A History of a land without a country

The Basques; whether you believe them to be part of a region of another country, or, as some do, to be a country within a country, certainly have a unique identity. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, seeing Basque flags in republican areas, this strange banner which, to you appears like a union jack with different colours, certainly does make an impression on you. This particular reviewer has had an admittedly bizarre fascination with this strange land for many years which, in turn, lead to a fascination with Spanish history, particularly the Spanish civil war and the parallels with the Irish civil war a decade earlier.

This particular reviewer also became aware of the unfortunate and morbid parallels of the Basque Country and ETA’s terrorist war with the Spanish government and the history of “the troubles”. Originally this book had been purchased prior to a trip to that self same disputed piece of land, and having leant it to someone who did not return it, only recently became reacquainted with this excellent book when it was given by a friend as a birthday present.

The Basque History of the World tends to, for the most part, stay away from the modern day conflict and the hard edged subject of ETA’s campaign against what it might see as it’s Spanish oppressors. And indeed it is all the better for this. Instead the book looks at the impact that Basques, both collectively and individually has had on the world. The areas covered tend to vary from the fishermen who it is claimed discovered America long before Columbus to the saint who the Basques can claim as their very own; namely the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius de Loyola, to symbols which are important to the Basques including the ancient symbol of the old oak tree which lies in the middle of the town of Guernica. Indeed it was no coincidence that Franco chose the town of Guernica to unleash the horror of, the Luftwafe bombing.

The book stretches back at various points throughout to the earliest evidence given to the existence of the Basque, with reference to the ancient laws known as the Fueros, which most Irish people can draw parallels with the Brehon laws. Without getting into much detail about the laws themselves Mark Kurlansky pinpoints this as the moment that Basques lost their autonomy and, despite gaining control over them to various degrees thoughout history, have never fully gained autonomy like they had during this time.

One of the more interesting aspects of the the book states that during the negotiations when setting up Spain’s most recent constitutional Congress every province in Spain was granted two negotiators, save for Catalonia and The Basques, perhaps sewing the seeds of more recent disputes in both areas.

For the most part quirky and light-hearted throughout, The Basque History of the World is a fascinating and informative read that both entertains and informs from cover to cover. There are even a few recipes to try out from a proud tradition of Basque cookery. Despite having been published more than twenty years ago and some of the more political aspects of the book being now outdated, The Basque History of the World is still an important piece of text and this magical and curious piece of land.


The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid

This documentary by Feargal Ward has been shown on the Irish film festival circuit for a while now and had it’s television debut on RTÉ 1 last night. It tells the story of Thomas Reid, a Kildare farmer who is approached by the IDA to sell his land so that the American microchip company intel can expand it’s influence in the area. We meet Feargal, siting in his century old farmhouse which has been passed down to him by his family, he is surrounded by newspapers which are sure to go back thirty years or more, to say that he is a hoarder would be an understatement. The carpet, the furniture and décor look of a similar vintage, in short Thomas and his surroundings have seen better days. Thomas however seems proud that he has managed to keep things going for as long as he has, he is a hoarder and is presented as a bit of a hermit, indicated by no means least by the film’s title.

There is a quiet, slow pace to the documentary and the only contact that Thomas seems to have with the outside world, apart from the IDA officials who call to his farm persistently in the hope that he’ll relent, are the people he meets at his local supermarket. The pace of the production, the isolation that our protagonist feels is, in turn felt by the viewer as he is increasingly left to his own devices. Only through the odd interaction with the film makers does the viewer know that Thomas Reid is not totally alone.

At the same time Feargal Ward does not play this as a pure straight forward documentary with obscure, almost surreal courtroom interactions played out in the fields surrounding Thomas’ farm, this makes the proceedings a little bit out of the ordinary and gets the audiences attention, in no way distracting from the narrative.

There is a still, quiet atmosphere throughout the documentary, thus emphasising the isolation and loneliness felt by Thomas Reid, which is only compounded by his treatment by the authorities. This narrative tool aids the director in winning over the audience to Thomas’ plight all the more.

Every so often there is nondiegetic radio footage of Thomas’s case as presented on The Pat Kenny Show, and it works as a narrative tool. It provides just enough information for the audience, who perhaps do not know about the case fully, without the need of a voiceover style commentary.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is a heart warming, life affirming David v Goliath tale that draws the audience into Thomas Reid’s world and wills him on quietly and modestly until it’s conclusion. A must watch.

Diego Maradonna

It was the summer of ’86 and this particular reviewer sat down in the box room of the family home to watch the final of that year’s world cup on the tiny portable colour TV that was the norm then. I was just getting into football and my father, (who normally hates football), to his credit watched along with me.

These were the days before you could watch the world’s best players on pay per view networks and even before you seeing them play every week in the Champions League seemed like second nature.

Maradona is the third in a trilogy of celebrity documentaries following the award winning Senna and Amy. Although to call it a trilogy seems a bit of a stretch considering none of the subjects are connected in any apparent way.

Maradona starts more like a gangster movie with a car chase through the streets of Naples. This is the birth of a superstar. The highly talented but as yet relatively unknown Diego Armando Maradona has just signed for a then world record fee of just under £7 míllion having already set a new world record fee of £5 million. What we came to know as the brash outlandish Maradona didn’t exist then, instead what the audience sees is something more akin to a rabbit caught in headlights in front of the cameras at a hastily arranged and secretive press conference held in what resembles an underground bunker.

Seeing this shy bewildered version of Diego, as his personal trainer comments there are two versions of the one man, there is Diego, the shy, quiet, bewildered child of the back streets of Buenos Aires, and then there is Maradona, the bullish competitive, gifted athlete who is willing to do whatever it takes to win.

To understand Maradona you have to understand the club with which he became most famous. Napoli, a club routed in the south of Italy was, at the time of signing Maradona, one of the poorest clubs in one of the richest leagues in the world. Having never before won the Italian championship and having only ever won the Copa Italia twice before Maradona joined the team.

As the film progresses you see the disappearance of one version of the iconic 80’s player and the emergence of another. His skill on the pitch there for everyone to see. Interlaced in between Maradona’s successes the viewer is introduced to his family, Diego being the first boy among six children, his father Don Diego and his mother Dolma who, like any other mother dotes upon her son.

Maradona’s infamous downfall is never far away however. For years even when he was with Barcelona there were rumours of Maradona’s drug taking. With his move to Napoli however it grew when he was taken under the wing of the local mafia boss. Maradona himself perhaps knew this when he pleaded with the owners of Napoli to sell him, but they refused. In fact at one point the owner of Napoli declares solemnly, “I was Maradona’s jailer’ It is testimony to how much the star had become thought of by the Napoli fans that his downfall came the way it did. On the eve of a world cup semi-final against hosts Italy, due to be played at Napoli’s home ground, the Stadio San Paolo, Maradona urges locals to support Argentina because the rest of Italy does not think of them as Italians. The backlash is enormous.

Fans of all teams tart displaying banners baring the words, ‘Maradona is the devil’, his club Napoli, having basically forced him to stay, shun him. Most importantly of all the loses the support of the cities crime bosses and soon his past comes back to haunt him.

Diego Maradona does not seek to glorify nor vilify the former Argentine footballing hero, it merely lays bare, often with commentary provided by Maradona himself, the ups and downs of a sporting icon with a shadowy life. What results is truly captivating.

Liam Gallagher: As it was. Liam does it his way

IT was September 2002. The summer had ended but there was still cause for many in Derry, Northern Ireland to celebrate. Oasis, the band who had defined a generation were due to play in Prehen playing fields that sunny September. Oasis, together with a number of bands that formed the “Britpop” phenominon burst onto the music scene like a breath of fresh air in the mid nineteen ninties amid a deluge of dance music. For many this was an event like no other; Derry having been starved of the big acts that came regularly to little brother Belfast.

There were rumours that notorious hell raiser and frontman Liam Gallagher would not show up, having walked off stage during previous shows. It was a tad ironic therefore that As It Was opens with brother Noel quitting the band just seven years later in the summer of 2009.

According to director Gavin Fitzgerald, in a recent interview given for Hotpress magazine Noel blocked any attempts to use recorded material from Oasis days and several parts had to be reshot, so if it is a nostalgiafest you’re expecting Oasis fans then forget about it.

Instead what you get is a look at the man behind the myth of Liam Gallagher, indeed you would have to question the wisdom of the elder brother Gallagher in not co-operating at all. What you get as a result is the story of a man abandoned by a brother he loved and trusted, leaving Liam to pick up the pieces and start again. What Fitzgerald shows the audience in many ways is ‘Liam Gallagher Unplugged’, Liam Gallagher with a new love interest, who also manages him; in every way you could imagine, Liam Gallagher the father, Liam Gallagher the son.

As the view you follow Liam along his path geographically, spiritually, geographically, spiritually, emotionally. As you do you see the rise of the superstar of old. The swagger, the attitude, but somehow with a (slightly) someone who has come to realise (in his own words) that he was a d**kh**d. As another band in the form of Beady Eye comes and goes Liam finds himself alone again Determined not to give up he gathers together a new group of musicians and takes to the recording studio.

Upon completion Liam takes a break in his mother’s native Co. Mayo where a chance snap of a camera phone shows the wonder waller playing guitar in a local pub. This is the catalyst which helps spur Gallagher on. Tour date after tour date sees the former Oasis frontman slowly but surely win back his popularity as well as fans who weren’t even born during the height of Oasis’ fame. It is during this period that the audience is surely left wondering if Gallagher’s new band can’t believe their luck in getting to play old Oasis standards, although again this is only speculation as all evidence of Gallagher’s previous incarnation are erased. From Rome to San Francisco and back again with headlining Glastonbury and the promise of a new album on the horizon, it seems that things are looking up for the former 90’s hell raiser.

Then as the saying goes, ‘events dear boy, events’. The tragedy of the Manchester arena takes place, leading to one of the most poignant moments of the whole documentary. Liam, as ever the proud Mancunian cancels everything else to take part in the Love Manchester gig. Perhaps this is the moment for a reuniting of the brothers, but only one brother turns up. This one moment, more than any other illustrates just how much being from Manchester and the people from there mean to Liam, and how much he means to them.

Interspersed with moments of Liam making his musical comeback are moments captured with his mother Peggy, his son’s from his previous two relationships, Lennon and Gene, as well as what Liam calls the inspiration behind his current success, a recognition perhaps that he is not quite a solo artist, his manager and current love interest Debbie Gwyther. She is everywhere that Liam is and seems to have a calming and reassuring influence. In fact if anyone is responsible for keeping it together on his comeback it’s Gwyther.

What the film shows is a volatile rock star become slowly but surely more mellow with an edge of ever present volatility kept for his brother. Noel hangs like a ghost over the entire piece, not only for reasons already stated but for the simple reason that, as stated, “Liam can’t do without Noel, but Noel can’t do without Liam”. Like some sort of Jackyl and Hyde pairing. As a piece of modern rock biography, As It Was is worth watching alone, but is it actually a good documentary. Well, definitely; maybe!