The Benefit Changes of 1837 (AKA 2013)

Sunday 31 March, 2013

Before I get into this entry, I’d just like to apologise for how ineloquent this entry might be. It has taken me over a week to write, I’ve been tired due to a number of reasons and, well, ranting on and on about something doesn’t produce the most eloquent of entries anyway, does it?

So, yeah, if this entry is hard to follow, I apologise. But do try to stick with it, because it’s sort of important. And even if it isn’t important to you, it’s relevant to the right here and now of Britain, 2013.

So without further ado…

Tomorrow, Monday, The First of April, those of us on benefits will be become victims of the welfare reform implemented by the government and their minions. Well, they diplomatically call it a reform, I call it a cruel overhaul.

I know the government is short of money, and yes, there are people who are on benefits when they shouldn’t be and yes, the Government do need to do something about it.

But this overhaul is not the way to go.

The housing benefit and the bedroom tax, for example? Excuse me whilst I rant a second.

I know this doesn’t just affect disabled people, and I know that not all disabled people are affected but at least 60% of people affected by the bedroom tax are disabled. The government want disabled people (or families of disabled children) to either pay for a so called extra bedroom or move into smaller places. These are people in so called social accommodation. I personally believe in calling a spade a space, and you can call me old fashioned if you wish, but social accommodation to me is nothing more than a new term for council housing.

But there’s no councils involved directly any more, so it’s social accommodation to reflect how the houses are funded. But don’t let the fancy new term kid you. Houses built under the name of social accommodation are the same size as council houses, they’re as thoughtlessly laid out as council houses and the garden space is just as worryingly small as council houses. In fact, if I were to be completely honest with you, I’d say the houses built under the term of social accommodation are worse!

The new houses are made of this thin plaster board, so thin that there has to be wooden planks on the wall for people to put up curtain rails. There’s no place to hang photos, no wall mirrors, no clocks. Putting one directly into the plaster board could lead to a crumbling wall, especially during what they call the “resting period” after a new house has been built. For the record, the resting period of those houses was ten years.

The house I lived in wasn’t treated for damp, none of the new housing estates under this housing association was, which is essential with these new building materials, so we ended up with walls exposed to the elements and infested with damp the second year of living there. And just like the old council houses, the doors hardly fitted into the doorway frame, the bathrooms were badly designed and the kitchen was as small as possible. No storage space to boot, but no way to put up shelves either.

These are not houses you can turn into a loving home. And I’ve veered off the point.

My point was, these aren’t the highest standard of buildings and they seem to be getting worse. I was in desperate need of an accessible place to live, and this was the best they could provide. I don’t know what people think social accommodation housing is like these days, but I can tell them what it’s not, and it’s not a big mansion with a swimming room, sauna and room for a pony.

The tax payer is not paying for people to live in luxury, and just because someone is in receipt of benefits, it doesn’t mean they don’t also pay some form of taxes or that they’ve never paid taxes in their life.

And back to the bedroom tax!

The government want people even worse off than myself to move into smaller places. Where do the government think all these smaller accessible, affordable places are? And what they class as essential don’t seem to match up to what a disabled person might reasonably need. And that doesn’t even touch upon the point made many times on the news: A disabled person could probably need their own room.

Once again, it’s as if the attitude U-turn on disabled people has been used to justify heartless ignorance. After many years of arguing for our rights to be seen as worthy to be in relationships, our right to still be treated like humans if someone becomes disabled later on in life, we are suddenly having it thrown back in our face.

Just because disabled people are in relationships with all the trimmings found in a relationship, doesn’t mean that we automatically share bedrooms with those we are in relationships with. Yes, even married people.

Do you know how much room a hospital bed can take up? And yet the mattress are usually smaller than the normal single size. It’d be a tight squeeze for even the most cuddliest of couples.

And that’s if the disabled person doesn’t have to be hooked up to a bunch of machinery over night to keep them alive and well. Have you ever tried to share a bed with someone who might hurt you in the middle of the night due to spasms? Have you ever tried to share a bed with someone you might badly hurt just by accidentally knocking them in your sleep?

Do you know how noisy some of that machinery is? Do you know how important sleep is to a disabled or chronically ill person is? Sharing a bed with someone who tosses and turns at night wouldn’t just be annoyance it is for the majority of people, it could be life threatening!

And do you know how uncomfortable it is to sleep with your neck and shoulder at a strange angle to the rest of your body, just because the person your sharing a bed with has the head part of the hospital bed raised up so that their neck and head is supported in the only way it can comfortably be to them? Or with the knee break up, or on a full or half tilt to ensure blood pressure stays even? I don’t actually, because I am that person with their hospital bed head part up at an awkward angle for everyone else.

And then there’s just the fact that some partners can’t share a sleeping space because they need their own space to rest properly, and a restless partner, disabled or not, affects that.

I know it’s a trope on hospital dramas and in fictional romance stories, but honestly! There’s no room for an extra pillow, and if you can’t get that close and comfortable in a hospital bed to share one, you’re out of luck.

Hospital beds and hospital equipment take up too much space for two beds in the conservative measurements the housing associations class as bedrooms. If these couples, married or not, can’t share a bed, they need enough room for two beds in one room or a bedroom each. They can’t move into smaller property, that defeats the purpose of having enough space for a disabled person to live comfortably (and that’s comfortably, not luxuriously!) and bigger bedrooms mean less storage space. I know this because I’ve lived it and seen it!
And then there are the children! Not only are the government making children share despite a difference of gender up to the age of ten now, but they have no compassion for the disabled children who might need more space due to a disability, or other children who’s sleep might be affected by the demands of their sibling’s disability.

Do I need to go through all of what I’ve said above and apply it to children?

And children are children. At least by adults we should have grown out of tired-related tantrums. Tired children kept up all night by their siblings heart monitor won’t have yet have grown out of tired-related tantrums, and they will let everyone know it. Loudly. Probably keeping their sibling awake too.

But it’s the same in both situations. There are no exemptions, and so they are classed as being able to share, thus having extra bedrooms and being under occupancy.

The government seem to be forgetting that this is ultimately a change to deal with the issue of over-crowding. If two bedrooms are being used, they are not under-occupancy. And I’m sorry, but if they want to talk to someone about being under occupancy, they should look around the house of parliament and ask who has a second home! Never mind picking on the people who use a second bedroom, take those second homes and turn them into flats or something! Accessible flats, at that. Get those poor people who have had to turn their living room into their bedroom and bathroom because they’re no longer fit enough to use the whole house, and get them into an actual suitable property. That frees up a home.

And remind me to rant more about accessible flats in the future, because just saying “accessible flat” isn’t enough.

Most importantly, what I can’t get to make sense in my mind, is the fact that councils report there is an over-crowding problem and a lack of houses on the list. So why are they forcing people out of their homes if there’s no homes to move into? Or why don’t they search out the most over-crowded house holds and the most under-occupied house-holds and see about swapping them around?

Why are the poorest being kicked further when they’re already down?

Which brings me smoothly on the sister issue of the benefit caps.

The Government are reporting that there’s been an increase over the last ten years of people claiming disability benefits, and more people than ever before going straight onto benefits who’ve never worked. They can’t sustain at the rate they’re going, so things have to change.

Now, what they’re trying to imply is that, basically, we’re all scroungers. We’ve all heard that word before. Anyone who lives off benefits who could possibly work are scroungers and this generation is lazier than the last generation, and young disabled people are getting easily discouraged by the poor economy so they don’t try either.

Well… I don’t accept that. Call me naïve, but I think more people are claiming disability living allowance and employment and support allowance is because we have more disabled people.

It really is as simple as that.

The DWP maintain that the number of those found wrongfully claiming benefits stays under 3% of all claimers. So it’s not the scrounging society Cameron will have you believe.

More children are surviving birth defects, and they grow up to be disabled adults.

More children survive horrific accidents, and they grow up to be disabled adults.

More children are surviving illnesses and diseases which might leave them physically or mentally disabled, like meningitis for example, and they grow up to be disabled adults.

More babies who were born prematurely are surviving the critical hours in NICU, but not all of them come out from there with perfect health. Those babies who don’t grow to be sickly children, and if it’s something that doesn’t get better in childhood, then they become disabled adults.

Better medication and long-term treatment guarantees a longer life for those who would have otherwise died in childhood, like those suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy or Cystic Fibrosis. For the time they manage to survive, some of it will be as adults. Disabled adults.

There’s those people with severe forms of epilepsy, diabetes, asthma. Every day they survive on a gruelling regime of medications and assistance. It gets them to adulthood, it keeps them alive, but employment could be difficult.

And then there’s people who weren’t born disabled, but became disabled during childhood or adulthood. A serious illness, a tragic accident, or just a horrible twist of fate. I know the NHS is not the best, and it’s getting a hard time right now with everything in the news, but more people are surviving accidents, serious incidents, sudden illnesses, strokes, heart attacks, and things like that, due to medical intervention of the NHS. Some might come away from some of those things just as well as before, loads others don’t, and if they survive, they carry on their lives as disabled people.

Our population has grown, the ratio of disabled people to your average person has increased, therefore the amount of people on benefits have increased! It’s simple maths, and I say that as a dyscalculic!

Does David Cameron want us to go back to when people died of things we could otherwise save them from? Because that would sort his problem out. Depriving people of benefits they need to survive is just the heartless, long way around.

And all of this discussion about whether people should be awarded long-term benefits is ridiculous. Most disabilities are for life. You might outgrow an illness, you might outgrow a deficiency, but you hardly ever outgrow a disability, especially not without a lot of help at some time in your life and an ever present reminder for the rest of it; Some disabilities are temporary, someone might be temporarily blind, some people might be temporarily paralysed, but even then, they have to live their life as best as they can with that disability for as long as it affects them, and with those things, you can never tell.

Changing the system so everyone has to be re-assessed every year for their benefits just because a few slip through the system is unfair. And every single change to the assessment system makes it harder for genuine people who desperately need the benefits to get them, all the while the fraud percentage stays the same. Which is not, as the media and government will have you believe, over 10% of claims. It is less than 1%.

And that brings me smoothly on to the next change.

Now this one I’m not sure of the ins and outs of, so I’m keeping it vague. Free legal aid provided by the government to help with the appeals process is either being eradicated completely or substantially cut back. Do you know what that means? It means a lot of people, if not all, who get wrongly fined, sanctioned or kicked completely off their benefits and left to suffer in poverty, will not be able to fight the decision unless they can provide the funding to do so themselves.

I am very much happy to be corrected if I’m wrong on that one, but that’s what I can work out.

Other changes will see the CAB’s funding to help people with financial and legal problems lowered, also time and days to get access to the advice, and most centres turning into glorified call centres, with advice given solely over the phone. Hardship grants and loans will be next to impossible to apply for, so if anyone loses their job because they are no longer able to do it satisfactorily enough, and is left paying the bedroom tax because they either need that extra room for equipment, a separate sleeping space or just can’t move quick enough into a smaller property, they’ll be left to live off oxygen and whatever no frills food they can get off a food bank.

Then there’s Personal Independent Payment, which will replace DLA (not employment based, contrary to what the media will report). The new categories for PIP don’t reflect the true nature of a disability, and it makes it even harder for someone with a fluctuating condition or disability to fill in. They’re harder to answer and the point system is tougher, which might seem a good idea if you’re trying to get rid of those tricksy fraudsters leeching off the economy, but awful if you actually want disabled people to have access to society.

It’s like with every other form, but multiplied. Fill it in about a bad day and risk being accused of lying to get more money on a good day. Fill it in about about a good day and risk losing access to all elements of the fund, and for those on motability, that could mean losing their car, which might get them to work, to hospital appointments or to socialise, which if you’re unwell 99.9% of the time, is the one day you basically live for.

Take that away, and you will literally have a bunch of disabled people stuck at home, staring at the walls. You know, the very thing most people accuse disabled people of doing all the time anyway.

OH the irony!

And now they’re going to be joined with fully able-bodied people who have struggled to get jobs in this economy, because there’s not enough jobs in commutable areas. It was already difficult to get a job if you were over-qualified, and now we have a bunch of over-qualified people going for jobs irrelevant to the courses they went to university to get into. They’ll be joined by nurses who have been cut by the NHS, who funnily enough, could probably help a few of those disabled people get into work quicker if only there was enough staff care to go around on wards following patient recovery.

And they’ll all be joined by many, many other people who, by no fault of their own, have ended up on benefits. And the longer you’re out of work, the more difficult it is getting back into work, because industries frown on long stretches of unaccounted for time on your CV.

This is just a slippery slope where the poor are being hit again, and again, and again. And if you think that doesn’t take affect on people, think again. The worse a financial situation gets, the more likely it is that people fall victim to depression, and that not only puts more strain on the NHS, to treat the depression, it also will cause more delays in a person getting back into work. And the cycle will start all over again.

So thank you, David Cameron and his band of merry men for kicking the poor and disabled when they’re already down, stealing from them when they’re out, and feeding it to the rich once again when they have no hope of ever getting back up.

Ebineezer Scrooge called, he said you’ve gone too far.

This was a rant brought to you by me, A Failed Journalist. I can only apologise if it didn’t make much sense.

Classic Movie Quest: All About Eve

Monday 25 March, 2013

I don’t know if this will surprise anyone or not, but I genuinely liked All About Eve. I really liked it!

Despite figuring out the twist of Eve lying about her life and how it lead to her latching on to Bette Davis’s Margo almost as soon as the character starting tell her story to the whole group, I still found the film interesting enough to keep watching through to the end. Just knowing that one piece of information didn’t give the rest of the film away (As apose to something like the 6th Sense, which I figured out half through the film and spend the other half hoping that it wouldn’t end in the cop out I was imagining it could be. Predictably, it did), especially as we’re already shown the ending at the beginning and the rest of the film is shown in flashback form.

I think what kept my attention despite my brain already spoiling the big shock for me, is the fact that by now, it’s a common plot twist found in many television series and films by now, regardless of genre, on top of the sheer fact that I like these sort of twists when executed well. A La Folie Pas Du Tout, for example, is one that is executed very well and a must see if you’re a fan of either All About Eve or Play Misty For Me.

And that’s because there’s a whole story to unravel besides the twist. I might have known Eve was lying, but I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what was the truth, I didn’t know how it lead to the end scene, which we saw first, and I certainly didn’t know how I’d feel about the characters as the story progressed.

It’s very easy to see Bette Davis’s character as a bitter old woman, resentful of a younger fresher face on the scene, paranoid to the highest degree over her friends finding a place in their group for this young up-and-comer who started out as a lowly fan. It’s very easy to see her as the rest of the group see her and the situation, that Margo is anticipating the fall of her career after reaching forty and can’t handle aging, and sees anyone younger as the enemy, and anyone helping anyone younger is also the enemy.

But the thing is, is that even if you know the twist or not, the audience sees the manipulation side of it too. Eve is an opportunist and she carries around a kicked puppy look wherever she goes. Margo’s friends have taken her under her wing, they give her opportunities because they feel like she deserves them, and she eats them up because she knows the worse she makes it for Margo, the easier it is for her to take her place. After all, she is a very good actress.

We see as she moves in on the characters, one by one, from Margo to her friend Karen, wife of the Lloyd Richards, who writes the plays that Margo stars in, to Lloyd himself. She orchestrates situations where she has to fill in for Margo, with a theatre critic watching.

It’s mesmorising. Watching it all unfold is honestly mesmerising.

And doesn’t it say something about the ignorance of the acting industry that a woman hitting forty is just as at risk of losing grip on her career in today’s society as she was over fifty years ago? Alright, so it’s got better over the last couple of years, we are seeing more genuinely older ladies on the screen and in theatre, I think that’s down to the way we percieve middle age these days. But older women actors are few, far between, and in the majority. The parts aren’t as varied as for other dynamics, that’s for sure.

But back to All About Eve. I can’t fault it at all. Bette Davis, Anne Baxtor, Celeste Holm and the rest were amazing. This film deserves it’s place on the list of Must See Classic Movies. I would watch it again and I would recommend it.


Classic Movie Quest: Casablanca

Sunday 17 March, 2013

Casablanca, the film that originally sparked the idea for the Classic Movie Challenge, due to everyone’s surprise, shock, horror and disgust of my never having seeing this film before.
“What? Never!?” They’d ask in disbelief.
“Nope, never” I’d reply, “It’s not really my kind of film.”

But they’d insist that there’s no such thing, that this is a film that has something for everone, and that I must absolutely watch this film some day in the near future.

Well, six months later since it was last suggested to me, that’s exactly what I did.

I’m afraid to go against the grain on this, but whilst this is a good film and the acting is excellent, I don’t get the fuss. In all honesty, I found this film to be caked in overhype.

The story is basically about an American man, Rick Blaine (Bogart), who is stranded in Casablanca, which is in the temporarily pro-German Vichy French “protectorate” of Morrocco and runs a secret illegal casino frequented by a large variety of people who otherwise wouldn’t normally share breathing space with each other. In lamens terms, Casablanca is a town in the middle of nowhere, Morocco, and has a population dynamic made up of Nazis, locals, and refugees of various Occupied Countries who are waiting for tickets out to safer places.

The tickets (called transport papers in this) aren’t just expensive for those in poverty, they’re impossible to get. The only way seems to either be to pass on information to the corrupt police or to steal them from someone who already did, which was the method of poor old Peter Lorre’s character Ugarte. Ugarte only lived long enough to pass them on to Rick for safe keeping, he was taken in by said corrupt police shortly after and later died in custody.

Poor old Peter Lorre.

Admittedly, this isn’t sounding too much of a bad story so far. Not the strongest of films to keep me entertained, but not bad. Unfortunately, all of that was established and took place within the first twenty minutes, and it all went downhill from there.

No matter what anyone says, this film is absolutely, 100%, a love story that just happens to be set in the specific equivalent of Occupied France. (See the whole Protectorate thing above.) Rick has held a candle for his long lost love Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, for far too long. He has banned his piano man and possible best friend Sam (the famous Sam!) from playing “As Time Goes By” within his hearing for fear it’d remind him of the heart ache, and unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what Ilsa wants him to play the second she sees him. I don’t know if we’re meant to sympathise with Ilsa’s so called tragic love story or not at some point in the film, but I certainly didn’t. Mostly because it’s not really a tragic love story, it’s a love story set during what was a very oppressive, very stressful tragic time. Really, considering everything, I’d say she of all the characters had it the most easy. Unlike her husband who was a known fugitive needing a way of escape, and unlike Rick who’d already risked his life for the good cause and ended up in Casablanca.

I did like the battle of the the national anthems, though. Not just that the everyone in the bar sung along to a national anthem that might not have even been theirs to spite the Nazis, but it also showed that Rick wasn’t as neutral as he was making out to be. He nodded, he gave the orchestra permission, he didn’t stop them overpowering the voices of those singing Die Wacht am Rhein. For as bland as the rest of the film was, on a whole, that part wasn’t.

And for an extra bit of trivia, I looked it up to see whether Hornblower borrowed the idea of having the little boy singing La Marseille to the Marquis in the episode The Frogs and The Lobsters, which was set during the French Revolution, and apparently they did.

And my problems with this film doesn’t cloud my judgement – it is a very good film for those who like these sort of films. People can think deeply about it if they’d like to, or they can stick to the more shallower levels and just admire the supposed tragic love story. The acting is fantastic, the music is perfect. It might not be pitch-perfect to those perfectionists out there, but the singing and the instruments all have that natural sound for it that doesn’t need to be pitch-perfect.

But I can honestly say that my favourite part of the whole film was when it ended. The story tied up and Rick got away.

I’m aware that as a generalisation, I might be that one exception, but there really isn’t something for everyone in this film. There’s better love stories out there, there’s better films about war oppression. I’m only glad I watched this film to put an end to the recommendations that follow the shocked faces.


The Life and Death Brigade of The Special Needs Bubble

Saturday 9 March, 2013

There’s an episode of House where he says to Cameron that someone so upset by death either has no experience of it or too much of it. As someone who grew up disabled, attended a special needs school followed by a mainstream secondary school that was the only wheelchair accessible mainstream school in the borough, and a family history of incurable illnesses, I feel that I for one have too much experience of it.

My first experience of death was when I was five years old. An older girl I knew enough to be friendly to, as friendly as a five year old in the nursery can be with a seventeen year old who was in the eldest class of the school and had a completely different condition, passed away in the middle of the night, in the middle of a school week. People said it was so sudden, and I remember the teachers and classroom assistants (helpers they were called, back then) huddled by the headteacher’s office, crying.

Her name was Sally, and here’s something that I’ve never told anyone before. She knew she was dying, and she told me so.

Sally was quite poorly but she wasn’t meant to go so soon. I know this because I overheard the teachers, the classroom helpers and the dinner ladies saying so. I never thought to correct them in their assumptions. I never liked speaking out of turn for fear of upsetting anyone, and as a five year old, I just assumed that I must have been wrong if adults had a different opinion to me.

But Sally, this girl who struggled to breathe, who could barely self propel, who needed a helper with her at all times and had to stay in the small benched square away from the playground and most of the other children (which is how we became acquainted), turned to me, a five year old, and said “Something bad’s going to happen, I can feel it. I think I’m going to die, and I can’t stop it.” She leaned over to me, whilst our shared helper was away due to being spread thin between looking after us and being on general playground duty, and grounded out those words.

She died a week later.

And with the wisdom of a five year old, I always wondered, why is it she knew but everyone else was surprised?

Twenty-something years later, I understand why. We see but we don’t observe, and we cling onto what we want to see instead of seeing the real picture. I’ve lost friends to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, complications relating to severe Cerebal Palsy, complications relating to Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Cystic Fibrosis, and fatal heart conditions, and I’ve lost several family members to various types of cancers. You get to a point in every single case where you just know that it’s the point of no return for them, this is a death sentence, and that no matter what drugs they take, no matter what surgery they have, it’ll only prolong or stave off their suffering for a short while, not cure them completely.

And yet every single time these loved ones lose the battle and their lives, there’s still that underlying shock, surprise, disbelief, as if we weren’t expecting it.

I recently realised that most of the children I went to that special needs school with have since passed away, some didn’t even see passed their teenage years. This is something that most people don’t even have to think about until they’re in their 70s, but I can name a handful of adults right now who don’t have many people to share their childhood memories with. Hell, their teenage memories with, because there weren’t just children at this school. This school went from the age of 3 and a half to eighteen.

And the way the school worked, I hate to be cheesy, but you knew every single one of the other students and you were automatically friends. I felt differently about that concept when I was ten, and a newcomer picked on me daily about how different I was to everyone else (too normal for a special needs school, not normal enough for a normal school, smallest of those who could walk). I certainly wasn’t friends with that girl. And maybe some of the older students felt they weren’t really friends with the younger students, but the point was, that school was such a bubble, you didn’t have much choice than to be friends with them, or to at least tolerate them nicely. I personally had friends between the age gaps of three years younger than me to seven years older than me, and my peers in terms of intelligence were the older students. If they didn’t like me, they certainly didn’t show it.

The way the social life of a disabled person was back then, the people you knew in school, you’d see everywhere else you went to too, because you all went to the same places. Not me, because not having a car and being quite poor, my parents could never afford for me to join in and never saw the point of inquiring alternative solutions, but it was the case generally.

If someone went to this special needs school, they went to the same social clubs outside of school. They went to the same children’s hospital, to the same clinics, and saw the same doctors. They saw the physiotherapist from school who also worked in the hospital. The school hosted physiotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions during the holidays. There were special needs sports events that I attended as a seven year old until I was fourteen years old, and students from the two schools I attended made up the whole team.

If you didn’t know someone in this disabled circle, you knew someone who did. It’s one of those stereotypes about disabled people that, in this case, is actually quite true.

So it is very sad to slowly see and hear about this circle that I was once close to, getting smaller and smaller as time goes by. It will continue to get smaller. The unavoidable fact about attending a special needs school and getting to know other disabled children and teenagers, regardless of condition, is that many of them have conditions and illnesses that steal them from this world a lot sooner than others.

Almost ten years ago, I lost a dearly beloved friend of mine who I shared a childhood with, who knew the friends that I knew despite us not actually attending this same school at the same time. The history we shared has decayed every year, when another one of our mutual friends join her in the unknown sanctuary from the pain of disabled life. She lived to see her own classmates pass away, and to add to the loss, lost her brother to cancer in 2002.

It’s hard to think about the fact that wherever she is, she’s no longer suffering even though I and many others still miss her so much. That wherever she is, at least she’s not subjected to any of the indignities befalling disabled people across the country right now, thanks to this government and their so called welfare reform. And the same goes for everyone else. It is hard to think of what they’d be suffering through if they were alive today and depending on the benefits that are getting snatched away from other people with the same conditions as them.

So I’d like to say to Sally, Gemma, Vicky, Owen, Jenna, Mike, Kevin, Laura S, Peter, Danielle, Laura D and everyone else who is no longer with us but was part of our special needs circle:

You were a part of history, and you will always live on in our memories for as long we ourselves can survive.


Classic Movie Quest: Apocalypse Now (Redux)

Tuesday 5 March, 2013

This is not a film for the faint-hearted. I am not faint-hearted, but I’m also not that keen on war films. My one exception so far is Full Metal Jacket, which is coincidentally another film about the Vietnam War. Both of them aren’t my usual cup of tea, but it’s like I’ve said before: I can recognise a good film when I see one.

I don’t know how much of a difference there is between the Redux version and the original release, other than the running time being 202 minutes against the original’s 153 minutes. I’m assuming that the film narrative, plot and ending stays the same. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong…

So, yeah, the topic of the film is rather grim. The main character played by Martin Sheen (Willard) goes on what can only be described as a suicide mission to kill a crazed, rogue Special Forces Officer who went AWOL (Kurtz) and set up his own renegade army in cambodia. But you can’t deny it catches the bleakness if war quite well, along with the extremes of relief you’ll find at war:

The Cabin Fever an action-hungry soldier feels when waiting for orders after sitting stagnate for too long, shown at the very beginning of the film, and the levels of insanity some soldiers go through to get some normality back in their life in the middle of a long, endless mission.

Obviously I’m referring to the Surfer Soldiers. To the normal person, accepting a mission based on the ability to surf might seem ludicrous, but to the Lueitennant Colonel in charge (Bill Kilgore), meeting with Willard to take him to the Veit Kong River, it’s a fantastic idea! And not just that, but when the proverbial hits the fan, he’s still expecting his men to surf through the waters even under enemy fire.

I don’t know if we’re meant to believe so many years of active service has made Kilgore crazy, or if he signed up and lasted so long because he was crazy from the very beginning, but either way, his name says it all…

The thing is, this being a war film, I expected it to be like the others I’ve seen. Bridge on th River Kwai, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Dirty Dozen, films like that, where, alright, the characters might not be perfect angels but there’s a very set Good vs Evil, Us vs Them feel to it. Our good side can do no wrong because they’re defeating the evil enemies. This is another film I went into blind, not knowing much about the film other than it being set during the Viet Nam war.

This film is not as clean cut. If there’s one thing that hits you throughout all the film it is that The Needs of the Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few, like many other war films. But the enemy in the other war films are very much portrayed as being in with the side of the enemy (All Germans Are Nazis, All Ally Traitors are Nazis, switch relevance to the relevant national enemy etc etc). With Apocolypse Now, the further along the movie got, the more desperate Willard got and it meant there was a wider definition of Enemy. He was to complete his mission using any means necessary, and if that meant he’d have to kill people getting in the way of his mission because they were, for all intents and purposes, enemies, so be it. But their deaths lead to him completing his mission sooner, which meant the death of the main enemy, which meant The Many could survive and live.

I think if he’d have been part of a group of soldiers, it would have been easier to see them as good actions, but for some part of the film, it felt like it was just one desperate man who’d lost all of his morals just to see an end. And that’s probably intended.

That’s probably how war really is.

Personally I… well, enjoyed seems the wrong word so I’ll go with “remained interested for the whole film”. I won’t go out of my way to watch it again, because it really isn’t my usual cup of tea, but this film was good. The acting was amazing, the camera work was fantastic and I found the plot, although difficult to stick with at times, was rolled out with perfect realism. It’s no wonder this film is critically acclaimed.

It is very much worth at least the one watch for those people like me who are missing out on the classics.