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My son Ben, who lives in Austin, Texas, has spent a lot of money, at least many hundreds of dollars, on buying whole series of television programmes. Many of these have been expensive. For example, he pickedup a box set of the wonderful TV series Rome, and it bore a price tag of $84. But he looks at the large bookcase holding all of these videos, and says, “They are more or less useless now.”
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The reason for that is, he has been caught in one of the many technological changes that keep overwhelming the fields of popular culture. He used to have a vast number of records, then of albums of music, then of CDs, but all of these, too, have become, to use the word beloved of all these industries dealing in popular culture, obsolete. Ben does not have television itself; he watches only specially chosen programmes. But now he has the new gadget, Apple TV, which enables him to whistle up Netflix, a programme he says is one of the greatest ever. For less than $8 a month, hundreds and hundreds of films and TV shows can be summoned up and broadcast any time he wants them, and although they have to be summoned up by the computer, they can be transferred to the large TV monitors for screenng, so he has little use now for his many collected versions of shows and films. I have Apple TV myself, and as a lifelong lover of films, I have to say I agree Netflix is a genuine innovation that threatens to make even the cinema house obsolete. In recent months I have watched many films of the highest quality, none of which would otherwise be easily available to me.
For music now --- indeed, it seems to me, for almost everything now --- Ben has his iPhone, on which he also carries almost everything he needs in daily life, his music, his access to the Internet, his emails, the news programmes of the day --- indeed you name it, and Ben is carrying it around in his pocket. He also seems to do most of his business on it: he is a tour manager for rock groups (that’s one of his jobs, at least) and he seems to conduct it all on his phone.
It makes me think back to the time I first encountered floppy discs for my first computer: I couldn’t believe it when someone told me I could carry a whole book on one floppy disc (which has long since become obsolete). Now it seems you can carry almost as many books as you like, only now you carry them on a little device that you can slip into your pocket almost without noticing it, a machine that serves also as camera, telephone, gramophone (to use the nomenclature with which I grew up), typewriter, information storage centre, and almost anything else you like to name.
Well, none of this is news to anyone reading my blog (if there are any such anachronistic people left). In fact, I am in fairly constant touch with all three of my sons, all of whom have at their disposal the same wide range of electronic marvels. And one has only to walk the streets to see that almost everyone nowadays has machines like this, especially everyone below 30. (I tried one of these mobiles once when I first moved to Montreal, but after a month I gave it up. I just didn’t like it.)
Well, all this is more or less introductory to telling about some of these films I have recently seen. The finest of them has been a French movie called Intouchables. It stars the well-known actor Francois Cluzet, playing the part of a rich paraplegic, and Omar Sy, a black man who is hired to be the immobile man’s companion and helper. The helper, it turns out, is an ex-con, recently released after serving six months for theft, but he is also a man of remarkable good humor, full of laughter, with a repertoire of jokes that might be considered by more stuffy people as inappropriate for the man he is helping. He is also a man of limited education, in other words, he does not have that patina of good manners and reserve that usually comes with schooling. And this proves to be the perfect recipe to call the man he is helping back into real life. (There is a delicious sequence when they go to the opera, and the helper cannot restrain his laughter when the main singer turns out to be a tree. It reminded me of the sequence in War and Peace when the great Tolstoy devotes his skill to giving a wonderful, deadpan account of the events of an opera.) The film opens with a marvellous car chase in which the helper, who is driving the man’s car, bets his employer he can lose the police who soon join them in a chase. When he is stopped by a police car pulling across his bows, he bets his employer that he can get the police to escort them to a hospital and, of course, with collaboration from his friend, he does. It is exciting and funny, and although it is out of sequence in the film, it does kick it off with a bang.
Halfway through, just as he has settled into his relationship with his employer, so that they become more like friends, his family turns up, and he is called away to deal with their intense problems. He emerges from that ready to quit his job, except that his boss, sensing his problems, tells him it is time for him to go, he cannot expect to be caring for an invalid all his life.
Well, it all comes out well in the end, as one might expect. All that need be added is that it is one of the highest grossing films ever released in France, where it has evoked a warm response. Not much wonder: it is a beauty.
On a different subject I also saw a couple of days ago a really wonderful documentary called Fire in Babylon, about the West Indian teams that ruled the world of cricket in the 1970s and 1980s. Directed by Stevan Riley, the film is more like a social history of the West Indies, since it establishes that the society from which these teams arose was traditionally a downtrodden, poorly served, population, in fact one that was customarily treated with contempt, but they were a people who, even at the game at which they had traditionally been good, were not considered by more proper people in other countries to be anything more than amiable, smiling, happy, but always poor and unreliable warriors.
That began to change in the early seventies when they visited Australia, with some hopes of doing well (since the West Indies teams of the 1960s had been great), but were thoroughly beaten into the ground by an Aussie team headed by two of the greatest fast bowlers ever to play the game.
The West Indies new captain Clive Lloyd realized that to becme supreme in the world he needed to find fast bowlers of the quality of the Aussies, so he scoured the islands, and began to come up with young men in whom he instilled pride both of race and of skills. When they arrived in England, the English captain, Tony Greig, who happened to be a transplanted South African, made a public statement that the English team would make the West Indians grovel before them.
They were so infuriated by the comment that in addition to their skills was added a steely rsolve to win, at any cost. And win they did, easily, throwing Greig’s racist comment back in his face. Later, the illustrious batsman Vivian Richards, who hails from the tiny, quiet island of Antigua, a steel-hard man, in spite of the prevailing ambiance of goodwill in the Caribbean islands, took over the team, and by this time had four of the fastest bowlers who ever bowled, men who were not kidding around, but bowled to intimidate, if necessary to hurt, the batsmen who were facing them. No international team had ever had such an array of fast bowling, and they turned out to be unbeatable, either by the Aussies, the Indians or the English, and, along with much profound commentary on the social impact of their victories, the film establishes something that every West Indian remembers with pride: for 15 years they were never beaten on the field of play, and no sport on earth had ever been dominated by one team in that way before or since.
This is an almost perfect documentary, of interest to people far removed from cricket. And personally I am delighted that Riley, a skilled filmmaker with a list of illustrious credits to his name, has succeeded in telling a story that otherwise could have been reduced by the indifference of the metropolitan media to no more than a minor item in the history of cricket.