There’s nothing the general public like more than a flawed hero. Actually no, change that. There’s nothing that the general public like more than taking the moral high ground and turning en masse on a hero, once said hero’s flaws have been suitably exposed; and boy how they turn, in their sheep-like droves.
In the case of Anthony Weiner, it was his misguided ‘sexting’ – if you’ll excuse the fashionable parlance – and the accompanying pictures of his bulging manhood, that was to cause such an affront, rendering vast swathes of the terminally morally-outraged U.S public irreversibly aghast at it all.
Never mind that this was a man whose New York City Mayoral campaign manifesto seemed personal, passionate and heartfelt, and was one rich in progressive and sensible ideas and policies designed to genuinely make a difference to the lives of the working and middle classes of New York City; and never mind that Weiner’s ‘virtual’ misdemeanours had already been forgiven if not forgotten, by his loyal, patient and politically savvy wife, Huma. No, the bottom line here was that Anthony Weiner – he of the comedy surname and heart-on-sleeve / regrettably rather injudicious, approach to life – was now perceived as nothing more than a social leper, a misogynistic arsehole, and all-round easy target number one for the mortally offended public and media alike, to lampoon and discredit at will.
I’m sure that a number of those that turned on Anthony Weiner felt they had good reason to do so and were indeed genuinely offended on both gender and moral grounds by his actions – fair enough I suppose, but the film gives off a definite sense that they are the idealistic minority and that a grateful media seized upon the unexpected Anthony Weiner windfall and milked the resulting heaven-sent circus for all it was worth. Predictably, the general public followed along obediently.
It is true that Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary is not a flattering depiction of the New York political candidate; in fact, it seriously exposes (if you’ll excuse the pun) Weiner, warts and all. It’s also undeniably true that Anthony Weiner brought a lot of it on himself with his recurring habit of shooting himself in the foot when it would seem infinitely harder to miss – think David Brent meets Alan Partridge – and I’d be lying if I denied that the whole shebang makes for superficial, yet excellent, if at times rather painful, car-crash entertainment.
Weiner though, is a film that inadvertently serves to reveal the pack mentality and sheep-like nature of people and the at times suffocating effect that this has on humanity at large, when what the world is crying out for, surely, is a little more independence of thought?
It also says a lot about the bullying nature of the laughably conservative and deeply rotten media, both in the U.S and the world at large. Such a culture of flavour-of-the-month reporting, the taking of cheap shots and the encouraging of ‘safety in numbers’ public conformity, is far more damaging to society and meaningful political policies than anything Anthony Weiner could have dreamed up, let alone actually whipped out and revealed to the U.S public.
But personal prejudices aside for just a moment, in case this review is perceived as some kind of slant at the film, it isn’t. Weiner is actually a well-balanced, highly entertaining and brilliantly put together documentary, which allows events and circumstances to unfold in as fair a fashion as is possible.
Of course, any piece that turns a full-beam spotlight on an at times hapless anti-hero, and then steps back and allows nature and fate to take its course, had better be braced for a turbulent ride. It says a lot though that any turbulence experienced through the transgressions of Anthony Weiner, is rather upstaged by the repugnant sense of public and media self-righteousness that comes across from their collective, symbiotic, bile-filled attacks on the ill-fated man himself.
For me at least, as excellent as this film undoubtedly is, it’s an aspect that can’t help but leave an unavoidably sour taste in the mouth.
When asked as an infant that most ludicrous, yet absolutely mandatory childhood question: “which would you rather be, blind or deaf – if you absolutely had to be?” I would always be quick to respond: “Deaf.”
To this day, nothing’s changed, and I doubt it ever would.
This may come as something of a surprise to those that have known how big a part music, for instance, has played in my life, but there’s just something so apparently debilitating, primal and frightening about losing one’s sight that I’m sure I’m not alone in choosing this ‘option’.
Such a question aimed at John Hull, (played here by Dan Renton Skinner), as a child would have been cruel, not to mention wholly inappropriate considering he was himself without sight for a brief period of time during his own formative years; the beginning, sadly, of a succession of vision-related ailments that would plague him for many years to come, ultimately robbing him of his sight altogether, permanently.
It’s at a point in the early 1980s with John, a successful, established university lecturer, and entering into the early years of fatherhood, that a rapid degeneration of his vision leaves him barely able to distinguish between light and shade.
Fearful of the impact of this visual impairment upon his work, John throws himself whole-heartedly into finding a way to continue within his field of academia, employing a large number of volunteers to record a vast number of important educational books and information onto audio cassette, for his own personal future reference. It seems that the visually impaired were somewhat overlooked during the early years of the 1980s, and John, at least on a personal level, set about rectifying that situation.
Such is the compulsive abandon with which he pursues this mission, not only does he sufficiently distract himself from the bleak inevitability of his situation, but he actually professes to having enjoyed this period of his life.
It’s only once he’s done all that he can to ‘insure’ his professional future; once the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed, and indeed once the last semblance of his perception of light and shade has been fully extinguished and he’s left surrounded by nothing but darkness, that John is forced to properly confront his life ahead, as a blind man.
Notes on Blindness is written and rather artistically directed by Pete Middleton and James Spinney, recounting John Hull’s remarkable story through extensive access to his audio diaries, in a suitably sympathetic and frequently touching manner.
Clever splicing of original cassette audio with the lip-synching of actors is an inventive and effective means with which to give John’s recordings new life and impact.
The negative effects of John’s blindness are well documented here, be that his sense of isolation, his deteriorating mental well-being, his wife’s concerns of being somehow locked out of his ever insular existence, or John’s increasing feelings of uselessness in crisis situations.
All such factors as they slowly drive John into a very dark place in his own mind, lead him to make a life-changing decision; to chronicle on audio cassette his thoughts and emotional responses to blindness, as a sort of personal therapy, and over a period of many years this would be John’s own attempt to come to terms with and fully understand his rather lamentable predicament.
Notes on Blindness is a film that offers a fascinating insight into the locked-in thoughts, feelings and ruminations of a blind man, some of which are as unexpected as they are thought-provoking: be that the comfort of standing in the rain, each drop landing on a surface forming a sort of sonic landscape by which a blind person is able to navigate by gaining an appreciation of distance, height and to some extent texture, or the conscious decision to ‘give up smiling’ – for if there is no reciprocation from the other party, then the whole gesture seems somewhat futile, so what’s the point?
Ultimately it’s Hull’s appreciation that he must fully embrace and understand blindness in order that it will not get the better of him, that is his saving grace. His decision to refuse to live in hope of his sight being restored again one day, whilst on the surface appearing to be the decision of a man that’s given up hope, is in fact the decision of a man that is – as far as is possible – at peace with who he now is and what the future holds for him.
A film ‘brand’ used to relentlessly endorse Murdoch’s murky world of Sky TV propaganda is hardly the sort of thing that’s going to get the old juices flowing here at Wayward Wolf Towers. Add to that the fact that The Secret Life of Pets (TSLOP) is a Pixar animation – two words designed to activate either a ‘deep coma’ or ‘run for the hills’ mode within me – and let’s face it, the signs aren’t good.
I had the opportunity to swerve it and I didn’t. This viewing was my choice, due to an undeniable fact that TSLOP is the one and only modern, mainstream animation whose trailer actually made me laugh – and on this occasion, more than once.
Don’t get carried away now; it’s a film that ploughs through great swathes of beige averageness in order to get to the humour and the genuinely funny stuff could probably quite comfortably fit into a ten minute Youtube compilation video, but much in the same way that adult animated comedies like The Simpsons or Family Guy do, TSLOP unleashes its content in quick-fire fashion. After all, throw enough content out there and some of it’s bound to stick, and an audience will probably sit through most things so long as they don’t needlessly drag or show signs of terminal self-indulgence – or suck eggs, of course.
TSLOP is mercifully pretty much a drag-free zone and jollies along nicely for 90 minutes of your time, with a whole plethora of cute, animated pets from all walks of the animal kingdom, combining together in a sequence of scenarios that range from mildly amusing to laugh-out-loud funny on occasion, and as someone that almost never gets a taste of the Pixar treatment, the animation itself, it must be said, is massively impressive.
Of course, on one level TSLOP is not so much a film, more a cynical piece of mass-marketing aimed to sell, sell, sell. Kids naturally will love it and there will of course be an inferior sequel. That’s how these things are meant to work, and I see no reason why that won’t be the case here too.
Against all odds, and as much as I hate to admit it, TSLOP gets a sort of tepid thumbs up from this here animation cynic.