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Arrived in Manchester yesterday after the train was delayed by over an hour. Got the key to our house, chose a bedroom and proceeded to indulge in a riot of silliness with my little sisters before traipsing off to the city centre to get bedsheets and stuff. Unfortunately, there was too much stuff to get, so I'm leaving most of it for tomorrow and Tuesday. So far, I've only met one of our surprise flatmates and luckily she seems quite nice, though clearly prefers her own company which is fine. The other guy - named Giovanni and yes, he's actually Italian - is apparently very easy going so all in all, that bodes well for the rest of the year.

Managed to scan in the comics for the student newspaper by the given deadline. As it happened, by the time I'd found a scanner (which was far more of a trial than it sounds thanks to the library still running on it's holiday timetable), it turned out that one of the arranged articles (about teetotal freshers) had been dropped so I hastily sketched a more relevant comic to the replacing aritcle (about the difficulties of finding an identity for the modern man) and sent that over to the editors as well. They still liked the 'dropped' comic and decided not to use the hastily sketched one (though I rather like the crappiness). I believe they've chosen the second one, which isn't nearly as funny to me as the 'dropped' one, or as 'The Only Two'-ish as the sketchy one. Compromise is King, I suppose, though I shall have to see how I can work my 'issue-ist' agenda into the newspaper more often.

Unfortunately, it'll be some three weeks before I can bring up my own scanner. Until then I will have to make do with the old Epsom ones in the computer cluster that are even worse than the scanners in my old school - they manage to show up flaws you weren't even aware existed and seem to interprete 'grayscale' to mean 'a manky sort of bluescale'.

Otoh, this terrible experience might relieve me of my dependence on pencils (as it's mostly the rubbed out pencil marks which contribute most to the awful quality of the scans), and get me used to straight-to-pen drawing. We shall see. It's only for three editions after all.

Now I'm all on my lonesome (sort of), with my beloved little sisters hurtling back Londonwards on a train and a depressingly long shopping list by my side. I'd like to think we had a thoroughly good time today - we were exhausted for a lot of yesterday which cut down our walkabout of Manchester - firstly at the Manchester Museum (which is such an odd jamboree of all things scholarly, I always liken it to a Victorian gentleman's chest of curiosities. There are dinosaur skeletons, live snake, frog and lizard enclosures, a plethora of stuffed animals and Ancient Egyptian mummies. The eclectic sholarliness is just insane!) and then around the shopping centre. My loving hatred of American Apparel has been successfully rekindled as has my littlest sister's obscene love for it.

Went to see District 9 on Friday with my ever trustworthy partner-in-crime, [ profile] athenethequeen. I'm afraid my opinion is going to be boringly enthusiastic - it is a very good film. The performances are excellent, the effects are breathtaking (the detail on the Prawns reminds me of those close ups of insects which you could only ever see in an Attenborough documentary) and the storyline engaging - ie, no excessive amounts of idiocy required for one to believe it. The characters relate to each other like normal... sentient beings (EDIT: odd to think that saying 'human' would be rather un-PC. That's how good a film it is!) and the backstory is suitably realistic and engaging.

It's strange to think that when I first heard about the film, a lot of people were describing it as an allegory for apartheid, but it really isn't (the arrival of the Prawns takes place perhaps a year or two either side of the fall of enforced apartheid in South Africa. I'm going for before, if only because the whole concept of District 9 is just the sort of thing a conservative South African government would come up with) - after all, it's not as if the aliens are consistently fenced off from human society; on the contrary, you get a rather interesting scenario (and I'll admit I'm a linguistic geek enough that this intrigued me more than the actual story to the point where if it was an even slightly worse film, I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on) where not only do both species live alongside one another in the shanty town of District 9, but human and alien communication is possible, in spite of the complete disparity between the languages and vocal capabilities of either species. The reason this intrigued me more than it amused/annoyed me was that there were still obvious language barriers which the director was good enough to portray (dedication to realism covers a multiple of sins when it comes to sci-fi for me), rather than opt for the all too easy 'computer translators/advanced linguistic programs' or something which would have given us american-accented bipedal crustaceans.

Anyway, before I get too distracted, it's clear that if there's any allegory for a contemporary issue, it's that of immigration and how populations and governments deal with large influxes of alien peoples. Although it is the attitudes of fictional South Africans that are portrayed, the silence of the International Community is a wonderful comment on how humanitarian crisis' are dealt with today. The G8, G20 and UN favourite nations can wag their fingers and pay lip service to humanitarian values all they like but they will happily sit back and let smaller nations take the fall when it comes to the practical aspects of distributing aid. Despite having pressured the South African government to provide for the alien population, it is telling that one never hears if any other First World/ANC nations have even offered to take some of the aliens in.

Before I saw the film, I read [ profile] apiphile 's review where she compared it to 'Children of Men', one of the few sci-fi dystopian films that I have ever completely enjoyed. 'Pretty tall order', I thought but for the most part, it's true that 'District 9' does not shy away from portraying the darkness of humanity - whether physical as in the case of van de Merwe's physical transformation, or societal - when under stress. I am ridiculously squeamish so the scenes that included fingernails and teeth dropping out, pain-threshold experimentation, excretion of black alien fluid via mouth etc, and in fact, any scene where there was something that could be used as a weapon within sight (so... basically every scene in the entire film) had me covering my eyes and squealing. This wasn't nearly so embarrassing as it might sound because there were only seven of us - at most - in the cinema watching the film, and [ profile] athenethequeen  was holding onto the chair arm pretty tightly so it wasn't just me (...).

There were some minor drawbacks to the film, the main one being the documentary styled opening which promised some interesting 'Cloverfield' style story-telling (I love it when you don't really know what's going on, or you do, but the characters in the film don't) but understandably fell apart once you get the Prawn's storyline started. Being a bit thick, at the first scene with the Prawns searching for more alien fluid, I almost wondered if the film were actually some dramatisation of the 'events' behind the departure of the mothership, which would have made 'District 9' even more mind-blowing, but I was wrong. In that sense, 'District 9' can be seen as somewhat weaker than 'Children of Men', where the story is simply played out more traditionally, leaving the audience to pick up what clues they can along the way. There are some golden moments of 'a-ha!' in store for the audience (well, me), demonstrating the skill of the director in dropping enough background info without a character having to sit down and lecture us about it, but I suppose they're downplayed by the exposition of the documentary - which might have worked better at the end of the film.

[Speaking of the end, and this is not a criticism but merely personal preference, it was not nearly bleak enough! Dammit, I want to feel like crying after a film like that, like shaking every single bumpkin I see on the street reading the Daily Mail, screaming at them that they don't understand what's going on in the world, nor the inner darkness of humanity... *rasps* I do, however, have an embarrasingly wide sentimental streak and will admit that sweetly naive alien children shouldn't have to die to satisfy my taste for the melancholic...]

Conversely - because the truth is I think the film worked just fine as it was - maybe I only feel that way because there was a point in the film where the various plotlines were allowed to develop without cutting back to a scene of the documentary/real time footage and it wasn't until the end that the documentary suddenly rushed back in (which was actually quite touching). It just seemed a bit uneven. Otoh, any other way and I'd still have something to say about it.

Now for the racism.

Alright, now two things. Yes, the portrayal of the Nigerian gangsters is bad enough to raise eyebrows (or both in [ profile] athenethequeen 's case). Yes, it makes sense when one learns that much of South Africa's organised crime is headed by Nigerian gangs - something about Obasanjo and his nefarious gangsters rather reminded me of Victorian portrayals of slum-dwelling Jews (Fagin, anyone?), later stereotypes about Irish gangsters and 20's cliches about Italian-Americans. It's still problematic, particularly as it's based on certain horrible aspects about modern Nigerian - and indeed African - society as a whole. Yes, there are still power hungry people who indulge in fetishes which include sacrificing certain groups of people. Otoh, most of the practitioners are male (so goodybe Victorian Calypso-style fantasy 'Vodun' priestess) and most of the people who indulge in such rituals are distinctly upper class (so goodbye bloodthirsty savage African male dressed in bloodstained second hand army gear), even in South Africa, I'd imagine.

In short, if any Nigerian gets really offended by this film, let them roar; if they're not, then you might have an interesting conversation about the bastardisation of odinani religion. It is offensive, even if it's based on a truth.

EDIT: According to the film's Wikipedia page, the alien mothership arrived in 1982, twelve years before the fall of apartheid. Not to say that humans aren't fucked up at the best of times, but it makes the experimentation of the Prawns and the lack of coalition with the Joburg blacks all the more plausible.

EDIT II: And here's a post from Racialicious which delves more deeply into the racism, but also picks apart some logic  problems that I ignored. On one of her points, I will counter that unless there's some sort of mental-depressant that works on Prawns, it makes a sort of sense that they weren't taken as hostages and forced to use their weapons by the government/gangsters/etc. Who knows what it takes for them to flip.

So, to sum up, 'District 9' is very very good. The jarring shift between documentary, realtime footage and traditional narrative is easily smoothed over by the pace and emotional potency of the film. There are indeed race issues, but not of the kind which are deserving of a boycott.

You can, of course, do so anyway, but then you'd miss out on an opportunity to blog about it.

Mood:: 'but happy at the same time...' but happy at the same time...


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