Be Water: a dull and over-long biography of global pop culture icon Bruce Lee

Bao Nguyen, “Be Water” (2020)

A stolid documentary, Bao Nguyen’s visual biography of global pop culture icon Bruce Lee is a conventional retelling of his life, starting with his birth in San Francisco in 1940 and his early years in Hong Kong as a child actor and his introduction to martial arts as a young teenager. Through the use of archived films and photographs, and interviews with people who knew Lee, “Be Water” follows Lee’s journey between two very different worlds that he was part of, and yet not part of, as his family sends him away to SF and then to Seattle for further education after the teenager gets involved in fighting other kids and runs afoul of Hong Kong police. Lee completes high school in Seattle in 1960 and later travels to Oakland to continue his martial arts training and to teach others, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. He is criticised by people in the SF Chinese community for teaching martial arts to non-Chinese students. He participates in martial arts exhibitions and comes to the attention of Hollywood producer William Dozier in 1964 who sees potential in Lee as an actor. This leads to a role as Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet” which lasted one season from September 1966 to March 1967. During this period Lee meets and marries Linda Lee Cadwell and they have two children, Brandon and Shannon.

From then on, Lee continues to develop his particular style of martial arts, which he called Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid art drawing from different martial arts and combat sports including boxing and fencing. In this, he was influenced by the examples of Muhammad Ali and other rising boxers of Ali’s generation, many of whom were African-American. He also appeared in other TV shows and worked as a stuntman and martial arts instructor to actors who sought him out. After being turned down for the lead role of the television series “Kung Fu” – the role went to David Carradine – Lee returns to Hong Kong on the advice of a Hollywood producer to make a film there that he could later show to Hollywood studio execs. Lee discovers that he is a huge star in HK where “The Green Hornet” was broadcast. Signing contracts with Golden Harvest and later forming his own production company, Lee makes three films “The Big Boss”, “Fist of Fury” and “Way of the Dragon” in which he is the lead actor: these films rocketed him to stardom across Asia.

The documentary can be very long and quite dull in its chronological layout, and for an in-depth work it does contain some inaccuracies about details of Lee’s life and some of the work he did. The concept for the “Kung Fu” television series was developed independently by three script-writers and Lee had been invited to audition for the show: Lee had independently developed his idea for a similar TV series “The Warrior” based around a martial arts practitioner but, contrary to what the documentary says, the “Kung Fu” series was not based on “The Warrior” though the two shows shared similar ideas. Despite the documentary’s heavy reliance on interviewees like Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell and their surviving child Shannon, and others close to Lee, the information about Lee’s philosophy that underpins Jeet Kune Do and its heterodox approach seems to have been cherry-picked and shoehorned into fitting the film’s agenda about Lee himself trying to find an identity in two societies and cultures that initially reject and then accept him. Lee’s own emphasis on being inclusive and how his adaptability and open-mindedness led him to become an innovator as a martial artist, actor, film-maker (director and script-writer) and philosopher are given short shrift. I have the impression that Lee himself regarded his path as a continuous work in progress, the “identity” of which would not and would never be complete until death, yet the film insists on imposing its own notions of what Lee was carving out for himself within the framework of identity politics.

While there is interesting information about past discrimination against Asian-Americans in US society and in Hollywood in particular, and how Asian-American people have been patronised by American culture as well-behaved and subservient minority American citizens (implying that African-American citizens are bad because they dare to protest at the discrimination they suffer), at the same time there is not enough information about Lee’s own impact on US popular culture and how his example and work influenced Hollywood beyond his death in 1973. How his work influenced his children – and many others – to follow in his foot-steps as actors and martial artists themselves is not discussed. In the wake of other film documentaries and other material about Bruce Lee’s life, this recent documentary adds very little that is new apart from pigeon-holing him as an Asian-American attempting to “bridge” two cultures..

A plot to take down Russian political activist in “Navalny: Fake Poisoning (Part 1: The Patient)” is unravelled

“Navalny: Fake Poisoning (Part 1: The Patient)” (Soloviev LIVE / Vesti News, 24 August 2021)

Presented by Alexander Sosnovsky and Sergei Karnaukhov, this very smooth and slick investigation traces in considerable detail the chronology of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny’s journey on that fateful day 20 August 2020 when he left his hotel in Tomsk accompanied by two aides Ilya Pakhomov and Kira Yarmysh and went to the airport in that city to catch an early morning flight back to Moscow. While on the bus to the airport, Navalny is recognised by bus passengers who take selfies on their mobile phones with him. Half an hour into that plane trip, he falls ill and the flight crew divert the plane to Omsk. Just before the plane lands, Omsk airport officials receive bomb threats but the plane is cleared to land. Omsk Hospital medical personnel rush to the airport and take Navalny to the hospital.

While doctors put Navalny into an induced coma and on a ventilator, take blood samples and conduct tests, and stabilise the patient, news flashes around the world that the activist has taken ill and almost immediately Western news media speculate that he has been poisoned with Novichok, a deadly nerve agent of organophosphate origins. Over the next few days, Navalny’s wife Julia demands that Navalny be transported to Berlin for treatment and Russian President Vladimir Putin gives permission for this to happen.

With recorded video statements from various medical workers who treated Navalny while rushing him to hospital and in the hospital itself, and from a police officer, Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov posit a narrative that suggests a plan to have Navalny fall ill on the plane and the plane forced to circulate above Omsk airport while Navalny’s condition deteriorates was in place. The behaviour of the people accompanying Navalny on the plane or associated with him while he was in Tomsk and then Omsk is very odd. In particular, Navalny associate Maria Pevchikh and two others immediately make their way to Navalny’s hotel in Tomsk, break into the room where he stayed and collect various items including three water bottles after seeing Yarmysh’s tweet on their mobile phones that Navalny has been poisoned. (Later, Pevchikh is photographed at Novosibirsk airport buying a water bottle from a vending machine with the exact same labels as the three bottles collected at the hotel.) Significantly the three people who collected the water bottles in Navalny’s hotel room refused to answer police questions during the police investigation and Pevchikh flew out of Russia and back to Britain.

Meanwhile the Omsk hospital doctors, consulting with doctors in Moscow, determine that Navalny is suffering from a metabolic disorder – a high amount of sugar is found in his blood samples – and treat him accordingly. Elsewhere in the program, Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov mention that Charite Hospital doctors treating Navalny in Berlin found lithium in his system and wrote a report which they submitted to the British medical journal The Lancet. The presenters note that lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder and depression and that an overdose of lithium can lead to confusion, fainting, seizures, coma and death. Combined with other substances, lithium can inhibit the action of cholinesterase (necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system) in the body.

The involvement of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who apparently found toxins in blood samples taken from Navalny by Charite Hospital doctors that were consistent with toxic chemicals in schedules 1.A.14 and 1.A.15 in the Annex on Chemicals to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in contrast to what doctors in Omsk and Moscow found; and various odd discrepancies in details regarding when the samples were collected, depending on whether the German doctors or the OPCW are making the claim, not to mention that the bomb threats to Omsk airport came from a server in Germany, might suggest that a plan to poison Navalny had already been in place some time – perhaps even weeks or months before – before Navalny went on his trip to Tomsk, and that various organisations such as the OPCW among others were under pressure to adhere to the plan. Somewhere in the elaborate establishment and running of the plan, the water bottles in Navalny’s hotel room disappear and the Novosibirsk vending machine water bottle turns up instead with supposed traces of Novichok.

Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov compare Navalny’s poisoning with the dioxin poisoning of then Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko during Ukraine’s presidential elections in 2004, and how that poisoning incident led to run-off elections which Yushchenko won, with the implication that Navalny’s poisoning was supposed to have set off a train of events that would result in Navalny somehow becoming Russian President eventually. (Leave aside the fact that Navalny enjoys little popularity in Russia and has no significant political backing.) At the end of the episode the two presenters promise that Part 2 will cover Navalny’s recovery and what happens when he leaves Charite Hospital in Berlin.

The value of an investigation such as this conducted by the television show “Soloviev LIVE” is in showing how an incident is conceived and planned, with propaganda supporting the plan is created and repeated across news media outlets, and how the plan depends on the various actors involved and/or drawn into the incident behave … and how the plan can rapidly fall apart when some of those actors don’t play their part as ordained. Whichever parties make such plans seem arrogant enough to assume that people will behave in certain patterns and follow certain paths, simply because those patterns and paths would be what the planners themselves would follow. Apart from a few technical details – the constant flashing of “Patient” throughout the program is annoying, even though this title card is used to help structure the program’s chapter-by-chapter presentation – this episode is very professional and appears thorough in its investigation. The presenters put forward facts and details with no apparent visual or audio bias (though they finger the lithium as the cause of Navalny’s poisoning and collapse) and leave viewers to make up their own minds.

Becoming Bond: an affable light comedy biography of one-time James Bond actor

Josh Greenbaum, “Becoming Bond” (2017)

Part-fictional comedy re-enactment, part-biography, this is a very affable review of Australian actor George Lazenby’s early life up to and including the period when he played James Bond in the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, one of the most beloved and esteemed films in the entire James Bond series of spy movies. It takes the structure of an extended interview with Lazenby himself in which he talks about his childhood, his relationships with girlfriends from early in his adolescence onwards, and his early career as a car salesman, paralleled by re-enactments of significant moments of his life when opportunities out of the blue fall into his lap and he seizes them because they seem like fun and promise adventure. The film moves leisurely – perhaps a bit too leisurely, because the main reason I imagine people would watch this film is to find out how a former car salesman manages to land the movie role of the century with no acting experience or qualifications, and what qualities he must have had to land such a role – with an air of bemused bedazzlement which one imagines Lazenby carried with him during those heady days in the 1960s when he moved to London in pursuit of a girlfriend, took up modelling and through sheer accident met a movie agent who put him in contact with the producer and director of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Split into thirteen chapters, each one with a title that spoofs a James Bond film, the film rolls its way through Lazenby’s various escapades, all illustrated with Lazenby’s droll reminiscences which may be true or not. While the film doesn’t drill deep down into Lazenby’s psychology and motivations for doing the things he does, the impression that for Lazenby, life is a big adventure that you roll with is strong. Of course the big moment when Lazenby explains why he walked away from the Bond films after completing “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” eventually comes and Lazenby’s reason, which may be self-justification on his part, seems quite reasonable given the way his early life has unfolded so far: he’s a man who’ll try anything once but never more than once, a man who can’t and won’t be tied down to meeting others’ expectations. After a fitful acting career, Lazenby returns to Australia, becomes involved in real estate investment and goes through two marriages (the second of which was to famous US tennis player Pam Shriver) with two sets of children.

The hokey re-enactment of Lazenby’s early years in Australia and London, in which Australia in the 1940s-50s appears as romanticised kitsch and people in London drive cars with the steering wheel mounted on the left-hand side of the vehicle, is marred by awkward and inconsistent acting from Josh Lawson playing Lazenby. Jane Seymour as the movie agent is the stand-out of the cast in the re-enactment scenes.

The film might have worked better if the narrative were more streamlined and less meandering, at the cost perhaps of one of its themes: that of its protagonist’s life as a Great Australian Yarn of tall stories, opportunities that fall out of the sky into his lap and how, through all the adventures he has, he manages to remain a simple and basically well-meaning character with simple, down-to-earth values. Lazenby may not be particularly profound, his early ignorance can be jaw-dropping and his treatment of his girlfriends leaves much to be desired. Yet he appears to have intuited when people are trying to exploit him and own him, and to walk away from what could have been his ruin despite the fame and wealth that beckoned. Of course the reality was different: his agent convinced him that the Bond films had run their course and were becoming outdated.

The film works as light entertainment rather than as a straight biography or documentary and viewers must not expect to take it seriously.

Chinese Doctors Changing Africa’s Healthcare: the challenges of working in impoverished and alien environments

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 4: Doctors for Africa)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

A very good episode in the “China / Africa Big Business” series from the South African company Sabido Productions, this looks at two teams of doctors working in Zanzibar and a city in Angola. The first and third parts of the documentary follow the team working in a hospital in Stone Town on Zanzibar Island, how they deal with the challenges of working in impoverished conditions, communicating with patients and student doctors who speak a different language from theirs, and coping with homesickness, isolation and being separated from their families. The middle part of the documentary follows the team in Angola: there, the doctors also have to confront the reality of working in a country devastated by decades of civil war, chaos and destroyed infrastructures, as well as communicating with and helping patients and local staff in the hospital they have been assigned to. These doctors also have to adjust quickly to the difficult local conditions in which they have to work.

Interviews with individual Chinese doctors and specialists help viewers understand and appreciate the trials of being a doctor working in a busy and often overcrowded and under-resourced hospital in a poor country. Voice-over narration fills in the context behind the challenges the Chinese doctors have to face. At the same time, the interviewees emphasise what motivates them to keep going under difficult conditions: in particular, they talk about how the patients are grateful for their help. African interviewees stress the professionalism of the doctors they consult.

As with previous episodes of this series I have seen, the cinematography (which often emphasises close-ups of faces and picturesque scenes, and tracks the doctors going about their tasks) is excellent. The only technical problem with this episode is that often the narration is forced to compete with ambient background noises for listeners’ attention, and parts of the documentary have to be replayed to pick up information that is missed as a result. Apart from this issue, I’d recommend this episode to viewers interested in learning how China uses its recently acquired wealth and technical expertise to assist other nations, especially poor nations, in improving people’s lives.

How is US pop culture used against Venezuela? – a punchy sketch of US propaganda in action

Ricardo Vaz, Joshua Wilson, Mayra Soto, “How is US pop culture used against Venezuela?” (Tatuy TV / Venezuelanalysis, 21 June 2021)

At less than five minutes in length, this may be a very tiny documentary but it is punchy all the same. This video is a sketch of how Venezuela is demonised in American popular culture products such as videogames, movies and television shows, and showcases offensive examples like Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series, Fox’s “Legends” and even NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” comedy series. In these products, the most egregious (and tired) stereotypes are planted over and over: Chavez or Maduro as a dictator, or Venezuela as a repressive place where people are thrown into jail without trail for being journalists or for having fun at the wrong time.

A major part of the film is taken up with action videogames like “Call to Duty: Ghosts” in which Venezuela is portrayed as having acquired nuclear weapons or malevolently infiltrating other South American nations to form an evil empire to menace the Free World. Players of these games assume the roles of mercenaries or covert agents to seek out and kill the Venezuelan President or some thinly disguised version of the President.

The film-makers observe that Hollywood colludes with the US government in making these films and videos though they spend little time on observing the effects of this visual propaganda and its repetition on the Western general public. One can assume though that this propaganda, repeated often enough, and produced in huge quantities, is intended to prime Western audiences to accept a US-led invasion of Venezuela in the near future and to urge young American people in particular to join the US military. A more detailed documentary is needed though to analyse the nature of Hollywood’s collusion with the US government and its various agencies including the CIA and the Department of Defense, and how the flood of pop culture propaganda shapes popular attitudes towards Venezuela and US policies toward Venezuela.

The film concludes on a surprisingly bright note by demonstrating how popular Chavez and his Venezuelan brand of socialism have been among Venezuelan people themselves and among the poor in other countries. One can’t help but see how vibrant and lively Venezuelan culture has become since 1999 and how dull, unimaginative and banal US pop culture propaganda products are in comparison.

Combating terrorist infiltration and brainwashig in “The War in the Shadows: Challenges of Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang”

“The War in the Shadows: Challenges of Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang” (China Global Television Network, 2021)

Part of a series of documentaries produced by China Global Television Network on the history and nature of terrorism in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China, this exposé examines the ways in which people, usually children, teenagers and young adults, are exposed to and radicalised by extremist religious networks linked to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) / Islamic Party of Turkistan which preaches a fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology and urges young people to wage “jihad” against Xinjiang authorities with the aim of overthrowing the government in that region and establishing an independent East Turkistan based on a strict interpretation of Shari’a law. The documentary is structured in four parts: the first part “The Networks” outlines how various terrorist incidents that have occurred in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, over several years are linked as they have been carried out by people adhering to the same ideology and who are part of the same underground networks; the second part “Enemies Within” looks at how individuals affiliated with the ETIM infiltrated Xinjiang’s police and security forces; the third part “The Textbooks” examines how the ETIM infiltrated school textbook publishing in both the Uygur and Mandarin languages; and the fourth part “The Black Hands” details how the ETIM attracts young people’s attention through social media and websites.

Based on interviews with senior police, education officials and former jihadist fighters (some of whom have come to regret their radicalisation and involvement with terrorist groups), the documentary provides much detail into the sophisticated methods used by the ETIM and affiliated groups to manipulate youngsters’ thinking and lure them into their ranks to carry out bomb attacks or to travel overseas to train and fight as jihadis with ISIS, with the aim of returning to Xinjiang and fighting the authorities there. At times the documentary goes very deep into particular business and other schemes cooked up by individuals seeking power or influence over others and which initially appear not to have much relation to the overall themes and messages of how the authorities found and eliminated, or are still eliminating, separatist jihadi infiltration and influence.

Astute viewers cannot fail to notice that the people fighting ETIM infiltration and influence themselves are Uygurs loyal to Beijing, and that they believe very strongly in using reconciliation and trust to reconnect lost young souls with society through psychological counselling and other methods in a prison setting. One may presume that prisons are also providing young people with education and work skills. By emphasising what the authorities are doing to combat religious extremism, separatism and the brainwashing of young people, and how they are bringing former jihadis back into society, the documentary ends with a positive (if a bit sappy) outlook.

The documentary says very little about ETIM itself, how large the organisation may be and where and how it formed. Viewers wanting to know the history of the organisation, how global it may be and where it gets its funding and other resources, are directed to read F William Engdahl’s article “The Truth behind China’s ‘Uyghur Problem'” at this link, and this report posted online by The Grayzone Project exposing the ETIM’s links to Al Qaeda and the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, no less.

Life in the Day of Aliya Mustafina: a beautifully made if insubstantial short documentary

Glen MacKay, “Life in the Day of Aliya Mustafina” (2020)

Since 2009 when she joined the Russian senior national women’s gymnastics team, Aliya Mustafina has become a much loved representative of women’s gymnastics across the world for her quiet and stoic demeanour and her determination to continue in gymnastics for as long as she loves the sport in spite of many setbacks, injuries and the trend towards more athleticism and acrobatic stunts, often at the expense of execution, precision and grace, in the sport. The overwhelming dominance of US gymnast Simone Biles, not to mention Biles’ own competition in the US itself – competition such as Morgan Hurd, Kara Eaker, Sunisa Lee and, making a comeback, Chelsie Memmel – overshadows Mustafina and the rest of the Russian national team in a sport increasingly crowded with countries all vying for prestige in women’s gymnastics and making large investments in that sport. So it is a surprise then that film-maker Glen Mackay has seen fit to make a somewhat dream-like and poetic documentary about Mustafina as she goes about her life in 2020, training for the Tokyo Olympic Games, postponed to 2021, which are very likely to be Mustafina’s last significant competition before retirement.

Mustafina is certainly not the first gymnast still in training who is a mother – Oksana Chusovitina has been performing at world and Olympic championship level since 1992 to earn money to pay for her son’s leukaemia treatment, and Chellsie Memmel is also a mother – and many other female gymnasts like Mustafina have also carved out long careers in the sport since the early 1990s. Watching the documentary, I must admit I did not see much in the sparse and rather banal portrayal of Mustafina’s daily routine at the sports training centre in Moscow where she lives from Monday to Friday. A major part of the reason is that the documentary focuses completely on Mustafina and her voice-over description of her day from dawn to dusk, and that description does not say a great deal. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that was in place in Moscow at the time of filming may have had a great deal to do with the sparse bare-bones portrayal: when Mustafina trains in the gym, there is no-one else (not even her coach) there. Even when she gets Saturday afternoon off and goes to her parents’ home to look after her daughter Alisa (born 2017), her parents are absent. The film says nothing about Mustafina’s ex-husband and Alisa’s father Alexey Zaitsev.

While the film is beautifully made, the camera clearly in love with Mustafina’s soulful eyes, angelic profile and alabaster skin, it does not tell us much about Mustafina’s life and the sacrifices she has had to make to continue in the sport. There is nothing about what conflicts or criticisms Mustafina must have faced in continuing in gymnastics as a single mother. Mustafina moves about in a Moscow miraculously emptied of people and traffic as she goes for her daily afternoon run. We hear no opinions about Mustafina and what she has achieved for gymnastics and Russian gymnastics in particular from her coaches, her parents, Zaitsev or other people in the gymnastics community. Nor do we know what the general public thinks about gymnastics and Mustafina. All we know is that Mustafina continues to compete in the sport because she is wholly focused on it and because she wants her daughter to be proud of her. Without the context of other significant people in Mustafina’s life able to comment on her decisions, and not knowing much about the state of Russian gymnastics and why it still relies on a few big names like Mustafina as a role model to maintain its popularity in Russia, even as she becomes something of an old warhorse, viewers might justifiably conclude that Mustafina is either selfish or unrealistic. It may all be very well for Mustafina to keep going but one wonders what her life will be like after gymnastics – the film gives the impression that her life revolves completely around the sport, at least while she is away from Alisa.

Perhaps when Mustafina has retired from the sport, a fuller and more informative documentary about her life in the sport, what motivated her to continue in spite of her injuries and the hard work involved, and what joys she found in gymnastics and will find in her future life with Alisa, might be made. Something of what inspires the human spirit to persevere and to find fulfillment and connection with others – it is significant that Mustafina mentions that she enjoys competing against Americans Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, despite their very different styles as gymnasts, and that the three are friends – might become more prominent.

Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine): over 30 medical experts warn of the dangers of Covid-19 vaccines

Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine)(Oracle Films, 7 December 2020)

Banned on Facebook and Youtube, this film features over thirty doctors plus a nurse, a pharmacist, an acupuncturist and a journalist all advising caution to the public in accepting COVID-19 vaccinations or urging people to avoid them outright. The medical experts who speak out against the vaccines are based in North America and various European nations. Each doctor introduces himself or herself, provides a little background information about himself/herself and then explains why s/he opposes the vaccinations. The doctors are very eloquent and appeal to people’s ability to reason and to make choices. Several doctors say that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has never been isolated and proven to exist, and that the PCR tests used to determine if someone has had contact with the virus are flawed. A few claim that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.

With well over 30 health experts all expressing their opinions on the disease, the virus, the lockdowns and restrictions that have been invoked by governments around the world to deal with the pandemic, the film is bound to be rather repetitive. Several doctors verge on sounding very much like conspiracy theorists. We do not learn their views on vaccination itself as a tool in disease prevention or mitigation strategies. One doctor (Barre Lando) tells of his experiences in dealing with children affected by vaccination injuries and the pharmacist Sandy Lunoe warns that pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines have taken out legal indemnities with law courts to block any future litigation attempts against them over the COVID-19 vaccines.

Perhaps the most alarming opinions expressed are those of Dr Hilde de Smet who says that pharmaceutical corporations have been trying to develop coronavirus vaccines for 20 years and have tested them on animals with the result that many animals end up with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, and of Dr Elke de Klerk who states that the vaccines may cause sterility in women and girls, and change people’s DNA. Professor Konstantin Pavlidis believes the vaccines may result in neurological side effects. Throughout the film doctors express reservations about the speed with which COVID-19 vaccines, several of which are based on very new technologies, are being rushed and approved by governments in spite of several trials generating unusual and sometimes severe side effects or the trials themselves being of dubious worth because of suspect research design.

The film may need to be played few times for audiences to digest the most important information in several of the interviews. Some doctors are not too clear and a few could have been advised to take some elocution lessons! In spite of its repetitive nature, the film does express viewpoints that are beyond the pale for mainstream news and specialist media, and a message throughout the film is that people can find and do research on the topic of COVID-19 and how it is spread.

Breaking an individual to intimidate others in “Not In Our Name: The Psychological Torture of Julian Assange”

John Furse, “Not In Our Name: The Psychological Torture of Julian Assange” (July 2020)

Making good use of archived video material and photographs, current news reels and interviews with mental health experts and former Ecuadorian diplomatic personnel, this timely documentary makes an excellent case for investigative journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange having been harassed, humiliated and bullied over the past decade, not just by governments but also by media outlets that turned on him, to the extent that his treatment past and present constitute torture as defined by the UN. The film looks at various forms of known psychological torture and applies UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer’s definition of the phenomenon to Assange’s case, using examples to demonstrate its argument.

The video is broken up into segments on the basis of the various types and characteristics of psychological torture. In each segment that deals with a particular aspect of such torture, the film finds an example in Assange’s life that conforms to the characteristics of a type of mental torture, such as learned helplessness and hopelessness, constant slander of his reputation, and sensory deprivation and isolation. Many such examples in Assange’s life turn out to conform to several different types of torture at once: trashing his reputation, impugning him as a rapist and narcissist, is not so very different from actual physical isolation and alienation. Constant fear and anxiety about your place in society, and whether people might be inclined to be hostile, even violent towards you, can have a huge bearing on your physical health. At the time this video was made, Assange was being held at Belmarsh Prison in London, itself hit hard by the SARS-CoV-2 disease and there are very real fears that he is extremely susceptible to the disease’s worst ravages due to his psychological state having an impact on his physical health.

The film does its homework very well, interviewing a former Ecuadorian diplomat, and following Assange’s biological father John Shipton to rallies and Nils Melzer at conferences. Clinical psychologist Lissa Johnson, a strong supporter of Assange, puts forward powerful arguments that Assange’s treatment by Swedish and British authorities amount to bullying and psychological torture – and physical torture to boot, as constant stress, anxiety and fear about what the future will bring combine to lower a person’s immunity to disease in the long term. Most interviewees are very co-operative and willing to be interviewed about Assange and what he is supposed to have done or engaged in.

The video runs at a steady pace, not too slow or too fast, and viewers will get a clear view of just how determined the US and UK governments are to make an example of Julian Assange, how prepared they are to harass him and break his body and his spirit, to intimidate other journalists and reporters and force them to self-censor and stay away from questioning authority and speaking truth to power. By exposing UK / US imperialism in all its ugliness and viciousness through his work in leading Wikileaks and publishing information provided by sources such as Chelsea Manning (herself subjected to past torture and present harassment), Assange crossed an invisible red line for which he is being punished constantly. John Furse has made a very impassioned work whose importance cannot be doubted.

The Mythical North Korean Threat: how the US exploits North-South Korean tensions for its own benefit

Carlton Meyer, “The Mythical North Korean Threat” (Tales of the American Empire, 26 June 2020)

Amazingly in this admittedly short (eight-minute) video there’s no mention of North Korea’s nuclear defence program among the DPRK’s other defence strategies and military capabilities which for the most part are very poor. The video pivots on the US need to keep North and South Korea divided so as to maintain its iron grip on South Korea as a vassal state. To that end, the US built its largest offshore military base, Camp Humphreys, at a location some 40 miles south of Seoul to house up to 30,000 soldiers and their families. The base includes primary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school, and a number of fast food franchises are located there as well, to judge from photographs and film featured in the video.

The video pulls apart the propaganda, constantly repeated in Western mainstream news media, that North Korea poses a major danger to both South Korea and the US, and that current DPRK leader Kim Jong-un is a crazed despot. Far from it, the video tells us that Kim was educated at a private school in Switzerland, speaks English well, loves US basketball and has a physics degree. Kim also knows what his country’s armed forces are capable of, and not capable of. The DPRK’s army is made up of agricultural labourers who spend more time working in the fields than maintaining their weapons and equipment; consequently what weapons and military materiel the North Koreans have are in poor condition. Meyer might have added the reason for this state of affairs: due to economic sanctions imposed on North Korea since the 1950s, not to mention the devastation the Korean War brought to the country (some 20% of the population died during the war and every major city was ruined), North Korea has no agricultural machinery or the tools to make such machinery, and farming is highly labour-intensive.

South Korea turns out to be a far more powerful nation than North Korea, militarily and economically, and North Korea well knows the punishment the ROK could dish out if it dared to invade its neighbour. Indeed, many South Koreans realise that the Americans are not needed and demonstrations against the US presence in South Korea are common. The question is why the US continues to stay in South Korea. The video makes clear that in both the US and South Korea, political and military elites profit from the spending (running into the billions of US dollars) that US military occupation enables in South Korea. What perhaps is not clear in the video (its major failing) is the geopolitical value of South Korea as a threat to China and Russia in its far eastern region.

The real eye-opener in this video is the existence of Camp Humphreys and the huge size of the base: a family could easily live there for an entire lifetime and never set foot outside the base. Its shops and facilities however have a generic and soulless look about them: one would never know that it is located in South Korea as everything about the place – its buildings, their design, the shops there, the people who live and work there – does not acknowledge the culture of the host nation. The impression I have is that the camp exists mainly to provide employment for Americans – indeed, actual military personnel make up a minority of all Americans employed at Camp Humphreys – and for US companies to profit from by providing services and goods that resident military families need.

While this video is very informative, I did have a feeling that some information about North Korea might need updating. In recent years, North Korea has experienced some prosperity, along with some relaxation of restrictions on North Korean citizens and private enterprise being allowed. The video relied mainly on old film and not very recent photographs to portray Kim, the North Korean military and life generally in the DPRK. Perhaps at a future time the video might be updated to include more current information about this reclusive nation.