The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke – review (Netflix)

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke is a documentary by Kelly Duane that is emotionally resonant but ultimately underwhelming. In essence, it rehashes the story of Cooke’s death and how it was shrouded in and remains shrouded in mystery. That is the first and obvious killing. 

The second killing is more opaque, speaking to his growing impact in black society and influence in an America growing through the Civil Rights movement, with blacks in the south still suffering segregation and inequality.

The second death is how Cooke’s growing influence in black America was growing at a rate that some felt it needed to be checked. 

Unfortunately, Duane’s documentary devotes very little time to the murder and the circumstances surrounding it, instead preferring to focus on Cooke’s career, life and influences. 

That is not to say the documentary is bad. It is, for the most part, a very engaging film. It is just that the title of the documentary gives one a very different expectation. 

What the documentary does very well, is to tell us about Cooke’s musical journey and how focussed he was in politics and his beliefs. His talent as a singer was discovered early and he was a star in his twenties, his good looks helping him to crossover to white audiences in a time when segregation was still commonplace. 

His father was a pastor and used to take his children around to churches to sing. Sam, like a lot of black singers from that era, started with gospel music. Later, singing as part of a group, The Soul Stirrers, Cooke gained fame throughout the black community. 

His family moved north to Chicago, to get away from the still racially oppressive south. When he travelled around with The Soul Stirrers, as a young adult, heading back to the south, he saw and experienced how very differently black people were treated there. 

According to those who knew Cooke, the murder of Emmet Till had a profound effect on him. Emmet Till was a young black boy, fourteen years old, who was lynched and beaten to death because he had the temerity to, allegedly, whistle at a white woman.

Till’s death and the savagery of it, triggered not only Cooke but most of black America. Many believe it was the catalyst for the Civil Rights movement.

Rock n’ roll was beginning to come to prominence across America and the youth were embracing it. Cooke was reluctant, like a lot of the black acts and singers who came from gospel singing, to cross over to rock n’ roll. 

Amongst church communities, rock n’ roll was considered the Devil’s music. He knew if he crossed over to rock n’ roll, he could never go back. 

He also knew what he wanted. He wanted to be famous and be able to reach a lot of people and help his people.

He would not be able to do that with gospel music. On his first foray into rock n’ roll and pop, getting away from gospel music, he did not use his first name, instead going under the name Dale Cook. His next song catapulted him to national stardom. 

You Send Me was a hit. It got him invited on to the Ed Sullivan Show and had black people gathering around television sets, televisions not being common in black households at that time, to see him. 

He got invited on to American Bandstand by Dick Clark. American Bandstand was a show that was, perhaps, the most influential music show for young people at the time.

The Klu Klux Klan did not want him going on the show. They threaten to blow up the studio if Sam Cooke appeared on the show. They also threaten Cooke. 

Dick Clark had reservations but went ahead anyway, Cooke appearing on American Bandstand. 

Cooke got married and moved to California, closer to the Mecca of television and film. He continued to appear on television. He was becoming very successful and was only second to Elvis Presley in record sales. He was famous. 

Sam did not like that, as a black performer, with all of his fame, he would till be invited to play at venues where segregation was a thing. He refused to play at such venues and stopped playing in segregated states.

He would go on to meet other prominent black men of his time; Muhammad Ali, who at that time went under the name of Cassius Clay, and Malcolm X. 

Cooke started a record company and understood that controlling the music and the rights to the music was where the money was. He also wanted to protect black artist, many of whom had been burnt by record companies giving them contracts that did not benefit them at all. 

Even as a person who understood this, Cooke was not immune to getting ripped off himself and found himself unwittingly, in an unfavourable contract drawn up by Allen Klein, an account, days before he died. 

Cooke’s popularity kept growing. His friendship with Ali and Malcolm X bringing him to the attention of the FBI, who were watching both men. Cooke’s crossover appeal was admired by the money men but his refusal to leave his black roots behind did not sit well with them. 

Cooke wanted to create a black music agency. Organised crime – the mob -, whose tentacles tended to be in anything that made money, tried to discourage him. 

The death of his son, Vincent, by drowning, really affected Cooke and he plunged himself into work. He also started seeing other women, his marriage suffering. 

He made a deal with RCA as a subsidiary of their label. This was the deal that involved Klein. When he found that Klein was ripping him off, he had planned to fire him. 

Unfortunately, he was killed before he would see Klein again. His death, murder, happened in strange circumstances. He was shot by a black woman, Bertha Franklin, who claimed Cooke had forced his way into her room and was harassing her. 

Franklin had been the manager at the hotel Cooke had gone to that night with another woman, Lisa Boyer, who accused Cooke of trying to kidnap her and had escaped, taking his clothes. Cooke had, allegedly, been looking for Boyer when Franklin shot him. Franklin got off with justifiable homicide. 

The issue with Duane’s documentary is the title. I found out more about his death reading Wikipedia than I did from watching the documentary.

It may be because the documentary is quite short at only seventy-four minutes long or the focus on his music career but there really is not a great deal about one death, let alone two. 

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke is definitely worth watching but do not watch it hoping to gain any clarity around the mystery surrounding his death. This film will not give you that.

A Remarkable Tale – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: In the remote Spanish village of Upper Fuertejuela, four black dancers find themselves caught up in the politics of an ageing town trying to avoid annexation. They are taken in by one of the villagers who has designs on becoming the new mayor by opposing the current mayor, her ex-husband.

Is it any good?: A film that seems slightly out of its time, having been made in 2019, A Remarkable Tale is a Spanish race farce almost in the style of the old British Carry On films. Utilising many of the stereotypical tropes, fish-out-of-water moments, as well as some mildly racist scenes. Looking past the casual racism, A Remarkable Tale is an amusing comedy farce.

Spoiler territory: in the old Spanish village of Fuertajuela, most of the houses are for sale with the population mostly of old aged residents and dwindling, the residents try to get people to come to their town, with local Teresa (Carmen Michi), driving around the town trying to promote the village’s egg tart, open village day.

No one is interested in visiting Upper Fuertajuela and Teresa returns to tell the residents. Out in the woods, four black people, three men and a woman are trekking across the snow, inappropriately dressed in traditional African tribal gear.

Back in the village, the residents are grumbling about Teresa’s husband, Alvaro (Santi Ugaide), who is also the town’s mayor, not attending. She points out that he is her ex-husband and he is in Lower Fuertajuela, the larger, more major town, on business. The villagers are momentarily excited as they hear a car approaching, thinking someone has come to visit the town.

It turns out to be the mayor of Lower Fuertajuela, Vicente Campello (Paco Tous). He comes to asks the villagers to vote in the upcoming election, as their town does not seem to have a mayor and annexation is inevitable. Teresa says that perhaps she will become the towns next mayor. Campello laughs, with even most of the village sniggering at the thought.

As he goes to leave the villagers, he tells them that there are four blacks on the run and that they need to be careful. The villagers are worried and scatter to their homes for sanctuary, leaving Teresa and her son, Carlos (Miquel Cañaveras) and Jaime (Pepón Nieto), to clear up. The three head home but Teresa tells Jaime to stop outside one house. She blares the van’s horn and wakes up Guiri (Jon Kortajarena). She wants to know why he did not attend the open day. He tells her he does not care about the open day. Juanito decides to hang out with him when Teresa and Jaime leave.

The four black dancers come to a warehouse and want to hide and get some food. They hear a van and hide. Teresa and Jaime arrive to return the stuff from the village open day. As they are getting out of the van one of the dancers knocks over some logs. Teresa goes to check and sees them hiding. She runs into the warehouse. Her and Jaime watch them from the window, unsure what to do.

Teresa, seeing that they are cold, decides to help them. They go out and beckon to them. The four reluctantly get into the van. They take the four home with them. At the house they give them clothing and speak about what to do with them, believing that they do not understand them.

Latisha (Montse Pla) steps forward and pronounces that she can understand them and the only reason they did not speak was that they were scared. One of her party, Azquil (Malcolm T. Sitte), also understands them. The other two, Calulu (Jimmy Castro) and Shukra (Ricardo Nkosi), are not as fluent in Spanish. Calulu tells them that the four are dancers.

The police knock on the door. They are looking for the dancers. Teresa tells them she has not seen them. Bad weather causes many of the villagers to start losing television and telephone signals. Jaime is worried about their situation and vocalises this to Teresa, mentioning that Paco (Txema Blasco), has a shotgun to hunt black people. The four dancers are, understandably, nervous.

Carlos, brought back by Guiri, returns home. The two stand stunned by the sight of the four black dancers. Guiri voices his unease at Teresa harbouring four fugitives. Teresa accuses him of being racist. As they argue, there is a knock at the door. It is Encarnita (Kiti Manver), Jaime’s mother. She sees the dancers and wonders why they are there. Teresa tells her that they came from a worse place than the village.

Marga, whose opinion of the village is very low, cannot believe that. Teresa, with the dancers in the village, has an idea to help save the village. It involves the dancers helping to repopulate the village. She asks the dancers if they want to help. They are conflicted.

Teresa decides they need to split up as she cannot accommodate them all in her house. Calulu and Shakra go with Encarnita, Latisha goes with Guiri and Azquil stays with Teresa. The dancers settle in at the various homes. The next day there is a town meeting and Teresa plan to introduce the towns latest additions to everybody.

Teresa sees Alvaro outside the meeting hall. She goes to talk to him. Even though he is still the town’s mayor, Alvaro tells her he is too busy to attend the meeting and drives off. In the meeting, Manolita (Enriqueta Carballeira) tells the gathering that the town needs to have at least eighteen people so as not to be annexed. She also tells them that they have one less resident than the sixteen they thought they had because her husband had died three days before and she had not wanted the town to find out.

The villagers start to panic. There is no way they can avoid annexation now. Teresa tells them she has a plan that will save their village. She introduces two of the dancers; Azquil and Latisha. The villagers eye them warily. Paco picks up his shotgun. Marga (Mariana Cordera) is especially vocal in her distrust of the new residents. Her and Latisha clash, Latisha unable to hold her tongue as Marga hurls insults.

The argument is interrupted by Guiri coming in and telling them that Shukra has stolen the van. Paco stops the van by letting off a shot. As Shukra, Carlos and Calulu emerge from the van, Encarnita pops up and tells them that she wanted to go to the town to find some excitement.

After Jaime is forcefully persuaded not to call the police – Guiri breaks his phone – Teresa has another plan to gain the town’s independence. She plans to have a fiesta where Campello can see that the town is thriving. Guiri and Latisha continue their awkward, attracted-to-one-another relationship. Elsewhere, Jaime is trying to sell custard tarts to Calulu. He does not like them.

Teresa gets Shukra a job at the only cafe in the village. She then takes Azquil and Latisha to collect eggs around the village to make tarts for the fiesta. Azquil charms the still abrasive Marga as they go looking for eggs. Shukra’s job is not going very well and Teresa has to take Azquil to go and calm the situation. She leaves Latisha and Guiri to bring back the eggs. They kiss.

Azquil tells Teresa he has a wife and four children. They get to the cafe and calm the situation. Campello turns up at the village and sees the dancers. He says he is going to report them. Latisha says she recognises him from the club they used to dance in. Teresa tells him that he has been seen in the club. Campello, with his political aspirations, decides not to report them. Before he leaves he tells Teresa that Alvaro is running for deputy mayor with him. Teresa did not know.

The next day, at Teresa’s insistence, everybody turns up at the village hall to practice the barn dance. They demonstrate the dance to the very underwhelmed dancers. The dancers join in and practice the monotonous routine. Shukra sees that Guiri and Latisha are getting close and explodes in rage. He decides to leave. Latisha tells she will stay with him if he stays.

Calulu, who was going with Shukra, asks Jaime if he should stay. Jaime is not ready to embrace his homosexuality so Calulu leaves. It is the day of the fiesta. Campello comes with his wife and people from Lower Fuertajuela. At the fiesta, the dancers, less Calulu, serve the egg tarts. They then put on their show. The old dance causes much mirth amongst those from Lower town. The dancers, Calulu having returned, take over the show. Latisha points an accusatory finger at Campello.

Insulted, Campello tells Teresa he is going to call the police. Jaime tells him that Teresa has applied for citizenship for all of them. Teresa admits that she had forgotten. The police come to take them away. As the police are taking them away, followed by the entire village, Encarnita stops them and says she is getting married to Shukra. Teresa says she is marrying Azquil. Latisha asks if Guiri wants to marry her and he agrees. Jaime takes Calulu, finally embracing his sexuality.

They all get married. The end.

A Remarkable Tale or Lo Nunca Visto – original Spanish title – is an amusing if mildly racist film. Rely on the type of humour not seen on English shores since the days of Rising Damp and Jim Davidson, A Remarkable Tale, as I mentioned earlier, is really a film made in the wrong decade.

With the world being a much smaller and almost too sensitive place for this type of film, it is hard to know who this film was aimed at. Though the film is played for laughs and is, admittedly, amusing due to great performances from the cast, the portrayal of both the black people and the narrow-minded villagers is a little disconcerting.

Carmen Michi, a veteran of comedy films, is as good as one would expect and helps to make the film a little more palatable. She is ably assisted by Montse Pla and Kiti Mánver, the three forming the heart of the film.

Written and directed by Marina Seresesky, the film is competently lensed and directed and, aside from the ill-advised subject matter, a well-written comedy. A Remarkable Tale will probably offend more people than it amuses for many of the reasons I laid out above but if you watch it without any thought for its racial missteps, it is ninety-three minutes of amusing farce.

Fools, Damned Fools.

Every race has its quirks. Things that, if you are part of that race, you acknowledge as, if not necessarily an omnipresent thing, something that is recognisable to your race. Each race also has its insults, words that relate to them, their people, in some sort of derogatory way.
For the predominantly dominant Caucasian, most words that are related to race come from a position of weakness, the words generally having been thought up by those they have oppressed. For literally every other race – with perhaps the exception of Oriental Asians – the words of insult have come from the oppressor.
Whether it be in war, segregation or rule, the various terms that have been directed at others in times past, are now for the most part, frowned upon in Western society.
There are many an ethnic – it really is not a white issue – comedian who will use insults related to their own race and others, using humour as a way to highlight and combat ignorance. Funny and acceptable. After all, the most potent weapon those narrow of mind have is the complacency of the good.
As far as I know, the only race who have adopted the most negative, derogatory term utilised to address them is my own black race. The ‘N’ word as the liberal masses like to call it, is used with such reckless abandon amongst the hip hop community, one would think its history was glorious.
I have heard the argument that by adopting the word ‘we’ own it, thus negating its power. That is so much shit. No other race has adopted the most vile and abusive, subservient label given to them!
Spelling it with a zed makes little difference. There is no positive spin on the word. It makes no sense to embrace it. The problem with embracing a term with such a history is that, as much as some would have you believe otherwise, words have power. People have died for ideas; for words. The connotation of that word is wholly depressive, negative, damning and insulting. To embrace it is to, on some level, believe its meaning, that of being inferior and beneath those who would refer to you thus.
As much as one would like to think that Malcolm X, MLK, Rosa Parks and all those people on both sides of the Atlantic who stood up to oppression and abuse, would be happy for their people to be more recognised and appreciated, they would not, I am sure, defend the use of the word that marked them out as less than human. Only a fool would think they would.

Free Speech For All. As Long As We Approve

With the Charlie Hedbo attacks and outrage at the attempts of terrorist efforts to suppress ‘free speech’, the everyday editing of Western society actions, the societal conformity and the scourge of political correctness continues unchecked.
The attacks in Paris and the reaction they caused is something that is born, apparently, from the supposed attack on free speech. Attacks carried out in defence of slights on Islamic beliefs, a religion already highlighted in the Western world for all of the wrong reasons. The apparent oppression of women is routinely highlighted, praying several times a day and wanting the world to adhere to sharia law, are things that are given many column inches in the press, generally dictated in a scaremongering or disdainful fashion.
As I have written in previous blogs, I am not one for religion. If a person feels the need to worship, give thanks too or derive comfort from some supreme being, that is none of my – or anybody else’s – business. If that being; entity, is God, Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, Jah, or even Galactus, it should not be a cause of war or discourse.
With a nod to the, somewhat nominal, freedom of speech the press has been wailing about, is not political correctness a suppression of freedom of speech? You don’t think so? Okay. Try writing a negative blog about Jewish people and wait for your popularity to rise. Or venture an opinion on lesbians or gays that does not chime with the popular ethos and see how that works out for you. Expounding racist views can get you arrested. Ah, but you say, those views are offensive! Yes they are. So were the cartoons.
The drawings in the Charlie Hedbo magazine were offensive. Not too the liberal, non Muslim, middle class masses, no. But offensive none the less. Just because they are supposedly satirical or funny, it does not make them less so.
If we truly believe in freedom of speech, the right for people or a person to hold certain viewpoints, no matter how distasteful, then we have to trust in humanity and decency to police even that which we find repugnant, whilst remaining ever vigilant of true threats to life’s liberties.

The Never List (Ain’t Nobody Got Time Fo Dat!)

There are things in life that people do or achieve that I just don’t get. These things are considered milestones, or cathartic. Achievements too talk about at work or in social situations, the kind of thing that people feel they should be interested in or, at the very least, impressed by.
The most notable thing is, most of the achievements take a long time, anything from several hours to several weeks. They also tend to be uncomfortable. Case in point:

1.) The marathon
My day job for most of the last two decades has been fitness related. I was an aerobic instructor for a bit, but quickly realised that I only really liked teaching kickboxing as a class. I also started personal training. Anyone who does fitness for a living has encountered the question; have you ever run the marathon? Now many a young buck or buckess, who has become a trainer after finding the rat race pays well but is really, really competitive. So they are overly enthusiastic when it comes to fitness. They feel they have to prove their fitness credentials, not only on paper but in deed as well. They will generally do some sort of extreme fitness thing; triathlon, snowboarding, run a marathon!
I like running. Love it in fact. Feels great, it is cheap and you can do it anytime. I’ll run for half an hour, forty minutes at a push. I am not going to run for four plus hours! No. Not when I really don’t have to. I like to race as much as the next man. Sprints? I am your man. Over quickly, taxing without destroying my knees. A marathon, twenty-six point two miles, is hard on the knees, back, feet and unless you are among the elite Ethiopians, soul destroying. You’re not going to win. No hope. You might place, I don’t know, twelve thousand, four hundred and thirteenth? But all you got is a great time, along with your battered vertebrae, feet and knees. No thank you.

2.) Climb A Mountain
Hell no. I do not even enjoy walking up hill! The amount of people that try to scale Everest on an annual basis is astounding. It’s a big rock! Why do people get so excited by the thought of climbing – conquering – a rock? And whilst I mention it, because it is in same vein, why do people feel the need to go to the Poles? They are whiteouts. Nothing to see here. Just ice and penguins. And they’re only at one of the Poles!
If you’re an explorer – not a job, but if you can persuade some sap to pay you to do it, more power to you – I accept that you have to undertake certain ventures. For the rest of us, I think I’ll just catch the highlights on television.

3.) Sailing
When I say sailing, I am not talking about a leisurely punt around the bay. No, I’m talking the full on man-against-the-elements, calloused hands, sleep in a hammock, water all around but not a drop to drink, land ahoy kind of sailing. The kind that only people who have never had to work embark on. Sailing is expensive and, if you traversing oceans, time consuming. I think that it appeals to the romantic in people; out on the high seas, one with the world. And the not working of course. For me, I can think of very little, not already mentioned, that would be worse. I get sea sick on a ferry, I am not going to survive for weeks on end in a boat! It’s out for me.

4.) Triathlon
Think marathon and then add swimming, me with my brick like aerodynamics in water, and cycling. I hate cycling. So you swim for a long time. Then cycle for a long time. And then run. For a long time. No. Several levels of hell all packed together. Not only that, it is a sport of posturing. Expensive… Everything! Bikes, wet suits, trainers, training. Speaking of training, triathlon takes over your life. If you embark on any distance longer than a sprint, you are going to spend every spare minute training for it. If, like most people, you pay to enter an event, you are not going to win. People who win triathlons get paid, They do not pay. You’re just participating, making up numbers. Have fun.

The Acceptable Face Of Black

Back in 2009, seven days from today on the 20th January, events on the other side of the Atlantic were making headlines around the world. Barack Hussein Obama the second became the first ‘black’ president of the United States of America. This was a big thing. Huge in fact.
In a country somewhat infamous, in parts, and in history, for its racial intolerance, the gun loving, Friends giving, never-venture-from-this-land, inhabitants of the world super power that is the US of A, democratically elected a black president.
Black people people rejoiced. After the Civil Rights movement, Segregation, the silent protest of the ’68 Olympics, police brutality, Million Man march and every other indignity that had been heaped upon them, this was the ultimate sign that, as a people, they had arrived. A black man at the top. Yeah!
Even here in the UK, black people walked a little taller. A black was just elected leader of the free world! Amazing.
The papers raved about how inspiring it was for a black man to have risen to such a position of prominence,  even raising the possibility of a young, black politician here, who is making a name for himself in the Labour party, Chuka Umunna, becoming leader of the party! Leader of a main party in the UK!
Wait a moment. Leader of the party. Not the country. Let’s not get carried away. He is still black,  a piddling minority, how can he represent the whole country? How can he appreciate what the majority of the populace think or feel, without being one of them. How’s that? His mother? White? Like Obama? Like Obama! 
And here we have the conundrum. The majority of the country is white. The news and more sensationalist media outlets would have you believe that the country is in the grip of an unstoppable, immigrant invasion. It is not.
There is a lot of immigration, as there always has been, but these days most of the immigrants are white, having come from various parts of Europe.
The liberal, cosseted, middle class masses, that pay taxes and make up the largest vocal presence, embrace tolerance. Blacks, Indians, gays and lesbians, they should all have a voice. They love embracing different!  It’s a British trait. Look at the people we love. Graham Norton,
Clare Balding, Alan Carr, Grayson Perry. None of them are black. Lewis Hamilton, Leona Lewis, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Colin Jackson and Chuka! All mixed race. Love Idris! He made is name in the US.
The fact of the matter is is that there is an acceptable face of blackness. There are those who, for a time, entered the national consciousness; Frank Bruno, Colin Salmon, Sir Trevor McDonald. Remember them? The ubiquitous sporting and music stars, though those are less and less, every music style embraced by whites.
Generally the acceptable face of ‘black’ is mixed.