Jack Brindelli

Jack Brindelli

Jack Brindelli is a journalist and critic living and working in Amsterdam.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Monday, 23 December 2019 15:18

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Published in Films

Jack Brindelli offers some lessons for the radical left from an animated skeleton

This December is particularly troubling for an unrepentant leftist like me. On top of the usual festival of gluttony and materialism that caps every year, I find myself living a very real nightmare before Christmas. Like many others, I am reeling from a catastrophic electoral defeat, and a government being returned to power seemingly bent on destroying any remaining sanctuary for the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.

However, it is as I pine for the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in this festive period that I am reminded of an analysis I wrote five years ago for my local People’s Assembly branch. It strikes me as having become even more relevant now, even if it was only semi-serious when I penned it.

So, assuming you are similarly wallowing in a pit of despair this Christmas, and in the hope of raising your spirits, I impel you to think upon a potential hidden meaning to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The interesting thing about horror is that a good scare can unmask the ideology hiding in any situation; it can show us the gruesome reality behind the things we always thought comforting, and reveal the terror within the things that we once presumed to be normal. That’s why the macabre is such an ever-present in Holiday staples; the great writer M.R. James always gathered his friends and students together to tell ghost stories in late December, while the hauntings of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol have captured the imaginations of generations around the world for the best part of two centuries.

I am in no doubt that The Nightmare Before Christmas should be viewed as occupying this niche – using the timeless link between the supernatural and the winter solstice to tap into people’s subconscious when they are on the brink of turkey-induced comas.

Indeed, December’s annual spectacle of consumption gives everyone a welcome reprieve from the day-to-day violence they face from exploitative bosses and corrupt governments; with a few days of indulgent distraction. Come Christmas morning, we will all charge down the stairs to tear open wrapping paper and grasp whatever sweet commodity waits inside. But what are we really buying into?

The film’s protagonist, Jack Skellington, the self-styled Pumpkin King, sees this glittering turd of a day, and recognises the power it holds in making people complacent and docile in the face of their own oppression. But rather than desolation, he sees opportunity in this. In the same way that a revolutionary should regard the one-off carnival impotent consent that is a general election in a parliamentary democracy, amid a sea of grey coercion.

So Jack takes this holiday and subverts it, repurposes it towards delivering his own message. In doing so, he shows us the hideous nature of capitalist production. Every single product we come to enjoy has been produced via some level of exploitation of other human life-forces. We are participating, happily, in an act of indirect mass-cannibalism, dressed in tinsel and spray-on snow.

By attacking the most enjoyable part of our subjugation, Jack really threatens change, by targeting the part of ideology that ordinary people actually buy into – our strongest link to our own shackles. And in doing so, not only shows us the nightmare in Christmas, but in the day-to-day life of capitalism itself.

Of course, Jack Skellington also shows us not to lose sight of our own radical identities; or treat symbolic showpiece events like Christmas, or elections, as an end in themselves. Just as the revolutionaries who spent the last four years hoping for an unlikely Corbyn government to suddenly turn the tide, he underestimates just how violently the status-quo can close ranks in order to preserve itself. In Jack’s case, showing people they are revelling in the slavery of others is such a threat to the establishment, that society’s elite involves the military-industrial complex to silence him once more.

I wonder though. Will the world ever be the same for those children, after the things the Pumpkin King showed them? And similarly, having taught millions of young people that they can hope for better under the Labour Party’s leadership of the last four years, can the UK’s left ever go back to simply settling for more of the same from the likes of David Miliband or Keir Starmer? At the close of this miserable decade, maybe there is cause for optimism yet.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

arise! film review
Monday, 09 December 2019 14:36

arise! film review

Published in Films

Jack Brindelli reviews arise!, the new film from Culture Matters, available to watch here.

Director: Carl Joyce

Writer: Paul Summers

Cast: Joyce McAndrew, Amber Pearson, Brenda Heslop, Jac Howard, Jean Spence, Mollie Brown, Paul Summers

Running time: 7 mins

The situation in the UK is symptomatic the global political moment at large; a crumbling economic system has rendered humanity seemingly incapable of responding to a number of rising existential threats, while those who have profited from that state of affairs will throw laws, lies and violence at anyone championing change. As a result, while we are aware that without action we face social and environmental catastrophe, a better life still seems tragically beyond our grasp – while a government seemingly bent on digging our collective grave seems untouchable.

Indeed, when looking back on a century of cruel oppression and bitter defeats it is hard to feel any kind of optimism for the coming decade. But looking back further, the very fact that we no longer live in any semblance of democracy, and not some brutal feudal hierarchy, is proof that over the course of generations the world can be changed. It is this level of much-needed perspective that the political film-poem arise! brings to the table, just days before a “once in a generation election” looks set to deliver Boris Johnson’s gaggle of liars, racists and murderers a large majority in Parliament.

Building on an emotive yet methodical poem by Paul Summers, Carl Joyce’s short-film provides a whistle-stop tour of the last 40 years, summarising generations of heartbreak and suffering in the process. The ghosts of the miners’ strike loom large, as Summers’ words conjure up memories of an ill-fated fight against the merciless policies of Margaret Thatcher – while Joyce pairs this with the terraced skeletons of Northern pit villages that now stand as a legacy to that defeat.

It is at this point that you might be forgiven for feeling the situation is hopeless. The film undoubtedly echoes the feelings of countless people up and down the UK, who have been beaten and bloodied by a long history of cuts and privatisation, whose lives have been wrecked for the sake of a cheap buck and the march of marketised ‘progress’ – but while this segment of the poem is hard to bear, it is important to hear it in the context of what comes next.

Summers' words suddenly interject:

& so we march
this bastille day

to dunelm’s slopes,
to durham town,

squat citadel
of cuthbert’s bones…

& so we march
on durham town,

reclaim the detail
of our pasts,

to give it voice,
to farm its hope

to let it seep
into our futures.

Our thoughts are guided back to world-changing struggles hundreds of years ago, which we almost take for granted, but show that the status quo is not untouchable. We are then prompted to consider how that legacy can inform and embolden our own efforts for liberation.

This powerful segment is coupled with images from modern day struggles, including the ongoing work of young employees at McDonalds railing against their employers for improved workplace safety, job security, healthier conditions and a living wage. I remember being told by a seasoned trade unionist 10 years ago that such workers were too precarious to mobilise, while they would be too easy for the fast-food giant to swiftly eject from its ranks – but now the so-called McStrike sees hundreds of those same people openly joining unions and demanding to be heard.

History is littered with hard-fought defeats and brutal punishments, then, but in its broadest sense it demonstrates the unstoppable nature of change. Arise! consolidates on its point by showing further catastrophes, such as the Grenfell Tower disaster, in contrast to the rise of positive developments in a strengthening labour moment – such as Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum group – forces which promise to build a world free from such injustices.

What arise! subsequently delivers is a combination of steady pragmatism and euphoric hope – this makes the film’s message work without seeming overly idealistic and rose-tinted. The admission is that yes, we may have cause to shed many tears over time, but throughout all history that amounts to a wave that will wash away the slaveowners, the murderers and the tyrants, and then humanity can be free – in spite of the claims of Fukuyama-type nay-sayers.

While this call-to-arms might not sway the election, or add a great many to the ranks of those voting for change, it does fulfil an important function for those already within the fold. Whatever the outcome of Britain’s general election, arise! will serve to remind those already fighting that the struggle carries on, and tomorrow can still be theirs.

history is done,
our keepers refrain,

they do not hear it
nagging in our veins.

& so we march
to durham town,

for the many
not the few,

to build jerusalem anew.

Summers’ thoughtful, probing poem is the perfect hymn for the political moment in the UK, while Carl Joyce’s imagery and editing serve to complement the message without shunting it into didacticism. Ultimately, although this film-poem will largely preach to the converted, it will fulfil an important function in that respect, by helping to revive and re-energise those already wearied by a lifetime of activism and struggle for a better world.

The film is available here. This article is republished from the Indy Film Library website.