Friday, 30 October 2009

Marvel Disney’s Latest Buy

How many comic fans, particular lovers of Spider Man and the X- Men shuddered with horror at the news that Disney had announced it’s intentions to purchase comic giant Marvel. It certainly sent shockwaves through the movie industry since Marvel had not long entered the furore of movie making. On the coattails of its success with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios was viewed as a rapidly growing independent structure that did not need to be sold. That didn’t stop Marvel from willingly shaking hands on a shares and cash deal reported to be in the region of $4 Billion Dollars.

So what is there to be concerned about? Marvel may already be a commercial institution but at its heart it is still a name associated with comic books, the kind that you don’t pick up in your local W H Smith.

The best comics are found in small independent shops that specialise in nothing but comic books and graphic novels or if you frequent your local Forbidden Planet, the selection is even more content rich. Since Disney will have the rights to Marvel's 5000 strong library of materials these small independent outlets may find themselves pushed out of the market. It would mean that the further adventures of The Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Ghost Rider may end up lining the shelves of supermarkets everywhere or worse the dreaded Disney Store. Imagine Blade lined up next to Mickey Mouse; brrrrrrr.

Surely however this is just a knee jerk reaction and has little or no basis in truth. It is well known that Disney often appropriates other people’s stories and with a little magic makes them lighter and happier making the world such a fuzzy and swell place to live (does anybody else still cringe at the thought of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a happy ending). For one thing Disney may not necessarily be interested in the comic book market and instead concentrating on the pending film projects.

Consider this also. Warner Bros. Studios and DC Comics (the flexing brains behind the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) have enjoyed a lucrative partnership over the decades, but then Warner Bros. have the savvy to avoid the urge to tinker outside their field, and just concentrate on the films. The same may be true of Disney. After all the sale does not interfere with the distribution rights of Iron Man 2 and Captain America via Paramount.

I guess the real concern is that gone are the days of the intense drama, strong characters and sometimes disturbing qualities that make the Marvel comics popular and that its penchant for three dimensional story telling may be distilled and sacrificed by Team Mickey. Maybe but then  Disney also own Miramax Films, responsible for Kill Bill as well as action fodder such as Face Off and Con Air hitting the silver screens unscathed. It should also be noted that since Marvel is a healthy company growing from strength to strength it would have been unlikely that they would have been sold under such stifling terms that would see The Thing whisking Cinderella to the ball or Venom handing Snow White the poisoned apple (although the latter might be amusing).

Whilst the fear of big corporations snapping up every bit of intelligent literature and dictating to us how it should really be presented should resonate in the back of our minds, this move by Disney may be a little act of desperation. For a company that has the audacity to proclaim that its films are shown on “Disney DVD” or “Disney Blu-Ray” (SONY DEVISED BLU-RAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), it would be in more trouble than asking Rogue for some hands on healing, if Miramax and Pixar were to jump ship, since Disney’s only success outside these two entities has been High School Musical.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Day I Met An ANC Activist

I met and interviewed ANC political activist Denis Goldberg during a student rally in London on 15th February 1990, demonstrating against the student loans. It was a typical February day, overcast but dry and very cold. Myself and 2000 other young idealistic students (I was only 19 at the time) had already marched through the streets of the city of London before converging around a makeshift stage in Hyde Park.

Mr Goldberg was invited to speak to the crowd, not about student loans but about the recent developments in his home country of South Africa. A few days before, his leader and friend Nelson Mandela was released from Pretoria Prison, by President F.W. De Klerk. He must have been a little bit apprehensive about speaking to us since the speakers who preceded him (Labour MP Andrew Smith and Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes) had been booed and jeered off stage. Yet when his name was announced there was a roar of cheers. This humble unassuming man in his late fifties took to the stage and was greeted like a legendary rock star. I never knew who he was until one of the students in the crowd told me. I quickly realised that this would be my one chance to interview someone who played a part on what was soon to be the downfall of the Apartheid regime. His message, to start off with was simple;
“Mr Mandela asked me to say that the strings of the anti-apartheid movements and of the students were of tremendous support while he was in prison, believe me it was, I know too.”
Imagine what it must have felt like for a young person being delivered a message from Nelson Mandela. I know I felt a small shiver of excitement down my spine.

Mr Goldberg expressed a feeling of complacency following Mandela’s release which he saw as nothing more than a photo opportunity for President De Klerk to boost his credentials. With hindsight this must now seem a little disingenuous however if you consider that Mr Goldberg had been in prison for over twenty years and seen the torture and execution of his fellow countryman, perhaps he should be forgiven for expressing some cynicism. He was principally concerned however that those countries he saw as forced to impose sanctions (and in the case of Margaret Thatcher’s government, that may have been true) on South Africa, would now see De Klerk’s actions as reason enough to ease those sanctions. He called for continued pressure on De Klerk to make good on his promises, dismantle Apartheid and hold open elections for all. It is nice to look back at this knowing that all he had fought for came to being.

In my profile of him I made reference to Mr Goldberg’s recollection of being taunted by guards on the way to serving his four life sentences. This was taken from the speech at the demonstration during which he talked about the day of Mandela’s release and why it was so important that he walk from the prison and through the neighbouring villages.
“We saw tens of thousands of people ready again to welcome our great leader who had insisted upon walking out of the prison gates and we were told by the commentators that he wished to greet the people of the neighbouring towns, and I guess he did. But it was much more than that. When we arrived at the prison, after having been sentenced to four terms, if you please, of life imprisonment, prison guards and security police, said we would never walk out of the prisons again. We would leave when were carried out feet first in a coffin. Well Nelson Mandela after 27 years walked out of the prison on his two feet.”

After his speech I saw on opportunity to grab a few words from this great man. I was ready for the possibility that he might dismiss me since I was only a teenager and no doubt only had time for real reporters. I could not have been more wrong. I was the first to interview him and he was very accommodating. I placed my tape recorder between us and to this day I still remember shivering not just from the cold but feelings of intense nervousness conscious of this man before me and the journalists behind me, as I asked my first question. We spoke briefly about the reasons for De Klerk’s decisions and I asked him if he felt those reasons were genuine or just an opportunity to boost his public image. This was his reply:
“I think both things are true. He’s come to the point, because of sanctions, because of the pressures from inside our country that the system is in decline. As Nelson Mandela said “we can see it has failed” and he knows it has failed, De Klerk. What are his options? To go on shooting, to go on seeing the whole system collapse or does he release Nelson Mandela with the hope of genuine negotiations. From his point of view he has a vision of the future of South Africa. It’s not quite the vision of the ANC but we have to talk too many people have died.”

Later one of those reporters said to me that Mr Goldberg was very pleased that I wanted to speak with him as he had always valued the support and interest shown by young students. To say I was pleased with this would be an understatement.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

No Freedom for Rowling

Another former Bush Administration staffer seems to have "gone rogue" on his former Commander and Chief, in yet another release of a tell all book. Former speech writer, Matt Latimer in his book "Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor" makes many interesting revelations. However whilst these are not shocking there are one or two things he notes that would certainly raise an eyebrow and possibly a chuckle.

One such revelation is that Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling was in consideration for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award that acknowledges contributions to US national interest, world peace or cultural endeavours. Past recipients include Dr Benjamin Carson Sr, pediatric neurosurgeon, and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California (born in Hungary), who was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. Rowling however failed to win the prestigious award because some members of the administration believed that through her books, she promoted the practice of sorcery.

Now when you consider that Rowling went from an unknown author to one of the richest women in the world and is a genuine philanthropist, the US government would want to celebrate what they should have realised was the epitome of the American dream - even though she is not American. Instead they pander to a few narrow minded politicians and constituents whose thinking never made it past the seventeenth century. Yet they advocated the curtailing of their citizens' rights, urinated on their own constitution from a great height, and carried out acts of brutality and torture on sovereign lands.

Give me sorcery any day.