Just one gem from the past to help Steve notice his present.
Posted by anita in 2006-09-30
I just saw the Ken Loach film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and what a splendidly made and politically-correct piece of pseudo-left propaganda (in the worst sense of the word) it is.
My partner is Irish Australian and quite familiar with this period of Irish history, but his first question was why would someone make this film now? The answer was not long in coming as it quickly became clear that this film was made to make a, none too subtle, point about British involvement in Iraq. When I came out from the film I picked up a leaflet and the message was crystal clear; ‘Speaking at the Cannes film festival Loach said: We live in extraordinary times and that has made people political in a way they maybe weren’t in the previous four, five, six years. The wars that we have seen, the occupations that we see throughout the world – people finally cannot turn away from that. It’s very exciting to be able to deal with this in films, and not just be a complement to the popcorn.’
This ‘historical’ film was made in order to tell a story that would be unacceptable to tell in the first-person. This film was not really made to explain and explore Irish history from 85 years ago; it was made to encourage people to think negatively about the present British involvement in liberating the peoples’ of Iraq and Afghanistan. Loach would not of course use the word liberation; he would speak of an illegal war and imperialist occupation forces etc. Yuk!
From start to finish (in the current context) it’s a shameless film where the filmmaker hides behind the Irish people’s legitimate national struggle, to effectively promote the causes of Baathism, tribalism and the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as these scum hide behind phony nationalisms today; though once again Loach would as a matter of course deny that as well; he would assuredly tell all who’d listen that he is on the side of the Iraqi people no less. He would be sure to hate Saddam and Al Qaeda and the Taliban but would have also proudly marched for peace when others were advocating war against them. They would be in power today if it were up to Loach.
Loach and the rest of the pseudo-left ‘opinion leaders’ are leading little on the street, but they are in control of the vast bulk of the mass-media; they dominate cultural output throughout the western world. This film would be awarded in any western film festival; so the west is overdue for a cultural revolution.
The Wind that shakes the Barley is about the harsh ‘reality’ of all ruling-class armies. It was made to a formula, like shooting pseudo-leftist shibboleth fish in a barrel. Show innocent death; show brutality of imperialist rule; show arrogance of ruling-class types; show the noble resistance that was only brought into being by the occupation; show a resistance as both necessary and reluctantly brutal (yet clean compared to British); show that elections under occupation and threat are invalid and draw the conclusion that free and fair elections cannot be held under threat of the gun, and that therefore Iraq’s process and government is illegitimate!
In the end, having dragged the viewer through the realist muck of British imperial criminality in Ireland during a time where the British stood in the way of the democratic revolution, Loach had to crucially distort the relationship of the foreign troops to the democratic revolution and the issue of voting to make his big point. IMV Loach’s position is on the spectrum of xenophobia and racism. (That would have the unarmed peoples’ of Iraq liberate themselves from tyranny and not to shed the blood of other Mother’s son’s and daughter’s to secure an international solution).
The key question that he distorted (after all he was making this film when the triple election process was in full swing in Iraq) was; can there really be a free and fair vote in countries that have occupation troops on the streets that by his implication are making a threat to the population as clear as was the proposition put to Collins of ‘immediate and terrible war as an alternative to the Treaty’. Loach stands with the ‘heroes’ that won’t sell out; won’t compromise and therefore go to their ‘noble’ death’s as delivered to them by the ‘collaborating’ majority, and sell-out leadership. He implies that the current government of Iraq is comprised of sell-out collaborators. Phleese.
I found myself fuming at this cynical and sick distortion of the issues involved in liberation, in the context of and to the basic level of the bourgeois democratic revolution in 2006 in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the Ireland of James Connolly’s generation.
The core questions raised in the Irish struggle for independence from Britain were not adequately highlighted by this film. Specifically, did Michael Collins sell out by negotiating the Irish Free State? What about the role of Eamonn DeValera? ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ answers unambiguously, Yes the movement was sold out, and engenders the film with a cynicism and fatalism that leaves me cold.
These sentiments formed the main part of the final dialogue spoken by Damien O’Donovan a hypothetical Irish freedom fighter and main protagonist of the film, who declined to save his own life by refusing to convey intelligence to his brother (a Commander of the Free State Army) after his capture.
I found this part most disconcerting as there was the feeling that in the character Damien refusing to ‘sell out’ his ideals and being prepared to die for his ‘principles’ there was a direct comparison being made with current fascist insurgents and suicide bombers?
This film doesn’t do justice to any of the important matters raised by either the Irish struggle of so long ago, or the Iraqi conflict of today, and also has nothing particularly credible to say about the personal aspect of the brothers in arms either. The film was littered with false oppositions (pragmatist v idealist; internationalist v nationalist; socialist v nationalist) simplifying the subject matter down to caricatures, rather than un-raveling the complexity of the revolutionary experience of Ireland for the viewer.
Rather than ‘raise discussion’ this film contributes to a dumbing down of the subject matter; even obfuscation of the issues is not too strong an expression.
By contrast, the film Michael Collins was about the same period and done as a Hollywood block-buster in 1996 (before 9/11 and the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq). It too portrayed the British and their Irish collaborators as thugs and made clear that the Black and Tans were not there to help the Irish but to keep them down. But the treatment of the election process was very different and the empathy for the position of the negotiators of the Treaty was evident.
All in all, this highlights for me the need to adopt a dialectical approach to the world. No truth can be found in establishing false dichotomies. If Loach wanted to highlight how bad the war in Iraq is (it is after all fairly easy to portray death negatively) he ought to have just made a film about Iraq from a scared soldier’s perspective and exposed to the world how bad it is.
Ken Loach is apparently known for spurning the position of history from the great-man’s perspective, and specifically taking the position of ordinary people in his films. (As opposed to the film Michael Collins). However, I think this was another real shortcoming with this film in that a real understanding by the audience continues to revolve around the main issues and players and the film really suffered for this one-sided approach. The dialectical approach tells us that light and dark are defined against each other, so too, ordinary people need leaders, and leaders cannot lead unless there are ordinary people willing to support them, anything else is pure fantasy and romanticisation and is not telling the complete story.
It’s just plain wrong to compare the struggle of Ireland’s freedom fighters with the current situation in Iraq and thereby engender corresponding sympathy for the so-called ‘freedom fighters’ currently bombing and disrupting the formation of a democratic Iraq. The message of The Wind TSTB is if you kill people’s family and friends you’ve got to expect that there will be a reaction and that they will organize to kill you. There is nothing debatable about this but this is not the real story because we all know that at times people and culture operate in a tooth for a tooth kind of avenge manner, but this is different to having the right political conditions present to unleash a real movement for national sovereignty as occurred in Ireland after the murder of the courageous leaders of the 1916 uprising. (It was not so much that the people of Ireland necessarily supported the program of the rebels but that they reacted to the fact that many of the most prominent were all Court Martial-ed and shot)
Though Loach’s film makes it clear that the struggle for national rights was occurring alongside of the struggle for class rights it was again a superficial and opportunist handling of the question. For instance, there is a scene where the courts of the Free State are hearing a case against a money-lender who is extracting extortionate levels of interest for a loan given to an old woman who is refusing to pay.
When the court finds against the money-lender ordering him to pay money to the old woman, a split amongst the people at the court develops and the members of the Army say “wait on”, we want him to give us money for guns…This part of the film could have been illuminating but was very superficial and the court decision was presented as extremely whimsical and showing that they were not really ‘fit’ to decide.
The brutality of this film had a stunning effect on the audience but it was a lecture from a coward. In many ways it is this romanticisation of the idea of dying for one’s ‘principles’, Like a packet of Benson Hedges – where only the best will do – that renders the message of The Wind that shakes the Barley as poisonous as smoking that packet of Benson and Hedges!