War, what is it good for?

War, what is it good for?

I've had one of those weeks, one of those ones that seem like they have been pulled from an episode of Eastenders when the scriptwriters have run out of their Prozac, not one thing goes wrong, everything does.

Every step is a shoe covered in dog mess, at least you hope it’s dog mess, everyday as Mozzer sang is Sunday, in January and you have a bad case of gout. A week from hell, with less hope than a doom metal gig in Norway, in winter, on a Sunday and you forgot your earplugs.

When I was a teenager I used to have plenty of bad weeks. Like most teenagers. Back when I was but a pimply faced youthful idiot, rather than the pimply faced older idiot I am now, I was ill for a little while and I had to spend some time in hospital, away from my family and friends, difficult at any time but especially when one is young. During that period the one place I could find refuge from the endless week of Sundays was in the warm inviting darkness of the cinema. I spent a lot of time in the IFI in Dublin, then not that long open and I got to see the kind films that I had previously did not know existed. During this time I saw my first Paul Schrader film, Affliction, starring Nick Nolte, James Coburn and Cissy Spacek, it blew my head off, literally. I now have no head. This was followed by introductions to Godard, Tarr, Tarkovsky and Bergman. For the first time I saw cinema as an artform not as a product. As fun as they were, compared to the movies I grew up with this was a veritable aesthetic kick up the backside.

I had never seen such an unflinching, searingly honest portrayal of the whole gamut of emotions. this was the world laid bare, open to be examined, debated, discussed. This was filmmaking beyond anything that cinema had previously shown me and I was hooked.

The fact the IFI cinema was a private club, wherein most of the films were club screenings without age classification only added to the sense of underground coolness about the place, this goofy goofball of an awkward 15-year-old me had to blag himself in as an 18-year-old, this was like getting served in a pub to me, except better because this was the only drug I would ever need. Cinema seemed to me to offer the one thing I was looking for at the time, it seemed to offer a form of redemption.

Cinema appeared to me, to provide a way of looking at the world and a way making sense of the world which was removed from a nefarious, calculated and disingenuous public and social discourse which hangs off the political and the dominant. Cinema was a place where injustices were acknowledged if not put right, it was a place for the underdog, for the outsider, the marginalised and those without a voice. Even monsters like Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull were proffered some redemption just by the fact his story is told through 35mm film stock, he is forever caught banging against walls wailing in agony, but his deserved punishment allows him some redemption. Cinema as justice. Celluloid did what religion was supposed to, it provided me with a way of understanding and making sense of the world and it did so in glorious film stock which made the world look even more stunningly beautiful than it already seems to the naked eye, which is very beautiful indeed.

When I use the word cinema here I mean not the movies of Hollywood, I’m not talking about the Hangover, White Chicks, or Tippy Toes (a 2003 film starring Matthew McConaughey and Gary Oldman as a small person, seriously, Oldman spends most of the film scurrying around on his knees).I’m not talking the King's Speech, Mission Impossible or any film by M. Night Shyamalan. No. I’m talking about the cinema of Loach, Aki Kaurismaki and Tarr, of Godard, Tarkovsky, Bergman and Bresson, films which gave us a new perspective, a new vantage point on scenes we thought already familiar with but suddenly we can see afresh. We are talking here about propaganda, as was the first role of cinema and in many ways remains. What else is a film like the Hangover if is not a morality tale about how it’s okay to go off the rails with your buddies, abandoning the family unit and responsible adulthood once it’s only for a long weekend and you get your ass home to the wife and settle down, it is a two hour advertisement for the American Nightmare, about maintaining the status quo, a sick if slick celebration of patriarchal society, complete with ageist, homophobic and sexist undertones, which one could argue are constants in the society which produced the film. Things as we all well know are rarely what they seem on first appearances.

I was reminded of this need to look at things afresh this week when I was unlucky enough to listen to Hilary Benn, son of the inspirational socialist Tony Benn, do his little war speech and dance in favour of Britain's nonsensical airstrikes against Isis forces in Syria in the house of commons in that London. In the future I have no doubt that people will make films which address this moment, and the moments that led to it. Hilary Benn like many of his peers voted in favour of both the 2003 war in Iraq which one could easily argue has helped lead us all to the present situation and the disastrous airstrikes against Libya in 2011. War is easy to make when it is conducted so far away, so easy to discuss in statistics and empty rhetoric. Benns speech was the equivalent of a movie like the Hangover, it appeared to be one thing, here a rousing, powerful, impassioned monologue in the service of justice, but was in fact another thing altogether, a fallacy dressed up as truth, an aggressive lie in the service of arms manufacturers and in the pursuit of oil and hegemony.

In his address the MP repeatedly referenced the charter of the United Nations and the reason it was created, not as one might (rightly) think; to stop any future wars, but to carry out future wars when the need arises. Benn called Isis fascists, which seems far enough, but the Tory warmongers he jumped into bed with the other night are from the same party who cheered the deaths of people of the left joined the International Brigades to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It’s also worth remembering that the airstrikes carried out in that bloody civil war was in the most part by dropped from the war planes of the Fascists and the Nazi’s. Hilary is obviously not moved by Picasso's Guernica a copy of which hangs in the entrance to the United Nations, reminded no one of the horrors of war clearly.

Unlike even Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, granted some slight redemption by his continuing pain and ugliness being laid bare, forever caught in a private hell of his own making, as he punches the walls of his jail cell, it would take a film multiple times more distressing than anything as ugly as the Hangover to offer even a flicker of redemption to Hilary Benn.

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next. War? what is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.