Thursday, August 31, 2017

The death of Princess Diana / a week that rocked Britain

Princess of Wales

The death of Princess Diana: a week that rocked Britain

Events leading up to and beyond the shocking announcement that the Princess of Wales had died in a car crash in Paris

Twenty years ago, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, stunned the world. From the shocking announcement of the news to her funeral procession lined by a million-strong crowd, this tumultuous week rocked Britain – and the monarchy.

Princess of Wales

30 August 1997

Newly divorced, freshly independent, Diana is enjoying a summer of fun. Divested of her royal title, her famous gowns auctioned for charity, she is Vanity Fair’s cover and planning a trip to Sarajevo to promote her campaign against landmines. In July she arrives in St Tropez with William and Harry as guests of the Harrods owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, on his yacht, The Jonikal. Fayed’s son, Dodi, 42, is summoned by his father to meet her as she and her sons enjoy jet-skiing, swimming, sunshine and lavish hospitality.

Princess Diana is Vanity Fair’s September cover girl

Princess Diana is Vanity Fair’s September cover girl

July 30, 2013 
By Kaiser

Ugh, really? For real, Vanity Fair? On the September issue, arguably the most important issue of any magazine? This is the cover of Vanity Fair’s September issue – Princess Diana, re-using a photo (now majorly cropped) from Mario Testino’s 1997 photo shoot. I believe that this was Diana’s last formal photo shoot, and she did do it for Vanity Fair/Testino – as a way to promote the auction of her old dresses for charity. Now the shoot is being reused, 16 years later, for VF’s September issue. It’s not even like they’re pairing this reprint with a really interesting story either – the cover story is just about how Diana was in love with Hasnat Khan. We already knew that!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Beauty and the Inferno by Roberto Saviano / Review

Beauty and the Inferno by Roberto Saviano – Review

Duncan Campbell is impressed by the bravery of a man who defied the mafia

Duncan Campbell
Saturday 9 October 2010 00.05 BST

Gomorrah, a blistering expose of the Neapolitan Mafia, the Camorra, by a young Italian reporter, Roberto Saviano, became a bestseller both in Italy and internationally when it was published four years ago. The film based on it was Italy's entry for the 2008 Academy Awards. Both book and film stripped the glamour from the mafia and revealed its protagonists for what they were: ruthless, banal, sociopathic thugs far removed from elegant, Godfatherly sophistication and singing in a very different choir from the Sopranos.
The success of the book has been bittersweet for Saviano. The Camorra wanted to make an example of him for his impudence and issued a death sentence. He was given a round-the-clock police guard and forced to move constantly. Having hunted the mafia and drawn blood, Saviano himself became the quarry.

Now he has published a series of essays, Beauty and the Inferno, in which he reflects on his new life as a fugitive writer and the experiences of others in the same position. "I'm not allowed to go for a walk, even with bodyguards," he explains. "Sometimes I can't stay in the same hotel more than one night at a time . . . more often than not I've stayed in rooms at the carabinieri barracks."
He makes common cause with others, like Salman Rushdie or Anna Politkovskaya, who have also been persecuted for their writing; in the latter's case, fatally. The book is at its best when Saviano describes the strange half-world that he now inhabits. Of a meeting with Rushdie in Stockholm, he writes: "The difference between Rushdie and me is that he was condemned by a regime that does not tolerate expressions that run counter to its ideology. In my country, where censorship does not exist, oversight and indifference take its place."
He is dismayed by the hostile and unsupportive reaction Gomorrah generated among some of his contemporaries. "Silence is the guiltiest accomplice," he notes.
Joe Pistone, the FBI man who went undercover in the 70s under the name of Donnie Brasco and whose part was played by Johnny Depp in the eponymous film, shares with Saviano the experience of being under a mafia death sentence and is sanguine about the way the movie sentimentalised him. "They made it seem like I was sorry when people ended up in prison or dead," he tells Saviano. "They didn't want to give the impression that I was heartless. But when I became Donnie Brasco, I really did become heartless." In one essay, Saviano praises the writing of Michael Herr, author of Dispatches, whom he has clearly found inspirational. "Conventional journalism couldn't shed light on this (Vietnam) war anymore than the power of conventional weapons could win it," said Herr, and clearly Saviano feels the same about his style of writing and the mafia.
A sense of frustration and claustrophobia haunts the book. Saviano is, at heart, a reporter. He needs to get out and about, talk to people, test assumptions; not the easiest of tasks when you have a police escort and no home base. He is, on the one hand, determined to show the Camorra that he will not be silenced by their threats – this book is his "sod 'em" to their Gomorrah – but there is also a tacit recognition that, if they have failed to murder him so far, they have nonetheless taken him off the streets of Italy.
The book, which includes material written between 2004 and 2009, is not well served by its translation. Obviously, it's difficult to render colloquial reportage in a form that is both readable and faithful to the original, but too often a clunky or over-literal phrase derails the narrative. "Those who hold positions of power continue to talk about culture and electoral democracy, the shooting stars of byzantine culture, and those who are opposed seem to be devoured by the fear of not being part of the business rather than interested in modifying its mechanism," is just one sentence that should have had an editor reaching for a big blue pen. Also, some of the essays, like those on the Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi, or the Italian Olympic boxing team, are dropped in without context, giving the impression that they are there mainly as make-weights in a followup to a bestseller.
This is a sad book in many ways because it illustrates the price that can be paid for courageous writing. Still, at a time when so much of the media is filled with the triviality of celebrity and when elaborate newspaper investigations are aimed at such harmless targets as errant footballers or drug-taking models, it is good to be reminded of the raw bravery of the Savianos of this world and to salute them for the sacrifices they have made in their challenges to power.
Duncan Campbell's If It Bleeds is published by Headline Review.

Game of Thrones recap / season seven finale – The Dragon and the Wolf

Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Cersei and Jaime Lannister

Game of Thrones recap: season seven finale – The Dragon and the Wolf

A supersized, expertly paced and deeply satisfying close to the season, with a big reveal and a recurring theme: family
Spoiler alert: this blog is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sunday night and on Foxtel in Australia on Monday. Do not read unless you have watched season seven, episode seven, which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 2am and 9pm, and is repeated in Australia on Showcase on Monday at 7.30pm AEST.

Sarah Hughes

Monday 28 August 2017 07.35 BST

‘His name is Aegon Targaryen … Promise me Ned’

What an episode. I might have been a bit up and down about some of the creative decisions this season, but they largely paid off for this supersized, expertly paced and deeply satisfying finale, which allowed every storyline the time it needed to breathe while still providing the ultimate spectacle of The Wall falling to the Night King and his ice dragon.
Almost more important than even that cataclysmic moment was the confirmation that viewers have long been waiting for: Jon Snow’s real name is Aegon Targaryen and, given that Robert’s rebellion was, as Bran pointed out, based on a lie, he’s also the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
It remains to be seen both how his newly acquired Aunty Daenerys feels about that (although of course the Targaryens have always prided themselves on their close family relationships), and whether by the end of the series there will actually be an Iron Throne to sit on.

‘We are a group of people who do not like one another. We have suffered at each other’s hands. We have lost people we love at each other’s hands’

The relationship between dragon and wolf, both past and present, might have been at the heart of this episode, but its emotional heft came from the way it probed a number of different relationships, some of which – such as Brienne’s anguished cry of “fuck loyalty” managed to do a great deal of emotional work in a small amount of time.
In comparison to last week’s episode, where a number of the conversations felt forced and carelessly written, tonight was full of moments of genuine power, from Jon’s brief chat with Theon – “You’re a Greyjoy and a Stark” – to Jaime’s bleak realisation that his sister had lied one final, devastating time, promising help that she had no intention of giving, and agreeing to a meeting with Daenerys and her followers that was never more than a hollow farce, given that the Golden Company were already paid for and Euron in on the plot.
Best of all though was Cersei’s meeting with Tyrion: a tense confrontation layered over with past lies and bitter regrets, and beautifully acted by Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey. He admitted that he mourned the deaths of her younger children, even as she could not quite bring herself to have her little brother struck once and for all from her path.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

Cersei’s inability to rid herself of either of her troublesome brothers might have struck some as slightly unbelievable (this is, after all, the woman Tyrion described as “the most murderous in Westeros”). But on the other hand, Jaime is her twin, part of her and the father of her children – and when it came to it she was never going to bring herself to give the order for his death. 
As for Tyrion, it served her better perhaps to lie to him, to make him think that he’d finally won a point against her and gained her support even as she knew that the opposite was true. But I also think he too remains her brother, however much despised.

‘When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives’

The episode’s other great confrontation came at Winterfell, where it transpired that Sansa, Arya and Bran had also been plotting (I knew there was more to that meeting at the Weirwood Tree than we were told).
Littlefinger, snared in a trap of his own making, died crawling and begging for his life in another very well-handled scene, which culminated in Arya, the executioner to her sister’s ruler, slitting his throat with the very dagger that started all the trouble back in season one.
But the real joy came afterwards, as Sansa and Arya looked over the snowy ramparts of Winterfell and made common cause. They might not have always been the best of friends or closest of sisters – they might still have issues festering from that childhood that was so abruptly sundered – but after all the bloodshed and suffering and betrayal and loss, they are family. And as Sansa noted, if the Starks know anything it’s that the pack survives.
That comment served to highlight the major recurring theme of this episode: family. Jon, who considers himself a Stark, is also a Targaryen, and the words he uttered to Theon may yet come back to haunt him. Daenerys, who has no family, believes she has found a soulmate in Jon – but his being family makes this a more complicated journey than she understands.

Theon, after seasons of despair and suffering, was finally able to turn his loss into an advantage, winning a brutal fight thanks to his ability to withstand pain, and a literal lack of balls. Yet his real strength came from his determination to save the sister who had never given up on him.
Meanwhile, even as the Starks stuck together, the Lannisters fell apart – and the lingering shot of Jaime standing alone as the snow drifted down suggests that Cersei’s decision will have serious repercussions for her brothers as well.

Theon was finally able to turn his loss into an advantage.

Additional notes

  • Poor old Tormund and Beric – they survive Mission Improbable only to face near-certain death at Eastwatch.
  • I was wrong about the Wight – Cersei did seem genuinely shocked by it. I also underestimated Cersei’s capacity for deceit.
  • I loved how fascinated Qyburn was by the twitching zombie arm. That man has a real affinity for the undead.
  • Talking of the undead, is there a point to Ser Gregor Ultimate Killing Machine if Cersei doesn’t use him? That said, fans of Cleganebowl were no doubt thrilled to see their dreams come a step closer with Sandor’s confrontation.
  • Bran might be the ultimate Deus Ex Machina, but he’s certainly useful to have around. I cheered when he condemned Littlefinger with his own words.
  • I was amused both by Jon’s stereotypically Northern view of a big capital city, and by his pointing out to Daenerys that prophecies aren’t always reliable.
  • There was a lot of good acting this episode, but a special mention for Alfie Allen whose broken, brittle Theon always manages to hold my sympathy.
  • Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has commented this season – you’ve made it a pleasure as always. A special mention for the late Dan Lucas who always commented below the line with style, knowledge and wit, and whose astute thoughts were much missed this year.

‘Bran might be the ultimate Deus Ex Machina, but he’s certainly useful to have around.’ 

Violence count

One Wight displayed, and then summarily chopped to bits. One brutal beating of Theon Greyjoy ending in a surprise victory for Theon. The deserved death of Lord Petyr Baelish, who finally ran out of people to lie to; and the destruction of The Wall by the Night King and his forces, possibly resulting in the deaths of any one unfortunate enough to be at East Watch.

Nudity count

The coming together of the dragon and the wolf on a gently swaying and candlelit boat. A moment which sadly seems likely to be forever sullied by Sam’s news about Jon’s parentage, which he and Bran, rather queasily for the audience, discussed just as the deed was occurring.
Oh Sam, there’s cock blocking and then there’s cock blocking (as I’m sure either Bronn or Tormund would point out).

Random Irishman of the week

So, farewell then Lord Littlefinger of the wandering accent. Of late your accent didn’t really wander at all, but your time had still come. Aidan Gillen meanwhile heads to Peaky Blinders, where I look forward to seeing him try and plot against Tommy Shelby.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Game of Throne / Has this flawed, spectacular show become too big to fail?

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)

Game of Thrones: has this flawed, spectacular show become too big to fail?

The subtle manoeuvres of previous seasons have been replaced by logic-shredding show-stoppers – but it’s far too late to stop watching now

Archie Bland
Monday 28 August 2017 13.17 BST

As season seven of Game Of Thrones has worn on, it has become a commonplace to note that the show’s hitherto subtle manoeuvres have been replaced with something more abrupt. Principals are brought together with clanging expedience; deaths that would once have been show-stopping, or at least episode-ending, instead simply herald an ad break; time flies, and so do ravens, at such speed and with such internet-era reliability that I keep expecting someone to set up an out-of-castle auto-bird before they hit the road. The story is getting bigger, yes. But it is not at all clear that it is getting better.