Film

Mavis!

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Mavis! is an enjoyable, feel-good documentary that depicts the successful and ongoing career of soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples. The documentary follows Staples as she tours and reminisces about her remarkable career. It includes archival footage of her family group The Staple Singers performing in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Although the film’s main focus is on the musical career of Mavis rather than the political activism of the Civil Rights era in which she and her family were centrally involved, it does touch on the friendship between Mavis’s father and Martin Luther King.

Welcome to Leith

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Welcome to Leith is a feature-length documentary which chronicles the struggle of the residents of Leith, North Dakota, to rid the town of a white supremacist.

Leith is a tiny, quiet town of just 24 people. Everything changes in May 2012 when Craig Cobb, described as one of the top five white supremacists in the US, moves into town.

He begins to acquire plots of land as part of his surreptitious plan to turn Leith into a whites-only community to preserve the Aryan race.

Trumbo

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If you trace the so-called principles of the Labour MPs who voted to bomb Iraq — and who will no doubt soon vote to renew Trident — their slug-trail invariably leads to Washington. Right-wing Labour MPs are brand ambassadors for US imperialism. They simply take it for granted that in any situation America will be the good guys. The Labour right really does believe that America is the “land of the free”.

This month a new movie and newly published book help to remind us just what total piffle this view of America is.

The Danish Girl

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The visibility of trans people has taken great leaps in the past couple of years. The release of The Danish Girl is well timed to continue that trend.

Lili Elbe was born Einar Wegener in 1882. Einar became an award winning painter of rather restrained landscapes. She died aged 49, legally a woman, with a passport in the name Lili Elbe, after undergoing five experimental operations for gender confirmation.

Spotlight

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It’s not that we aren’t aware of scandals and cover-ups around paedophilia and the Catholic church. And in Britain the Jimmy Savile scandal demonstrated that it isn’t only the Catholic church which is involved in the institutionalised covering-up of child abuse.

The film Spotlight isn’t simply telling the story of yet more poor, working class children being abused by Catholic priests in Boston over a period of 30 or 40 years, although that itself would justify the telling of it.

Grandma

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A day which starts with a full-on screaming breakup with your partner, followed by a serious bout of panic, will not be enhanced by an unexpected visit from your granddaughter who needs $600 by the end of the day.

Sunset Song

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Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song is a crushingly beautiful book that every socialist should read. Terence Davies’s beautiful film adaptation does the novel full justice.

Set in rural north east Scotland around the outbreak of the First World War, it couples a brutal realism — of back-breaking labour, women’s oppression and the devastation of war — with an incredible sense of the moments of beauty in life.

Carol

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Todd Haynes’s themes of sexual outsiders and repressive social mores have seen him associated with the New Queer Cinema — a trend which redefines cultures of sexual transgression.

Goya: recorder of turbulent times

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In 1814 Francisco Goya, who was almost 70 years old, was commanded to paint the portrait of the restored king of Spain, Ferdinand VII. Ferdinand’s father, Charles IV, had appointed him first court painter to the king 15 years earlier.

Since then there had been a furious battle in Spanish society over the direction of the state. Goya was in a perfect position to record these tumultuous shifts.

There were few secure career paths open to a painter at that time. Goya had been an ambitious provincial artist and he moved to the capital, Madrid, at the first opportunity.

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