, and the idea of an opposition that is Dumbledores army, to be repellent. In tweet after shameful tweet, intellectually and emotionally stunted adults sought to place the election of a fascistic president in terms they could easily understand, he wrote. The Huffington Post operated a narrative that called Trump/ Voldemort comparings inane and condescending, while Matthew Dessem, a writer for Slate, was similarly outraged: Are you fucking kidding me with this shit? … This is really happening.

All three pieces were written in the immediate aftermath of the election; the anger and anxiety is palpable and understandable. But the idea of using fictional narratives to understand and construe the world is as old as day; it is no coincidence that sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaids Tale have risen since November. If, as academics such as Mutz and Gierzynski argue, the Harry Potter series has created a generation of people who are more open-minded and tolerant of change owing to the books they read as children, then it seems far from juvenile and reductive.

Besides, there is little to suggest that tweeting a Dumbledore quote is as far as a Potter fan might take it. In June last year, Yeni Lopez Sleidi, the editor of the site wwwayward, attained posters of Donald Trump underneath a motivational quote: There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it. Potter fans may recognise these words as are subordinate to Professor Quirrell, recollecting what the Dark Lord taught him. Sleidi sold a number of posters to Trump advocates and donated the profits to Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, a charity that supports LGBTQ Latino communities. If the purchaser had put the posters on their walls and turned off the lightings, they would have found that their purchase had a secret: in the dark, Trump vanishes, to be replaced by a glowing green image of Voldemort. Now thats magic.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The return of Star Wars: an evil empire in Jedi clothing?

1 month, 29 days ago

Next month ensure the eagerly awaited arrival of The Force Awakens. A good moment to examine the franchises timeless mass appeal

A long time ago, when everyone was taking day trips to a galaxy far, far away, I decided to stay put on our drab little planet. For months I ignored the blis of the individuals who returned home babbling about the marvels they had witnessed. Eventually my resistance weakened: late in the summer of 1977, I decided to see Star Wars after all. By that stage it wasnt easy. Cultists were attaining multiple return visits, and tickets were scarce. But I managed to buy one for a late-night session in a London cinema, where the mood of contagious excitement erupted every few minutes into whoops and cheers. I was merely there, I sternly told myself, out of culture curiosity. Two hours later I stumbled back into the empty streets, my head reeling as I hummed the fanfare by John Williams a marching through space scored for blaring trumpets and thunderous drums that introduced a wild, unstoppable ride, a rollercoaster of giddy delights. Star Wars “ve earned it” terse, bold title: here was a cosmic carnival, a flaring light show that was violent but mercifully harmless.

I sampled other worlds, peopled by animals belonging to no known species, and I watched a blue planet like our own blow up in a re-enactment of the big bang. I also had a preview of our cybernetic future. People were redefined as digital wraiths, whose data could be loaded on to a disc and disgorged from a machine as flickery holograms. Upsetting traditional hierarchies, two metal servants the burnish, prissy butler C-3PO and his squat companion R2-D2, apparently a dustbin with a brain bossily managed the affairs of their accident-prone masters. I liked this pair so much that I even bought a poster of them, which I pinned up in my college rooms in Oxford, discreetly out of sight of the student to whom I was teaching English literature.

My enthusiasm faded soon enough, and I binned the poster. I wasnt seduced to see the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi , when they appeared early in the 1980 s; by the time the writer and director George Lucas added The Phantom Menace and two more prequels to the series between 1999 and 2006, I had made up my intellect that only adolescents preoccupied by gadgetry went to the cinema, so I left them to it. From then on, my attitude resembled that of Natalie Portman, who remembers shrugging indifferently when she was offered a role in the first prequel: I was like, Star what?

Portman, however, overcame her disdain and accepted the job, and I gradually caught up on DVD with the five episodes Id missed. Now, with the series due to resume when The Force Awakens is released next month, Im obliged to admit that Star Wars is inescapable. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis recently called it a cradle-to-grave amusement experience, which is literally true. Soon after their emergence from the womb, toddlers can be togged out in romper suits that announce I am a Jedi, or fitted with bibs on which Yoda, resembling a wizened green embryo, deploys his usual back-to-front syntax to demand Feed me you must.

At the other end of life, a Texan cancer patient called Daniel Fleetwood, who in September was given two months to live, campaigned online to be given an early viewing of The Force Awakens , pleading that he was unlikely to survive until its opening date; the movies director, JJ Abrams, granted his wish early in November, and Fleetwood died shortly afterwards. Han Solos Millennium Falcon can whizz through wormholes to emerge in galaxies on the far side of the universe: I hope that the movie eases Fleetwoods journey to his final destination, wherever it may be.

Appearing in instalments throughout the decades, Star Wars has aged with us, and as proof of its longevity the three principal actors from the first cinema goofy, toothy Mark Hamill, sassy Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford with his sly sideways grin will return in wrinklier, more grizzled form in The Force Awakens . The series also narrates the history of the times we have lived through: not only abstruse science fiction, it is political journalism in coded form.

Over the course of the six cinemas( not in chronological order ), a libertarian republic transforms itself into a predatory global empire, much as the United States has done during the last half century. Wed like to avoid imperial entanglements, tells Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: he is repeating a point first made by George Washington, who in his presidential farewell advised the new country to remain isolated. America kept to itself until 1945, but during the cold war it began to behave like a global bully. In 1983 Ronald Reagan deflected attention from members of the military conceit and commercial rapacity by calling the USSR an evil empire, a phrase borrowed from the synopsis of past events in the early stages of Star Wars . Reagans plan for an aerial shield of rocket deployment platforms had similar origins: it was nicknamed Star Wars because it would supposedly transform nuclear combat into a pyrotechnical blitz to be played out far above us.

When the USSR fell apart, the focus changed. The Star Wars prequels especially Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith , made after 9/11 advise about the curtailment of autonomies in fortified, permanently embattled America. Democracy cant be bothered to put up a fight: Ewan McGregor, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi when young, statements that the senators are merely interested in serving the interests of those who money their campaigns a comment that glances at Washington DC , not the far-flung planet of Coruscant. The sepulchral monarch, who, as personified by Ian McDiarmid, has skin like desiccated parchment and teeth that are lichen-crusted gravestones, virtually quotes George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld when he explains that security and continuing stability are his regimes imperatives. As for The Phantom Menace , the title might serve as a caption for the vial of imaginary anthrax hold back by Colin Powell at the United Nation in 2003 during his speech to rally support for the invasion of Iraq. Star Wars begins by proclaiming Princess Leias determination to restore freedom to the galaxy, though its never clear just what all those twinkling starrings need to be freed from and when we do get a clue, the explanation is dismayingly banal. For citizens of the galactic republic as for those in favour of the Republican party, the sticking point is the iniquity of taxation. Turmoil resumes in The Phantom Menace because trade routes to outlying star systems are being taxed by the greedy trade federation. A pact has to be signed by the commerce guild and the corporate alliance, which are supported by the banking clan( whose representative is a corpse with a clerical collar) and the techno union( which sends a metal leviathan to the negotiations ). Until Lucasfilms sale to Disneyin 2012, Star Wars was distributed by 20 th Century Fox, so its seducing to cast Rupert Murdoch as the baleful megalomaniac monarch, keen to widen his piratical brand of capitalism into all markets. Although the Jedi master played by Samuel L Jackson insists that We are peacekeepers , not soldiers, he unsheathes his lightsaber to keep the airwaves open for the dissemination of American entertainment.

The idea of the Force, central to the fuzzy theology of Star Wars , is disturbingly equivocal. The Jedi think of it as spiritual energy, but the word also entails power, which is colder and more brutal. Star Wars catches both Americas light and dark sides, its naive optimism and its crass, domineering pursuing of earning. Whether we think it good or evil, all of us have been colonised by this empire of images.

Now that CGI effects have become so ingeniously deceptive, its odd to remember the astonishment that Star Wars provoked in 1977. We may be more sophisticated today, but what remains eye-opening about the first three films in the series is the variety of custom-made environments through which they range arid Tatooine, gaseous Bespin with its city in the clouds, or jungly Endor and the virtual zoo of so-called lifeforms they place on display.

As inseparable as Laurel and Hardy R2-D 2 with C-3PO in the original 1977 movie. Photograph: Alamy

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia are featureless archetypes: a surfer dude, a cowboy, and a generic female who promptly strips to a tacky gold bikini. The true characters are ogres and mutants, like the jazz quartet of praying mantises we glimpse at Mos Eisleys cantina, the four-eyed Annoo-dats, the feathery four-armed Besalisks, and such gruesomely idiosyncratic freaks as the toad-faced lecher Jabba the Hutt, Watto the junk-dealing bluebottle, and the reptilian changeling Zam Wesell, who is a slinky girl on the outside and a lizard for the purposes of the scalp. In this cosmos, humankind is an endangered species.

Which Stars Wars animal are you? asks one of the epics marketing websites. Its a question that many people seem to address to themselves. Nominating their religion in the 2001 census, nearly 400,000 UK citizens claimed to be Jedis. Some were joking, but not all: the church of Jediism has 200,000 adherents around the world, and in 2009 when one of its founders was asked to leave a supermarket in Wales because his cloak and hood seemed sinister to other shoppers, he claimed to be a victim of religious intolerance. These days, admission to the chivalric order is easier than it was for Luke, who had to undergo a course of martial and mental educate before his induction: all it takes is a credit card. Tesco sells kids Jedi robes made of polyester, ideal for parties and feign play, which can be accessorised with lightsaber that are stubby battery-operated torches.

Other alternatives are available for those with less monastic savors. In an episode of Friends , Ross badgered Rachel to have sex with him while garmented or rather undressed in Leias tawdry bikini( which was recently auctioned off to a Star Wars fetishist for $96,000 ). On festive occasions gay humen have been known to armour themselves as imperial stormtroopers, exchanging black leather for white thermoplastic polymer. In a parodic Spanish cinema called Love Wars , two of these clones canoodle in a hideout on the Death Star, though their glassy vizors induce snogging awkward.

Watch the trailer for the original 1977 film.

Last month a shaggy, hulking Chewbacca was arrested in Ukraine while campaigning for a candidate in a local government elections; he was fined a minimal sum for some petty misdemeanour, but claimed he couldnt pay because his bank didnt have a branch on earth. Also in Ukraine, a bronze statue of Lenin in the grounds of an Odessa factory was lately given a makeover as Darth Vader, with a uniform specially sculpted from a titanium alloy. Unlike Lenin, the demonic lord performs a public service, which guarantees him a dedicated following: his samurai helmet conceals a free Wi-Fi hot spot. In Sweden late last month, another Darth Vader set about on a less benevolent mission. A young man with racist grudges donned a black mask before stabbing to death a student and a educator at a local school. Before the two attacks he told them I am your father, as if Darth Vader were unveiling the secret of their shameful origins to Luke and Leia.

Oddly enough, the above figures in Star Wars that seem closest to human habits and concerns are not beasts at all, but contraptions. At the start of the first movie, we are introduced to this remote galaxy by the droid C-3PO and the astromech R2-D2, partners as mismatched yet as inseparable as Laurel and Hardy or the Two Ronnies. They may be machines with product labels , not names, but they are touchingly represented C-3PO by his angular gait, his prissy concern for protocol, his showy linguistic virtuosity, and his queasy dread of flying, R2-D2 by his geeky introversion and his autistic vocal repertory of beeps and burps. Between them they point to the forking route of post-human evolution. With luck, we might develop into effortlessly superior, gold-plated intellectuals like C-3PO, who is expert at over six million forms of communication: Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, promises we will be better off when we have the benefit of an artificial brain. Or will we turn out to be unsocialised nerds, clever with instruction manuals but inarticulate? R2-D2 is likely closer to the truth: he resembles the anonymous teens umbilically linked to computer terminals in their solitary bedrooms, tubby in shape because they eat only junk food who have adopted Star Wars as their all-knowing bible.

Mistaken for a divinity by the teddy bears called Ewoks, C-3PO bleats in embarrassment that his coding does not allow it him to impersonate a deity. Nevertheless he sniffs at beings made of mere flesh and blood, and when Luke is lost in a blizzard on an arctic planet he statements Hes quite clever, you know for a human. In a humbler moment, C-3PO salutes Anakin Skywalker, who first screwed his bits and pieces together, as the maker: this is his personal version of the creator who in Genesis moulds mankind out of red clay and breathes a spirit into him. On several occasions C-3PO is dismantled, and one of the most apprehending scenes in the series comes in The Empire Strikes Back when Chewbacca variously described as a fuzzball, a mophead and a stroll carpet mutely contemplates the droids severed head, puzzles over how it fits together with his discarded extremities, and painstakingly reassembles him.

Here is an encounter between ape and angel, at the beginning and end of the our long, halting evolutionary marching. Its a little like Hamlet brooding over the skull of Yorick: human is, as Hamlet tells, a piece of work, and it might be wise to see ourselves as engines not organisms, kept going by circuitry rather than nerves and arteries. When Darth Vader chops off Lukes hand, it is soon replaced by a prosthetic manage clad in artificial skin. Thanks to biomedical technology, all of us are undergoing a redesign, and Star Wars inspires us to think about whether that means we have outgrown humanity. Revenge of the Sith concludes by balancing the bodily past against the mechanical future. PadmA( c ), played by Natalie Portman, dedicates birth to the twins parent by Anakin, who will grow up to be Luke and Leia. Fussed over by a robotic midwife in a glitter obstetric ward, she still has to deliver the infants in the customary, agonising way, and she dies in doing so. Simultaneously, as two separate climaxes are intercut, we watch Anakin being hacked to pieces by Obi-Wan, then charred by a volcanic river that singes his corpse. But a squad of Frankensteinian doctors metallise the segments of his corpse and install a wheezing respirator in his chest. With the remains of his carbonised head encased in a sleek black helmet, he rises again as Darth Vader.

Nature fails in one case, science performs a diabolical miracle in the other. Having struggled out of the swamp where the gastropod slugs slurp and gnaw on the planet of Dagobah, we are no longer animals; our next metamorphosis may demonstrate what Obi-Wan means when he says that Darth Vader is more machine than man.

Genetic replication brings its own terrors. Armies of faceless, mindless clone troopers, modified to attain them both automatically obedient and ruthless, maraud through the later films. Obi-Wan worries that droids might have the capacity to strategy and strategise, and muses that If they could think, thered be none of us here, would there? Star Wars forums online have made this into a talking point, and many commentators answer Obi-Wans topic by calling him stupid, conservative and condescending. Droids, the messages in one forum assert, are sentient, intelligent, and should not be rebuff; someone else been shown that C-3PO, for all his effete fussing, might be James Camerons Terminator in disguise, poised to eliminate the inferior race of biologicals. After all, the software innovator Elon Musk advised in a recent tweet that We need to be super careful about AI potentially more dangerous than nukes. Who is to say, as Yoda puts it, for once not jumbling the syntax, what the future holds?

Technical progress is alarming: hence the emotional appeal of regression. Now is the time to return to childhood, sighed the critic Pauline Kael, who, when she saw Star Wars in 1977 described the cinema as the equivalent of taking a pack of kids to the circus.

Feed me, you must: Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. Photograph: Cine Text/ Sportsphoto Ltd ./ Allstar

Kael had a point about the endearing but exhausting childishness of Star Wars . The other movies of its period were grim parables of psychological deviancy, social malaise and political paranoia, set in Americas hellish, festering cities Scorseses Taxi Driver , Robert Altmans Nashville , Alan J Pakulas The Parallax View , Francis Ford Coppolas The Conversation . Lucas had previously attained American Graffiti , a pastoral idyll about teens amusing themselves in a small Californian town; it ends with a fearful preview of the grown-up future one character will be killed in a automobile accident, another will go missing in Vietnam, a third will suffer the fate worse than demise by migrating to Canada. Star Wars dodgings such outcomes by reverting to infancy and regaling immature audiences with what Kael called its comic-book hedonism. Lucas came to resent such patronising accounts of his run, and favor the acclaim of interpreters like the pop mythographer Joseph Campbell, who thought that Star Wars satisfied the human need for spiritual escapade and identified its characters as Jungian archetypes: Lucass namesake Luke is the young hero on a journey towards maturity, Obi-Wan is the elderly mentor who arms him for the fray, and Darth Vader represents modern atheism, a black void whose appearance connotes, in Campbells words, that the world is run by economics and politics, which have nothing to do with the spiritual life. Flattered by such puffery, Lucas offered to redeem a secular century. It came to me, he said, that there really was no modern use of myth, which suggests that he had missed out on Eliots The Waste Land , Joyces Ulysses and Stravinskys Oedipus Rex ; he declared that his intent in Star Wars was to set standards and to fill an aching emptiness by telling us about our values, as the sacred narrations of religion are applied to do.

Hence the allegorical aspiration of the prequels, in which Anakin is hailed as a savior, the chosen one as Obi-Wan calls him in a pious whispering. The messiah may have walked on water, but the nine-year-old Anakin gives notice of his divine descent by winning a demolition derby in a turbo-driven podracer that he has cobbled together from spare parts. When the adult Anakin resignations to the dark side of the Force, Hayden Christensen tries to make his torment manifest by furrowing his eyebrows, but his posthumous transformation into Darth Vader is entrusted to surgical technicians. Lucas changes Christ into Satan by rewiring and reprogramming the manikin who acts out the idea.

At first, the languages Lucas invented for his new worlds were a kind of burbling baby talk. Hence his Wookiees and Ewoks, or the gloriously nonsensical names of characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and Wedge Antilles. In the prequels, the neologisms turn ponderous. When he situates the droid foundries in Attack of the Clones on a red, craggy planet called Geonosis, Lucas attempts a metaphysical pun: compres Genesis, gnosis and geology, the made-up term chokes on its own indigestible etymologies. For Revenge of the Sith , in which the titular dynasty consolidates its power, he strains to make up a word that would exude the sulphurous essence of evil. A monosyllable that begins with a hiss but ends with a lisp hardly has the desired rumble of spite; if you unscramble the anagram, Sith voices better as shit. Beelzebub and Mephistopheles remain unchallenged as names for our eternal adversary.

Lucas may have blathered about quests and initiatic trials, but he knew that Star Wars was actually an excuse for sons to exert their motorised playthings. The series increasingly concentrates on chases, races and aeronautical dogfights in which spacecraft are vaporized by pilots with well-oiled trigger fingers, as if the films were rehearsals for the video games spun off from them. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo voluntarily navigates his route through an asteroid field, dodging dust while C-3PO, in a tizz as usual, calculates that his chances of survival are 3,720 to 1. Return of the Jedi stages a version of the Ben-Hur chariot race in a wood of sequoias; in The Phantom Menace, Anakin steers his way to victory in a futuristic F1 tournament, zooming through desert crevasses and passageways of boulder as his competitors crash and burn around him, and in Attack of the Clones he wont bestir himself to rescue Obi-Wan until he discovers a vehicle with a proper cockpit and the right speed capabilities. What matters in Star Wars is velocity , not profundity. According to Wall Street calculates, the Star Wars franchise, boosted by video games and licensed merchandise, is now worth upwards of $30 bn( APS1 9.7 bn ). Amazon has a million and a half items tagged to the series for sale, while almost 900,000 are listed on eBay. Industrial Light and Magic, the name Lucas dedicated to the special effects company he founded in 1975, sums up his lucrative wizardry: the sunlight is emitted by diodes, the magic is a computerised simulacrum, and industrialisation mass-markets that visual voodoo and converts it into cash.

Watch the trailer for Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

Film writer David Thomson, who pays a barbed tribute to Lucass great talent for making money, describes Star Wars as the beginning of one of the great American movie empires. More than imperial, Star Wars is cosmological: it has distended to fill up what Lucasfilm calls an expanded universe. Out in hyperspace, room has been seen for an infinitude of supplementary tales. The television series Star Wars Rebels extends across 370 centuries rather than the measly two generations covered by the cinemas. A calendar has been invented for those uncharted aeons, which starts 13 m years before the first film and conscientiously fills in the blanks as if recording actual events; a Babel of spurious speeches, each with its own squiggly alphabet, has been devised for beings like the Ithorians( who have two mouths) and the Twileks( who speak by signalling with the tips-off of their tails ). Such mad elaboration induces the Bibles six days of creation sound like a lazy afternoon.

A new company put in by Disney police this Expanded Universe content, correcting errant subplots and ensuring that fan fiction does not trespass on the main narrative. Lucas himself checks the consistency of new storylines by consulting the Star Wars Encyclopedia , but he sometimes has difficulty regulating what happens on a plurality of ever more remote planets: in such an expansive world, even God observes it hard to be omniscient. In outlying galaxies, wars frequently break out between over-zealous innovators and fans who protect an orthodox version of events. There was predictable outrage when Chewbacca was killed off in a tangential fiction. Chuck Wendig has recently published another such spinoff, which contains a homosexual soldier called Sinjir Rath Velus; when readers objected that the sex dissenter was not children-friendly, Wendig answered back by re-enacting the battle in the first movie, lunging insults like the warheads Luke fires from his X-wing fighter. Youre not the Rebel Alliance, youre not the good guys, he ranted. Youre the fucking Empire, man. Youre the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. The expanded cosmo here contracts to the size of a padded cell.

I find your absence of faith disturbing, snarls Darth Vader when an imperial policeman accuses him of sorcery. What disturbs me is our excess of faith, a credulity that venerates Star Wars as a gospel, a testament, a map of the heavens. In Attack of the Clones , Anakin and PadmA( c) pause while smooching to discuss the self-sufficiency of the realm they inhabit. Anything is possible, says Anakin: he is rephrasing Lucas, who once remarked that It wasnt until we created digital cinema that I could allow my imagination to run wild. We live in a real world, PadmA( c) replies, come back to it. She has evidently forgotten that her body consists of pixels not molecules, and that the exotic scenery behind her was sketched by computers and overlaid on a green screen. Thats the paradox and the quandary of Star Wars : those who live inside the fantasy, whether theyre actors or fans, prefer their shared hallucination to the unelastic, downtrodden world of fact. With less than four weeks to go, The Force Awakens is awaited as expectantly as if it were the second coming. But the promised awakening began last September, when on Force Friday a shiny array of new merchandise apparel, Lego cruisers, cuddly toys, and an app-enabled droid shaped like a football ball went on sale in Disney stores. It remains to be seen whether the new movie will take us on an astral excursion or send us on a shopping trip. We pine for the consolation of religion, but in its absence allow ourselves to be bamboozled by technology and browbeaten by consumerism. Star Wars is irresistible because it caters to every aspect of our moral frailty.

The Force Awakens opens in UK cinemas on 17 December

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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