The Shape of the Beast Come September

“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of coloured clothe that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead”

Arundhati Roy, Come September

Arundhati Roy has consistently engaged with people and in issues to unhesitatingly question power. And she does not start from the position of acceptable western middle class standards. This has become more apparent as she seeks to question fundamental principles around subjects such as democracy, justice, the accumulation of capital, and non-violence.

Roy is at ease engaging political realms while simultaneously addressing complacency in her craft as well as in personal areas. And she does so with more acumen than established corporate media commentators. All of this was obvious from her Come September speech ten years ago and in her most recent publication she states explicitly, “my language, my style, is not something superficial, like a coat that I wear when I go out. My style is me – even when I’m at home. It’s the way I think. My style is my politics”.

To me she demonstrates most clearly that you can and should take a stand for something: assume a polemic but avoid being polemical in thought and action. And she gives those willing to listen a boost to do likewise, “I’m not here to tell stories that people want to hear. I’m not entering some popularity contest. I just say what I have to say, and the consequences are sometimes wonderful and sometimes not”.

The interviews of her latest book have all been published before, but this does not stop them reasserting something that is fresh in a world where mainstream politics stinks of decaying flags waved impotently by empire, in nostalgia as much as hope. Collectively the interviews shed light on what a critical persona can aspire to be while escaping the muck of corporate media in a necessarily penetrating yet poetic manner.

“To expose things is quite different from being able to effectively resist things. I am more interested now in whether there are new strategies of resistance. The debate between strategies of violence and non-violence.” Such points sound like self-criticism as much as accusation or provocation to impotent and incidental groups opposing empire. “I think that no one form of resistance is going to succeed. Like you cannot have a monoculture forest, you need a diversity of resistance… because non-violent resistance is a form of ‘theatre’, sometimes an effective form of theatre, but it needs an audience and a sympathetic audience”.

I am grateful for this collection of interviews but wait to see how many commentators remember her excellent writing presented 29th September 2002, Come September. Or indeed if Arundhati Roy will provide a ‘ten years on’… but unfortunately I know not enough has changed. A repeat listening exposes Empire and we do indeed require new ways to act.

It is all too true that none of us need anniversaries to remember the unforgettable, so I choose not to drench myself in the horrific but to celebrate the alternative.


Come September was presented on 29th September 2002.

The Shape of the Beast is available out now.


The Wind of Change (1961)

Trying not to give too much away but banging on walls, sharing the newspaper, and those doorknobs are surely things that have almost come to past. But this is more than pointless nostalgia…

The charms of The Wind of Change only contribute to the gritty subjects that are handled in a manner that were surely ahead of their time. Moments that are filled with nostalgia simultaneously raise questions of the past and of the present. Although the film generates its own pace, as the characters undertake a journey of self-examination the audience can either join them or remain in ignorance with Frank, the main protagonist.

Somehow the film extends beyond its historical setting to contrast starkly with what has become the stereotype of ways to handle such topics; hip hop, digital technology, and Technicolor. This last point is not isolated to the film’s black and white presentation but also the cast with its lone role played by a black man. For some this is a distraction, for me it is a central attraction – the struggle with racism, with all its contradictions, is often spoken of and experienced first and foremost in the home and while hanging out with peers. No ariel shots of housing estates which sometimes seem like the cinematic metaphor for the racist language of ‘mixed race relationships’. Let’s get straight into the frontroom and people of action and dialogue. How does a family adapt to economic, political, cultural and intimate changes around them?

To my mind the father takes centre stage but not in any stereotypical way I’ve witnessed on film before. He is contemplative without any clear intelligence, complex without any direction, and nice without being likable. Ultimately he is passive; moments of wisdom are drowned out by tensions and outbursts of strength are overcome by sterner stuff. Even his retreat to care for his beloved rabbits presents an opportunity for a complex and uncertain metaphor. This places too much emphasis on the man of the house perhaps because the daughter and the mother are also in excellent positions to present some of the difficulties and abstract empathy in dealing with racism, forced to make a call without making a judgement.

Structured with the expertise of art and academy the film attempts to make sense of the contradictions of racism through everyday language and everyday sense. Everybody in the film contributes to layering complexity to the situation and it is uncertain how each impacts the other. The result is film that doesn’t seek an oversimplified happy ending with all knots firmly ironed out. Is the family broken or fixed? However it is clear that such dichotomies don’t work. To those who know something of the backdrop of the 1950 riots, the film even acknowledges economic hardships and unemployment as factors, more than most media reports will acknowledge even today; such reports are happy with the idea that intimate relationships between black and white people are primary factors to rioting.

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan may have been referring to the country’s conquered colonies when he talked of ‘the wind of change’ but Vernon Sewell makes clear that such a wind was already underway in the ‘motherland’. The Wind of Change can come like a storm in the lives of many but at the same time seems like an impotent breeze when viewed with the luxury of historical perspective.

We will be screening the film Sunday 7th October.