Some new music arrived here on Monday, a compilation 2CD album from 2004 called The legend of Sweeney’s Men. I had ordered it about ten days ago and a few days later I heard the sad news that Shane Macgowan had passed away. That was a strange coincidence because one of Sweeney’s Men was Terry Woods who later became a member of Shane’s band The Pogues. Some of the Sweeney’s songs such as The Waxie’s Dargle were also part of The Pogues repertoire, so you can see that they were a very influential band. I had been meaning to listen to Sweeney’s Men for a long time for various reasons. I first heard of them through my late brother Paul who told me that on various occasions he had two of their members Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCullough play in his pub in County Mayo in the 1990s. Paul got especially friendly with Henry. I remember a famous occasion when they met up at Glastonbury 1999 after Henry played on the acoustic stage.
Another reason I wanted to learn more about this band is because of their association with Anne Briggs who apart from Sandy Denny is my favourite folk singer of all time. For several years in the 60s to the early 70s Anne was Johnny Moynihan’s girlfriend and spent several summers with the band travelling and singing around Ireland. I actually think it is a shame that Anne didn’t join the band and record with them. Johnny wrote Standing On The Shore in 1969 for the album The Tracks of Sweeney. Anne said this about the song, “This song was Johnny Moynihan’s vision. He expresses what he saw so beautifully and sadly and seems to convey this feeling of endless whiteness”. Anne recorded this song two years later for her album The Time Has Come on which Johnny played. Anne also recorded Step Right Up written by Henry. Johnny is famous for having introduced the bouzouki to Irish folk music. Anne learned how to play the bouzouki from him and recorded Living By The Water playing that instrument. There are extensive sleeve notes to this 2CD set expertly written by Colin Harper. He is a wonderful writer about the folk scene in Britain and Ireland. I have one of his books DazzlingStranger the definitive biography of Bert Jansch.
A new filing today by Special Counsel Jack Smith in the case United States of America v. Donald J. Trump for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election shows Smith’s office establishing that Trump has a longstanding pattern of refusing to accept election results he dislikes.
As early as 2012, the filing notes, Trump baselessly alleged that voting machines had switched votes intended for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In the 2016 campaign he “claimed repeatedly, with no basis, that there was widespread voter fraud,” and publicly refused to commit to accepting the results of that election. This pattern continued in 2020, but in that election he took active steps to seize power.
The filing introduced information that Trump, an agent, and an unindicted co-conspirator tried to start a riot at the TCF Center in Detroit as vote counting showed Biden taking the lead. As Josh Kovensky of Talking Points Memo points out, this scheme sounds much like the Brooks Brothers Riot of 2000 that stopped vote counting in Miami-Dade County in Florida. Roger Stone was a participant in the Brooks Brothers Riot; in 2020 he was working to keep Trump in office.
Smith’s team shows how this pattern continued to play out in the 2020 election, with Trump urging supporters like the Proud Boys to back him, falsely asserting that the election had been stolen, and attacking former supporters who denied that the election had been stolen. The pattern has continued until the present, with Trump calling those who were found guilty of offenses related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol “hostages” and claiming they were “treated horribly.”
Smith recounts these facts to establish Trump’s motive and intent on January 6, but his identification of a longstanding pattern indicates it would be a grave mistake to think Trump has any intention of campaigning fairly or accepting any result in 2024 other than his return to the White House.
New House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who has endorsed Trump for president and was a key organizer of the congressional effort to keep Trump in office, has promised to release all the surveillance footage from the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Trump supporters insist that the full tapes will reveal that the attack was not as bad as the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol showed. Johnson said that the tapes must be shared publicly for “transparency.”
Today, Johnson supported Trump’s message about January 6 when he said that he was making sure the faces of rioters are blurred in the surveillance footage. “We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ [Department of Justice] and to have other, you know, concerns and problems,” he said. Johnson’s spokesperson quickly walked back the comment, saying Johnson meant to say that faces were blurred to prevent “all forms of retaliation against private citizens from any non-governmental actors.”
Also today, Kash Patel, who served on Trump’s national security team and is widely expected to return in a second Trump administration, expanded the authoritarian threats Trump people have been making to include the media. On former Trump ally Steve Bannon’s podcast, Patel promised that the Trump team would fill government positions from top to bottom with loyalists and would use the Department of Justice to go after those perceived to be Trump’s enemies.
“We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media,” Patel said. “Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections—we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.”
Yesterday, former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), who is promoting her new book, Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, called out Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) for his continuing hold on military appointments that kept more than 450 routine promotions from taking effect over the past ten months. Tuberville claimed his refusal to permit the nominees’ confirmations was an attempt to change Pentagon policy of permitting leave for service members in states that ban abortion to obtain abortion care elsewhere. But on NPR yesterday, Cheney wondered: “Why is Tommy Tuberville doing that? Is he holding those positions open so that Donald Trump can fill them?”
Today, under great pressure from members of his own party who worried the Democrats would change the rules to weaken the power of the Senate minority, Tuberville released his hold on most of the nominees. The Senate promptly confirmed 425 of them.
Still, Tuberville retained holds on 11 officers of the most senior rank. According to congressional reporter for Punchbowl News Andrew Desiderio, the positions left vacant are commander of Pacific Air Forces, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Air Component Command for the United States Indo-Pacific Command, commander for Air Combat Command, the head of the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program, the head of Northern Command (which defends the United States and coordinates defenses with Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas), the head of the U.S. Cyber Command, vice chief of staff of the Army, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, vice chief of Space Operations, and vice chief of Naval Operations.
Last night, Cheney explained to political commentator and television host Rachel Maddow exactly what a second Trump presidency would look like, Cheney said: “He would take those people who are the most radical, the most dangerous, who had the proposals that were the most dangerous, and he will put them in positions of supreme power. That’s a risk that we simply cannot take.”
Mark Joyella of Forbes took note of Maddow’s introduction last night, in which the host stressed the importance of protecting democracy. She began by emphasizing how much she and Cheney disagreed about everything in politics, so much so that it was as if they were on different planets at war with each other.
Maddow made that point, she said, because “in civic terms, in sort of American citizenship terms, I think it’s really important how much we disagree. It’s important how far apart we are in every policy issue imaginable. It is important that Liz Cheney is infinity and I am negative infinity on the ideological number line. It’s important because that tells you how serious and big something has to be to put us, to put me and Liz Cheney, together on the same side of something in American life.”
The Rachel Maddow Show was the most watched news show on cable television last night, with 3.15 million viewers. The Fox News Channel’s show Hannity, hosted by personality Sean Hannity, had just under 2 million viewers.
It seems clear Americans are waking up to Trump’s threats to stack the government with loyalists, weaponize the Justice Department and military, deport 10 million people, and prosecute those he perceives to be his enemies in politics and the media. Interviewing Trump tonight, Hannity tried to downplay Trump’s statements about his authoritarian plans for a second term by getting him to commit to staying within the normal bounds of a president should he be elected in 2024. The first time he was asked, Trump sidestepped the question. So Hannity asked again. “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?” he asked.
No one has captured the complexities of forbidden love with more intimacy than Celia Johnson in David Lean’s classic romance.
By Dan Callahan
Celia Johnson was a bright, sensible, humorous British lady of her time who was devoted to her family and to the theater, in that order. Her filmography is small: only eleven theatrically released features, four of which were based on Noël Coward screenplays. Coward was known mainly for sophisticated comedy, but the four films he made with Johnson are all dramatic, and the most famous of them, David Lean’sBrief Encounter (1945), is melodramatic in that it leans very heavily on the thundering and cascading music of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 to express the characters’ repressed emotions.
Johnson’s Laura Jesson in Brief Encounter is a self-described “ordinary woman.” She has large and often staring eyes that always seem to be on the verge of giving her feelings away, and so every time that Johnson widens, lowers, or shifts them there is a great deal of suspense. Laura is a married woman with two young children, and she’s fallen in love with a married doctor named Alec (Trevor Howard), who also has two young children. Fans of Brief Encounter, like playwright Wendy Wasserstein, have long wondered whether Alec might not be a wolf who habitually seduces the women he meets. After all, we never actually see Alec’s wife or children, and the story is related as a flashback strictly from Laura’s point of view.
Johnson has to carry Brief Encounter both with her forlorn face and with her voice, which narrates throughout in a sometimes stream-of-consciousness style. She can be very funny, as when she quickly wishes her irritating and chatty acquaintance Dolly Messiter (Everley Gregg) dead and then instantly takes it back: “That was silly and unkind,” she thinks. Brief Encounter is rarely considered an amusing film, but both Coward and Johnson were noted for their senses of humor, and perhaps there is something funny about her love affair with Alec, even though it seems like the end of the world for Laura.
Laura’s husband, Fred (Cyril Raymond), is a solid, trusting, kindly sort of fellow, unexciting but steady—a husband, in short. And maybe something of a friend, for Laura says on the soundtrack that Fred is the only one wise enough to understand her dilemma, yet he is the only one she cannot tell. It becomes very obvious as Brief Encounter goes on that Laura is surrounded socially by catty, competitive, and unfriendly women and is always trying to avoid them. But Laura seems to like Myrtle Bagot (Joyce Carey), the working-class owner of the teashop where she first meets Alec. The film seems to be hinting that Laura might be happier if she were less trapped by her middle-class suburban milieu, and this is particularly evident in the way Johnson smiles when she sees stationmaster Albert Godby (Stanley Holloway) give Myrtle a good-natured smack on the hind end.
The worrying thing about the way that Johnson plays Laura is that sometimes her eyes will widen until they look so strained that she seems to be on the verge of mental collapse. Even more worryingly, her eyes tend to finally shut down and stare inward in a way that looks like the start of clinical depression. The second time they meet, Alec insists on calling Laura “sane and uncomplicated,” but then he flatters her by saying she can “never be dull.” There’s something off about both what he says and the way he says it. It feels as if he is moving in on his prey. Perhaps Laura isn’t as sane as all that.
Johnson was only thirty-six when she made Brief Encounter, but she looks older, frayed around the edges. Howard was thirty-one, and Johnson wrote to her husband, Peter Fleming, that she felt motherly toward her costar. She also indicated in these letters that she found Howard rather stupid or thick, and perhaps that informs the way that Laura looks at Alec. Howard couldn’t understand why Laura and Alec don’t just sleep together when they go back to an apartment that Alec has borrowed from an unpleasant male acquaintance of his own. Alec does seem to want sex, whereas Laura’s feeling for him is much more mental than physical.
Johnson’s only other really notable feature film role after 1950 was as the formidable headmistress in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), where she is unrecognizable with her gray hair and glasses and steely attitude. She worked again with Howard in a TV movie called Staying On (1980), and this is a real find for Brief Encounter addicts because they play an old couple who have lived out their years in India. While watching Staying On, it is easy to fantasize that this is an elderly Laura and Alec who have somehow managed to go off together, which is unthinkable in the contained world of Brief Encounter. For Brief Encounter is finally a deliriously and seductively sick movie about luxuriating in being blocked and defeated by forbidden love.
Johnson plays her key scene in Brief Encounter by lowering those hypnotic eyes of hers under heavy lids. Laura and Alec are sitting in the teashop, and she encourages him to talk about his work. Johnson shows us the exact moment when Laura falls in love with Alec, which occurs when he is speaking of “fibrosis of the lungs.” Love begins to happen just behind her eyes, which flicker slightly as the camera moves in gently on her face. “You suddenly look much younger, almost like a little boy,” she tells Alec, and we can see that Laura’s love is partly a mother’s love for a child.
Johnson was mothering her first child and also the children of her widowed sister and her widowed sister-in-law during World War II, and so this line is her entrance into the role for which she is remembered. Whatever “falling in love” is, Johnson does it full out for this brief scene in a way that no one else ever had before or has since. It is still an event, and still mysterious.
Andrew Haigh’s ‘All of Us Strangers’ was the big winner at the 2023 British Independent Film Awards with seven wins.
Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” was the big winner at the 2023 British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) with seven wins.
“All of Us Strangers” won best British independent film, Haigh won best director and best screenplay and Paul Mescalwon best supporting performance, adding to its three craft awards, announced in November, for cinematography, editing and music supervision.
Best lead performance went to Mia McKenna-Bruce in Molly Manning Walker’s debut feature “How to Have Sex” and the film also won the other best supporting performance BIFA for Shaun Thomas, adding to its best casting win.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay won best joint lead performance for “Femme,” which also won for make-up and hair design and costume design.
Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winning “Anatomy of a Fall” won best international independent film. Best debut director went to Savanah Leaf for “Earth Mama,” while best debut screenwriter went to Nida Manzoor for “Polite Society.” The breakthrough producer award was won by Theo Barrowclough for Charlotte Regan’s “Scrapper.” “Rye Lane” star Vivian Oparah won the breakthrough performance award and the film also received the best original music award.
Best documentary feature went to Alice Russell’s “If the Streets Were on Fire,” which also won this year’s Raindance Maverick Award. Best debut director – documentary feature went to Chloe Abrahams for “The Taste of Mango.” Abdou Cissé’s “Festival of Slaps” won best British short film.
The winners were revealed at the annual ceremony at Londo’s Old Billingsgate with BIFA patron Ray Winstone kicking off the celebration of independent film, Lolly Adefope and Kiell Smith-Bynoe hosting and stars including Jodie Comer, Aisling Bea, Zawe Ashton, Asa Butterfield and Theo James presenting awards.
The 2023 Richard Harris Award for outstanding contribution by an actor to British Film was presented to Stephen Graham by Comer. The special jury prize, presented by Paapa Essiedu, went to We Are Parable, the grassroots company founded by Anthony and Teanne Andrews to deliver Black cinema to audiences in exciting, culturally relevant, unique ways.
BIFA Winners 2023
The Richard Harris Award For Outstanding Contribution By An Actor To British Film Stephen Graham
Best British Independent Film “All Of Us Strangers” – Andrew Haigh, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Sarah Harvey
Best International Independent Film Sponsored By Champagne Taittinger “Anatomy Of A Fall” – Justine Triet, Arthur Harari, Marie-ange Luciani, David Thion
Best Director Sponsored By Sky Cinema
Andrew Haigh – “All Of Us Strangers”
Best Screenplay Sponsored By Apple Original Films
Andrew Haigh – “All Of Us Strangers”
Best Lead Performance Mia Mckenna-Bruce – “How To Have Sex”
Best Joint Lead Performance
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, George Mackay – “Femme”
Best Supporting Performance
Paul Mescal – “All Of Us Strangers”
Shaun Thomas – “How To Have Sex”
The Douglas Hickox Award (Best Debut Director) Sponsored By BBC Film
Savanah Leaf – “Earth Mama”
Breakthrough Producer Sponsored By Pinewood And Shepperton Studios Theo Barrowclough – “Scrapper”
Breakthrough Performance Sponsored By Netflix
Vivian Oparah – “Rye Lane”
Best Debut Screenwriter Sponsored By Film4
Nida Manzoor – “Polite Society”
Best Debut Director – Feature Documentary Chloe Abrahams – “The Taste Of Mango”
The Raindance Maverick Award “If The Streets Were On Fire” – Alice Russell, Gannesh Rajah
Best Feature Documentary Sponsored By Intermission Film
“If The Streets Were On Fire” – Alice Russell, Gannesh Rajah
Best British Short Film
“Festival Of Slaps” – Abdou Cissé, Cheri Darbon, George Telfer
Special Jury Prize We Are Parable
Best Casting Sponsored By Casting Society and Spotlight
Isabella Odoffin – “How To Have Sex”
Best Cinematography Sponsored By Harbor & Kodak
Jamie D. Ramsay – “All Of Us Strangers”
Best Costume Design
Buki Ebiesuwa – “Femme”
Best Editing Jonathan Alberts – “All Of Us Strangers”
Jonathan Gales, Richard Baker – “The Kitchen”
Best Music Supervision
Connie Farr – “All Of Us Strangers”
Best Make-Up & Hair Design Sponsored By The Wall Group
Marie Deehan – “Femme”
Best Original Music Sponsored By Universal Music Publishing Group
Kwes – “Rye Lane”
Best Production Design Sponsored By ATC & Broadsword
Nathan Parker – “The Kitchen”
Best Sound Supported By Halo
Mark Jenkin – “Enys Men”