Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Are there really people who conduct their lives as elaborate games? Are there platinum blonds who besides money and beauty, can get every human being to fall in love with them if they want to? And are these femme fatales in fact the murderers in life? I don't know, but it seems like I'm missing the point here.
The Lady From Shanghai looks fabulous and it has brilliant scenes with funny lines for the actors. Unfortunately it also fails to touch me. It is difficult to watch this film from 1947 as anything but a summer style guide. My attempts to fish for some content leave me with the notion that surface is content. Yet, here that's not so satisfying.
I guess there was a time when cinema was truly a reality of its own. The gold, silver, diamonds, champagne, sailing around the Americas on a clipper, the exotic Acapulco – all of it offered the audience an escape. This time around I remain too far-removed. I am only watching as a bored film-buff waiting for the classic mirror scene at the end – it was magic.
New ideas and originality are rarely rewarded. Once those ideas become common place and put into practice, often over a long period of time, acceptance and a general air of looking back in a more positive light is often regarded as the perceived wisdom of hindsight. Orson Welles is a case in point. Citizen Kane broke the rule book for cinema. It took many years after its release to be rightly acknowledged as THE game changer. Meanwhile Orson, so precocious, casually brilliant and increasingly obese, would have the Hollywood toys taken away from him. It is hard to imagine, but after Citizen Kane they should have given him anything he wanted. Instead, Orson often lost control of his films (if he even finished them), and looked elsewhere (Europe) to pursue his goals. A visionary, a liar (or exaggerating storyteller, depending on your view) and the essence of a certain kind of cinema, Orson Welles was punk rock incarnate.
The Lady From Shanghai was one of the last times Orson got to play with the toys. This could have been his commercial breakthrough as director. Rita Hayworth was Welles' real-life wife at the time of shooting, and one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the day to boot. The Lady From Shanghai was shot in 1946, making it one of the first Film Noir pictures. After studio meddling (60 minutes was cut from Welles cut prior to release), it wasn't just Welles' vision that suffered, his marriage to Hayworth was over by the time the picture was finally released. But still, this is an intense ride. Amazingly shot in various locations, this murder mystery is a mess. At the same time, there is enough imagination and never seen that before bravura from Welles that makes The Lady From Shanghai always interesting and on occasion brilliant.
The Lady From Shanghai is dark and heavy with atmosphere. Dialogue (written by Welles) is often confusing and clichéd. It's also autobiography. Welles was too much of an artisan to make this just simple entertainment. However badly this has been cut (and it has been) enough of Welles vision survives. Hayworth (blond here) has never been sexier on screen. Welles has a strange Irish accent as our innocent yet flawed narrating hero. It's double-cross and be damned and take the money and run. The fun house hall of mirrors at the end is nowadays regarded as one of the great movie scenes. Welles can divide opinion. I'm a big fan. The Lady From Shanghai only increases my awe for him.
Monday, March 28, 2011
What is a balanced dart? It's a dart which is, when pressed flat to one side, balanced by a strip of self-fabric which is stitched down the middle along the line of the dart, and pressed flat to the opposite side. The two layers of fabric sewn into the dart are of equal thickness to the folded strip of self fabric. The desired result is that instead of a visible ridge at the dart, which has one layer of fabric on one side of the stitching line and 3 on the other, this pressed-to-one-side dart leaves an outer surface that is as flat and smooth as a seam that has been pressed open.
This dart is pressed to the centre and the strip towards the side seam, but I don't think it really matters which goes which way.
Balancing the darts is unnecessary if your fabric is thin and will press very flat. For my dress, however, I'm using a suiting weight wool which is underlined with silk organza.
Start by cutting strips of fashion fabric which are about 2.5cm (1") wide and the length of the dart plus 2.5cm. They are cut on the straight grain. Even if you only have shreds of fabric left, you'll have more than enough to do this.
Then go ahead and stitch the darts.
Take the strip of fabric and pin it under the stitched dart, like so:
Place the strip so that the stitching line of the dart runs (approximately) down the centre line of the strip of fabric, and so that the ends of the strip are a little bit beyond the pointy end of the dart. More of the strip is visible at the thin ends of the dart than in the thicker middle, as you can see.
Press carefully, with the dart going one way and the folded strip the other (as shown above).
From the right side, there is no ugly ridge.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Thats it. All of it in one width.
Vogue 2683). I cut it single layer from what was left after I cut out the pants (.75 metre). The spaces at lower left and in the middle are for the other side piece and back piece, respectively.
I've got to get sewing now.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
As I was watching The Romantic Englishwoman on Tuesday evening, I had thoughts of Elizabeth Taylor. The Romantic Englishwoman is a Joseph Losey picture, who made the now revered 1960's pictures The Servant and Accident as well as the fun, supercamp Modesty Blaise. We've featured him here with The Go-Between, but he made a couple of curiosities with Elizabeth Taylor in the late 1960's. Some of the weirdness of the Taylor pictures Boom! and Secret Ceremony could have elevated The Romantic Englishwoman.
Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson heat the film up as the successful author and the bored housewife who's looking for an escape from upper-class domestic hell. She has an implied affair with a drug running poet (a very European Helmet Burger). In reality, it's all faintly ridiculous. Tom Stoppard's script, when dialogue finally arrives, is sharp. A Servant-like ménage à trois scenario is played out, but unlike the previous Losey picture, The Romantic Englishwoman fizzles out. A slow start, strong middle and a whimper. To be honest, this is average Losey.
So, onto Wednesday. As I'm getting ready to pick up the cinema tickets to go see the new Mike Leigh film, Another Year, the internet breaks the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death. It's easy to forget with Taylor, who in later life was more like this ailing patron saint of lost souls and worthy causes, that she was a very fine actress. Yes, people will talk of the glamor and an old-fashioned sense of beauty (Taylor was probably my first on-screen crush), but don't forget the reason we care: some excellent films.
I was consumed with Taylor entering the cinema, but Another Year wiped away such thoughts. Mike Leigh just gets better. Losey and Leigh both deal with class and its effects on others, often from different perspectives. Another Year's themes on mortality, on the passing of time, loneliness and mental illness sound heavy, and at times Another Year has a graceful solemnity. But this is a film about the closeness of family too. The class divide within a family is dealt with, but nothing here is cliché. Leigh's script and direction brings the most mundane aspects of life into sharp focus, at the same time portraying a poignancy that stays with you. Another Year is a film that ruminates on themes that truly matter to us. Go see Another Year, it's what we need from cinema to understand a little more about ourselves.
Through a combination of co-incidence and preference we ended up spending the last two evenings watching English cinema. Both Another Year and The Romantic Englishwoman have a long-term relationship at the center of events. Similarly, they both discuss a woman's unhappiness: one from the perspective of a bored feminist wife of the mid-1970s, the other in relation to her failed relationships and her current loneliness.
The loss of a loved one makes romantic cinema – tolerating their idiosyncrasies years on end does not.
Usually, long relationships do not make such interesting films. They cannot be romantic comedies, because, tragically, long-term love is not considered romantic (or comic for that matter). The longer my personal relationship is lasting, the more tired and one-sided traditional romantic films seem – they end at the beginning. I am interested in depictions of the difficulties, the companionship, the changes, the infatuations, infidelities, friends outside the couple and so on. I found myself delighted that Another Year and The Romantic Englishwoman had reading-in-bed scenes. That to me is a depiction of reality (and it is also quite romantic).
The Romantic Englishwoman is an even better idea than its realization. The wife of a rich writer is frustrated not so much by her real life, but by the freedom she discovers she should be pursuing. There's a social question: How to liberate a wife in 1975? Let her have an affair with a French crook – she'll run back to the husband in the end. But there are murkier tones here: the husband is jealous to begin with, the wife suspects an affair with their au-pair, the husband urges his wife to be unfaithful so that he can write about it...I have a sneaky feeling that some level of understanding was lacking from the makers of the film towards the wife.
In Another Year such lack of empathy is nowhere to be found. At the end the camera draws the audience out in the middle of a dinner by focusing on the confused and disappointed face of Mary (Lesley Manville). The sound disappears, there is no music to tune our emotions to. Yet, it is not a cruel and cold drawing out. Mike Leigh has always depicted the life of the lower classes and the middle class. That must be the reason why I feel he is dealing with reality – I relate. Hollywood films rarely bother with anyone poor or average unless they want to contextualize. Like long-term relationships, getting by with very little is not sexy. Lets just say that although sexy is fun, a range of other feelings and experiences are important too. That's what I've learned.
At the time of writing, British aircraft and ships of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy are engaged in enforcing a “no fly zone” over Libya pursuant to UN Resolution 1973. The resolution authorises “all necessary measures” to prevent a humanitarian disaster. By a lay definition, flying military jets into a sovereign territory and attacking its forces might also be called "war".
Either way, the governments of all the forces engaged in Libya have been at pains to stress that they are acting, and only will act, in accordance with Resolution 1973, and hence are abiding by international law.
There is no doubt that all participants will be eager to avoid repeating mistakes made in the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the legality of the actions in the eyes of the United Nations is one example. In the case of the United Kingdom, the decision to invade Iraq has been reviewed by the Chilcot Inquiry, whose final report is still awaited. Although the inquiry is not an international law tribunal, its findings on the Attorney-General’s advice will be considered authoritative. At this point it is fair to say that the UK Government’s position that the war was legal remains controversial.
If, however, one casts one's mind back to an earlier conflict of the most recent Labour Administration, one finds something rather striking with the Kosovo War of 1999. The United Nations charter authorises military action only in accordance with a Security Council resolution or in self-defence. No resolution was ever obtained with regard to the Kosovan conflict and NATO could not claim to have been acting in self defence.
The legality of the war was never subsequently ruled upon by an international tribunal such as the International Court of Justice. But it was studied in detail by the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which can be considered to express the received view of the United Kingdom government on the point. The committee concluded that the war was of “dubious legality” under international law, although it went on to maintain that it was justified on moral grounds, in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Such a claim can only be made because the aftermath of the war has been judged a success by the court of public opinion. If the result had been bloodshed on the scale of Iraq, then any good intentions or counter-scenario would have quickly been dismissed. Conversely, had Iraq somehow ended quickly with a stable, respected local government in place, no inquiry would have been called seven years later; instead the politicians responsible would have been feted as visionary international statesmen, as I argued in the New Law Journal last year (07 May 2010, Vol 160, Issue 7416), and international law issues have long been brushed aside.
Precisely the same factors apply to Libya. The intervention was prompted by fears of a bloodbath if Gaddafi’s forces had moved into rebel-held Benghazi. The authorising resolution is very broad in its terms – “all necessary measures” short of an occupying force. At least arguably, this does not even rule out the use of ground troops, provided that they withdraw in short order, or indeed if they are invited in by a putative sovereign authority (that is, rebel-held areas that purport to secede from Gaddafi’s regime). The question remains however as to whether the resolution permits – or even obliges – the international forces to intervene if rebel Libyan forces, emboldened to strike against Gaddafi’s depleted forces, start to inflict significant collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties.
From the perspective of international law, therefore, the intervention can be said to be legitimate as prosecuted to date. If the civil war is concluded swiftly and with few civilian casualties, the UN action will be acclaimed. If, however, it all goes wrong then the UN approval will be a flimsy defence for the reputation of the politicians responsible for involving British forces. It may be that civilian casualties will reach unacceptable levels, forcing an end to the campaign. Or a stalemate may ensue, but one or both sides will then inflict human rights abuses against anyone thought to have sided with their opponents. Or something no-one has yet thought of may occur. The only law that is prevalent in every war is the law of unforeseen consequences.
Arguably the greatest Western postwar general has been David Petraeus. Famously he turned to an embedded reporter at the start of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (at the time Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division) and precisely formulated the question which needs to be asked above all others by any politician or General contemplating military action: “Tell me how this ends.” This morning, according to both the Daily Telegraph and the Washington Post, the answer is not clear.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
This is with the Jalie tie-top in darkest brown and blue tie die print, and a pair of lighter brown wool cuffed trousers (Simplicity 4366, a Threads pattern now out of print).
Kathryn was right, I think, to have me take it in at the shoulders and upper back. However, the waist area is where I think it's a little over-fitted. The seams would look smoother if it wasn't quite so nipped in.
I keep my eyes open and buy nice zippers on spec. I was lucky to have, in stash, a very light weight separating zipper with pulls that are exactly the same as the invisible zippers used at the pockets.
To the left, here it is with Vogue 2683 (one of my TNT patterns). The colour is a little dull in the picture. In real life, the fabric is a wonderfully soft heathery mix of grey and rust. Writing it out, it sounds dreadful. However it's one of my favorite dresses to wear in the winter (with a jacket, since it's sleeveless).
To the right is a detail I didn't think to photograph before. The sleeves are split at the cuff so (theoretically) they can be turned back.
The Passenger is often silent, forcing the viewer to watch a narrative unfold visually. It is aesthetically pleasing, a little too slow and consistently distant as hell. The Passenger could be a description of dissociative amnesia. A man needs to bury traumatic experiences outside of his consciousness by changing identity completely, and by wandering around the world.
If it is not fair to see a whole film through a psychological diagnosis, maybe I should talk of deconstruction of the self. That's probably more appropriate for Antonioni. But deconstruction is also a little bit boring and hollow. As if art is there to be translated into analytical language; to be tamed and controlled.
The urge to wander comes from within. It rises up with emotion, but becomes so strong it demands action. Jack Nicholson has a true gift for portraying the wandering, disconnected type. The most inspiring way for me to settle into watching The Passenger is to see it as the second part to Five Easy Pieces (1970). What happened to Jack's character at the end of that film when he suddenly (and without a word) abandoned his girlfriend at a gas station and jumped on a truck headed for Canada? – Well, he just moved on to other countries, lovers, jobs, identities, movies and stories...
But did he ever get away?
Do you dream of how to disappear completely? If you were presented with the opportunity to swap identities, lead another life, whilst most people would understand that the real you had passed away, would you grab it? Depends on your disposition I suppose. But imagine picking up on someone else's life midway through. You become this other person. It would also be worth noting whose identity and life you were taking over from. It's a dangerous game, and one that war reporter David Locke does not consider enough when taking up the identity of dead arms dealer David Robertson.
That sounds way conventional as a description for The Passenger. In reality, as with other Antonioni films (especially Blow-Up), dialogue is spared, image and atmosphere are strong. Jack Nicholson as Locke/Robertson gives to this role the required recklessness in a way that only Jack can. The recently deceased Maria Schneider comes into The Passenger at the half way point as the girl Robertson takes along for his nation hopping journey into darkness. She kicks in with the narrative and drags the film momentarily into being a more conventional road movie.
But The Passenger is a film about alienation. About the Outsider. There is no comfort zone watching this. It keeps you at arms length. It's a welcome study of willing exile. I found out the last scene of the film, an ingenious seven minute one take shot, has gained legendary status. This finale only emphasizes Locke/Robertson's wish to disappear and be erased. It's fair to say cinema does not trust the audience as much as it used to, nothing is obvious here. It's a European perspective of the power of the medium of film to discuss noncommercial themes. Antonioni taps into a rich vein here. Nicolas Roeg was walking similar paths at this time with The Man Who Fell To Earth and Bad Timing. The Passenger is close to brilliant.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
On 16 March, Lord Neuberger MR delivered the Judicial Studies Board Annual Lecture 2011, entitled “Open Justice Unbound?” The speech contained his usual mixture of high erudition and a strong sense of practical justice, and deserves wide dissemination.
This post will be confined to the first part of the speech, which dealt with the form of judgments. This is something on which I have been published recently with a former colleague, Alexander Horne, in the New Law Journal (16 December 2010, Vol 160, p1735). I am relieved to be able to report that the article's conclusions were substantially consistent with Lord Neuberger's speech, and therefore rather than engage in repetition I will simply offer some observations on his Lordship’s points.
There can be no arguing with the overarching goal of clarity, as a sort of CPR 1.1 for judgment writing. Lord Neuberger overstates the case, however, when he says that it is necessary for judgments to be clear not just to lawyers but non-lawyers as well. The fact is that law is a learned profession, just as with, for example, medicine. The only way that a paper on, say, new heart transplant techniques could be rendered intelligible would be if the reader had studied the subject — and was hence no longer a member of “the public” — or if the paper were simplified to the point where it was more or less completely unhelpful to a surgeon. The same goes for a large majority of judgments. For cases of public interest other courts could adopt the Supreme Court’s practice of issuing a separate press release.
I share Lord Neuberger’s concerns about the length of judgments, something which has increased almost inexorably over the past two decades. He is certainly correct about one of the reasons, namely that “in recent years, there has been ... a sustained and justified outcry at the inexorable volume, the tedious length, and the inept drafting of many of the Acts of Parliament that have found their way onto the statute book”. Few areas of law have been immune but the tax system must be a contender for the worst example.
That said, the case for shorter judgments can be overstated. It was once said that first instance judgments should ideally be “brief courteous and wrong”, which wasn’t to say that appellate judgments should be “long-winded, rude and right”, though there are many examples of both. Much depends on whether a case raises a point of general importance: if so, some general guidance will be appropriate and expected, as Lord Neuberger states at para 15.
Another problematic aspect is the desire of the court to do justice in the individual case, but at the same time in accordance with the law. Sometimes the twain simply will never meet, however much intellectual agility the judge deploys. Lord Neuberger’s warning here is sound: endless exceptions to general principles in order to engineer what a judge regards as a fair outcome leads to complexity and confusion, which in turn generates future injustice of its own. As he says, if hard cases make bad law, it is equally true that bad law makes hard cases. But the subject of legal reasoning is one filling many textbooks and no further elaboration will be attempted here.
Lord Neuberger’s conclusion is that some form of training in judgment writing would be appropriate. It is a suggestion that would have offended some of his predecessors (and perhaps a few of his contemporaries), but, as he points out, barristers all go through extensive advocacy training, and advocacy is just as case-specific and individualistic as judgment writing.
I do not think that there is any need to follow the practice of the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights in having a uniform structure for judgments, but at the same time Lord Neuberger is surely correct that it would be a useful exercise for the Judicial Studies Board to define some fundamental principles of good judgments.
One is the need clearly to separate holdings that are fact-specific, those which the judge considers of general application and those which are obiter. Another is condensing facts to an appropriate degree (see Jones v Jones  All ER (D) 231 (Jan) for an unfortunate example of a first instance judge going wrong in this respect). Often this will depend on the judge’s experience – or that of counsel – in the applicable area of law, but not always. A third factor is the aforementioned issue of multiple appellate judgments (on which see the NLJ article, supra).
Any aspiring judge looking for guidance on how to write a judgment could learn from studying examples of Lord Brown’s incisiveness, the clarity of Lord Hoffmann, or, going back a generation, the ability of Lords Reid, Diplock or Wilberforce to issue clear and practical general guidance.
Monday, March 21, 2011
But not before leaving you with some photos. Sadly (for now) none of them actually include the jacket being worn. It needs (a) coordinating objects and (b) a model who's having a better hair day. I promise more later.
again) the invisible zipper pockets set into the side front seam. Below right is a close up showing that the lapels are indeed symmetrical and the topstitching worked pretty well.
As instructed by Kathryn Brenne, I laboriously paid attention when topstitching to the fact that the upper thread should always be on the public side, and the bobbin thread side is always hidden. This meant stopping and starting again (by inserting the needle in the hole left by the last stitch before stopping, if you please, and pulling the thread tails to the inside for knotting) at four separate points, since the facing side is outermost for the lapels but inner at the back neck. I'm pretty pleased that I placed the stopping/starting points quite well, just at the point where the leather is into the curve, so they are not visible. Because they are not perfect. (Let's hope that the ladies at the Haute Couture Club of Chicago won't be all over it looking for my boo-boos!)
One thing that is really great about this pattern (and let's not forget that there were lots of things that weren't) is the drafting at the collar/lapel. There is a perfect amount of extra length built into the under collar and front facing so that once you match the edges and sew them together (carefully stretching the other pieces to avoid any puckers) the lapel just does what it's supposed to. There is no guessing about where the roll should happen because it rolls automatically.
The upper back (and the fronts) are interfaced with a fusible weft insertion interfacing. The lower edges are pinked to avoid a show-through ridge. (But if you look hard, you may be able to see a show-through pinked line. Anyway, I could see it right after fusing. My lamb leather is truly thin, but lusciously soft.) The collar and facings are interfaced with a lighter but slightly crisper fusible knit. I did not have room in the jacket for shoulder pads, but inserted a single layer of synthetic batting just to cushion the shoulders and prevent bony shoulder show-through. I used the shoulder pieces from the jacket, and hand stitched the padding to the armscye and neck seams (using a glover's needle).
Oh - I should have said all body seams except the side seams, which were the last ones sewn and due to edgestitching, zipper pockets or other treatments the only ones still available for adjustment once I had the jacket sufficiently put together so I could try it on. It would have been slightly skin tight if they had been sewn as designed. I'm not sure what went wrong.
Let me correct that - a few things happened.
One. When Kathryn saw my muslin, which I thought was pretty good, she recommended that I reduce shoulder width (by something like .7cm or about 3/16") and take in the back seams even further. She pinned out the amount, and I faithfully transferred these further reductions to the tissue and then ... cut right into the leather. (There's something about being the student in a class taught by a trained professional that makes you just trust the said professional when she repeats, reassuringly, "It'll be fine". If I had been doing this at home I would have done some serious agonized thinking, and maybe sewn another muslin, before tackling the leather.)
Two. I sewed my muslins on my trusty treadle. I used a magnetic seam guide which I placed carefully to get exactly 1/2" seams. At Kathryn's I was using one of her Berninas, which have seam guide lines marked only in metric, I seem to recall. I sewed the seams using 1.3cm (the conversion on the pattern) which in actual fact is slightly bigger than 0.5"; 0.5118110236", to be exact. That extra .0118110236" works out to an extra 0.0236" (or so) on each of 7 seams, which isn't a whole lot but...
Friday, March 18, 2011
Fearing that federal authorities could seize the Egyptian mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, SLAM filed a preemptive complaint on February 15 to have a federal district court declare that the mask is the museum’s property. US Attorney Richard Callahan responded on March 16 by initiating a lawsuit against the mummy mask.
In a complaint titled United States v. Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, Callahan petitions a Missouri federal court for forfeiture of the ancient object pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a. That statute permits officials to seize and forfeit items that have been illegally stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported into the United States. Callahan also asks that a restraining order be placed on the mask so that it remains available while the court case progresses.
In its petition for declaratory judgment, SLAM argues the following points:
• The museum conducted thorough due diligence before purchasing the mask on April 3, 1998.
• “The Museum’s investigation revealed no evidence that the Mask was owned by Egypt under applicable Egyptian law at the time of excavation, that the Mask was stolen from Egypt, or that the Mask had unlawfully entered the United States.”
• “The United States government cannot show probable cause the Mask was ‘stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced’ into the United States.’” Therefore, the mask cannot be seized or forfeited under 19 U.S.C. § 1595a.
• If the mask was stolen, the United States government is barred by the statute of limitations from seizing or forfeiting it because federal authorities had information more than five years ago “sufficient to discover the alleged theft of the Mask from Egypt.”
It should be noted that SLAM’s court complaint is hesitant to admit that the mask is stolen property. At best SLAM remarks that the mask may have been “allegedly stolen.”
The US Attorney’s complaint, by contrast, argues a more forceful claim, detailing why the mask is known to have been stolen. An excerpt from the government’s complaint is reproduced below:
“In 1952, Egyptian archaeologist Mohamed Zakaria Goneim, working for the Egyptian Antiquities Service, excavated the mat burial of a 19th Dynasty noblewoman named Ka-Nafer-Nafer inside the funerary enclosure of the 3rd Dynasty king Sekhemket at Saqqara. The Mask was placed in storage in the Sekhemkhet magazine, also located at Saqqara, where it was registered as the property of the Egyptian Antiquities Service and where it remained until 1959. In July of 1959, the Mask and four other items from Saqqara were packed for shipping to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in preparation for an exhibit in Tokyo. The packing list identified the Mask as registration number 6119 and packed in box number six. The Mask was received by police guards at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on July 28, 1959. Ultimately, the Mask did not travel to Tokyo for the exhibit. The Mask remained in Cairo, Egypt until 1962 at which time the Mask was transferred back to Saqqara. In 1966, the Mask and other objects from the same burial assemblage were removed from packaging in Saqqara and given to the Egyptian Antiquities Organization Restoration Lab located in Cairo in preparation for future display. The Mask traveled to Cairo from Saqqara in box number fifty-four. This was the last documented location of the Mask in Egypt. In 1973, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo took an inventory of all the objects that traveled in 1966 from Saqqara to Cairo in box number fifty-four. It was discovered at that time that the Mask was missing. The register did not document that the Mask was sold or given to a private party during the time frame of 1966 to 1973. In or around 2006, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities became aware that the Mask was accessioned by the Saint Louis Art Museum located in Saint Louis, Missouri for approximately $500,000.00 in 1998. Subsequently, the Secretary General for the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities sent letters and documentation to the Saint Louis Art Museum detailing the history of the Mask and requesting its return to Egypt. To date, the Saint Louis Art Museum has refused to return the Mask.”
The US Attorney’s office describes the mask’s source of discovery and its subsequent provenance. Should these claims be proven by the government, SLAM may find it difficult to maintain its dual and nuanced positions that either the mask may not have been stolen, or that the museum's investigation “revealed no evidence that the Mask was owned by Egypt under applicable Egyptian law at the time of excavation, that the Mask was stolen from Egypt, or that the Mask had unlawfully entered the United States.”
If evidence of the mask’s stolen character is proven by the government, SLAM might also have to revisit its February 14, 2006 position, reproduced in the museum’s legal complaint, “expressing its willingness to return the Mask to Egyptian authorities upon verifiable proof the Mask was stolen.” Any thought about returning the mask may have vanished, however, now that SLAM has argued that the statute of limitations forbids authorities from seizing or forfeiting the mask.
Knowing the statute of limitations claim asserted by SLAM, the US Attorney’s recent legal action does not address the issue at all. SLAM’s court petition points to episodes where federal officials directly or indirectly possessed knowledge to take action to investigate the possible illicit provenance of the mask. It remains to be seen how the federal government will take on this argument when SLAM inevitably raises the claim in its response to the government’s forfeiture action.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Political ideologies come and go. It's amazing how evil some politicians turn out to be that it can make even the most despicable political views seem appealing. We saw it at the start of the Iraq War with Blair avoiding mass protests and a nation abandon left-leaning politics to embrace the right (moderately and to extremes). When I was just getting interested in politics, during Thatcher's first years, socialism and even communism (who claims to be communist nowadays?) were seen as preferable political choices. Not a hard decision for one to make, I've been left-leaning all my life. Cast your mind back to 1981, and the USA's own right-wing monster can be found with Ronald Reagan in the White House. In this climate, Warren Beatty (himself known to dabble in thoughts of entering politics) makes his movie Reds based on America's most celebrated communist. Hello John Reed, the journalist who captured the Bloshevik Revolution in 1917 better than anyone with his book Ten Days That Shook The World. Reed is the only American buried at The Kremlin.
We seem to have a public perception problem with Beatty. Is it all those stories of him being a playboy with a compulsive sex disorder? Was it the relationship with Madonna? Beatty has always appeared vain and been viewed with suspicion by the public, but no one can ignore his influence on modern cinema. Whilst most people credit Dennis Hopper and Easy Rider ushering a new kind of American film, the real deal was Beatty producing and starring in Bonnie & Clyde, which could be the most influential American film of the last 40 plus years. So Reds was the movie where Beatty got the credit, not only directing but starring, co-writing and producing. It's our perceptions of Beatty perhaps that means a movie as good as Reds continues to be undervalued even as it endures 30 years on. Reds attempts to go deep into America's left-wing radicalism in the pre-WWI years and also covers the first Russian Revolution, whilst in-between chronicling Reed's on off relationship with his wife Louise Bryant. Who said ambition was dead?
Beatty got a great team together for Reds. English political playwright Trevor Griffiths co-wrote. Original music by Stephen Sondheim. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (has anyone filmed Finland, used here in place of Russia so beautifully?) Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill is perfect, with great support from Maureen Stapleton among a strong supporting cast. Diane Keaton as Bryant is essential here, whilst Beatty as Reed is very good too. The real life talking heads, referred to here as The Witnesses, who knew Reed and Bryant fill in the story's gaps in often witty ways. Reds is not perfect, its political narratives sometimes come across as preachy. But Beatty and Keaton's romance is given enough scope and realism to engage and emote. The picture about the American communist most people have forgotten about looks and feels better than ever in 2011. Reds is interesting, provocative cinema.
Four years ago I came home from a long trip in the USA and the first movie we (Nick&I) watched at home together was Reds. Personally, it was a time of questioning how I can live a life of a traveling artist and have a happy relationship at the same time. Reds addressed this issue and thus immediately became one of my favorite movies ever. I think it also jump-started me as a Warrenologist and fueled my Annie Hall -based love for Diane Keaton.
Reds is a political epic, but its depth comes from the more fictionalized content: the relationship between the journalists Jack Reed and Louise Bryant. If you loved English Patient (1996) or the more recent The Constant Gardener (2005), you should absolutely dig out Reds. I must have watched Reds at least five times by now, because I remember scenes line by line. Diane Keaton's Louise is a wonderful portrayal of a woman in the early 20th century struggling to define herself and her actions against what is socially acceptable for women.
I love what Reds does to 'reality'. The films interjects talking heads telling about what they can remember about the communist movement in the USA and about Jack and Louise, but the old men and women reveal that their memories could be mistaken and that they cannot be sure if what they remember is factual. It also takes historical people in historical events, but imagines their intimate life in detail conjuring up emotional connections to issues, which could otherwise remain distant and difficult to relate to.
The scenes in Reds, which take place in Russia, were actually filmed in Finland in 1979. Helsinki is a stand-in for St. Petersburg. I have to admit that over time I have come to take this fact personally. I wish I could say my mother or one of my aunts has been an extra in the crowd. I wish I could say they bumped into Diane and Warren on some downtown street and they were both warm and down-to -earth, yet glimmering with stardom. Sadly no, I have not heard of any such stories. I guess my family was a bunch of young lefties roaming around Helsinki. They probably saw Warren and Diane
as representatives of all things too American. Go figure – but I can still walk on one of the movie sets, the Senate Square in Helsinki and sit on the steps of the University Main Building thinking of Diane and thinking of Warren.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The lining fabric is a silk and rayon blend from Fabricland which I think they were marketing as "dirty silk". Here's a close up of the fabric. You can see it's a floral jacquard weave and the right side is brownish-black, or blackish-brown, in an interesting kind of way. The lighter side is the wrong side, and it really does look "dirty" - the dye is uneven and smeared as you can see below (the real colour is less yellow than the photo below, and less pink than the photo to the right).
The dark side looks great with my "navy brown" and buttery soft leather.
My thoughts then turned to the inevitable question: "But what (besides jeans) can I wear this with??" I went burrowing into my stash, where I found some likely candidates.
My first thought was to identify a suiting weight fabric and I came up with a really soft and drapey, slightly tweedy pure wool that gives just the right overall effect of rich brown but is really a complex mix, in a tiny woven pattern, of at least three different browns - one really dark and cool in tone, the second a rich red-brown, and the third is a mix of beige and dark brown. I have just under 3 metres. I'm going to make my PMB sheath dress (again) and a pair of wide-legged pants. I have had great luck with Vogue 7881 which I have made three times already. There should be enough left after cutting these 2 pieces to make my favorite bias shell, from an OOP Vogue, 2683. Like 7881, this is a real TNT (tried 'n' true) pattern for me since I have made the top at least 4 times (and the skirt at least 3 times). The dress/top combo is 100% appealing to me, but the dress leaves me completely cold.
Simplicity 2938. I've made this one before too.
To the left is a sneak peek of the jacket together with the two coordinating fabrics I'm planning. What do you think?
The question of religion and the law marches on. Yet another example concerns impending changes to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. These are intended to enable the registration of civil partnerships to take place on religious premises. More detail of the incoming law and its implications can be found on this post on the UK Human Rights Blog.
There are at least three competing rights: first, the property rights of the owner of any premises on which ceremonies are conducted; second, the right of sexual equality for prospective couples; and third, the right of religious freedom for all. The proprietor may wish to allow or exclude different forms of ceremonies according to his or her beliefs; couples of any description will not expect to be turned away on the ground of their religious beliefs or their sexuality or gender; and religious bodies will wish to sanction their own ceremonies in accordance with their own beliefs and not otherwise.
First one may consider the proprietor. By choosing to offer services to the public he or she must do so within the framework of the law of the land, including equality laws. That was the point which precluded the Christian B&B owners in other well-known proceedings from arguing that they should be permitted to exclude guests on the ground that the B&B was also their home. Equally, if the state licenses an activity such as the provision of marriage ceremony services then it will do so under the applicable equality laws.
Accordingly, the second right would ‘trump’ the first in so far as the proprietor could be said to be dealing with the public. If on the other hand he was holding a private function he could invite whomsoever he pleased and the second right would not be engaged.
Assume, though, that the provision of marriage services is a service to the public, as with opening a restaurant or running a hotel. Then, one meets the objection that a religious organisation wishing to hold only its own ceremonies should be entitled to do just that, and all the more so when it is being held on its own premises too. If the state is to wield the full force of the equality laws, and decide that no discrimination in the provision of marriage services is permissible, then freedom of religion is in for a thin time.
Under the 2004 Act, however, no religious organisation is to be forced to do anything in this regard. Nor is there any prospect of Strasbourg compelling a change: the European Court of Human Rights has refused permission to appeal in a challenge to the ban on gay marriage in Austria ((Schalk and Kopf v Austria (App. No. 30141/04)). All that is in the offing is that religious institutions will no longer be prevented from holding civil partnerships, which on any view is an expansion of everyone’s freedom. What is not on the cards is the ability of any prospective couple to compel an institution to register their partnership, by arguing that a refusal constitutes unlawful discrimination.
Nevertheless, one cannot rule out the prospect of future change. Perhaps a more radical development might be considered, along the lines of France (if anything a more religious country than the UK), to separate church and state completely with regard to marriage. The legal contract of marriage should be signed in a registry office only. Thereafter, at any time(s) and place(s) of their choosing, couples could perform any ceremony they wish at any religious or non religious venue. No legal requirements or restrictions would be involved, since the ceremony would be akin to a private party or religious observance - no-one would suggest the state has any right to superintend the guest list for, or any other aspect of, such occasions. Moreover, the service being offered by a religious institution would not be that of any celebration of any union; it would offer to give its own blessing in accordance with its own tenets. No-one should be entitled to compel a religion to alter its tenets.
There remains a residual point concerning the word “marriage”, which in law is still confined to male and female unions. I leave it to readers to decide if the principles I have set out above require a change. I would however note three things. First, if there is no actual difference in the legal status of marriage and civil partnerships, being unable to use the term in official documents is of no actual consequence. Secondly, it may be that over time opposition to merging the terms will fade in any event, as have so many formerly hotly contested equality issues. Thirdly, any change ought to come from a free vote in the House of Commons, not through the courts.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
While U.S. courts may be appropriate venue for a legal action under U.S. law, a winning plaintiff could find problems when enforcing a judgment against assets abroad of the foreign defendant unless proper notice of the initial action from the beginning.
The 2007 article gives an idea of the high expections under which the original project was sold to individuals. Thse buyers may be the ones left to lose more as they purchased relying on an internationally known brand of the "sexiest hotel in the world".
Kevin Spacey is so dubious and emotionally expressive in his role in The Usual Suspects that it takes me less than one minute to remember who is the villain in the film. Anyway, his acting is good and worth watching despite the spoiler. Kevin is great as the loon – in fact he seems to have played the same character in K-PAX (2001) and to some extend in Shipping News (2001) too. Or is it just me thinking of him as the arcetypal psycho (even in American Beauty 1999)? For a decade Spacey seems to have been cast into a strict role in Hollywood, just like Jack Nicholson was before him.
The Usual Suspects was released in 1995. It makes me want to take back what I said in our last post about early 1990s cinema turning into vintage goods. This film has no cinematic value. It is just recounting a plot with an underused cast and no emotional connection. Not having experience in film-making, I can only imagine that the emptiness of The Usual Suspects comes from a failed connection between the script-writer, director, photographer and producer. Somewhere the chain and co-operation must have run out of inspiration.
It is an uncomfortable feeling watching a film that thinks it is very clever and figuring it out as dull and unintelligent. 1995 was also the year of Seven. If my memory serves me right, it is a much better twisted narrative with a more cinematic look to it too.
Reputation and standing. Game changer. The new rules. The original. We would all like to be part of something or be the instigator of a new movement, the zeitgeist. You could dine out on this forever. I remember going to see The Usual Suspects on release and being really impressed. It seemed to invigorate the hard men on a mission movie, and of course it had the twist at the end that seemed so ingenious all those years ago. But reflecting on movies made in the mid 1990's, and one as celebrated as The Usual Suspects is tricky nowadays. One cannot dodge the greatest movie of all time lists without finding The Usual Suspects contained somewhere amongst the other er, usual suspects (hello Empire magazine!) Most aspects of this film disappointed me this time round. It's all about timing and what we know now.
Director Bryan Singer, seemingly hot when this picture came out has turned into a Christopher Nolan-lite superhero movie director and a pretty poor one. Writer Christopher McQuarrie, so smart and on the cusp of greatness and never ending promise, followed Singer into X-Men spin-off hell. The Usual Suspects looks so poor nowadays, like a made-for-TV-movie. Who did the lighting on this? But what about the acting, surely this stands up? Career making turns for Kevin Spacey and Benicio Del Toro must still work? Both ham this up, and in Spacey's case he really is acting, unfortunately without any naturalness. The late, great Pete Postlethwaite acts everyone off the screen here, whilst Gabriel Byrne is his usual solid self.
But it is that timing thing. The Usual Suspects seems contrived in 2011. It's "unusual" flashback narrative feels over done, the plot twist obvious. I have to leave this picture for many years. Give it 15 years or so, and if I have the inclination to re-visit, The Usual Suspects may find it's freshness for me again. For Singer, The Usual Suspects means that the movie that cost 6 million and made over 1 billion will buy him lunch in Hollywood for a long time.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Lord Denning once wrote “Without religion there is no morality, and without morality there is no law.” It is safe to say that today’s judiciary would not likely agree.
On 10 March Paul Diamond, the barrister who has appeared in a number of recent cases on the issue, appeared with Lord Falkner QC on Radio 4. Mr Diamond argued that recent cases showed the courts trumping the right of religious freedom with the right of sexual equality. He said that religion was a “core” human right which should not be suppressed by “enforced morality”.
Immediately he was forced to concede that there were limits to freedom of religion, such as recognising polygamy (I interpolate that it is not clearly justifiable to ban polygamy where it involves consenting adults), or if some zealot tried to prevent a female child from being educated.
Mr Diamond argued nevertheless that there were far too many restrictions in Britain at present, and that Parliament needed to step in to correct wayward judges.
The answer to Mr Diamond’s concerns is that one is entitled to respect for one’s beliefs – but not respect for those beliefs themselves. Or, to put it another way, one can practice any religion, but not demand that the taxpayer fund that practice, or that employers grant exemptions from duties or requirements on religious grounds (unless the employer and employee freely agree), or that schools grant exemptions from uniform policies or class attendance. Most certainly one cannot expect on religious grounds a different application of the criminal law (see Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, 2011, Vol 175, p 124).
Thus Mr Diamond railed against the British Airways’ ban on a member of staff wearing a crucifix, without acknowledging that the airline had the right to set its own uniform requirements. If one disagreed with the rules, one shouldn’t accept employment there. The only time the state should interfere with the airline’s policy would be if the airline was requiring indecent clothing, or clothing with racially offensive slogans on them, or some other such extreme and improbable example. This would avoid arguments over which symbols are religious as opposed to cultural or anything else, and whether one religion was receiving favourable treatment. Having said that, it does seem unfair that the airline permitted other religious symbols but not the crucifix, and it can hardly be said that the crucifix was likely to have offended any passengers and thereby damaged the airline’s business.
The same goes for the protection of religious – or any other – belief system in the context of employment. Presently the law on that issue is needlessly complex. Instead the law should provide that employees can only be hired, fired, promoted or disciplined according to conduct relevant to their employment.
Ordinarily relevant conduct would not include religious beliefs or many other belief systems. For example, the religious or political or scientific beliefs of a tax accountant would usually bear no relation to her employment, so any adverse treatment resulting from those beliefs would be unfair and potentially actionable. On the other hand, if she were suddenly persuaded after reading a political tract that all taxation was theft, and therefore it was a moral duty not to pay any, dismissal on the ground of her beliefs might well be justifiable. It would also be reasonable for a religious organisation hiring someone to give sermons to inquire into their beliefs ... All too often the present law seems to comprise the usual English method of overly complex regulation with overly complex exemptions, rather than application of principle.
The liberal approach advocated above would be the answer to another case in the news this week, namely the claim of a hunt saboteur that his anti-hunting beliefs should be protected from discrimination in the same way as religion. If he had been employed as a Master of Foxhounds then his beliefs would be relevant to his employment, and his employer could hardly be expected to permit him not to carry out any lawful duties because of his beliefs. If they were not relevant then the employer would be acting unreasonably and unlawfully by taking his views into account in hiring or dismissing him. There is no need for law makers to get bogged down in trying to define “religion”, and what secular philosophies or values deserve equivalent status to religious beliefs.
Of course there inevitably remain grey areas, and the question of whether a local authority should consider the views of prospective foster parents is a good example, though in this respect Mr Diamond went too far in his claimed consequences of the recent case on point. All that was established in that decision was that the authority was entitled to take parents’ views into account, though save in the most extreme cases it should be of little or no relevance.