Tuesday, May 26, 2020


We all take a lot for granted.  Up until my retirement I was free to roam and I did my fair share.  Now I am stuck.  Most of you are in the same boat.   I have lived over half my life in Hamilton and at various times had traveled over almost all of it for various jobs, taking kids to events, shopping, visiting friends, relatives and going out.  A city changes and one forgets.  Originally one motive for writing blogs was to remember.  There is a comfort to appreciating the good times and the beauty in life.

Some interesting murals.

Spotted this on Barton St at the office of the John Howard Society.  It is by local artist, Conrad Furey who I only got to appreciate after his death.

this one of the left is actually on the second story

There are people on both sides of the border who want to get back to normal.  Donald Trump has it in his twisted mind that his best chance to get re-elected is to get the economy running again.  He takes credit for how well it was before, while in fact he was already screwing it.  He has confessed that more testing reveals how bad things are and doesn't quite appreciate how useful a tool it is.  Reports are starting about countries that have relaxed some of the guidelines and are experiencing a re-surgence.

Signs of Support for Front Line Workers



 some helpful person gave the Leonardo
Sciascia statue as mask.

The stock market reacted strongly when Moderna was given credit for a promising Covid-19 vaccine, but the rise was reversed quickly when it was learned some inside executives had quickly sold their shares.  The assumption was they knew something negative.  Although that might be true, it might also be true they wanted or even needed a quick profit for their own reasons.  The stock market is subject to manipulation by those who know something the rest of us don't.  Personally it seems like the stock market is way over priced right now partly because many people are assuming  we will be back to normal soon.  Other people want to keep it up for political reasons.  Medical predictions indicate we are likely to have a second wave which could be worse than what we have experienced to date.  Many humans are already tired on restrictions and are reading too much into slight improvements. 

The many churches offer an interesting diversity of architecture and ethnicity.

This is the church I was married in.  St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Greek Orthodox.

Mosque on York Blvd.

Everybody has to eat and Hamilton offers a wide variety of restaurants to choose from

Hamilton City Hall has some interesting statues.

 Gandhi who has long fascinated me:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/gandhi-life-long-fascination.html

                 Ukrainian settlers to Canada.
                                                                        Worker Safety

Right across from City Hall and at the back end of the Art Gallery of Hamilton is the Irving Zucker Square where a visitor can look at some sculptures.

My daughter Heather helped connect me to Seniors without Walls.  You phone in and participate in some activities with other seniors.  I have joined two offshoots that  are more conversational and stimulating.  They have partnered with the Hamilton Library and that has led me to read a few books that were recommended.  Reading is something that I have let slide to in spurts, but during the shutdown I am habitually reading more and enjoying it.

As a tribute to all the front line workers the Snowbirds were sent out to demonstrate over many Canadian cities.  My wife, Sharon actually took this shot from our house.  This was just a few days before a fatal crash.

These trees were donated to the city of Hamilton many years ago by the city of Sakura, Japan.  The blossoms get more spectacular each year.

                              a beautiful butterfly discovered in park

 Lilac season only seems to last a few days, but I always look forward to it.

If you are interested below are links to my other blogs regarding the shut down with the earliest on top.  Lots more photos and notes,








Monday, May 25, 2020

What Will it Take?

Most Americans and the rest of the world have figured out Donald Trump is very incompetent and even dangerous, but there remains a hard core of supporters who feel he is their saviour.  With the electoral College, campaign finance and outside malevolant forces (eg. Russians and other anti American forces) it is still conceivable that he might get re-elected.

One has to wonder what it would take to oust him in November?  Some of his supporters are claiming the bad news including the mounting death totals are just a plot against their saviour.   Some of us think that as the deaths increase the odds improve to get rid of Trump.  Does that mean we are hoping for more people to die?    I hope not, but what would it take?

Before the election there were a number of character flaws on full display.  A misogynistic immoral womanizer who lied was known to any casual observer.  Evangelicals have been very self righteous about much lesser transgressions in the past, but they overlooked and forgave in return for his explicit promises regarding abortion and other Christian concerns such as supporting Israel.  Others were convinced he would fight to lower taxes and de regulate so they could accumulate more wealth.  Many of the wealthy ones used their resources to tap into the prejudices of the ill informed.  He unjustifiably brags about himself and insults those he dislikes.  He even criticized heroes.

After the election it became more apparent that the Russians played a role in his victory.   Many sources maintained the evidence was questionable and circumstantial.  Hard to deny that Trump did many things the Russians wanted and that in the past Republicans especially condemned.  The Mueller Report was constrained in its evidence and was dismissed by many in power (media and political).  The Ukraine scandal was to anyone who considered the facts proof that Trump was trying to benefit himself against American interests.  Some people might have noticed that it also supported Russian interests.  All this didn't move the needle against Trump.

His actions in the Mid-East in part were designed to appeal to Evangelicals, but were detrimental to peace.  The Iran treaty rejection has many harmful results.  Abandoning the Kurdish forces suited the Russians, Turks and Saudi Arabians.  He even shielded a murder of an American resident.  These actions did not disturb his supporters and many found them laudable.

His dismissal of climate change and overlooking of pollution and food inspections were not big enough problem for his supporters while his financial supporters liked them.  Instead of being a world leader, Trump became an impediment to international co-operation to deal with global problems. 

Another way he bought support was with tax cuts.  Most of his supporters were grateful if they got a few dollars more, but didn't realize that inequality took another big shift against them.  The deficit will squeeze them and already has begun doing so.  They haven't caught on to their own harm.

Now we come to the Covid-19 pandemic.  He has displayed a cavalier attitude towards the danger, ignoring medical advice, he seems more concerned about the stock market, big business and his own re-election.  He is aware of the statistics making him look bad, but his approach is to belittle them and try to manipulate them.  To most rational thinkers this is beyond the last straw, but he has tapped into people's resentments of not only elites, but also their own agony over pandemic restrictions.

Most of us are aware to some degree of suffering and look at the future in fear.   Like the electoral college distorts the majority votes, it only takes a small number of restriction violators to ensure there will be a second wave of Covid-19.  It is conceivable that the timing of the inevitable second wave will escape Trump and combined with other measure he will adopt give him another four years.  Most voters are not sufficiently aware of the Republican economic agenda, but they have found a social agenda paves the way to get elected. 

What can we do?  There is already lots of evidence against Trump, but there is a big mountain of misinformation and misdirection supporting him.  The battle for credibility has been waged for a long time and it is noted that in fact the majority don't trust him.  But he doesn't need a majority as proved by the last election.  It also must be feared that even if Trump does lose the election his supporters might not accept it and that could be a serious problem.  Ideally we need to convince them Trump is not their friend.  Inequality really has been Trump's tool, but it is very ironic and should be easy to turn around.  He is a tool of the already wealthy.

Accuracy in reporting the stats should be more than enough to convince Trump supporters he is really not on their side, but that should not be taken for granted.  Apparently Covid-19 is hitting less populous areas that have voted for Trump.  They are victims of Trump and some are beginning to learn.  Now it seems the wealthy friends of the Trump administration are gaining at the expense of those with less power.  It is unfortunate that it is human nature to pay little attention to things that are far away, but to learn the hard way everything is connected.

Voting by mail offers a chance for the majority to get their opinions expressed, but there is resistance and it needs to be pointed out this is not only fair but effective.   The courts are being stacked and in ways that not only hurt progressive ideas, but also the common worker (and everybody else in many ways).  If ever it is possible, the electoral college needs to be reformed.  Campaign finance should be a concern to everyone.  Regarding the court system it may take a long time, but maybe not.

I am not hopeful and recognize it will take a very long time to undo the harm that has already been done.  We could be on the verge of another Dark Ages, but we could also on our way to a much better life for everyone if we could only realize we really are in this together.  Instead we have been divided, diced up and conquered by those powerful enough to control the levers.  What would it take?

From an earlier blog some of his enablers identified:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Report

How can we ever be sure we know the truth?  There seems to be different versions of it.  Certainly 9/11 created a wave of activity, some of it productive, some not and some destructive... and some we still don't know about..

Elected officials, political appointees and bureaucrats (meaning government employees at federal, state or municipal levels) all were involved.  Almost all of them felt they were doing what they could to punish the perpetrators and to help prevent a re-occurence.   A number felt they needed to change the rules in order to be effective and some felt it was necessary not to be public.

The torture program was set up by contractors that had no experience.  There had to be a different mindset among those who had to approve the program.

"The Report" is about an attempt to find the truth.  It states that there were strenuous efforts to restrict their efforts.  They use real names.  It is hard to determine how much of the words spoken were actually used and how many were speculations.  Picasso once said "Art is the lie that tells the truth."

It is believable that there was conflict between the politicians and bureaucrats and amongst themselves.  It is believable that some people really felt it was necessary to push further than others wanted to know about.  There was paranoia at the time and there was a tricky balance between reassuring the public and doing the right thing.  Politics is all about power and perception is the key--someone dependent on voters can try to shape their views, but more importantly has to cater to them while also trying to take advantage of the rules.   Unfortunately there are (often successful) politicians who know how to manipulate or spin and understand the rules

We don't want to know what goes on in a slaughter house; we just want to eat our hamburgers with appropriate condiments--the truth would (and does) disturb many individuals which in turn has an impact on workers and corporate owners.

Leaks are frowned upon by politicians--Dianne Feinstein is quoted as saying Edward Snowden was a traitor.  Frustrations lead to leaks, often involving reporters who are supposed to be critical for democracy. Theodore Roosevelt felt he needed to use journalists to uncover corruption.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/04/the-bully-pulpit-by-doris-kearns-goodwin.html

At the end the report is released.  Diane Feinstein acknowledges that American enemies (and others) will use it against us, but that it will show the world what Americans stand for (in the future).    During the credits they repeat a quote from George Washington against any abuse of captured prisoners during the American Revolution.

Scott Z Brown wrote, directed and produced "The Report"  and has a history of presenting films with political and social implications.  In his career he started with shorts and tv. episodes.  He played a role with "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006), "Side Effects" (2013), "An Inconvenient Sequel" (2017) and recently "The Laundromat" (2019).  He had written scripts for "The Bourne Ultimatum" 2007) and "Contagion"(2011).  Originally he conceived "The Report" as a satire, but as he researched the material he felt it needed to be as realistic as practical.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/11/an-inconvenient-sequel-truth-to-power.html

Steven Soderberg who often work with Scott was the co-producer.   His first experience in Hollywood was as a freelance editor.  Like many he filmed a lot of shorts.  His big break came when a rock band, "Yes" gave him a chance to film a full length concert.  He won awards at the Cannes Film Festival for " Sex, Lies and Videotapes" (1989).  He is famous for "Traffic" (2000) and "Erin Brockovich" (2000) which made him one of the few directors to have two Oscar nominations in the same year with "Traffic" winning.  He also done cinematography, often under a pseudonym, Peter Andrews admitting that he is not the most skilled with the camera, but that made him feel closer to the actors.

David Wingo provided the background score.  He has composed for "Take Shelter" (2011), "Mud" (2012) and "Our Brand is Crisis" (2015).

Eigil Bryld, the cinematographer began his career in Denmark, but has shot films in Germany, Britain and America.  Some of his films include, "Kinky Boots" (2005), "Becoming Jane" (2007),  "House of Cards" (2013, 11 episodes); and "Ocean's 8" (2018).  He is keeping active with political issues with "The Loudest Voice" (2019).  He won a  Prime Time Emmy for "House of Cards."

Greg O'Bryant, the editor has also been a producer and writer.  He edited one episode of "The Loudest Voice."

Adam Driver played the investigator Daniel J. Jones.  To me it was great casting and perhaps his best role.  He gained attention in some of the Star Wars series.  Some of his other movies are:  "Silence" (2016), "BlacKkKlansman" (2018) and "Marriage Story" (2019), the last two of which resulted in Oscar nominations

Annette Bening played Dianne Feinstein capturing her mannerisms.  She once won a Tony nomination.  Some of her films include, "The Grifters" (1990), "Bugsy" (1991), "American Beauty" (1999), "Danny Collins" (2015) and "Life Itself" (2018),

Just finished watching "Mad Men" (2007-2015) where Jon Hamm is so prominent and it noteworthy for how unflappable he is and in "The Report" he plays a similar unflappable character, Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff under Barrack Obama.

The film used a lot of actors to play other prominent politicians and bureaucrats, but let John McCain speak in an archived video which I felt more meaningful.

Personally felt that its respectable IMDB rating could have been significantly higher and suspect that conservative trolls may have dragged it down a bit as happened with Soderbergh's films with Al Gore.  But admittedly progressive viewers might have tried to compensate.

My thoughts shortly after the release of the actual report:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/12/torture.html

The movie "Truth" dealt with how truth can be obstructed. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/10/truth-movie-version.html

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Twelve-Year Night

The strength of this movie is psychological.  How can people survive torture?  To some degree all humans battle to maintain sanity which is one reason we accept all sorts of conventions.  Torture is a challenge and makes our fears more concrete.  The movie reveals some history that for most of us is unknown and in danger of being forgotten.   It is well presented.

The movie released in 2018 is set in Uruguay during a military dictatorship.  We are quickly introduced to prisoners being led to an ominous building.  We soon realize these men are going to endure torture.  Over the course of the film we are told the authorities can't kill them, but have instead decided to drive them crazy. One aspect is isolation with the men unable to talk to on another and forbidden to talk to the guards.

A flashback tells why a particular prisoner was not killed.  With a small group of Tupamaro guerilla fighters he had been holed up in a house and finally a soldier had located him and brought a superior to deal with him.  They planned to kill him as they had already done to colleagues, but a civilian authority accompanied him and prevented the killing

How did they maintain sanity.  One of the most memorable moments is when a mother erupts angrily at one of the prisoners who is complaining how badly treated.  She points out they are trying to drive him crazy, but he shouldn't let them.  You are not defeated if still fighting.  Earlier a prison authority mocked him that he was utterly defeated.  The prison's goal is to to induce a feeling of hopelessness

The men stumbled on a primitive communication system by knocking on the wall and developing a code.   They were hungry for information about the outside world.  One message was that ABBA had won the Eurovision contest and one of the responses was "who is ABBA?"  Uruguay was a major soccer power and some messages concerned the World Cup.

One overheard guards talking about romantic problems and offered to help, using his creativity and understanding of how romance works.  Apparently his advice was successful so that even several years later one guard admitted he was still in a relationship.  This only resulted in small favors, but made life more bearable.

Imagination is a tool we all use from time to time.  One prisoner when given a chance to testify to the  Red Cross fantasized telling the truth despite being restrained and anticipating a beating, but in reality he barely got out a word before a guard took him away, followed by two others

At one point given a chance to be examined by a (sympathetic) psychiatrist a prisoner revealed problems that she diagnosed as conditions that could be expected.  One of his comments was that she was the first woman he had seen in several years.  She told him her own story of feeling hopeless and how she overcame it to get back to living.

There are a lot of torture movies, but few bring up the issue of defecation to use the polite version of the word used.  The authorities recognize dignity is effected by restricting privacy and facilities.  The issue is brought to a number of scenes, not too scatological, but the viewer is aware it is used as an element of torture.

They were released after a change in government and after signing statements that they had been treated correctly.  The three focused characters all went on to contribute to Uruguay, one as artist and the two others to prominent political roles.

The film was a joint project involving money and people from Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, France  and Germany.  "A Twelve-Year Night was cited in IMDB with 47 wins and 31 nominations with film festivals and regional awards.

Alvaro Brechner, born in Uruguay was the director and script writer.  He was a prolific film director and writer, mostly in Uruguay.  The original material came from the written material provided by two of the prisoners, Mauricio Rosencoff and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro.

Music was composed by Frederico Jusid, born in Argentina.  Earlier films included "The Secret in their Eyes" (1998, winner of Oscar for best foreign film), "Neruda" (2016), "7 Annos" (2016), "Watership Down" (2018) and "Life Itself" (2018).  Worked in America and Europe.  Federico is an international pianist.   "7 Annos" was one of the best movies to explain mediation which warranted a post you can check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/11/7-anos.html

 Carlos Catalan was the cinematographer with the film shot in Spain and Montivedo, Uruguay.  He had been trained in Barcelona and the United Kingdom.  He has worked in Britain including with a favorite series, "Broadchurch" (2017).  Surprised to learn has done several movies in Bollywood including "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" which was mostly filmed in Spain, and also won him two major India awards.  He also won an award for "A Twelve-Year Night".

Irene Bleucua, one of two editors has done numerous films in Spain and Argentina.  The other editor was Nacho Ruiz Capillas has been an editor since 1988 including films such as "The Others" (2001), "The Education of Fairies" (2006), "Agora" (2009) and "White Elephant" (2012).  The two editors shared an award for "A Twelve-Year Night."

Antonio de Jose, born in Spain played Jose Mujica, one of the prisoners and later became president of Uruguay.   He started as a journalist, but always had his foot in acting.  Appeared in "Volver" (2006) and "As Luck Would Have It" (2011).

Chino Darin, born in Argentina played Mauricio Rosenhof.He has made films in Argentina and Spain.  He is the son of one of my favorite actors, Ricardo Darin. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/04/ricardo-darin-brings-charm-from.html

Alfonso Tort played Ekeyterio Fernandez Huidobro, another prisoner.  Alfonso has been in numerous films in Uruguay and Argentina.

Cesar Troncoso, born in Uruguay played a military spokesman.  He appeared in "XXY" (2007) and "The Pope's Toilet" (2007). 

Soledad Villamil, born in Argentina played the psychiatrist.  She is both stately and charming.  She played the leading lady in Oscar winner "The Secret in Their Eyes" (2009)

Silvia Perez Cruz plays the wife of one of the prisoners in a bit role.  A song in the background might not at first be recognized as it is in an unfamiliar format and in Spanish, but gradually is recognized as the "the Sounds of Silence" and English words are used  It is so well used making you feel that although almost hopeless, not quite hopeless. Silvia not only arranged and performed it, but also wrote and performed another song used during the end credits.

My own feelings about torture:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/12/torture.html 

Monday, May 18, 2020


David Johnston was the Governor-General of Canada for seven years.  His basic contention is that the rule of law strives toward justice, but it depends on trust between citizens with the institutions that stand for and serve them.  As I write this we are all being tested with the greatest global shutdown in my lifetime.  We will need to trust one another and our institutions if we are ever to move forward and to be honest there is doubt.  His book "Trust:  Twenty Ways To Build A Better Country" does point us, as individuals and members of larger communities in the right direction.

Each of the ways to build a better country has individual examples and are illustrated with examples from his experience as a securities researcher, university administrator, Governor-General and international diplomat.  This post can only skim over his deeply thought out prescriptions.

Reinhold Niebuhr, a lecturer he heard at Harvard; "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

Financial markets that depend on other people's money need to be as open as possible to guard against manipulation.  Listen to all stakeholders; otherwise your proposals may not be acceptable by all those affected.

Be consistent.  Trust takes awhile to be earned.  Unfortunately it can be lost in a flash.

John Helliwel, a Canadian economist and editor of the Happiness Report is credited with the concept that happiness should be the measure by which we gauge the performance of governments and of the progress of countries and people.

Johnston had a long productive discussion with Angela Merkel concerning how the EU (now under stresses) stayed together and she asked about Canada.  Johnston gave out a book that impressed him, "Why Nations Fail"  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/11/why-nations-fail.html 

He went back to James Michener's book on Spain that helped explain the fall of Spain.  In 1492, the same year Spain had sent Christopher Columbus to America they also started ridding their world renown University of Salamanca of Muslims, then Jews and then scientists that opposed the Church.  
Spain had been an international beacon for education.  When they tossed aside their diversity and instead pursued gold it started their decline.  As Johnston points out diversity is a strength and that inclusion leads to trust.

Teachers are critical to building trust.  While including teachers that may have inspired us Johnston expands to those who have set good examples of how to behave.  He believes we must honour (using his Canadian spelling) and cherish them.  As Governor-General he refined the Canadian system of honouring citizens who have made worthy contributions.

A quote from the author; "The diplomacy of Knowledge is my name for the willingness and ability to work across disciplinary boundaries, cultural barriers and international borders to uncover, share and refine knowledge."  In international surveys Canada is at the top for trustworthiness.

It has been difficult to do justice to this book in a short post.  It requires some profound thinking, but I believe the thoughts expressed are crucial for humanity's future.  Hopefully this slim overview will point my readers in the right direction.

An earlier blog focused on the role of trust with selling which is not just the transfer of goods, but how we sell ourselves to others. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/10/smart-trust.html

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

For many of us Africa is of minor importance and often forgotten when it comes to discussing world issues.  Or maybe just backward.   Certainly we are not conscious of African films.  However it is not dormant and seems poised for a more prominent role in politics and culture.

We are introduced to the Kamkwamba family with father, wife, son and daughter.  They live in a small village in Malawi and are already in a precarious plight due to their dependence on the weather and crops and world prices.  Soon things get worse as a corrupt government takes away their crops and the weather is dry.  The young son is able to fix radios and work with batteries.  His father encourages him to go to school, but is unable to pay the fees.   He manages to get the teacher and a librarian to give him access to books where he learns more about wind power and electricity.  At first his father sees his experiments (often with material from local dump) as toys and is angry.  Some friends and his mother rally around him and he is given a chance to build a windmill to pump water into the fields so they can grow more crops even in difficult weather.  We are told in the credits that William goes on to get a higher education and writes a book that is the base of this film.

It is not too often we get a chance to see an African village setting, unless it is for a big game hunter or race riots.  They speak mostly English, but also a native language, Chichewa which had to be learned by some of the cast. We can recognize people who react to situations very similar to us.

Malawi was pictured to be ruled by a corrupt government, but with good people at different levels.  I understand it is considered a functioning democracy today.  Like many African countries food is precarious with floods and droughts (and now locusts).

Chiwetel Ejiofor director writer and actor read book by William Kamkwamba and bought the rights and started writing to adapt for a film.  It seemed worthy to be his first directorial effort.  "Kinky Boots" (2005) was my first awareness of Chiwetel where he played a very flamboyant transvestite and I assumed would have similar roles.   Earlier I had seen him in"Amistad" (1997) which was as a personal awakening as part of slavery history most of us were not aware of.    Other movies he appeared in included "Dirty Pretty Things" (2002),  "Endgame" (2009) and "12 Years a Slave" (2013) in which he received an Oscar nomination.  As Trywell Kamkwamba, he played a father who wanted his son to be educated, but when the perceived practicalities of their situation regarding access to water and government support were overwhelming  he acted angrily against his son.  His wife and a few others persuaded him to listen to and respect his son. 

Maxwell Simba played William Kamkwamba who at 13 years of age innovated and persisted against adults to engineer from available resources a windmill that could power a water pump enabling the village to plant.   Kenya had met with William Kamkwamba to get a feel for the role.  He tried to be respectful of his father, but also needed to assert himself.

Lily Banda played a sister of William and was romanced by a teacher who William was able to shame into helping him.  She was the only major actor from Malawi although many were in minor roles aor as crew members.  She co-wrote one song and sang with Antonio Pinto during the end credits.  This was her first movie and she made the most of it going onto to a regular role in a British television series,  "Deep State."

Aissa Maiga, born in Senegal, but raised in France.  She started appearing in films in 1997, mostly in
French including "Cache" (2005) and "Russian Dolls" (2205).  She won best actress award in Italian movie, "Bianco e Nero" (2008). 

Antonio Pinto, born in Brazil has composed music for many movies in Brazil, United States and Britain.  His films include, "Central Station" (1998), "City of God" (2002),  "Collateral" (2015), "Love in the Time of Cholera" (2007), "Trash" (2014), "McFarland USA" (2015) and  "Self/less (2015),

Richard Pope was the cinematographer with most of the film shot in Malawi.  Other films include "Topsy Turvey" (1999),  "The Illusionist" (2006),  "Another Year" (2010), "Mr Turner "(2014) and "Motherless Brooklyn" (2019).

Valerio Bonelli,  was the editor.  Some of his other films include  "Philomena" (2013),  "Florence Foster Jenkins" (2016) and "Darkest Hour" (2017),   He is the editor for the upcoming "The Woman in the Window" which has been completed, but no date set for release.

With established actors like Chiwetel Eijofor taking an interest in Africa we can expect to see more movies with a wider range of African subjects and the development of African film makers.  Earlier in the year I watched "Atlantics" (2019), a French-Senegalese production with French director and writer, but more Senegalese in the cast.   This movie came from a list given by Barrack Obama.

Monday, May 11, 2020


Remakes of successful movies are favored by some marketing experts, but pose a bit of a challenge to creative people who don't want to be seen as copy cats.  "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957) left a strong impression on my adolescent mind.  I was impressed by Charles Laughton's elocution as well as Marlene Dietrich and even Tyrone Power.  But the biggest impression was from the clever plot.  It was the first time for me that a guilty person could get off by having a witness willing to lie and then set up a lack of credibility of the same witness.   It also left an impression of sophistication.

In 2016 a British tv. version came out and recently I had a chance to see it.  My memory was a little foggy on details, but a few were spotted very easily.  There were many scenes of English sophistication, but there were also striking contrasts of a grubby lower class.  Instead of the eloquent Charles Laughton was Toby Jones in many ways as a pathetic lawyer with health and personal problems.  Laughton was under medical supervision, (with his real life, Elsa Lanchester playing a fussy nurse who annoyingly reminded him to take pills and to avoid stress).   He also used a chair lift.  Toby had a persistent cough that was attributed to wartime experiences.

Never read the book or the play as originally written by Agatha Christie.  Her books have  been masterpieces of plotting and character development.  Both of these versions illustrate that, but they are certainly different so somebody has used some creative license.

My memory failed me on British legal practices, but the script worked out.  Charles Laughton was prominent as the barrister, while Toby Jones was the focus as a solicitor.  In Britain there is a distinction between the person known as a Solicitor who does the legal research and background checks to the person known as a Barrister who defends the accused in court,   One set of writers may have felt the Barrister is the one who the public sees and if you have Charles Laughton with his beautiful elocution available it is a perfect match.  The more recent adapter may have felt this was an opportunity to be creative and focus on the solicitor who initiated the case and sought out someone like Toby Jones, versatile actor.

The endings were dramatically very different.  SPOILER ALERT (hopefully anyone reading this has seen at least one of the two films)  In the earlier version we see after the verdict is announced that the witness had misled and the accused really was guilty.  A murder followed when it was revealed the accused had another lover and Charles Laughton offered to defend Marlene Dietrich.  In the updated version the innocent verdict soon gives the accused an inherited fortune.  BUT Toby Jones feels justice can only be served if the guilty person is punished and he "proves" the maid killed her employer.   Later Toby chances upon the formerly accused living in luxury with the misleading witness/lover.  They soon let him know how he and the court were fooled and this upsets Toby who feels he sent an innocent woman to be executed. Instead of the guilty party suffering, the remoreseful solictor is seen walking into the ocean

Agatha Christie is the original genius that others exploited.  Noted for plot twists often making the least likely the guilty culprit.  "The Mousetrap" became the longest running play in history  Her book sales are only surpassed by the Bible and William Shakespeare.  She represents a mammoth challenge to anyone tampering with her plot twists.

Billy Wilder was the director and co-writer- of the 1957 version.    He was a prolific award winner, including 6 Oscars and many nominations) as director, writer and producer.  Born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire he was a reporter in Austria who switched to Berlin where he was able to write scripts for some German films.  As a Jew he recognized the evil of Adolf Hitler and fled in 1933.  He spoke no English, but did end up in Hollywood where he was able to prove himself.  His films include;  "The Major and the Minor" (1942), "Double Idemnity" (1944), "The Lost Weekend" (1945), "Sunset Boulevard" (1950),  "The Apartment" (1960) and  "One, Two, Three" (1961).  He was Oscar nominated as best director while the film had 5 other nominations, but no winners. A quote:  "I was not a guy writing deep-dish revelations.  If people see a picture of mine and then sit down and talk about it for 15 minutes, that is a very fine reward, I think."

Harry Kurnitz, a co-writer shared nomination with Billy Wilder for an Edgar Allan Poe award.   Harry was also credited with a 1982 tv version of "The Witness for the Prosecution" with Diana Rigg, Ralph Richardson and Beau Bridges.   John Gay was the principle adapter and received
nominations for the Edgar Allan Poe award for his version.

Lawrence B Marcus, the third co-writer was credited as adapting  both the 1957 and 1982 versions

The director for the 2016 version, Jullian Jarrold had earlier directed "Kinky Boots" (2005), "Becoming Jane" (2007) and "Brideshead Revisited" (2008).

Susan Phelps is credited with adapting the 2016 version which won an award from the Writers Guild of Britain.  She also was an executive producer.  She has involved in the writing of a number of Agatha Christie books into tv series, including "And Then There were None" (2015), "Ordeal by Innocence" (2018), "The ABC Murders" (2018) and "The Pale Horse" (2020).

Charles Laughton played the Barrister in the 1957 version to full measure.  His character had suffered a heart attack and was under  doctor's  orders, to avoid stress but mostly ignored. His manner of speaking made an early impression on me and found few to measure to his standard.  Some of his standout performances include "The Canterville Ghost" (1944), "The Big Clock" (1948), "O. Henry's Full House (1952), "Hobson's Choice" (1952) and "Spartacus" (1960).

Toby Jones plays a solicitor who uncovers the accused Leonard Voles and is able to persuade him to be his lawyer.  In this role he is constantly coughing and has a wife who barely tolerates him despite his constant professions of love.  Toby has long been noted for character roles but his long history of stage and film roles have enabled him to take more leading roles.  HIs first leading role was as Truman Capote in "Infamous" (2006), but overshadowed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Other films he has starred in include "The Painted Veil" (2006), "W." (2008),  "Sereena" (2014).  He is slated to play in a remake of "The Canterville Ghost."  He played Alfred Hichcock in "The Girl (2012).   His wife is a criminal barrister.

Marlene Dietrich plays a German speaking actress and as usual is pretty sexy, although in her mid 50's  Josef Von Sternberg discovered and cast her in "The Blue Angel" (1930) and then took her to America where she starred in "Morocco"(1930) with Gary Cooper.  As a leading lady she was among the highest paid Hollywood actresses, but the public lost interest in her until James Stewart recruited her for "Destry Rides Again" (1939) in a comic role.  Another memorable role was in "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961). Later she was successful as a singer.

Andrea Riseborough played the German speaking false witness.  Earlier films included "Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) and "The Death of Stalin" (2017).  She has had the honor of playing Margaret Thatcher and Wallis Simpson.

Tyrone Power was considered especially handsome (and also had a distinctive voice) and played Leonard Voles believably as a kept man later accused of his benefactor's murder.  He came from a line of stage actors and gravitated to swashbuckler roles such as "The Mark of Zorro" (1940).  His next film was to be "Soloman and Sheba" (1959 and he was also the co-producer, but he died from a heart attack incurred after a sword fighting scene.  His daughter Romina married and sang with Italian Al Bano and wrote the duck song.  

Billy Howle played Leonard Vole, who we first see as a soldier.  After the war he has trouble finding a job, but after attracting attention of a wealthy heiress becomes a little more sophisticated, but after he inherits her money appears comfortable in a seemingly upper class role.  Billy appeared in "Dunkirk" (2017) and "Chesil Beach" 2017).

"Witness for the Prosecution" is one of the films that impresessed me as an adolescent because of the main actors and the plot twist.  I had recently gotten access to the Acorn streaming service and saw "Witness for the Prosecution" and puzzled over Toby Jones.  I couldn't quite see him in the Charles Laughton role, but in fact he did a very commendable job in the slightly different role.  Barely remembering the plot twist other than it was very unique wondered how this other version might deal with it.  The earlier version now strikes me more like a stage version while the 2016 version seemed more grubbily realistic.  Toby's role was more of a tormented man than as a overly confident and somewhat snobbish Charles Laughton.  Both versions were quite enjoyable, but the remake had the advantage of the impact of the earlier.  The challenge of the plot twist was handled very well.

Remakes have inspired some other blogs, but the movies have to be noteworthy. The remake can stand out if it uses clever adaptations.  In some ways a viewer can better appreciate the creative talents involved at both ends.

Between an Agatha Christie worthy Spanish film and a Bollywood remake http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/a-masterpiece-film-and-very-good-remake.html 

and between a South Korean film copied in the Telegu language about a grandmother regaining her youth.

and between a Bollywood film and in the Tamil language about a sperm donor, a comedy with a serious theme

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The noble elephant

Elephants are the largest land mammal, but in reality they are sentient social beings.  This is my third book on elephants and have sharpened my appreciation of what noble animals they are.  They are intelligent and have  an elaborate social network.   They communicate with the grunts, but are able to send messages through infrasound which is like inner rumblings.  Their unique trunks can manipulate almost like human hands.  Their nose can detect smells far better than we can. Unique among animals they understand death.

Billy Williams had fought on different fronts in the First World War many involving animals  After the war he turned down jobs in England looked for something more interesting.  He took a job working with elephants in remote jungles of Burma.  Job turnover was very high. and his boss was very harsh and had very low expectations.  After a brief training period he was sent into the wilderness with little supervision.

Teak is one of the hardest woods and is impervious to insects.  It has not been cultivated and is available in remote areas randomly. 

One of his first charges died and Billy  decided to open it up and do an autopsy to better understand the cause.  Later killed a wild elephant to see what healthy elephants were like.  With this comparison was able to argue with his boss that the death was not his fault.  His boss was impressed, but forbade any more killing of wild elephants.  Over a period of time developed a healthy relation with the boss.

In his quest to better understand elephants he discovered Po Toke, a gifted handler and Bandoola his favorite elephant..  The uzi (elephant handlers) realized that Bandoola was very special.  Tradition dictated that training elephants before age 20 was a waste, but at 20 the methods were brutal.  Po Toke thought and Williams agreed that it could start younger--Williams got permission from his boss to start "gentling" at age 5.  Bandoola was raised differently and it was thought he had a wild bull for a father.  Bandoola had good size and impressed uzi Po Teke that he would copy his mother when given commands  and picked up new commands readily at young age.

New management system initiated by Williams and encouraged by Po Teke started younger and used  gentling methods. 

Musht is a condition that male elephants go through musht at about age 20.  They become more aggressive and their reproductive hormones.   It can be very disorienting and Williams was very concerned about Bandoola's musht period.  The process is described in detail.   Williams was fortunate to witness Bandoola's first mating.

Learning the habits of elephants is important to work with them.  One challenge (learning experience) occurs when they are forced to cross deep rivers  One observation that is also relevant to human behaviour is that "dominance is not leadership."  Crossing a challenging river  it is often  a female that gets going inspiring confidence in those to follow.  Confidence more critical than bravado

World War II hit Williams when the Japanese attacked Burma.   many colonial subjects saw war as chance for independence M0,000 Indians fought on the Japanese side.  Williams with his wife and son were part of about 600,000 Indians, Burmese and Brits fled to India in what was to that date, the greatest migration in history.

Williams was ready to use his elephant expertise to help the allied cause.  Often they were used as pack animals, but one of their most critical uses was to help transport teak and other materials to build bridges.  The Japanese were also trying to use elephants, but they did not have the expertise provided by Williams and his loyal uzis.

Hannibal took a train of elephants through the Alps to attack Rome which must have been very challenging.  Williams found he had to get over 50 elephant to climb a mountainous ledge that was more like a ladder and with a view of a long drop back to the jungle.  The key was to build confidence in the elephants which they did with bated breath. They were successful

After this war Billy moved back to England with his wife and two children.  He wrote about his life with elephants.   His son Treve became a veterinarian in Tasmania and provided much of the information for this book.

Earlier I read two books concerning elephants in Africa that opened my views.  One was about a game warden in Africa and the other a fictional narrative illustrating their social concerns.  Check out a review: