Disney’s Queen of Katwe: David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o interview

21 Oct

David Oyelowo as chess coach Robert Katende, with young prodigy Phiona Mutesi, played by Madina Nalwanga, in Disney’s Queen of Katwe

It’s wonderful to see Disney taking a chance on an film set in Uganda, played by an all-black cast, centring on the world of competitive chess – not a pitch to get Hollywood accountants’ pulses racing. Queen of Katwe boasts fine performances from David Oyewolo, as the chess coach who inspires slum kids to dizzy heights, and from Lupita Nyong’o as the young prodigy’s mother. The kids are very watchable, if not always wholly intelligible, and Mira Nair has gone for a realistic style, working with “real” rather than stage-school kids, which suits the true story subject matter but must have taken Disney out of their comfort zone – especially once Lupita Nyong’o’s eldest daughter falls in love with a pimp.

“The line about ‘selling yourself’ was a bit strong for Disney,” Mira Nair confirmed at a recent Q&A, which the two stars also attended. “But after a preview got a 99% approval rating, they let me put the line back in.”

Apart from that episode, the portrayal of family life in the film is a strong and loving one – particularly between Oyelowo’s character and his wife. It’s a big contrast with the other Uganda-set movie Oyelowo was in: King of Scotland, about the crazed, murderous dictator Idi Amin.

“That was a great film,” says Oyelowo, “but gosh, I remember thinking, as a person of African descent myself, that I would love to show a different side. I cannot tell you the significance of seeing [in Queen of Katwe] a black man who loves his wife, and has kids and it’s fine. These are images we don’t get to see! The healing balm that the film is cannot be underestimated.”

He worried at first that the teacher he plays was too good. “When I read the script I was slightly terrified. We as actors tend to gravitate to someone who is flawed, edgy, who grapples with the light and dark. But when I met him, I discovered how much it was costing him – he was a bright man, not just intellectually, but also very good at playing football, and he put all these things to one side for the sake of the kids. He doesn’t think twice. See a need, meet a need. It’s seeing that that gave me the edge.”

Nyong’o says that she was less than ten pages into reading the script when she decided to commit to the film. She subsequently met the chess prodigy’s ballsy single mother, whom she plays in the film, and says that “What I find in her presence is that she’s very grounded, very practical, but there’s stuff going on behind her eyes that you’ll never know. The one thing she wanted to do is to keep her family together. She’s suspicious of dreams [she at first forbids her daughter to join in with the chess classes], and her journey is to discover that love is acting out of radical hope, not fear.”

The result is a feelgood movie full of lovely moments, many of which ring wonderfully true for the simple reason that they are true. David Oyelowo’s declaration of love to his screen wife was taken from his real-life marriage proposal. Or when the slum kids attend their first big chess tournament, held at a posh school, they leave the unfamiliar beds empty and curl up together at night on the floor. “That was all true,” says Mira Nair. “Even the chess games in the film were entirely accurate, and exactly as Phiona played them.”

Queen of Katwe is in UK cinemas from today


Jerusalem interview tapes, #11: discover the New Gospel according to Alan Moore

17 Oct
© 2012 John Angerson.Filming of Jimmy's End - Northampton

Alan Moore: “Don’t do anything you can’t live with forever.” Pic: © 2012 John Angerson, taken during filming of Jimmy’s End in Northampton

Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. In previous episodes, Alan Moore has joked about being God. In the last extract, he revealed how he came to the conclusion, like Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, that time is an unchanging constant where everything that will happen has already happened and goes on happening forever, and it is only our perception that makes time appear linear.

Here, he brings the two together: his view of time effectively creates a secular eternity, and in so doing, creates a world-view that is just as compelling as any religion. Step inside the anti-Church of Alan Moore…

Alan Moore: “If you think about it, that [the idea that we are living in a time-static block universe] has got to pretty much kill religion, because there aren’t any religions that aren’t based on some kind of moral imperative. They’ve all got sin, karma or something a bit like that. In a predetermined universe, how can you talk about sin? How can you talk about virtue?

“My chapter Cornered, with the guilty council man, that was put in largely to talk about that issue. The thing is, we don’t have free will, or at least that’s what I believe, and I think most physicists tend to think that as well, that this is a predetermined universe. They don’t like it, but it is looking like that’s probably what it is. However, as long as we’ve got the illusion of free will, we’re fine.

“Also, I’m quite happy with my artistic decisions and career decisions, I’m pretty much guided by voices anyway, I couldn’t claim that I’ve got some sort of plan in all of this, I do what seems to be the next thing to do. That works just as well with free will as without it.

“It’s probably the most contentious point of the entire book, and also there’s the thing of when I first explained it to Leah, my daughter, she said, ‘yeah, I think I could live with that’. And so, sort of, when I explained it to Iain Banks [the late novelist], they were going through a painful divorce, and he said [Moore here does a passable Scottish accent], ‘Ah Jesus Christ, that’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard!’ He was really upset. And I can see that.

“We’re talking here about heaven and hell, we’re talking about them as being simultaneous and present, that all the worst moments of your life forever, that’s hell; all the best moments of your life forever, that’s paradise.

“So, this is where we are. We’re in hell, we’re in paradise, both together, forever.

“One of the dogma you can extract from this is, don’t do anything you can’t live with forever. Try to have a good life. Because you’re going to be having that life forever. Don’t be like my gran. She was a Christian, she had I think probably a very austere and miserable life because she was expecting that it would all be sorted out, and the first shall be last.

“Whereas if you know this is my only life, and it’s my only life forever, I’m not going to wait a moment longer before doing the things I should do to make it better. I’m not going to live my life in expectation of the very, very unlikely reward that awaits in heaven.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here.

The Alan Moore Jerusalem interview tapes, #10: ‘Doctor Manhattan was right on time’

16 Oct

Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, published by DC. Through the God-like superpowers given to him, Doctor Manhattan sees all time as simultaneous. It took Moore a while to catch on

Following my interview feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. The last excerpt was the weighty topic of what really happened on 9/11. Today, we get to a key part of the thinking behind Jerusalem: that we are living in an Einsteinean block universe where everything that will happen has already happened. Time is fixed, and it’s only our perception of it that makes it appear linear.

Though Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen experiences all time as simultaneous, it was only a decade later, Alan Moore says, that he realised his fiction was fact…

Alan Moore: “When I had my first what I believe to be magical experience with Steve Moore, in January 1994, I remember having this absolute crystalline understanding that time was a solid and that nobody was going anywhere. And then, almost as soon as I had thought that, I thought, ‘but you’ve been writing about this for years!’

“There’s William Gull in From Hell, there’s Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, there’s those early Time Twisters and Future Shocks in 2000AD, one of which has got some people exploring the remote edges of the universe looking for alien life, and all of a sudden one of them seems possessed by an idea, that he keeps trying to explain to other people, and they gradually kind of get a weird smile on their face, and this is all told from the POV of one of the crew who’s watching it happening, who finally realises, what if an idea could be an alien life form? And what if it could just propagate itself, and the only snatch of conversation you ever get to hear is one of the people talking to an initiated person, and he’s saying ‘So if all of time is simultaneous, then…’ You only hear the first few words?

“And at the end of the story, all the people have converged on the narrator, because he’s the last one, and at the end he’s saying, ‘Well of course I realise how silly I was being, and it really is very very simple: you see, if all of time is simultaneous, then…’ And at that point the editor comes in and says we’re going to stop this story here because we think it’s a bit dangerous.

“At that moment in 1994, I thought, well, actually, that is appropriate. I’m only just understanding the concept now. But if time really is as I think it is, there is no reason ripples shouldn’t go out both ways, that it’s like, I suspect some of those early references might have been pre-memories. I don’t know. But it was an idea that had clearly come to me at some point.

“What with the idea of time is a solid, what I was thinking is that if Einstein is saying this a four-dimensional universe, dimensions are measurements,  they’re not like – since Mr. Mxyzptlk, Superman’s foe, came from the fifth dimension, everyone thinks of dimensions as spooky places, like the Phantom Zone or the Twilight Zone, but no, dimensions are measurements, so the fourth dimension is a physical dimension like the other three. We know there has to be a fourth dimension because Einstein tells us space-time is curved. That is to say that the three regulars have another one that they are curved in.

“Now, as I understand it, the fourth dimension is not time. Rather, time is the way we perceive our passage through time. In reality, if this is a four-dimensional universe, or a universe of at least four dimensions, what we are talking about is a solid block in which everything is eternal and unchanging, in which there is no movement and no change except that which we perceive, as our consciousness travels along the filament that is how we are represented in space-time: a kind of filament I imagine a bit like a centipede, lots of arms and legs [vividly described in Jerusalem]; one end of it is in genetic slime, the other end in cremated dust, but those are just the extremities, like your feet or the top of your head. All the other bits, we are alive.

“And when we get to the end of our filament, I would say there is nowhere for that consciousness to go but back to the beginning, so that would be something we experience countless millions of times, but each time it also felt like the first time, because that was how it had felt the first time, and that will never change, except for those brief moments of déjà vu.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. Come back tomorrow to discover how Moore’s theory changes how we should think about life, the universe and everything

The Alan Moore Jerusalem interview tapes, #9: what REALLY happened on 9/11

9 Oct
Brought to Light.jpg

Shadowplay, by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, commissioned by the Christic Institute and published by Eclipse Comics in Brought To Light: Thirty Years of Drug Smuggling, Arms Deals and Covert Action (1988)

Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. Yesterday, Moore talked about his dealings with Anonymous and Occupy. This week, he addresses the conspiracy theories that the CIA or similar government-backed initiative were somehow involved in 9/11.

As Moore did a ton of research to write his half of Brought to Light: Thirty Years of Drug Smuggling, Arms Deals, and Covert Action in 1988, you might expect him to have a point of view, and he doesn’t disappoint: “If you know there’s a fox in the neighbourhood, you just leave the hen house door open…”

Alan Moore: “Do I think that actually planting explosives on every level of the World Trade Center, was it a controlled demolition? I know about the Bush administration, and they are nowhere near clever enough to do anything like that – they would have screwed it up. But they wouldn’t have to. All you have to do is, if you know there’s a fox in the neighbourhood, you just leave the hen house door open. It doesn’t really require a conspiracy, but just a ‘moment’s carelessness’.

“What had happened in the case of America, as far as I can see, is Bush got in in 2000; almost as soon as he was in office, Rumsfeld – who had been secretary of state under George H W Bush – I think as soon as Bush was in, Rumsfeld stood down the simulation, the training simulation of blocking terrorists from flying a passenger plane into the World Trade Center… that simulation was stood down.

“He also changed the rules of aerial engagement over America, this was in 2000. If what happened on 9/11 happened a year before, they would have been blown out of the sky before they got anywhere near the WTC – but Rumsfeld changed the rules of engagement.

“What I’m saying is, it was in the Project for the New American Century’s interests for that to happen [the PNAC was a neo-con think tank on foreign policy]. Rumsfeld had actually written a paper before for the Project for a New American Century where it said that in order for America to pursue its objectives freely in the new century, what they would need to get approval would be a massive, catastrophic, catalysing event – like Pearl Harbour. George Bush’s diary on 9/11 said, ‘today, a new Pearl Harbour happened’.

“A massive, catalysing catastrophic event that would get public opinion behind America so that America could kind of go on the rampage and sort out things that the Bush family really wanted sorting out… Saddam Hussein… it’s not that they wanted Iraq’s oil, they just wanted him to stop pissing about with the oil price lever. Because what he would do is say ‘in support of my Palestinian brothers, I’m not going to release any oil’. And then he would say, ‘in support of something else, I’m going to release the full extent of oil’, which was sending the oil prices completely nuts – nobody could predict what was going to happen next week, that’s why they had to get rid of him.

“I mean, America had originally put him in place. He was originally a hitman that America had employed to try and assassinate the head of Iraq back in the ‘50s. It failed, and Saddam Hussein was presumably employed in other means for a number of years until 1971, when we parachuted him in, mainly because of the Iranian revolution. We needed somebody to keep an eye on those Iranians, so we put Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq.

“I’m not arguing for brilliant supervillains, plotting all of our lives. I’m arguing almost the exact opposite – complete incompetence. They think they are supervillains, they are sitting there stroking their white cats in their swivel chairs, and they’re all cretins.

“Because of Dunning-Kruger syndrome, which is the fact that if you take a poll, and ask people to rate their own intelligence, average or above average. About 80 percent are above average. What this says is that we overestimate our own intelligence wildly. We can’t imagine anything much cleverer than we are. So we assume that we must be right at the top of the spectrum. We can imagine all the people who are more stupid than us, but we haven’t got enough imagination to imagine anything cleverer than us.

“I think that these are interesting times. They might be terminal times. I really hope not – I have grandchildren. We are at quite a delicate point here, though. The stakes have never been higher than this.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. In interview extract #10, Alan Moore explains how he realised that time is not at all as we perceive it, and Doctor Manhattan was right.

The Alan Moore Jerusalem tapes, #8: how I gave Anonymous its face

8 Oct

Anonymous: personified by a V for Vendetta mask

Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. In this one, Alan Moore has just been telling me about the books he’s been reading for fun of late. He names Dave Foster Wallace, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve been Publicly Shamed, and a history of the Anonymous movement called Hoaxers, Whistleblowers, Hackers and Spies. It seems a good time to ask Moore how he feels about literally giving Occupy and Anonymous their face.

Alan Moore: “Well, how do I feel. I’m glad that they’ve got it, although – they didn’t get it from the comic, did they, they got it from the film , which I have never seen and which, from a position of complete ignorance, I am willing to describe as a total rat’s abortion.

“I suppose the richest irony for me is that because it was connected with the film, I said ‘I don’t want anything to do with it, take my name off and give all the money to the wretched Dave Lloyd,’ and that includes all the merchandise as well. So Dave Lloyd, who was saying the other day, ‘I wish Alan hadn’t made V an anarchist [weedy voice], because when’s that ever worked?’ And I thought, well there was a few hundred thousand years during the hunter gathering period where that was our natural default mode of society and people who tried to get extra status were ostracised. A few hundred thousand years!

“Then of course there was the Paris Commune, that was working perfectly until the troops were sent in to shoot everybody. Then there were the Spitalfields Huguenots, who looked after their children, looked after their old people, a fully functioning anarchist society, until we sent the troops in. But David Lloyd, who gets all the money from those masks – he doesn’t like anarchy. He would rather I’d made V, perhaps, a Lib Dem, but that might be a little bit left-wing for David Lloyd, thinking about it. But I’m glad it’s been of use to these protestors, because generally I really admire what they do.

“I hadn’t realised, till reading this book, just how much they were behind the Arab Spring. That all kicked off in Tunisia, and four or five days before the uprising, there were children lining up in a Tunisian playground with V for Vendetta masks on, which I hadn’t realise before I read this book. What Anonymous were doing were hacking the government and exposing all their excesses and lies to the people, then moving on from Tunisia to Op Egypt and the rest of them. And I think it was Anonymous who gave Assange and Wikileaks all of that information, they created the climate in which Edward Snowden could exist, and Chelsea Manning.

“They also went after a thing called Op Cartel, this was after an Anonymous member, who I believe was a Mexican journalist, a woman, who obviously wasn’t quite anonymous enough, she’d been attacking the cartels and exposing the connection between the cartels and the government, her open laptop was found, and set in front of the laptop, wearing her earphones, was her head. Anonymous said, ‘Right, we are definitely coming for you’. I think that’s still ongoing.

“I did get somebody get in touch saying they were Anonymous and asking me to take part in something called the Day of Mayhem which they were going to be basing on scenarios in Watchmen, and as far as I know we got back to them saying, stuff based on comic books, that won’t work; and anyway why are you sending me this, how do I know who you are?

“In fact, if I was the intelligence services, who had got no idea how to infiltrate the members of Anonymous, because of their anonymity, I might be thinking, why not get somebody who is publicly associated with Anonymous, and get them to sign up to something really stupid, and use that to discredit the entire network? So I said, no thanks, I don’t know who you are, but think about this; this is a stupid idea, this is not going to work, if in fact you are Anonymous.

“I met Occupy when Channel 4 took me down to St Paul’s Cathedral; Katie Razzal took me to introduce me to the Occupy camp when it was there. I have nothing but admiration for them – I gather that was probably true for most of the clergy of St Paul’s as well. However, I met one of these very nice guys who was very very enthusiastic and saying ‘that film changed everything for me’. So I was, ‘Hmm that’s nice’, and on the Channel 4 thing they said, ‘Alan Moore is far too polite to show his obvious irritation…’

“But yeah. It’s something to do with a film I didn’t write any part of, but I’m very glad that it’s proven useful to the most important protest movement of the 21st century.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. In part 9, Alan Moore explains what really happened on 9/11.

Siberry the best: an intimate gig from ‘Canada’s answer to Kate Bush’

4 Oct

Jane Siberry: new album Angels Bend Closer is out in November

“My darlings, arise from your mossy beds, and leave your lichen dreams behind…”

These were the first words Jane Siberry uttered when she got up on stage last night. The opening lyrics to her song Morag were subtly altered to address her audience directly; they were liltingly spoken and not sung, without accompaniment from the guitar hanging round her neck. Instantly the 350-strong crowd gathered in London’s St James’s Theatre Studio – a far more intimate venue than this Canadian superstar would have commanded back home – were drawn close into Siberryland, a place where none of the usual rules of music, performance and even rationality apply.

Jane Siberry is sometimes described as Canada’s answer to Kate Bush, or to Tori Amos, as a way of explaining the reverence in which she is held in her native land. In truth, she has no more in common with them than they do with each other, beyond the fact that they all defy easy comparison or categorisation.

Siberry’s songs are like poems, or fragments of dreams. Her tunes are achingly beautiful but, like a painter who’s never quite happy with their canvas, she likes to mess them about in live performance until they are more perfectly imperfect. Her voice is a softly skirling, whirling bird of a thing, gusting upward on a sudden draught of inspiration and hovering briefly on its flight of fancy, before swooping down again to carry off the fugitive melody.

“Whoops,” she says at one point, smiling and correcting the fingering on her guitar, “I’ve drifted away from the chord.” After nearly 40 years in the music business, she seems more relaxed and at home on the stage with a crowd of strangers than most people are in their living room with close friends.

And she’s funny. After a particularly loud and long round of applause, she says, mock petulantly, “Fine. Chase me away with your clapping.” She introduces her song Dante by saying it’s not about the Italian poet, but named after a horse “who stamped negative energy into the ground”.

Having praised her sometime collaborator, k.d. lang, by saying “for some reason, artists like her and Frank Sinatra, their soul leaks on to their everyday voice”, she immediately undercuts her gushing with an aside, in the serious tones of a doctor delivering a diagnosis: “It could be leaky soul syndrome.” And, finding herself getting too deep about her combative mother, she adds: “I was thrilled when she died, because I finally got her to admit that if she’d been born in my times, she’d have been texting way more than me.”

Siberry has a new album out in mid-November: Angels Bend Closer, her first major recording in six years. On the evidence of this enchanting and enchanted evening, even with 20 previous CDs behind her, Siberry has plenty of magical surprises still up her sleeve.

The Alan Moore Jerusalem tapes, #7: the lost language of Northampton

3 Oct


Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. In the last two, Alan Moore managed to make even Milton Keynes interesting. Here he’s back on his home turf of Northampton, but along the way he lays down some pretty deep riffs on our perception of the universe…

Alan Moore: “Words and literature run all the way through Jerusalem. This is all somehow about language, right from John Wycliffe translating the Bible, which is a spiritual act, it’s a linguistic act, and it’s a massively political act, all at once. Which is kind of how I see Jerusalem, I suppose.

“If you think about it, words build more than books. Words pretty much build everything, because we are not experiencing the universe directly. We don’t perceive the universe, we perceive our perception of the universe. It’s the vibrations in our tympanums, the photons in our retinas, the signals in our nerve endings.

“We are composing, moment by moment, the universe inside our own neurology.

“And according to Alfred Korzybski, the language theorist, he more or less says that words are how we put together the whole universe: we’re not conscious of a thing until we have a word for it. I mean this is standard language theory.

“To be able to read the Sun, I think you need 100,000 words in your vocabulary; that’s a Sun reader’s vocabulary. [NB: Alan Moore is massively overestimating here, perhaps owing to his own sesquipedalian range. The average vocabulary is 20,000-35,000 words.] So that is painfully limited. And by the opposite thesis, if you expand the amount of words within a person’s reach, you’re also expanding their consciousness, potentially.

“It’s this whole thing of perception, and our perception is made of words. Language precedes consciousness, we are told, and also you can see it even in the present day. Say, for example, before we had the word ‘paedophile’. Or before we had that word in common clearly understood usage. Isn’t it funny how all the paedophiles appeared after that word? You’ll sometimes talk to old people, and they’ll say, ‘well, we never had those paedophiles when I was a girl or I was a boy’, and I’m ‘yeah you did, you just didn’t have a word for it’. So it was worse then, because you couldn’t even conceive of them.

“So yeah, in Jerusalem there is a strong strand about the development of language. Take ‘Third Borough’ [which in Jerusalem is the word used for the deity]. In the early 20th century there was a Third Borough in the Boroughs [the area of Northampton in which Jerusalem is set]. What they were was a combination of rent man and policeman. If somebody defaulted on their rent, they would be collecting the rent and also punishing the defaulter. “The word ‘Third Borough’ doesn’t exist anywhere outside Northampton, and is believed to be a corruption of a Saxon term, ‘frith burhh’, which meant a tithing map.

“As far as I know, ‘deathmongers’ [who assist at both births and deaths] didn’t exist outside the Boroughs. Maybe there were people who fulfilled that function, but they weren’t called deathmongers; and they probably didn’t have quite the same aura. So I wanted to be build this up from the language, the lost language of Northampton.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. In part 8, Alan Moore talks about giving Anonymous and Occupy their face.