You Should Have Watched . . .
- A Perpetual Procrastinator’s Guide to What You Might Have Missed
The Square (2013)
The Square (not to be confused with the 2017 film of the same name) is a model of what a great documentary should look like, bringing a problem that seems distant and foreign into intimate focus. Centering on the planning and aftermath of the famous 2011 Egyptian revolution (a series of peaceful demonstrations revolving around an enormous protest in Tahrir Square). Considered to be the primary reason for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, the demonstrations set off a series of events that resulted in chaos overwhelming Egypt and despotism returning in different forms. This film traces the inspiring and heartbreaking journey of Egyptian activists, who, after achieving arguably the greatest victory for a peaceful revolution in recent memory, face lingering sectarian and religious divisions within their own ranks as they watch their democracy suffer again (and again, and again).
As a character-focused piece, the film presents the viewer with several figures of the movement, representing different sub-groups and roles. From the young, fiery Muslim activist Ahmed Hassan to the British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla (known for his roles in The Kite Runner and the recent adaptation of Assassin’s Creed), the revolutionaries challenge our preconceptions.
One character, whose presence elevates the film’s message through the sheer complexity of his situation, is that of Muslim Brotherhood member Magdy Ashour. Walking alongside liberals, conservatives, Christians, and Muslims as a part of the greater movement, Ashour reminds us that behind the curtain of a particular ideology lie real human beings, with family and friends. The violence or abuse of authority perpetrated by a group, no matter how despicable, does not nullify the humanity of its members.
His struggle to handle the sometimes opposite pulls from his two allegiances creates some uncomfortable scenes of tension that, no matter your orientation, makes you feel for his predicament. Ashour, while I don’t want to give away spoilers (although, if you’ve googled his name, you already know what I’m talking about), is the film’s tragic figure, perpetually trapped between powerful forces of tyranny, religious and political. In today’s increasingly toxic and divided socio-political climate in the US, his story is timely.
That being said, the film’s oversight of the Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorist and terrorist-affiliated actions is irresponsible, giving viewers a simplified and sanitized picture instead of the complicated and often grotesque reality.
You Should Have Listened . . .
- A Look Back at The Overlooked
Land of the Living (2012)
Nashville-based artist Matthew Perryman Jones is anything but a household name. His music, however, marked by a distinctive, atmospheric folk rock-style has earned him a devoted following (of which I unashamedly identify as). His recent albums have utilized crowdfunding methods to great effect. By cutting out the “middle-man” Jones creates just the kind of music he wants to make, not having to yield to the needs of “the market” or the wiles of mainstream record producers.
The result of his first big crowdfunding effort was his 2012 album The Land of The Living. I purchased my own copy about three or four years ago, but I recently rediscovered it. It’s an album that is incredibly rich in both its poetic lyrics and its audio. One main influence for the album is the correspondence of Vicent Van Gogh with his brother Theo Van Gogh, which, if you listen to any of Jones’ music, is perfect source material for his songwriting and musical style. Jones took the title of the album from one of these letters, and one of the songs is even titled, “Dear Theo.”
Some could accuse Jones’ of being a bit repetitive, and, in a sense, they would be right. Jones has a signature style, which he pulls off very well. However, I believe that Land of the Living showcases a greater variety of sounds that his other albums. This diversity of sounds appears in the first four tracks, slipping from the idyllic, melancholic folk “Stones From The Riverbed” into two thumping, clattering rock-inspired meditations in “Poisoning the Well” and “I Won’t Let You Down Again,” until finally transitioning into the lofty orchestral ode of “O Theo.”
If you haven’t listened to Matthew Perryman Jones, give this album a listen on wherever you stream your music, and, after you’re done, consider supporting Jones’ next album at PledgeMusic. Since he’s already raised over 100% of his original goal, 10% of the money you pledge will go to blood:water mission, which partners with groups and individuals throughout Africa to empower communities to tackle both water/sanitation problems and the HIV/AIDS crisis. The other 90% will go to make sure that Jones create what will hopefully turn out to be another great album.