Finally got the chance to see this well crafted, insightful and beautiful film about Allan Ginsberg’s life and his (in)famous poem.
As a Guardian review says the poem was about ‘sex, drugs and race that became a battlecry for the US counterculture’. Mental illness and religion are also strong themes and we get some insights into how all these relate to Ginsberg and the times.
We are in the 1950s and the film paints the scene very well without resorting to too many cliches as historical films often do.
The rhythm of the editing is joyous, shifting between the poem read out aloud, its reception in the audience, the court trial on Howl on the basis of obscenity, developments in Ginsberg’s life and that of his friends, and finally the awesome animation that magnifies and brings to vivid life the poetry.
The sub-themes of gay liberation, cultural liberation and personal liberation are beautiful and poignant too.
What really makes the film tick is bringing the 29 year old Ginsberg to life, played superbly by James Franco, who comes up with an elaborate justification of his poem that is a mixture of defense, explanation, reflection, psychotherapy, memoir and confession. It’s a brilliant device.
It doesn’t matter that the film didn’t make it for the 50th anniversary of Howl 4 years ago, film-makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman were right to wait and create something truly memorable.
Thom Yorke’s dancing recalls so much from epileptic fits to the freak inside of us all (sorry to the exception!) to the random whimsical expression of deeper shit.
This song has given me so much more than whole swathes of popular culture.
It’s truly wonderful to see that unique music and artistic expression lives on.. for me this is building on and is beyond contemporary dance, poetry, rock, electronica and contemporary classical.. now that Radiohead don’t have to please anyone, they can fucking please themselves and come up with gems like this one.
Early winter has brought on a nasty cold in me followed by a massive lung infection and lots of awful chronic health conditions flaring up… sad sad monkey here.
I find the collision of acute and chronic illnesses hard to bear.. they could break down anyone. I feel proud that I’m able to carry on with any work and have a productive life despite these, yet when all of them fall on me at once I’m completely overwhelmed and cannot cope…
Been at home for a week now, mostly in bed. I’m in pain, have become very weak and struggle to breathe, eat, communicate, sleep. Need to gather my strength but sometimes it’s hard to just survive.
My biggest help is Chris and his constant love and care which I appreciate so deeply.. my consolation is my colourful amazing life waiting for me and my wonderful friends who populate it with the diverse richness of life they create. I’m gonna make it back to all of you, it will just take some time and suffering.
Here’s a kooky Kate Bush song about breathing… something I struggle with when sick… I think she’s inside her own lungs, trippy distraction..
Michael Pollan is back with a new book on food, ecology and the pitfalls of Western thought. He’s shaping up to be the most eminent, original and readable commentator on our relationship with food and in turn our environment and ourselves.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma was an exploration of where our foodstuffs come from, what happens to them and what happens to us when we eat them. An examination of the Western capitalist style food industrial complex, the growing organic industry and then finally the real alternative slow food movement of Joel Salatin and others who embrace a new relationship with the land and other animals, striving for honest, responsible, local food.
In his new book ‘In Defense of Food – An Eater’s Manifesto’ Pollan dissects the long-standing issues with both the Western diet that inevitably leads to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes in all ethnic populations that embrace it, and the historical failure of nutritionism, the piecemeal struggle to discover which minute constituent of food is responsible for good or bad effects, a Herculean and ultimately pointless effort aided by the extreme reductionism of nutritional science. It’s an ideology we are paying for.
The really deep revelations come when Pollan connects nutritionism to the elementary logic of both medical science and to the food industry. Medical science seems to be wedded to the idea of a reductionist way of looking at human beings.
Our whole system of medicine is geared towards fixing particular bits of our bodies and lifestyles: eat a bit more bran, let’s take out your gallbladder, how about adding some omega-3 capsules to your diet. None of these solutions have made a real difference to our health and none of these solutions make up for the impoverished processed food that we eat that would originally supply all these and more in a form that medical science is unable to grapple with… the proof is there: all traditional human populations on various types of diet can thrive without Western diseases (even when adjusting for mortality and age), the only diet humans cannot thrive on healthily is the Western diet!
No amount of fortification of bleached processed flour and probiotic enhanced yoghurt made from the milk of cows eating soybeans grown in depleted, chemically treated soil will fix our problem. Vitamin pills, omega-3 supplements and mussel extracts haven’t changed our cancer rate either. Unless the whole ecosystem is treated differently and our whole diet is overhauled we’ll keep getting sicker.
We can also thank the food industry for destroying our diet. Their interest is to sell food with long shelf life and grow huge quantities of food instead of quality, NOT to feed us well. Processed food from cheap ingredients (dressed up with artificial colours, additives and flavours to appeal to our evolutionary senses that are now useless in finding what we actually need to eat) is the best way to make a lot of money when our eating capacity is roughly the same each year.. ie. it’s simply unable to keep up with the dictates of capitalist expansion and eat more! But the industry figured out a way to make more money from food each year with the ‘added value’ which actually hides a continuous losing of real value.
We now eat a staggering amount of nutrient-poor processed crap that come from just a handful of highly hybridized crops grown in soil that is both depleted and fertilized with NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). We now have huge Western populations who are getting fatter each year yet are also undernourished! The food industry created the ‘green revolution’ from two post-WWII ingredients: the chemical warfare industry was transformed into one that now churned out pesticides (similar chemicals!), and the bomb producing industry turned into producing NPK (using similar ingredients!), the 3 main nutrients needed by plants to grow fast, especially in soil depleted by intense tech-heavy farming. The result? Monocultures, vast quantities of nutrient poor food, lots of pesticides, depletion of soil, sky-rocketing rates of ‘Western diseases’.
The only way out of all this is to STOP EATING A WESTERN DIET… not just fiddling around with organics, add ginkgo biloba to processed cereal, take out cholesterol or eating ‘skim everything’, but to care for our soil, choosing food carefully, supporting the local sustainable farmers and coops, being skeptical about nutrients and processed food and embracing whole foods. Also, plant a garden, eat slowly, with friends and with joy! Stop eating nutrients and start eating real food.
Then the overall advice for healthy happy eating becomes rather simple:
EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. MOSTLY PLANTS
Pollan goes on to re-define what food is (not supermarket food), what eating is (not quickly swallowing burgers while you drive), what ‘not too much’ is (eating to live rather than living to eat)… and I guess we don’t need to define what plants are (or do we? ouch!), except that they aren’t animals! There, easy.
And finally.. if you still haven’t seen Food Inc the film, please go and see it on DVD now!
I’ve been trialling the raw diet for a few months now and have some insights to share…
I was drawn to raw because it sounded like a lovely way to squeeze more health into your diet and possibly conquer my illnesses a bit better. Here’s what I found over several stretches of raw eating.
* yes it is a hype but no it’s not all empty.. the picture is complex and each person might find completely different answer for themselves doing raw
* don’t believe the promises: it’s NOT cheap, it’s NOT easy and it’s NOT always the tastiest thing around. In fact it’s quite expensive, especially in winter, it requires a huge amount of work and you really have to make a huge effort to always stay sated and entertained
* raw didn’t do any miracles for me and I gave it a very strong shot… but I did feel lighter, had a bit more energy and didn’t need caffeine… some symptoms of illnesses became a bit better, but hard to tell
* it takes quite a while to get special equipment and learn how to source your food. It’s very difficult to make it work on the run or when you have to work
* I discovered some magic ingredients such as raw cacao butter, coconut oil etc and raw does highten your senses to the smallest variation in taste
* it’s not hard to sate yourself but you have to keep eating… all the time… funnily I mostly felt neither hungry nor sated almost all the time, very strange and pleasant
* 100% raw is not necessarily desirable, I find it easier to do 75-80% raw and the effects are better and more sustainable too
* if you want variety and quality you need special ingredients which can be very expensive no matter how you do it
* easy to lose weight on it but as I had no interest in that I actually had to work hard keeping up the calorie intake
* I do believe a lot of the raw movement is quite fanatic, pushing their own businesses and the claims and practices attract almost no critical scrutiny
* despite what raw foodists tell you not all raw is necessarily good for you… they push the expensive agave syrup as a sweetener which I find very close to cane sugar in its effect (ie very bad!) and there’s a lot of dates, dried figs and sultanas for sweetening things and this over-reliance on sweeteners actually can give you thrush and stomach pains. NOT all raw is necessarily good for you.
* loved having a high fat high fibre diet and I loved the nuts… if you don’t like nuts it’s going to be extra hard to do raw
I took some lovely photos of my creations (yep, you become a bit food focussed on this diet, for better or worse).. the above photo is a raw breakfast ‘porridge’ made of pear, banana, avocado topped with sultanas, cinnamon and ground linseed. Remarkably sweet and awesome!