Issue 265 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review




Cultural currents

Ugly side of the beautiful game

Watching the world cup was a game of two halves for Mike Gonzalez

A great goal for Nike
A great goal for Nike

As I watched the England-Denmark game, my daughter asked me why I was so 'anti-English'. Another friend looked at me in that 'you miserable killjoy' sort of way, and reminded me that it was just a game, and the whole thing was pretty harmless. And I have watched the games, and enjoyed them. But I don't think it's quite that simple.

The England fans have been welcomed back into the fold, it seems. They may be wrapped in the Cross of St George and belt out 'God Save the Queen' and 'Rule Britannia' in endless succession, but there is an odd inclination to forgive all that in the name of the beautiful game. We might have momentarily suspended our judgement, but the Jingo Caravan, the Patriotic Parade, is still rolling. The carefully crafted Jubilee consensus has locked into World Cup fever, the Falklands commemoration and Blunkett's tests of Englishness.

It's only a few weeks since the BNP strutted their stuff at the local elections wrapped in the rags of St George. Suddenly, it is as if those symbols of reactionary nationalism have had all their teeth pulled.

My fear is that it's the opposite that's happened. Nationalism is becoming respectable. But there is a world of difference between a passionate identification with your local team, even if they are the property of a building millionaire or the man who keeps rewriting 'Candle in the Wind', and a resurgent pride in the mystical lexicon of nationhood.

Was it an accident that the Russian fans who smashed up central Moscow in the wake of their team's defeat waved Union Jack T-shirts? Wasn't that the banner they waved in Dublin too when they were smashing up the stands at Lansdowne Road?

Berlusconi used the football slogan 'Forza Italia' as the focus for his right wing coalition. The Argentinian generals drowned their team in tickertape in 1978 to veil the regime's destruction of human rights. 'Bread and circuses' have always been an instrument in the hands of the powerful, first to distract the masses and then to bind them to the patron of the games. In Latin America, for instance, the first teams were set up by foreign companies and bore their names. And as the so called national teams burst onto the artificial turf of Japan and South Korea, every inch of their shirts and shorts and boots seems to carry a logo that is defiantly global--Adidas, Nike and the rest.

So does that make me some old curmudgeon who doesn't like people enjoying themselves? I don't think so. This is not an attack on the beautiful game. But sport, like every other cultural activity, is a contradictory space where there is a struggle for appropriation. Sometimes, our side can take it back.

Take cricket, for example. There can't be many kinds of performance that so clearly play out social relations. The cricket field acted out the tranquil relations of landlord and peasant--the pavilion, lengthy pauses for tea, leisurely mid-morning starts after long and heavy breakfasts, five uninterrupted days on well-kept lawns. Then, in the early 1960s, that consensus was blown apart by a West Indies team whose eruption onto the British field of dreams announced the coming of colonial liberation. And 20 years later cricket went corporate--it was only following on football's heels.

The majority of the French team--and prime among them the great Zidane--are Africans, pillaged from their home ground for purposes of profit. They are the new precious minerals fuelling a massive worldwide industry. Every player who takes the field is a commodity whose displays of skill and elegance are product presentations for a corporate audience--with the rest of us looking on. Like the corrupt millionaires who buy and sell the so called Olympic dream, Fifa is the board of management of an international corporation trading in logos--commercial and national. Amid the fanfares marking the cup, the allegations of corruption and misuse of power by Blatter and the others seem to have gone unheard. They were certainly never satisfactorily answered.

There is still beauty in the game--there is still excitement and suspense. Perhaps the most exhilarating part of the whole experience is to watch with others, the collective of the crowd. But like every other expression of our social existence, there are those waiting in the wings to transform that shared experience into something that can serve their interests. Patriotism is as much a commodity as brand loyalty, and just as dangerous. It can lead us so easily to buy the product--the jingoism, the hatred of the other, the roar of disapproval at those people who insist in running uninvited onto our pitch and spoiling the game.

Isn't it possible to love the beautiful game--the skill, the fluidity, the athleticism--without carrying the flags?



Rose Rage
Adapted from Willliam Shakespeare by Edward Hall and Roger Warren
Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London

Queen Margaret (right) fights to hold onto power
Queen Margaret (right) fights to hold onto power

Readers of Socialist Review, you have about three weeks to book for a truly exhilarating dramatic experience. At the Haymarket theatre, 12 young men (well, they all looked young to me, which may not be the same thing) under the direction of Edward Hall smash, slash, slither and shriek their way through a tremendous performance of Rose Rage, an adaptation in two parts of William Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays. These were the first of Shakespeare's plays. They were written in 1591 or 1592, at the end of the Elizabethan age, when friends of the queen were worried what would happen when she died. She had no children, and her supporters feared a return to the chaos and wars of the past, in particular the Wars of the Roses that divided English rulers and killed hundreds of thousands of English citizens in the second half of the 15th century.

William Shakespeare was not a revolutionary. He owed his brilliance as a playwright not to sympathy with the revolutionaries, but to an understanding and insight into all human beings, including revolutionaries. A familiar theme of all his history plays may well have been to warn his audiences of the dangers of the breakdown of law and order, and a consequent collapse into anarchy. But he was far too sensitive a writer to allow his plays to degenerate into crude declarations of loyalty to god and king.

His plays are about the arguments of the time, so skilfully portrayed that, if properly directed, they reflect the arguments of Shakespeare's time and of our time too. As the nobles' factions form after the death of Henry V, it suddenly becomes clear that in the civil wars that follow, every king, every queen, every prince, every priest, every duke and every titled ninny is concerned exclusively with their own power and their own wealth, and will fight for both by any murderous means available to them. The bloodbath that follows turns the country into an abattoir. The scenes in this production open with all 12 actors sharpening knives for the slaughter. Each murder is accompanied by a butcher with a platter of red, freshly carved meat in front of him. And the whole reckless orgy of killing is hailed throughout by incantations of hypocrisy in honour of god, of England's green and pleasant land, and of peace in our time.

The futility of the civil wars between lords who raise armies in different parts of England and France is grimly illustrated by a famous battle scene watched over by the anguished, vacillating king. A father kills a son, and then a son kills his father. The son records how this frightful tragedy was all the fault of the warring lords:

In the middle of these ghastly battles (St Albans (twice), Northampton, Wakefield, Towton Moor, Hedgeley Moor, Hexham, Shrewsbury, Tewkesbury) comes suddenly another one, which meant something to the people who promoted it. In 1450 the enraged and starving agricultural labourers of Kent rose up in revolt under the leadership of Jack Cade. Like the rebellion of the starving mob in Rome in Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Cade's army gets handsome treatment in the play. And Edward Hall's production makes the rebellion seem and sound like an angry anti-capitalist demonstration in contemporary Britain. As Cade's comrade Dick the Butcher demands, 'The first thing that we do, let's kill all the lawyers.' The ferocious crowd moves among the audience demanding the bodies of lawyers. I confess I was greatly relieved that I and my companion (the editor of this magazine) could claim we were not lawyers.

Shakespeare's excuse for so much sympathetic emphasis on the revolutionary mob is that the Cade rebellion was part of a plot by the Duke of York to overthrow the king. But again, the playwright's eye and ear can't really permit such an unlikely story. When a nobleman accuses Cade of being a dupe of the Duke of York, Cade mutters, aside to the audience: 'He lies, for I invented it myself.'

These plays were written on the eve of the English Revolution, a real mass uprising of the lower classes of which Queen Elizabeth and her supporters were far more frightened than of yet another internecine war between titled members of her class. Shakespeare knew that his job was to warn of anarchy to come, yet he could not help seeing and understanding the desperate craving of the masses.

The original Henry VI plays are difficult to follow. New characters keep coming on stage, and are difficult to distinguish or identify. Edward Hall's tremendously exciting production cuts out the crap, and leaves the essence clear and pure without once disturbing Shakespeare's narrative or his poetry. There are outstanding performances by Robert Hands as the French-born Queen Margaret and Tony Bell as Jack Cade--and many others. Though the audience was ecstatic, there were far too many empty seats.
Paul Foot



Sunshine State
Dir: John Sayles

John Sayles, still best known as the director of Matewan, has never made an uninteresting film. Sunshine State is no exception. This is an intensely human story set against the background of Plantation Island on the Florida coast.

Marly Temple (Edie Falco) runs the motel business her father (Ralph Waite) built up but is now too ill to run. The big property developers are trying to buy the motel as part of a project to redevelop the whole area. We see both sides of this growing conflict through the relationship Marly falls into with landscape architect Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton). The developers are at work in the next town down the coast as well--the predominantly black community of Lincoln Beach. Here Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) is returning with her husband to visit the mother who sent her away when she became pregnant at 15.

Spreading out from these central characters is a dense web of family, social and economic connections. Marly's mother, as uninterested in her husband's motel as her daughter, runs a community theatre. Desiree's mother has taken in a young adolescent who is serving parole working for the theatre. The football star who made Desiree pregnant is now lending his name to the property developers' selling scheme.

Sayles takes his time. We get to know the characters and their history, and the history of the area. The central characters and the area itself are facing a watershed. Can Marly make the break with her father and tell him that she cannot remain the curator of his dream, the motel? Can Desiree heal the breach with her mother and her past? Will the developers get their way and turn the island into a resort for the well off?

There are no pyrotechnics here. The steady accumulation of detail is what provides the force of the movie. And it is really only now, looking back on the film, that I realise how much character and context Sayles has managed to pack in. Indeed, the area itself now seems like one of the major characters in the film. After watching Sunshine State you feel that you could walk into this community and understand it as if you'd lived there ten years.

But Sayles never lets the sociology get in the way of the humanity. And here he is sustained by a number of excellent performances. The best of these are by Angela Bassett and Ralph Waite. His conservative railing against the change going on around him mellows in the course of the film, but it provides a powerful counterpoint to the essentially optimistic tone of the movie.

This is the latest in Sayles's series of studies of local communities facing the stresses and strains of rapid social change. Lone Star, his film set on the Mexican border, remains the most impressive of these. But Sunshine State is a welcome addition. Viewed together they are a rare and compelling portrayal of US society. Ordinary people living in common but extraordinary circumstances are Sayles's theme. And there are all too few movies that pay that kind of attention to the lives of working people.
John Rees


Beijing Bicycle
Dir: Wang Xiaoshuai

Pedal power in Beijing
Pedal power in Beijing

It is always refreshing to see a film from a part of the world whose traditional culture is so different from that of the west. But Chinese tradition is being pressed hard by the lure of modern western values and desires, introduced by the country's rapid economic growth and integration into world markets. This growth necessitated a massive influx from country to town during the last two decades--about 100 million people. This, and the speed with which change is happening, has of course led to huge tensions among the city people--between rural and urban lifestyles, modern and traditional values--inevitably leading to a clash between old and young, and over other aspects of China's transition. This is the background to the film Beijing Bicycle, and it is sensitively and dramatically dealt with through the rather simple story.

Like Bicycle Thieves, the epoch-making Italian film that opened up a new era of realistic film making in the west after the Second World War, this film takes the bicycle--the symbol, indeed the icon, of Beijing and China--as the framework round which to build the story of a newly arrived rural migrant, Guei, who succeeds in getting a job with a delivery service for ten yuan per trip. Guei is provided with a silver mountain bike which he can buy for 600 yuan in instalments. Just when he has almost finished paying for it, the bike is stolen. The distraught youth runs all over Beijing to find it, and eventually spots a city youth riding it. Jian, the new owner, claims to have bought the bike at the flea market. But Guei needs his bike back, and the film follows his efforts.

Guei's delivery job takes him to luxury hotels and houses, rich men's leisure centres and other glamorous places, all of which, including the city itself with its tall new buildings, fills him with wonder. It also brings him bang up against the prejudices and meanness of the growing market economy, which ridicules and exploits 'country bumpkins' like Guei.

Looking for the addressee of a parcel, a hotel gym official insists he cannot go into the gym to find his customer without showering first. While he does so his clothes are taken away, and he has to go naked into the reception area to get them back. His customer, a man with a common Chinese name, is not there, but Guei is not allowed to leave the gym without paying for the shower he was forced to have. He protests, and in any case he has no money, so is seized by security officers who maul him about until, by good fortune, the correct addressee with the same name turns up.

Jian, the city youth found riding Guei's bike, has been promised his own bike--the height of a Chinese youngster's ambition--by his father, who year after year breaks his promise to pay for 'more important things'. Jian steals his father's savings to buy the bike but denies the theft. All hell is let loose, and the rift in attitude between the parents' generation and Jian's is given full vent.

The bike also plays an important part in the boys' first love affairs, which in the end in fact resolve the issue of its possession. There are many other small subplots giving an insight into Beijing culture and traditions, and their manifestations in its transformation.

The photography of the film is superb. Scenes of a chase through the alleyways of the old town give a profound sense of the traditional community life being speedily transformed as the tall new buildings are erected. The acting is also excellent.

The film occasionally appears to be somewhat simplistic in its efforts to show contradictions implicit in Beijing's rapid transformation, but this is a minor drawback. The director has put a fine, thoughtful film together, which deserves the acclaim it received for film and acting at the Berlin Film Festival last year.
Chanie Rosenberg


Dir: Bob Fosse


Cabaret has been re-released for its thirtieth anniversary. It is a terrific musical set in Berlin in 1931. It tells the story of Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), the so called international star of the Kit Kat nightclub, and her entanglement with Brian Roberts (Michael York), a Cambridge PhD student.

Cabaret is based on Christopher Isherwood's stories about his time in Berlin, when it was the bohemian capital of Europe. The film depicts the sexual liberalism of the Weimar Republic, but also the desperate poverty of the time and the political turmoil of a society in crisis.

Brian arrives in Berlin, where he meets Sally. She takes him to the Kit Kat where he meets Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), a self confessed gigolo who wants to improve his English in the hope that this will help his search for a rich bride. Fritz is an essentially decent character trying to make ends meet in desperate times. One of the great ironies of the film is that Fritz successfully finds his rich heiress, Natasha Landauer (Marisa Berenson). The catch is that she's Jewish, and he is then faced with the dilemma of choosing between poverty and dangerous wealth.

While most of the characters are struggling to make ends meet, the dashing Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) breezes into their world and makes himself the centre of attention by throwing his money around. Max epitomises the rich and their complicity with the Nazis. When Brian, Sally and Max drive past a Communist paper sale that has been smashed up by the Nazis, leaving a Communist dead, Max airily informs Brian that the Nazis have their uses and that they can be controlled. This is revealed to be false later in the film, when Max and Brian visit a country pub. As they sit drinking a member of the Hitler Youth sings 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me', a pastiche of a Nazi song, and the whole pub rises to join in.

The cabaret acts as a commentary on the world outside through the highly effective use of montage. It also charts the growing influence of the Nazis. In an early scene a uniformed Nazi is kicked out of the club, and the Master of Ceremonies lampoons Hitler. However, by the end of the movie the club is filled with Nazis, and the MC sings an anti-Semitic song.

Minnelli is superb--awesome on stage, and naive and vulnerable off it. Joel Grey is equally compelling as the amoral MC. The choreography of the stylish shows is exquisite, complemented by fine camera work.

Cabaret has been given a limited release, so try and see it if you can.
Andrew Baisley



Imperial War Museum North
Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester
Opens 5 July

The spectacular new Imerpial War Museum, Manchester
The spectacular new Imerpial War Museum, Manchester

The impact of war on the lives of ordinary people throughout the 20th and 21st centuries is the theme of this new site of the Imperial War Museum, which opens in Manchester at the beginning of July. Set on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, the spectacular new building is meant to signify the concept of a world shattered by conflict, a fragmented globe reassembled in three interlocking shards. These shards represent conflict on land, air and water. Visitors enter through the Air Shard, which is open to the elements. It houses a viewing platform with spectacular views across the canal to Manchester city centre. The curved Earth Shard houses the main public areas of the museum, while the Water Shard overlooks the canal.

The opening exhibitions will include 'The Experience of War'--personal stories by volunteers and conscripts, prisoners of war, internees and refugees. 'Women and War' will look at the role of women's wartime work in the military and in industry, as well as the impact of women in the peace movement. 'Impressions of War' will examine life in the trenches during the First World War, as well as the impact of propaganda during the Vietnam and Falklands War. 'The Legacy of War' will take up the issue of munitions left behind and the psychological impact of war for both those involved in conflict and civilians.

A 220-metre 3D line of objects, pictures, films and information, the Time Line, stretches around the perimeter of the main exhibition space. Visitors can take a 3D chronological journey through the landmark events from 1900 to today.

A 360-degree audio visual experience called 'The Big Picture' will show the Imperial War Museum's huge photograph and sound archives in an entirely new way. During the presentation continually changing images will be projected onto the gallery walls, floors and the visitors themselves, creating a total 'immersive' environment.

This all suggests that, as in the Imperial War Museum in London, there will be plenty here to support the arguments of those who are currently involved in the anti-war movement.
Peter Morgan


by Jess Hurd and Alke Schmidt
Vaults @ The Foundry, Shoreditch, London

You are G8, We are 6 Billion
by Jonathan Neale
Vision £10

Jess Hurd's photograph of Carlo Giuliani who was murdered by Italian police
Jess Hurd's photograph of Carlo Giuliani who was murdered by Italian police

Crisis is an exhibition on the political upheavals of globalisation and the struggle against war, violence and injustice. Centred around key events such as the protests at the G8 summit in Genoa last year, the recent war in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the rise of the anti-war movement, the exhibition features the images of Alke Schmidt and the photographs of Jess Hurd.

  • Sometimes it's easy to forget that just one year ago over 300,000 people took part in the biggest anti-capitalist demonstration Europe had seen. Thousands travelled to Genoa to voice their anger to the heads of the eight most powerful countries in the world.

    But demonstrations don't happen spontaneously. Hundreds of activists across Europe were involved in planning transport, organising the marches, discussing slogans and debating tactics. For those of us involved 'behind the scenes', to see it all come together was an inspiring event.

    Jonathan Neale was a member of the Genoa Social Forum that planned and coordinated those protests. His new book, You Are G8, We Are 6 Billion, is a first hand account of the events leading up to that demonstration and the aftermath. Invited onto the GSF, partly as a result of a typically impassioned speech at an organising meeting some months beforehand, Jonathan was involved in many of the most crucial discussions and debates before and after Genoa.

    Written in Jonathan's inimitable style, this book gives a wonderful feel for those exciting times. But also this is an attempt to explain the anti-capitalist movement to look at the issues which brought 300,000 to the streets of Genoa, and to show why the events of 11 September and its aftermath have failed to dampen the movement.
    Martin Empson

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