Thursday, March 5, 2015

Evanston: Capt. Brown; BIRDMAN; the East India Company

        I had not  known of Capt. Eric Melrose Brown, nicknamed ‘Winkle’, until I happened upon a documentary about him on Netflix, MEMORIES OF A WWII HERO:  Captain Brown’s Story. 
        Born in 1919, Capt. Brown is still alive at age 96.  
        During WWII he was the Royal Navy’s chief test pilot.  He has flown more different types of aircraft than anyone and made more carrier landings. 
        Interviewed for the film two years ago, he was lucid, wry and charming at 93.
        The viewer realizes as various near fatal incidents are related, that Capt. Brown survived because he was a great natural pilot and because he possessed the judgement and ability to take instantly the only actions that could save him.
        More modestly, he attributes his survival to preparation—and where have you heard that before?—and his short height.  In one of his crashes, had he been taller, he says, he would have lost his legs.
        A very worthwhile hour film.


        We watched BIRDMAN two evenings ago.
        If this is the best movie of the year, then one must conclude that there were no good movies made last year.
        BIRDMAN is a Hollywood movie about Hollywood actors acting and thus appeals to Hollywood.  To name it as the best picture of the year is an act of monumental self-indulgence.
        Personally I find little sympathy for a movie star trying to make his life have meaning who considers ‘selling the Malibu house’ a great sacrifice for his ‘art.’
        There is more to the movie than that, but not much.
        It was two hours long.  
        It seemed much longer.

        A giant corporation with interests spanning the world.   Wealthier and more powerful than most governments.  A law unto itself.  Functioning beyond government control.  Using its wealth to influence government, buying elections and politicians.  Too big to fail.  But fail it does.  And is saved by a government bail-out.
        I could be describing current affairs, but I’m not.  I’m summarizing an informative long article in THE GUARDIAN by William Dalrymple, titled, “The East India Company:  The Original Corporate Raiders.”
        I have read several of William Dalrymple’s books, starting with his first, IN XANADU, written at age twenty-two when he crossed Asia seeking the ruins of Kubla Khan’s palace.  He is a fine writer.
        The East India Company was not a fine company, unless you care only about the bottom line, and of course no one is that shallow.
        The Company conquered and controlled and looted—as Dalrymple points out the word itself comes from India—what is modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  
        Five hundred years ago Vasco de Gama and Columbus initiated a seismic and cataclysmic shift in power, five hundred years of Western dominance that have run their course.
        William Dalrymple’s article provides insights into that dominance and asks some very pertinent as yet unanswered questions about “corporate influence, with its fatal mix of power, money and unaccountability.”
        This is a very long article, but worth the time.
        Don’t waste two hours on BIRDMAN.  Watch MEMORIES OF A WWII HERO and read this instead.