Monday, January 28, 2013

now and later

Written and directed by French director Philippe Diaz but filmed in Los Angeles and in English, this film juxtaposes a hippie-style, free love and social justice world view to the view of the financial/political/military power. It could have been called “Make love not war”, although the actual title is really quite lovely and clever as you will realise after about 30 minutes.

In principle, we have a chamber piece setting these two world views up against each other. In one corner we have Bill, a disgraced banker, representing the people who think that their money and/or power will let them get away with anything - but, having been ejected from the system he supported, he is now ready to change his views and indeed his life philosophy.

In the other corner, Angela, the illegal immigrant offering him shelter for a few days in her gorgeously hippie-styled penthouse flat on top of a derelict hotel, where both the toilet and the shower are completely open-plan and in plain view of everything else, and where part of the neon sign of the hotel serves as lighting for the single room. That room alone is reason enough to watch the movie.

Angela embarks on the re-education of banker Bill, trying to reconvert him into a useful member of society – although it will have to be the society of a different country, as the US authorities want him locked up. With her priorities firmly on her sensual desires, she goes in for the sex first, fitting in the political education later.

To me, as someone who has essentially grown up with the Nicaragua solidarity movement, her political lecturing was a tad over-familiar, although I appreciate that the vast majority of the US audience will not know (or in fact believe, if told) that the CIA sold arms to Iran to finance the removal of a democratically elected government in Nicaragua (it’s called the Iran-Contra affair, look it up). This scandal, which was exposed in November 1986, is kind of hard to reconcile with the prevailing US ideology that “we’re the good guys”, but I can confirm that it is true, I was alive (and young and angry) when it happened. Bill’s response “you read too many novels” was hilarious to me, but probably representative of what a vast number of people would say if confronted with these historical events.

People who don’t like the gospel she preaches may resent the dialogue, but, as washed-up banker Bill proves, Angela’s charm is irresistible, whether or not you share her political opinion. And her roof-top paradise from where she looks down on the social divisions on LA with eagle eyes, is equally seductive.

I’m not exactly sure that the film will convert many Bills to Angela’s views, not least because it is effectively being boycotted and hasn’t been released in the UK at all, neither in cinemas nor on DVD. In the US, it remained unrated and got a review in the New York Times in 2011, when a Manhattan cinema showed it as part of a series of unrated films. Still it remains important to uphold the opposition to the sexual, military and financial oppression of our age, and linking these three may help to broaden the horizons of people who were only aware of one or two.

After the explanations above, it is almost needless to say that the film did not get a release in the UK (and thus joins my fast-growing list of films not shown here). However, it is available on DVD in the US and also in Germany. I’m showing the US edition here, as the German one shows a photo at the top of the cover that isn’t from the film, and I have a nagging suspicion that somebody may have had racist reasons to put Bill’s ex-wife there in her bra (who only appears for 2 minutes in the film, sitting in a café, fully dressed) rather than Angela.

Monday, January 21, 2013

art and biology

Over the xmas holidays I wrote a feature on various cross-connections between art and biology, which is now out in Current Biology:

Where art and biology meet
Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 2, R47-R50, 21 January 2013

Free access to the article in

HTML and

PDF format

Among the art discussed is Angela Palmer's Ghost Forest, which I covered on this blog when it arrived in Oxford. But here's a biologically inspired piece of art that I haven't mentioned in the article:

a mathematician's tree

Monday, January 14, 2013

iron fertilisation

The January issue of Chemistry & Industry contains my feature on iron fertilisation and climate change, which is now accessible online as HTML text and appears to be freely accessible.

In the same issue, I also have a review of the book:

Natural products in chemical biology
Natanya Civjan, ed.
J. Wiley & Sons, 2012

which is premium content. Give me a shout if you would like PDF "reprint" of either publication.

The cover of the issue has nothing to do with my pieces, I just include it for the heck of it, because I like the look of it:

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

food security and climate change

Last month, I attended a discussion meeting on food security and climate change at the Royal Society, London. As in other areas, it appears that change is going to hit those people hardest who are already in a precarious situation and can least afford to protect themselves. However, I also heard of some approaches promising efficiency improvements with very simple means, such as clever combinations of crops.

I've summarised some of the things I learned there in a feature which appears in this week's issue of Current Biology:

Food security in the times of climate change
Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 1, R1-R4, 7 January 2013

Full text and free access to PDF file.