Tag Archives: Holocaust

Lynn Ruth Miller – a ‘Rising Star’ at 84

Lynn Ruth Miller at The Marsh, San Francisco

Comic and now burlesque performer, 84-years-young Lynn Ruth Miller, is coming to the end of her three week series of return gigs in and around San Francisco – after living in the UK for four years.

This is her penultimate blog about being in the city that was her home for 30 years.


Last Wednesday was the highlight of my trip to this part of the world.

The Marsh theater is a highly prestigious intellectual venue that presents one hour solo shows much like London’s Soho Theatre and the Barbican on a smaller scale.  

When I lived here, I could not get them to let me do any of my storytelling or cabaret shows. They did not think I was accomplished enough. However, thanks to reviews I have received over the years from London, Edinburgh, Brighton and Melbourne, this time they said I could do my show I Love Men in their Rising Star section. (I am ‘rising’ at 84!).

I worked with a wonderful woman named Lauren, who was very efficient and very thorough. But, although my show was listed on the website, it was not promoted or highlighted in any way. So I was pretty sure I would be lucky if five people showed up. Still, it was a pleasure to prepare a show there. The theater is professional in every way. I had a spacious dressing room, a grand piano for Larry to play and a beautiful tech person named Alexa to troubleshoot the performance before we began.

Ticket sales turned out to be far better than I dared hope and, with our walk-ins, we had nearly 60 people in the audience.  

Bay Area people know very little about my life or why I do the things I do and I Love Men is a show about my failure to find a relationship. I was worried that it would seem insipid and pointless in a world where people find each other online and have sex before they have a coffee. My mother always told me my life would be ruined if I had sex before marriage. Now I think it is ruined if you do not.

I could not believe my audience. I had people come from Napa, Reno, Tahoe, Los Angeles and even Austin, Texas. It was all I could do not to weep.

I had thought that I was no more than a shadow totally unnoticed here and it was not until I moved to the UK that anyone thought I had anything of value to offer on a stage. Evidently this was not so.

This audience was with me to the finish and, once again, I got a standing ovation. Do we ever take a thing like that for granted?

Suddenly, I felt that all the work I have invested in these past 15 years of finding my voice as a performer had paid off. I felt validated and very, very proud. I really did it. I told a true story that touched a universal chord.

It was an amazing evening for me.  But the next night was just as exciting.  

Jamie DeWolf runs a tour de force show called Tourettes Without Regrets. I was in that show five years ago and he always told me that, whenever I wanted to return, I had a place in his line-up.  

This is a show of incredible talent and variety with pole dancers, acrobats, strippers, singers and poets… just about everything you can imagine.

I wanted to do something new for him so I decided to do the song I did in Edinburgh last month for the London Burlesque Best of Burlesque shows.  

It is a feminist diatribe and a bit different from the “give it a go” type songs I ordinarily sing. The response was totally amazing and once again I got a standing ovation from an immense audience. It was almost too good to be true.

In the afternoon, I had done a storytelling event for a tiny group of Holocaust survivors and that was one of the most beautiful highlights of this trip. There are very few of these people left and most of them were children in the camps so, although scarred in ways most of us cannot imagine, not nearly as bruised and torn-apart as their parents who were tortured, starved and beaten without mercy.  

I always feel that the most important thing I did and have done is to give these people my time and my performance skills so they know that their very existence is that important to me and to all of us who care about human survival.

… TO BE CONCLUDED TOMORROW …

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Performance

What Hermann Goering’s great-niece told me about the Holocaust this week

Hermann Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe

Hermann Goering, the Deputy Führer

This week, via Skype, I talked to Hermann Goering’s great-niece Bettina Goering in Thailand. She is writing a book.

“Hermann wasn’t really a nasty Nazi, though, was he?” I asked her. “He wasn’t identified with the Holocaust. He was simply head of the Luftwaffe. The image I have of him is an overweight man, who liked art, stamping around in rather flamboyant uniforms.”

“That’s what I thought,” replied Bettina. “That’s the image I had too, until I started digging further and it’s much more complex. The truth is that he was involved in the Holocaust too. I didn’t know that until I started the process of writing this book. He was as involved as any of them. He might have not been as gung-ho in his rhetoric about Jews. He came across as ‘the Luftwaffe guy’. But he was just as involved. I first learned that when I did a documentary called Bloodlines. He was part of the Final Solution. He co-authored it. So he was very involved. He was part of setting up concentration camps. And, when they decided to do the Final Solution, he was part of all that.”

Bettina has no children.

In the documentary Hitler’s Children, she says:

“My brother and I had the sterilisation done in order not to give life to other Goerings… I was feeling responsible for the Holocaust, even though I was born after the War, because of my family, who had an active part in it.”

“You got sterilised,” I asked her this week, “because you didn’t want to pass the genes on?”

“I think that was part of it,” she told me. “I think we had a lot of other intellectual arguments. There are enough children. We don’t want children, blah blah. I think, deep down, that was part of it too. It’s kinda complex.”

“And your relationship to Hermann Goering is…” I asked.

“He is the brother of my grandfather on my father’s side,” Bettina explained.

“You were born in the decade after he died,” I said.

Bettina Goering - currently living in Santa Fe, USA

Bettina Goering – currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Yes. The only member of that direct family that I knew who was really involved was my grandmother. My book is also largely about her and her relationship to Hermann and her relationship to the whole family. They were a very close-knit family.

“Her husband – Hermann’s older brother – died very young when she was in her 30s. She had three young boys and Hermann took care of her. I just found out she actually looked after his household at the beginning of the Nazi times – 1932/1933.”

“So,” I said, “by the time you’re really aware of anything, it’s the early 1960s, when people are making films about the Nazi era, but it’s not the immediate past…”

“There was a bit of a limbo time in Germany,” said Bettina, “when really not much was mentioned in education or films and it really came home to me when I was about 10 or 11 and documentaries were shown and that’s when I really started to see how bad it was. Before that, I knew bits and pieces, but I didn’t know what it meant, really.”

“Which obviously,” I said, “must have had an effect on you…”

“There have been different stages to it,” replied Bettina. “I came of age around the end of the 1960s and I got into this whole ‘Anti’ movement. I became left wing, hippie and tried to somehow understand this whole dilemma more and create something else.”

“That’s roughly the time of Baader-Meinhof,” I said.

Baader-Meinhof: a troubled generation

Baader-Meinhof – in a troubled generation

“Yeah. They were around and one of my friends became one of the second generation of Baader-Meinhof. I was in a left-leaning organisation but for me to use violence was totally out of the question. But some of my friends were starting… You’d be surprised how many people were sympathetic to them (the Baader-Meinhof activists), including us, for a while. There’s a good movie that came out a couple of years ago…”

The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.

“Yes. That was about the time I was growing up and I think they (the Baader-Meinhof activists and supporters) were partly in reaction to the Nazis in some ways, because most of them were born during the War. All that manifested in themselves.”

“A very mixed-up generation,” I said.

“My mother only met my father after the War,” explained Bettina. “My family was the Hermann Goering family on one side, but my mother’s family were the opposite. Very different families who married each other. My grandfather on my mum’s side was an anti-Fascist. He was once arrested. It was well-known he was supporting Jewish people. He had to be really careful.

“So here I have the Fascist side and the anti-Fascist side both in my family and that made it very… crazy. This trouble within myself was always trying to work itself out.”

“So your book is going to give an inside view of a troubled family?”

“Yes. It’s the inside view and trying to find some way to… You can’t really marry those two sides together… Also I was judging them so negatively that I was judging some part of me. Do you get that? That came to a head at some point where I realised I couldn’t really live my fullest potential  because I was really judging part of me so negatively. That is something I have been striving to overcome. Exactly that. To find some forgiveness in myself – of myself. It’s like an impossible thing to do, but just in order to feel healthy, I feel like I need to do that.

“There’s a lot been written about the Nazis on a very intellectual level but my book will be maybe a more emotional way to deal with it, which is hard for the Germans to do. There’s still all this guilt, conscious or unconscious, and I write a lot about this guilt stuff. On an emotional level, it is not resolved.”

“Who do you think would like to read your book?”

“Well, anybody who has any traumas in their closets. So far, we’ve only approached one or two German literary agents. Until now, we’ve really not been that ready.

“Maybe it will be that a British publisher will publish it first and then it will, in a roundabout way, go to the Germans. We are writing it in both languages and I have been living more in English-speaking countries than I have in Germany. I lived even in England for a couple of years.”

“You are in Thailand at the moment, but you and your husband live in Santa Fe in the US?”

“Yes, but we are moving…”

“… to where?” I asked.

“We’re not sure just now. We are sort of in flux. We have a house in Santa Fe that has still not been sold. It’s gonna take some time.”

“Could you live back in Germany happily?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s not that I don’t like Germany. We go visit a lot. But I’ve never felt drawn to live there again. I feel it’s a bit limiting.”

2 Comments

Filed under Germany, Jewish, Psychology

The killing fields of Cambodia and the trenches of World War One in London

The Imperial War Museum in London welcomes visitors

Two days ago, a friend and her 13-year-old son arrived at London Stansted Airport from Milan on a Ryanair plane. They sat in the plane at Stansted for 30 minutes because the airport, reportedly, had lost the steps to get off the plane.

Yesterday, we went to the Imperial War Museum. The son went to a room where a film was screened about various crimes against humanity. The Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

All the greatest hits of genocide.

“In 1989, your mother and I visited the killing fields outside Phnom Penh in Cambodia,” I reminded him. “But they weren’t the worst thing. The worst thing was an entrance room at a building where people were kept and tortured and then sent off to be killed.

Photos at the S-21 interrogation centre in Phnom Penh

Photos at the S-21 interrogation centre.

“The Khmer Rouge were very efficient,” I told him. “They photographed everyone. Black & white, head & shoulders pictures. Like passport photos but a bit bigger. Just the faces looking into the camera and they all had the same look in their eyes. They knew they were going to die and they had no hope in their eyes. The room you entered had photos from floor to ceiling on all four walls. All these faces. All around you. All those empty eyes. That was worse than the killing fields, which were just…”

“Bits of bone?” my friend’s 13-year-old son suggested.

Killing fields outside Phnom Penh in Kampuchea/Cambodia

Killing fields outside Phnom Penh in Kampuchea/Cambodia

“Yes,” I said. “Occasional little splinters of bone and a few scraps of torn shirts and things. But the room in the S-21 interrogation centre was much worse. Bits of bone and scraps of fabric are abstract. But the faces and the eyes were people.

“So just remember,” I said, trying to have a lasting impact on him, “that, if you ever think you’re having a bad time in your life, you’re actually comparatively well off. Other people have had it worse. Are having it worse.”

We got a bus into central London.

As it crossed Westminster Bridge, a photographer was taking a picture of a Japanese bride in a white wedding dress and her new husband with the Houses of Parliament behind them.

As we came off the bridge into Parliament Square and turned right into Whitehall, a red double-decker bus was coming towards Westminster Bridge, with a V-shaped white ribbon down its front, like a giant red two-storey bridal car.

WW1 Trench Art

One unknown British soldier’s WW1 trench art

In the afternoon, we were in Cecil Court in London, looking for a Tintin book and ended up in a shop selling military uniforms and mementos. There were a couple of items of ‘trench art’ – shell casings which men had decorated in the trenches in the First World War.

“They never signed them,” the owner of the shop told me, “because the shell casings were the property of the Crown and, by decorating them, they were defacing them. If you defaced any property of the Crown, you would get court martialed.”

So they never signed their names.

No-one will never know who made them.

This morning, my Italian friend’s husband – the father of her 13-year-old son – arrived at London Stansted Airport from Milan on a Ryanair plane.

He sat in the plane at Stansted for 10 minutes because the airport, reportedly, had lost the steps to get off the plane.

I wondered what the men engraving shapes on the shell casings in the trenches of the First World War would have made of it all. What the men and women in S-21 would have thought of the film screened at the Imperial War Museum. If they had lived. And what type of person the 13-year-old boy will grow into.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cambodia, Military, war

In defence of rape jokes

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and y India’s We Speak News)

Tragedy/comedy masks, Hadrian’s Villa – but which is which?

A comedian phoned me yesterday evening, angry that another comedian was Tweeting trying to get comedy performers and promoters to sign up for a ‘No Rape Jokes’ pledge.

The idea is to ban comedians who tell rape jokes.

The first promoter to have ‘signed the pledge’ appears to be a club that only allows female comedians to perform, which seems a little ironic. I am thinking of opening a comedy club at which Jewish performers are banned but at which no rape jokes would be allowed. No problem there, then.

Trying to ban rape jokes is like trying to put sticking plaster over a symptom to hide an unsightly abscess, not cure the problem. It is the wrong target. The aim, surely, should be trying to stop audiences laughing at rape jokes.

Unless – in my opinion – they are funny.

Funny is funny.

I have known and worked with three women who were raped as children. All bore psychological scars. Obviously.

When I hear a comedian tell a rape joke, I cringe because of this. But also because the comedian is usually getting an easy laugh. He (seldom she) knows the audience will laugh in shock because the subject is in bad taste. They used to be able to get a laugh by just using the word “fuck”. That word’s shock value disappeared. Then it was the word “cunt”. Now that word on its own no longer gets a laugh.

But now you can get an easy laugh by telling a rape joke or a joke about (presumably) murdered little girl Madeleine McCann or her parents. It is lazy comedy. Knee-jerk comedy.

I do not like rape jokes. By and large. The comedians who tell them are bad comedians. By and large.

But Scottish comedian Jerry Sadowitz has told rape jokes. He is a brilliant comedian. The jokes were funny. I laughed. I enjoyed the jokes as jokes.

Fellow Scottish comedian Janey Godley (who was repeatedly raped as a child) used to tell stories around the subject of child abuse and rape. There is a fascinating clip on YouTube of her starting her act.

Normally, I do not repeat comedians’ routines. But this one is worth repeating because what is being said is in no way funny yet it gets big laughs because, as Frank Carson might have said: “It’s the way she tells ‘em”.

It is a masterclass in how to get laughs from an audience.

Janey says:

“When I was five, I was sexually abused by my uncle… Now, I don’t want you to all rush the stage and give me a hug, cos it’s OK… cos I got him killed for my birthday later on (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… Yeah (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… No, I did (BIGGER AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… That’s no a joke (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… Yeah (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… Got his cock cut off (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… So… (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)…”

What is being said here is not funny.

At no point does Janey say she is joking. She says the exact opposite. She tells the audience a man was murdered and – five times – she points out to the audience that this is not a joke. She is joking about murder and sexual mutilation. But the laughter continues and heightens.

If rape jokes are to be banned, why not also ban murder jokes, incest jokes, adultery jokes and jokes about travelling salesmen, mothers in law and rabbits? All were certainly offensive to the ears of pre-War BBC Radio.

It is a short and slippery slope from banning jokes to burning books.

Lewis Schaffer, a Jew, has what I consider to be (currently) the world’s best three-part Holocaust joke, Should he be banned from telling it? He says on-stage that he is allowed to tell that joke. And not for the reason you might think. And that is part of the joke.

Blanket bans on jokes can never be a good idea. Let the audience decide. Or try to change audiences’ attitudes. But don’t try to ban the jokes.

I talked to comedian Bob Slayer about this last night.

“I’m thinking of blogging about The Rape Thing tomorrow,” I told him. “If I did, I could glide into the attack I have not yet launched in my blog on left wing neo-Fascism. That should get me spat at in the bars of Soho and the streets of Edinburgh… Love Bernard Manning. Hate Tony Benn,.. Something along those lines…”

I am old enough to remember the late-1960s and early 1970s when the Vietnam War was being fought. When people were booked at universities to speak in support of the War, demonstrations were organised by well-meaning left wingers who believed strongly in Freedom of Speech… to get the person banned from speaking.

In the real world, left wing irony has never been widespread.

Nowadays, freedom-promoting left wingers sometimes say candidates from the right wing BNP should not be allowed to promote their views in TV programmes or on the streets. But the BNP is not an illegal political party. If their views are so appalling, a law should be passed to ban the party. But, if what the BNP believes is expressed in a perfectly legal way, then trying to ban them from speaking is, in my view, Fascistic.

I personally agree that the BNP is abhorrent, but that is irrelevant.

I blame the French.

We say ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ because of the seating arrangements in the Estates General during and after the French Revolution.

The reality is that political extremism is part of a circle, not a horizontal line.

Hitler’s political party was correctly called a (national) Socialist party… Because extreme right wing views about a strong centralised state overlap into extreme left wing views about ‘the people’ controlling everything via a strong centralised state.

Wanting to ban jokes about rape is indefensible if you do not also want to ban jokes about murder. And, if you ban talking about certain things at live gigs then, logically, you have to ban the same things on television and in print.

It is a short and slippery slope from banning jokes to burning books.

Bob Slayer disagrees with me. He supports attempts to ban rape jokes in comedy clubs.

“Of course,” he says, “all of this will require a comedy police force to ensure that these rules are adhered to. Someone will have to vet every comedian, judge them before they even do their first open mic gig and award them with a provisional licence to perform clean, pre-approved jokes. They can then work towards proving they are capable of a full comedy licence to make up their own jokes.

“A comedian licence would work along similar lines to the one for buskers on the London Underground. It used to be that buskers who were homeless and looked like they were only busking in order to keep in the dry were driven outside to think about their lives while they slowly died of cold.

“Thankfully, they were then replaced by college students and trustafarians who had achieved at least grade 4 on their chosen instrument. These approved buskers were then given a laminated badge and allowed to entertain commuters with officially sanctioned playlists.

“I look forward to comedy being ordered in the same way.”

2 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Politics, Rape, Sex

Can mass murderers really help you to become a better person or is the best answer just to eat lots of chocolate?

If you have popped in to read this blog for a bit of levity, I suggest you give it a miss today and try tomorrow, when mild titter-making may make a welcome reappearance.

At the weekend, I got an unexpected Facebook message from someone I do not know.

At first, I thought it might lead on to some scam in which I would be told I could get access to millions in a Nigerian bank account if I gave out my own bank details. But, no, it was a genuine question. It was (and this is true):

“I know these times is not very easy but I would like to ask you about purpose of life what do you think most important thing in this life (sorry for my language I am just began learn English)”

After a couple of Facebook messages, my reply (again, this is true) was:

“Purpose? None. Just try not to hurt other people. The most important thing, sadly – and it took me a lifetime to realise this – is money. Because without it everything else is difficult. Money will not bring you happiness but, if you are unhappy, it will make being unhappy less uncomfortable! Friendship and relationships, of course, are what matter in the long-term, but never underestimate money… and trying not to hurt other people…”

In the last couple of days, a couple of people have asked me if I saw last week’s screening by BBC TV of the movie The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (set in a World War Two concentration camp). And, yesterday, someone asked if I saw Sunday’s ITV1 drama Appropriate Adult about the multiple murderer Fred West.

My answer was that I did not watch either of them because I really did not think seeing them would make me a better person. Do I really want to sit through something harrowing and/or feel uplifted at the end from watching the fictionalised reality of something obscene?

For perhaps 25 years, I had a paperback version of Emlyn Williams’ highly-regarded 1968 book Beyond Belief, about the Moors Murders. I could never bring myself to read it and, three years ago, a year after after my mother died, I took it to a charity bookshop because I knew I would never read it. It would not increase my sympathy or empathy for other people’s suffering.

When I was about 11 or 12, I saw film footage shot when the first Allied troops went into Belsen in 1945. It was one of the first concentration camps to be liberated and the cameras went in with the first troops; later, the cameras went into camps after they had been partially ‘cleaned up’.

The footage was and is the worst thing I have ever seen. I remember seeing a pile of skeletons. Dead skeletons all piled up. Except, then, one moved – he or she was still alive and, I think, got up and walked – staggered – slowly like some unreal Ray Harryhausen stop-frame animated figure.

Wikipedia currently quotes BBC reporter Richard Dimbleby, who was there when the camp was ‘liberated’:

“Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them… Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live… A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

I only saw the film footage. What on earth it must have been like to be there on that day I cannot imagine.

It made me realise when I was 11 or 12 what people are capable of doing and it made me put anything that has happened since into some perspective. I think it would do most people the world of good to see the footage of Belsen when they are 11 or 12, at an impressionable age before they are capable of putting up psychological barriers to defend themselves from what they see.

The other horror I am, in a sense, glad I saw were the killing fields of Choeung Ek in Cambodia in 1989. They were the killing fields for the capital Phnom Penh. Before the Khmer Rouge took power, the fields (formerly an orchard and Chinese graveyard) had apparently been somewhere families went for tranquil days when they were not working.

It was not the killing fields which upset me so much.

In the killing fields were tiny, tiny shards of shattered, broken-off bones on the ground, there were occasional tiny little pieces of torn clothing and there were the covered-over pits where no grass grew. But they were just objects – bits of bone, fabric, earth.

It was Tuol Sleng – S-21 which upset me – the ‘interrogation’ centre which had previously been a high school in Phnom Penh.

At Tuol Sleng, the former classrooms had been divided by roughly-built brick walls into thin prison cells… and then there were the confessions. The Khmer Rouge had had an almost Germanic efficiency, perhaps because they had been so sure they were in the right. After torture, people had admitted their guilt and their confessions had all been carefully written before they were taken off in trucks to be killed in the fields of Choeung Ek, usually by agricultural implements because why waste bullets?

After torture, they confessed they had worked for the previous regime – behind the counter in a post office or in the Ministry of Agriculture or whatever their crime had been; they had been a schoolteacher or they had worn spectacles or were family relations of people who were guilty of any of the many capital offences decided-on by the Khmer Rouge.

But it was not the confessions which upset me so much. They were just bits of paper, even if they had real people’s words on them. It was the photographs.

The Khmer Rouge had indeed been very efficient. They had photographed each and every guilty person before they were driven off to be killed in the fields. Small portrait-style chest and head shots of everyone. And hundreds of these photographs papered every inch of the walls of the two entrance rooms to Tuol Sleng.

Hundreds of photographs. Hundreds of faces. Hundreds of eyes staring at you.

It was like the American radio reporter’s commentary as he watched the Hindenburg airship burst into flames: “Oh the humanity!… Oh the humanity!”

And all the hundreds of people in the photographs at Tuol Sleng had exactly the same look in their eyes as they stared into the Khmer Rouge photographer’s camera. Each one of them knew they were going to die and you could see the look of hopeless resignation in their eyes; they knew they would be dead very soon.

It was like Richard Dimbleby’s description of Belsen: a “ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them…” because they knew for certain that they would be dead soon. The look in their eyes was hopelessness.

I remember when I was back in London, crossing Shaftesbury Avenue near its junction with Piccadilly Circus and I cried for no reason, remembering the look in those people’s eyes.

I think, when I saw the film of Belsen when I was 11 or 12 and when I saw the hundreds of photographs of people at Tuol Sleng, I was a better person for having seen what I saw. Perhaps a bit more sympathetic. But I do not think watching the Fred West drama or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or reading Beyond Reason would have increased my empathy.

They were all, to an extent recreating evil but they were not the evil itself.

I saw Schindler’s List when it came out because it was a Spielberg film and I was interested to see how he had filmed it. But you cannot make a film about concentration camps.

I remember when the acclaimed US TV mIni-series Holocaust was screened. I had no interest in seeing it because, however good the acting and direction and however much the Method actors starved themselves for their roles, they could not replicate the walking dead of Belsen and all the other work camps – Belsen was a work camp, not a death production line like Auschwitz.

If what people see and remember are highly-acclaimed TV series and movies like Holocaust and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Schindler’s List, then what they see is, in a way, what they and their brain will remember as the reality.

But the reality was not the TV series and the movies; the reality was the film shot in Belsen and the photographs taken by the Khmer Rouge of the faces and the eyes of their victims.

Seeing them, I have always been aware that people are capable of anything.

When I was newly-18 I tried to kill myself. Unforgivable, because of the pain I inflicted on my parents. Blinded by pain and incomprehension, they visited me in hospital. Trying to be kind and considerate and loving, they brought me some oranges to eat and, to cut them, a short knife with a sharp, stainless-steel, serrated blade. After they had left, under the bedclothes, I ran my finger along the knife a few times and ran the knife across my wrist a few times. Eventually, I gave it to a nurse.

What I learnt was never to trust anyone because even someone with your best interests at heart can destroy you without meaning to.

And they are the good guys.

The world is full of genuine bad guys who actively want to harm you and destroy you because it makes them feel good.

I am sure the guards at Belsen got a hard-on watching people die.

All you can do is carry on, eat chocolate, laugh at the pointlessness of it all and die. When you are lying on a bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to blink or close your eyes and all you can hear is your own death rattle, nothing matters – not career, not money, not anything except the memory of friendships and relationships.

I guess.

Who knows?

I watched my father die like that.

No punchline.

Mild titters may re-appear tomorrow.

1 Comment

Filed under Germany, Movies, Philosophy, Politics, Racism, Television

Why Roman Polanski’s glamorous rape-excusing friends should be ashamed

I once had to make a television trailer for a documentary on the Waffen-SS. It was very difficult to cut together any pictures that did not make the SS look glamorous because most of the footage was actually shot by the Nazi regime itself, therefore it had a Triumph of the Will style about it. Wonderful angled shots of smart, black-uniformed men marching down steps in formation. The Nazis tended not to film the Waffen-SS butchering men, women and children. Bad for the image.

Let’s be honest, Hitler’s Third Reich made good films and had a great sense of visual style in the design of their uniforms, their architecture and the staging of big-scale live events. But that doesn’t mean that The Holocaust was a minor matter and that Adolf Hitler “should be forgiven this one sin”.

I always find that, if you take an opinion or an event – especially on moral questions – and re-position it into an extreme situation, then that clarifies the opinion or event. My extreme situation is Nazi Germany.

If an argument works put into the context of Nazi Germany, then it probably works in general. Which brings us to Roman Polanski.

His glamorous showbiz chums sit around saying that he should be ‘let off’ the sex abuse charges on which he was found guilty in the US – and on which he jumped bail – in 1977. They say that he should be forgiven his trespasses because (a) he is famous, (b) he is or was a good film director, (c) he had a bad time in the War and (d) it all happened a good few years ago.

I admire Polanski’s earlier films.

But he drugged, raped and buggered a 13 year old girl. This is no small matter and the facts are not in dispute.

If Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact the Holocaust was a long time ago and he had had a difficult childhood would not quite merit ignoring what was done and letting him off with a slap on the head and “Don’t do it again, you naughty boy,” said in a disapproving tone.

I recently mentioned in passing on my Facebook page that when IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with attempted rape, was initially refused bail, one reason the judge gave for not giving him bail was the fact that Roman Polanski had done a runner on a rape charge.

Someone pointed out to me that the girl victim in the Polanski case “has been trying to drop charges for the last ten years… She has said that all of the publicity for this incident has hurt her more than the actual crime itself… She’s suffered enough; let it drop.”

Well, if Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact that the Holocaust was a long time ago and the people who suffered would be upset by a trial would not affect what crimes had been intentionally committed.

Raping a 13 year old is not right. Buggering a 13 year old is not right. And, equally, jumping bail to avoid a jail sentence for drugging, raping and buggering a 13 year old girl is not something to be ignored just because you used to be a good movie director and it happened a while ago.

The fact Polanski’s original trial judge in 1977 was running for public office, desperate for self-publicity and sounds like he changed his mind on giving Polanski a custodial sentence does not enter into it. I imagine some of the judges at the Nuremberg Trials were scumbags; it does not mean that Nazis found living in freedom 30 years later should not be tried.

My bottom line is that, if you drug, rape and bugger a 13 year old girl and then flee abroad to escape a custodial sentence, you deserve to be imprisoned for a considerable time. The fact glamorous showbiz names champion Roman Polanski and, in effect, say he should be pardoned for artistic merit nauseates me. Hitler was a painter and commissioned good movies. I don’t think his artistic merit or the artistic merit of Leni_Riefenstahl enters into it.

You can read the 37 page transcript of the Grand Jury proceedings against Roman Polanski in 1977 HERE.

According to the girl’s testimony, after giving her champagne and a Quaalude, Polanski sat down beside her and kissed her, despite demands that he “keep away.” He eventually, she said, “started to have intercourse with me.” Later, he asked the 13 year old: “Would you want me to go in through your back?” before he “put his penis in my butt.”

Asked why she did not more forcefully resist 43 year old Polanski, the teenager, who was 13 at the time of the rape, said: “Because I was afraid of him.”

The girl sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. In 1993 Polanski agreed to settle with her and according to the Los Angeles Times he agreed to give her half a million dollars. Reportedly, she was still trying to get part of this money from him in 1996 but she and her lawyers later confirmed the financial settlement was completed.

The girl publicly forgave Polanski in 1997, twenty years after the rape and buggery.

In 2009, Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, argued that Polanski “should be forgiven this one sin.”

I say fuck him.

Details of what was in Polanski’s 111 page Polish Secret Service file are HERE.

2 Comments

Filed under History, Movies, Politics, Sex

The bum-numbing recording of that IKEA ad and the Auschwitz Factor in live audience shows

What is it with my blog about the TV recording of the IKEA ad which I posted on 10th March – almost a month ago?

I have been blogging seriously (perhaps that’s the wrong word) since December and I now get fairly healthy hits on my blog but, yesterday, the hits went through the roof and early this morning – between midnight yesterday and 0230 this morning – the IKEA blog on its own got more hits than I normally get in an entire day.

Who is up at 0230 apart from me, burglars, comedians and the incontinent?

The answer seems to be that people were re-Tweeting the link to the blog and, also, I got an e-mail from someone saying “Loved your blog… have passed it around the ad industry”.

Maybe ad men have weak bladders and like to see other ad people score own goals.

The hits went even more apeshit later this morning when people other than incontinent ad men woke up.

The irony is I have still not seen the actual ad itself on broadcast TV – only the version on YouTube.

My friend who went with me to the recording is equally bemused about the number of hits on my blog and clearly – possibly permanently – emotionally scarred by the IKEA recording experience, appears to have turned to hallucinogenic drugs because yesterday he asked me:

“Do you think it was a real ad? I’ve not seen it on TV. You’ve not seen it on TV. They surely can’t be broadcasting a furniture ad on television making a joke about women weeing themselves? Maybe they were just pretending to make an ad for some reason and were filming our reactions to it for some other reason. It can’t have been a real ad.”

“But,” I told him. “It’s IKEA. They’re Swedish. They’re not known for their surreal humour.”

“It just can’t have been real.” my friend replied. “Maybe they were researching something. Maybe it was an experiment of some kind. You were there. Did it look like they were filming a real ad.”

“Well…” I said.

But I’m increasingly pleased I was there.

Someone commented yesterday that they couldn’t understand why the audience at the recording didn’t leave.

It’s a very interesting question indeed.

Partly the answer is, I think, that only people on the ends of rows in audience seating can leave without drawing attention to themselves; partly I guess it is because, if a couple leave, it feels to them that it is they who are are the odd ones out, not the people who stay. Partly it may be that, in a bad situation, you simply hope against hope that the horror will diminish.

I guess the main answer is that there is some strange human urge not to move in awful situations: like rabbits in an oncoming car’s headlights. When people are herded together in large groups in a forest or in a camp and know they are going to be killed, by and large, they don’t run. They walk to their deaths. It’s the Auschwitz Factor. I’m sorry if that offends anyone by trivialising the Holocaust, but it’s true. I know they thought they were going into showers at Auschwitz, but the general principle is true. Given the option of certain death if they stay or probable death if they run, people tend to choose certain death. People in forests dug their own graves and stood on the edge of the pits waiting to be shot.

I once sat through Luchino Visconti’s movie The Damned in the totally full late lamented Hampstead Classic cinema. It was the dullest film I have ever seen in my life and, trust me, I have sat through some dull films. Killer Bitch may have had – errm – “mixed reviews” but one thing it certainly ain’t is dull.

The Damned runs 155 minutes: that’s two hours and a very long 35 minutes. It was so dull that, after about four minutes, I actually started to time how long it would be before someone in the movie went into an exterior scene. But I sat through the whole godawful 155 minutes. My problem was I was in the middle of the front row in the balcony and, being British, I didn’t want to cause chaos and draw attention to myself by leaving and getting people to stand up all the way along the row.

It was also a revelation to see how anyone could make a film with mass murder, rape, orgies, Nazis, nudity and every excess you can possibly imagine into such a bum-numbingly dull movie.

Alright, The Damned is the second dullest movie I have ever seen. I actually DID walk out of Football as Never Before (Fußball wie noch nie) after about 40 minutes of tedium. There are limits which even I have.

But, in general, after a certain time has passed, people will sit through something really bad until the bitter end. And ‘bad’ can be good in a masochistic way.

When a really truly bad bad bad comedian is on stage, it draws other comedians who huddle together at the back of the room to watch the car crash of a performance happening in front of their eyes.

In 1980, Peter O’Toole appeared in a stage production of Macbeth at the Old Vic in London which was said to be so awful that people queued there and around the country to see it. I tried to buy a ticket at the time. You couldn’t get one anywhere. It was a box office smash.

As someone who has been involved in live audience shows for TV and for stage – and who spent 20+ years making TV promotions – I was fascinated at the IKEA ad recording to see how inept the production could get and if there were any way they could manage to pull the thing together.

I wanted to see the whole ghastly thing through to the end in case there was any glorious climax where the production team pulled something unexpected out of an invisible hat or the audience turned on the production team, tore them limb from limb and ate their entrails with tomato ketchup (not that there was any tomato ketchup).

After wasting a certain amount of time, you have to calculate if spending more time may result in a lower waste-per-minute average. How that is calculated will probably be studied by some university academic on a £1 million grant. If you hear of that happening, please tell me as I’d like to share a bit of that dosh and make my IKEA ad time worthwhile.

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Movies, PR, Television