Mental Health: Don’t Forget It

depressionA man died this week and suddenly a discussion of mental health issues has started.  There is an outpouring from twitter users, as they retweet messages about depression.  Statuses of support for sufferers of depression are being shared over and over on facebook.  There’s even a multitude of new videos on YouTube on the subject.  The problem is that, last week, most of these people didn’t give a fuck about depession.  And, after the funeral of a well-loved celebrity, the furore over how sufferers are let down by the system and by society will die down to a quiet murmur once again. 

Depression, bipolar and other mental health conditions DO need to be talked about, not least because the lack of understanding about these issues is so severely lacking amongst many members of the public – and it is that stigma that prevents many from seeking treatment or admitting they have a problem.  There is something of a backlash about comments made on TalkSport radio by Alan Brazil (I have no idea who he is) in which he said he had “no sympathy” for Robin Williams.  Shep Smith, a newscaster on Fox News in America, referred to Williams as a coward.  Both men, bizarrely, still have their jobs.  The truth of the matter, though, is that many members of the public have the same lack of understanding of depression as these two men – and twitter and facebook have shown that too in the last few days. 

Suicide is thought to be the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK.  Mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us at some point in our lives.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, around 30% of sufferers will attempt suicide, and it is thought that around 10-15% of sufferers die as a consequence of the condition. 

A 10-15% fatality rate.

So, what are we doing about it?  Well, we’ll talk about if for a few weeks and then forget it.  Public figures and politicians will tell us that support has to be given to sufferers.  However, mental health budgets in the UK are being slashed.  For example, six weeks ago the BBC reported that the budget for child and adolescent mental health services at Birmingham City Council were cut “from just above £2.3m in 2010-11 to £125,000 in 2014-15, a drop of 94%.”  Mental health trusts have had their budgets slashed by 20% this year.  NHS England has cut budgets for mental health by 2%. 

There has to be a link here between the lack of education on the subject (and thus its perceived seriousness) and the cutting of budgets.  It’s still thought people can “snap out of it” or that it isn’t a “real” illness.  If the condition had the word “cancer” or “disease” at the end of it, we would all be looking at in a very different way.  It is as real as diabetes or heart disease.  The fact it doesn’t show up in a blood test robs it of that reality. 

What I’m trying to say here is that, for a few days or weeks, mental health issues will matter to more people than ever before because someone they liked on the telly has died as a result of it.  But those deaths (and attempted deaths) are happening all the time.  It’s a reality that people and governments need to wake up to.  More than ever it is time to educate, talk, support and treat. 

In the four minutes it took you to read this article, six people will have attempted suicide in the USA alone.  Five of them will have had a known mental health issue at the time. 

Un jour d’été (One Day in Summer) (2006)

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I first saw this made-for-TV film about five years ago, and I confess that I was rather mesmerised by it.  Having seen it again just yesterday, I have to say that I still find it a remarkably  fine effort – despite the various reviews of it elsewhere.

The plot is simple.  Almost non-existent.  There are two teenaged friends.  One of them dies after being hit on the head by a goalpost.  The other one struggles to cope.  That’s basically it.  There are various subplots about the family of the dead boy and whether or not the goal post was in some way defective, but these subplots are as inconsequential as the main narrative.

In many respects this is a film that came at the tail end of a cycle of similar french movies about confused teenagers:  Presque Rien, Les Roseaux Sauvages, A Toute Vitesse, Le Dernier Jour.  And perhaps this is why the film has caused some reviewers to scratch their heads a little.  These films all feature homosexual teens as their lead characters or, at least, teens who are sexually confused and that confusion is the driving force behind the narrative.   That isn’t the case here.  Sure, it appears that Sébastien may have feelings for boys, but that’s never made explicit.  It’s hinted at, but nothing more.  Apparently, though, the film was shown at LGBT film festivals in the UK (and was picked up by a DVD distributor specialising in LGBT-themed films) and that has caused more confusion within audiences than within the central character himself.  I can understand that to a certain degree, but this is where the term “queer” really comes into its own.  It may not be a gay-themed film, but it’s certain a queer film.

Anyone who wants to watch this because they think it has gay content will, indeed, be disappointed.  But that’s a shame, for Un jour d’été has so much to offer.  It is, essentially, an elegy – a cinematic study of mourning and loss, and the effect grief can have on family and friends beyond the obvious.  After the funeral, things slowly get back to normal – but, somehow, they are never quite the way they used to be.   This is something rarely portrayed in film, a medium where mourning and grief is so often portrayed as lasting a few days and then everything’s hunkydory.  Un jour d’été portrays quite the opposite of  this in a quiet, plaintive, unassuming way that is both mesmerising and moving without being overly morbid.

Strangely, Baptiste Bertin, who plays the lead in the film has done little movie work since.  This is a shame, for he puts in a stunning performance here as the confused, bemused, sometimes troubled teenager at the heart of the “story.”  His performance alone is worth looking around for a second-hand copy of the DVD (not as easy as it sounds).

In the end, the film has come into criticism in the past because it refuses to be pigeon-holed.  That the boy at the centre of the film is sexually confused and yet that isn’t what he obsesses over day and night seems very hard for some people to understand.  Had the “gay” angle been developed more, it would probably have been received better outside France but, at the same time, it would have lost much of its appeal and much of its power.  The film is as unassuming as its title, but well worth taking the time to watch.

OUT NOW. Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide

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I am pleased to announce that my book “Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide” is now available – at least in Kindle form!  The paperback will catc up and be along later in the week!

The links for the Kindle edition can be found below.  I have listed the US and UK links, but it should be available in Kindle form at all Amazon’s by now.  The paperback will, alas, be only available within the US, Canada, UK and European Amazons – one of the restrictions of self-publishing, alas.  The picture with this post is of the actual cover.

US Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/ELVIS-PRESLEY-LISTENERS-Shane-Brown-ebook/dp/B00MDVQT3G/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1407108118&sr=1-1#reader_B00MDVQT3G

UK Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/ELVIS-PRESLEY-LISTENERS-Shane-Brown-ebook/dp/B00MDVQT3G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407107717&sr=8-1&keywords=shane+brown+elvis

ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE (BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT)

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ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE

By Shane Brown

July 5th, 2014 saw the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first commercial recording session, the night on which he cut That’s all Right, the song that would launch his career. Less than six months later, on January 8th, 2015, will be celebrations for what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. Since Elvis’s death in 1977, hundreds (probably thousands) of books have been written about Presley, but very few concentrate on the most important thing: the music.

When I first became interested in the music of Elvis Presley as a teenager back in the early 1990s, the first book I bought was Elvis Presley: A Study in Music by Robert Matthew-Walker.   It was hardly a hefty tome, but it did what I wanted at the time – it gave me some guidance through the minefield of Elvis’s legacy which was then being issued, slowly but surely, on CD. In 1995, Matthew-Walker updated his book, calling the new version Heartbreak Hotel, but much of the new material centred of details of Elvis’s life, rather than his music. In fact, even in this extended work, the author managed to discuss individually virtually all of Elvis’s recordings within less than one hundred pages. As far as I’m aware Matthew-Walker’s book(s) are the only one to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of all of Elvis’s music literally on a song by song basis.

Matthew-Walker’s A Study in Music was/is an important book, and it seems rather strange that other full-length works of a similar nature did not follow it.  Bearing this in mind, I hope that Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide will manage to be a rather more thorough critique of Elvis’s music. Working through from 1953 to 1977 one session at a time, one song at a time, the book discusses the remarkable (and yet often frustrating) legacy that Elvis left behind. All recordings released during Elvis’s lifetime are discussed, as well as those released posthumously where appropriate.

Why do we need a new critique? Well, times change and opinions change with them. Our views on Elvis’s music are still based on what critics wrote forty or more years ago. Of course, the critics who panned Elvis in the 1950s were quickly proven wrong as the years passed, but the accepted view of the 1960s and 1970s recordings is still based on contemporary reviews, often from rock critics who somehow couldn’t see how or why Elvis was recording material outside of rock ‘n’ roll. As I discuss each session, therefore, I make reference to, and quote from, those contemporary reviews from the 1950s to the 1970s – around 170 of them – in order to put into context my own evaluation of the recordings.

This is not primarily a book of facts or figures – there are plenty of other works on the market that can supply those. What there isn’t on the market is a “listener’s guide” to Elvis’s music, in which each and every master recording is discussed. I haven’t written this because I think people should agree with my evaluations or thoughts but because, as we approach what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday, it seems important to take a fresh look at the one thing that seems to be ignored most: the music.

Elvis Presley Song by Song: A Listener’s Guide will be available in mid-August, 2014. The paperback edition will be 6in x 9in, and will contain approx. 320 pages. A Kindle version will also be available.  

The “gay cake” row.

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The “gay cake” row has been rumbling on for a few days now.  The BBC website states the following:

“A Christian-run bakery that refused a customer’s request to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage could face a discrimination case in court.

Ashers Baking Company declined an order from a gay rights activist, asking for cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie.

The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group called “Queerspace”.

The cake was ordered for a civic event in Bangor Castle Town Hall, County Down, to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia”

The arguments on the web over the issue are becoming heated, which is rather surprising considering this appears to me to be a clear cut case of discrimination – just as in the case of the B&B that refused to allow a gay couple to share a room a few years back.  However, not everyone agrees.  Tina Calder of “News Letter” website write the following:

“While my personal opinion is to live and let live and I support everyone’s right to choose I have to say that includes the bakery.

I may think it is wrong for the bakery owner to refuse to make the cake but the solid facts of the matter are that this business proprietor had an absolute right to decline any order they didn’t want to service.

Surely serving a customer is at the discretion of the business owner?

If we are going to insist on fighting for equality then it’s important that we extend that right even to those we don’t agree with.

We may not believe in the same ethical principles as one another but it is important to respect people’s right to hold their opinion or beliefs.”

So, Miss Calder, the “serving of a customer is at the discretion of the business owner?”  Would you feel the same way if the cake owners had a sign in their window saying “no ethnic minorities?”  Would you feel there was anything wrong with that?  After all, it’s up to the discretion of the business owner who they serve, right?

Bollocks.

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail (ever the voice of reason!) have rather exaggerated the issue:

“The challenge to the Christian-run Ashers Baking Company is the first likely legal case in which anyone has been told it is against the law to refuse to take part in gay rights publicity campaigns.”
Errr, that’s not strictly true.  They were being asked to provide a cake – that they were getting paid for.  That’s hardly the same as holding them at gunpoint and making them walk down the street in drag with a rainbow flag.

Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail goes on (and on…):

“Mr Lee was turned down not because of his sexual orientation but because of the provocative nature of the cake he wanted baked.”
Hardly provocative given that we are living in 2014.  We are talking about two characters from Sesame Street here.

Of course, the Daily Mail article has the backing of the “news”paper’s readers. “Daffodil” suggests that:

“the answer is ,,,Bake the cake and charge ‘em £ 1000.00. that should do it .”

This might be a great decision.  The bakery could then donate the £1000 to “Daffodil” so that she could go to evening classes and learn how to use full stops, commas, and capital letters.  A win-win situation.

Meanwhile, “Papillon” writes states that the situation is:

“forced tolerance. makes a lot of sense. I feel so guilty to be a white heterosexual male. I must be the bad guy.”

Well, Papillon might well be the bad guy.  He does, after all, have an avatar of a man cocking a pistol (oh, the irony).

“F2″ asks the following question:

“Should gay bakers be forced to make cakes with “Oppose Gay Marriage” slogans?”

Whether we like it  or not, that is a question that needs to be asked, even if the scenario is as unlikely as being asked to bake a cake with a slogan on it supporting gay marriage.

What seems most odd, however, is why a certain group of people believe that rules do not apply to them because they believe in a man in the sky.  Yes, they have a right to believe what they want – and I have no argument against that – but if they run a company (whether a B&B or a bakery) designed to serve the public, then that is what they should do.  The law that states that business owners have a right not to serve people at their own discretion is archaic and needs to be changed.   This may well be a test case for that if it ever gets to court.

The key thing here, though, is that religious beliefs should not be used as a valid excuse for discrimination.

 

 

 

Jeremy Spenser

 

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It’s interesting that the Network label have chosen to use the appearance of Jeremy Spenser as one of the selling points on the packaging of the DVD of Wonderful Things (1959), which was released last week – he “smoulders” apparently. It’s a film that hasn’t been seen for decades, it seems, and, having just watched it, we haven’t really missed a great deal. The script is limp, Frankie Vaughan makes a strangely unlikeable lead, and the songs are less than stellar. The one thing that makes the film watchable is Jeremy Spenser, in a supporting role as Vaughan’s brother. Even saddled with a clunky script, dodgy accent, and what appears to be an inability to button his shirt up, it is Spenser to whom our eyes are drawn whenever he is on screen.

Many will be asking “who is Jeremy Spenser?” Well, Spenser started out as a British child actor, progressed into a teen heart-throb, made a move towards leading man material, but then fells into smaller and smaller film roles before disappearing from the screen altogether. Following roles in Summertime (1955) and It’s Great to be Young (1956), it looked as if Spenser would make the transition into leading man material easily. But his career seemed to falter after Ferry to Hong Kong (1959).

Perhaps his best-remembered role is It’s Great to be Young, a charming little British semi-musical from 1956 featuring John Mills as a music teacher who gets the sack for playing piano in a pub, only for the kids at the school to stage a sit-in in the gym in order for him to be reinstated. Spenser plays the boy who masterminds the sit-in and sets the screen alight with slightly tongue-in-cheek youthful exuberance. The film was outdated by the time it was released (the kids love jazz not rock ‘n’ roll), but that doesn’t matter. It’s a sweet little film, and one that was shown with great regularity on UK TV during the 1980s and early 1990s.

He is slightly less successful in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), in which he stars alongside Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Spenser plays a young king, but the reserved nature of the role didn’t really suit him (not that I have ever liked the film much anyway). One could argue his sympathetic portrayal of Miguel Hernriques, an officer on board the Ferry to Hong Kong was one of the few redeeming features of that film – one in which Orson Welles gives an almost ridiculous performance. The romance between Curd Jurgens and Sylvia Syms is unrealistic, and Spenser’s portrayal of the vulnerable young officer is about the only thing that rings true in the whole film.

And then it was over, it seems. Over the next few years, his name slipped further and further down the credits of the films he appeared in, until his final appearance in Fahrenheit 451 in which he literally is seen eating an apple – and nothing else. What appeared after that appears to be a mystery, although the internet does come up with various theories and a forum or two has a member who claims to know Spenser and tells us he is alive and well. A couple of people report having played chess with him a decade or so ago.

In the end, his whereabouts now is unimportant (providing he is happy and healthy, of course). What is known is that when Spenser’s brother, David (also an actor), passed away in August 2013, The Guardian reported that Jeremy was still alive.  What’s clear even from a relative dud such as Wonderful Things is that a fine actor, and even greater screen presence, ended his career (or had it ended for him) much too soon, and just at the point when it should have blossomed. It appears that even working with the likes of Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Dirk Bogarde couldn’t guarantee a successful career. Or perhaps it was playing supporting roles with those luminaries which caused the problem in the first place. We shall probably never know. However, when I saw this portrait of him recently, I realised he is clearly the greatest screen Dorian Gray that never was.

jeremy spenser

Braveheart (1925)

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Braveheart (1925) has nothing to do with the Mel Gibson film of the same name – for which we should give thanks.  It is, instead, a rather strange mix of melodrama and action film that no doubt had good intentions but comes across as rather awkward when viewed today.

Braveheart is a member of a tribe of Native Americans who are involved in a dispute over fishing rights.  The Chief of the tribe is convinced that violence is not the way forward, and so Braveheart is shipped off to college to learn about law so that he he can return and defeat the businessmen in a court of law.  Mixed into this is Braveheart’s love for the woman he rescued after she fell from her horse (who, years later, just happens to turn up in the city where he is studying).  Also thrown into this is a subplot about football!

It’s an odd film that doesn’t entirely hold together.  Part of this is due to the episodic nature of the narrative – it almost feels like three short films tied together with a piece of string.  Also at fault, though, is the clunky way in which the film deals with racial issues.  That it deals with them at all should probably be applauded for a 1925 film, but it does so with a complete lack of subtlety.  One intertitle quotes a character as saying “He is an Indian – His people are scum.”  Yes, the line is intended to provoke hatred in the viewer for the guy that said it, but this bull-in-a-china-shop approach is not the best way to approach such issues.   The other problem here is Rod LaRoque.  Despite that wonderful name, an impressive barrel-chest, and (in this film) a very dodgy hair-do, LaRoque never manages to convince me that he is leading man material.  He always seems to come across as a pretender to Fairbanks’ throne, although I admit I often find LaRoque more likeable.

Silent film fans often have a difficult relationship with Alpha Video, who present us with prints ranging from the good to the downright unwatchable.  Of late, however, they do at least present us with at least some films unavailable elsewhere.  Braveheart is, though, available from Grapevine as well, but I can’t comment on Grapevine’s edition.  The running time is the same in both cases.  The intertitles for the first ten minutes or so of the Alpha edition are new ones that are inserted, but sadly are typed up by someone who doesn’t understand the use of capital letters or realise that there isn’t a space before a comma or full stop.  This does become a tad annoying, but the original titles are used after the first ten minutes or so.  The print is…well, it’s ninety years old and unrestored.  That said, it’s perfectly watchable (more so after the opening few minutes).

Braveheart is an enjoyable little movie to pass away fifty minutes or so and, while it’s no masterpiece, I often find that these “regular” movies are far more entertaining the more prestigious movies from the period that get released by the bigger companies.

(If anyone has seen the Grapevine edition and can comment on the quality of that print, I will be happy to copy and paste those comments at the bottom of this article)