We – Harry Bromley Davenport and I – are at the start of a plan to make a new version of XTRO. It’s going to be called XTRO -The Big One, and I’ll explain why later. Harry and I made the original XTRO in 1981-2 and it was released in 1983. It was very successful for New Line Cinema, who were in dire need of cash-flow at that time and XTRO kept the company afloat until they found massive success with A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Harry went on to do two sequels to XTRO, neither of which I produced. Two years ago he asked me if I was interested in working with him again on a new version and I thought that was a good idea. Harry introduced me to a writer he wanted to work with- Ken Segall. With Harry and Ken in LA and me in London, we had to use email and skype to send scripts, notes, ideas and comments back and forth. A slightly cumbersome process, but one which seems to have worked. The new script, which has gone through about 6 drafts, is now in good shape. It’s full of that special blend of XTRO weirdness.
The story of the new film imagines what it would be like if an alien invasion took place during a massive earthquake – hence the title XTRO – The Big One. The new film is certainly not lacking in scope or ambition. We are really pushing the boat out.
So now comes the big problem of all indie producers – raising the money. How do you raise enough to make an exciting film featuring good actors and with imaginative and striking FX that will stand comparison with other Sci-Fi films?
Easy ? Difficult? Impossible ?
More next time.
A 2003 journal entry.
April 7 2003 – 49th anniversary of my father’s death. Cleo (my daughter, then aged 12) was in Hampstead Heath climbing trees. Looking up at a large tree, nervously examining the possible foot and hand holds, she said, “I can see how to get up to the first branch, but what do I do from there?” I said to her that when she got up to the first branch she would know where to go.
The world would look different from there- new perspectives, a new way of looking at the situation, so what seems a problem standing on the ground disappears when we are sitting on the first branch.
So it is with many things. The problems which seem so massive when we begin disappear once we start, because the problems are made from a particular perspective, which alters once we change position. This is a universal truth.
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James Baldwin has been almost forgotten by the mainstream media but he was a brilliant and troubled American writer. Being black and gay, the son of a poor preacher, Baldwin had more than enough tsuris in his time. He wrote about the pain that he lived through with a fierce and truthful style.
During this Brexit upheaval, which is showing us examples of racism and hatred, and demonstrating the result of alienation and deprivation, I think some of his quotes are timely:
I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.
The most dangerous man is the one who has nothing to lose.
People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.
Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.
The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.
I’ve always believed that you can think positive just as well as you can think negative.
Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.
Pessimists are the people who have no hope for themselves or for others. Pessimists are also people who think the human race is beneath their notice, that they’re better than other human beings.
No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time.
There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.
Hexagram 59 – Huan
We live in interesting times. But to some people all times are interesting. As the Zen Monk said, Every day is a good day. Therefore every day is also an interesting day, but this week we have been consumed by an avalanche of serious dislocations – changes of far reaching political significance.
There is a potential revolution in the air, and it seems incredible that it has been put in motion by three Old Etonians, two of them members of the Bullingdon Club. How has this happened?. Clearly it’s not deliberate – a thought out policy or a strategy. It’s more likely a failure of strategy, in fact a colossal blunder, leading to an escalating series of blunders.
Lu Tung-Pin writing in the 9th century, put it like this:
Some people appear on the scene when they should disappear, coming forward when they should withdraw; not knowing how to maintain tranquil silence, not knowing how to watch that fullness does not reach overflowing, they sometimes go awry by impetuosity, sometimes go awry by conceit. Heedless of subtle indications appearing, failing to carefully examine changes when they occur, day by day they proceed along the path to misfortune, regret and humiliation, so that the path of humanity is lost.
Who went awry by impetuosity? David Cameron, when he promised his rebels a referendum. Who went awry from conceit? Boris Johnson, whose ambition knows no bounds. These two ‘leaders’ have now put the UK in danger of a recession and the breakup of the kingdom. It would be a farce if it wasn’t a tragedy for everyone who is not rich – ie 99% of the people who will pay in one way or another for the failure of leadership shown by these tin pot politicians.
The I Ching is an ancient Chinese classic that deals with changes. It’s title translates as The Classic of Changes, and it is a tool that assists in the observation and understanding of the anatomy of events. Hexagram 59- Dispersion– deals with a situation like the one we are living through, when things are falling apart. It’s about a time of disorganisation and disorder, when things separate or scatter. What does it tell us to do so that we can survive through the forthcoming chaos?
The hexagram itself represents the elements wind over water. Water represents the deepest part of our body and therefore of our selves, but water also represents danger, as anyone who has lived through a flood or tsunami knows. The wind is something that penetrates into all places and also disperses things to all points of the compass. The strong and deep emotions and thoughts that have been unleashed by the Referendum are all now dispersing widely, reaching more and more people. These emotions are both positive and negative – anger, resentment and selfishness are there, but so is compassion, openness and affection. Which set of emotions will be given power to thrive? In Nazi Germany it was anger and resentment that were encouraged, and look at the disaster that led to. In our day it must be positive emotions of love and companionship, otherwise we are all lost.
We need a leader with wisdom and foresight to help us get out of this chaos and find a stable footing. In a time of revolution, anything becomes possible. New thoughts can be taken up, new ideas tried. We all must know by now that something is wrong with our society and it needs to be fixed. Surely the Leave vote was in part a protest by millions of people against austerity, against a lack of good jobs, against overpriced housing, insufficient school places and fears for the future of the NHS. At heart this is a protest against a ruling elite that is completely indifferent to their lives, that literally couldn’t care less. If we want peace, if we want good lives, and if we want some happiness then it should be clear what is needed. If it’s broken, we’d better fix it or it’s going to get worse. We have to do what is needed, and that means reversing the gross inequality in our society. It is not difficult to do, it just takes political will, but it will be difficult to get everyone on board the project. People will have to be persuaded that this is the only thing that can really save us. And that is why we need a leader who can make that case.
My late teacher Liu Ming wrote this about Hexagram 59:
You are caught in a very vigorous tide of events, but there is no misfortune. Big changes bring no trouble, because the flow of change is a natural (group) event and not the result of personal (selfish) effort.
A miscalculation provides a chance to go forward. In misunderstanding a situation you experience a small loss. This loss creates an opportunity to recalculate and ultimately succeed.
You are rescued from a dangerous situation. A setback becomes an opportunity to establish security and success.
The changes that the I Ching talks about in Hex 59 are not ones we personally make, but huge changes that come at us swiftly and surprisingly and with overwhelming shape and scale – just like a flood. We know that in a flood many of our possessions will be either swept away or rendered unsalvageable. We know there is no option but to go out and get new ones. But first we have to clean up the mess that the flood has left behind. Well, our flood has passed and if we open our eyes we can see the devastation it has left behind. It is now our task to mend things.
What is the best way to resolve dispersal? We find ourselves at a crossroads. To go along the way we have been going- economically and politically – will continue to create inequality and foster anger, resentment and hatred. In this way we will make society worse and encourage all the negative emotions that have been stirred up. The other way is to change how we order our society, to encourage greater equality and to lose the selfishness that has driven our economy and politics. If we do this then the positive emotions that we want to encourage – the fostering of community and solidarity – can lead us to a better society.
It is a matter of acknowledging the truth of the situation, that austerity and capitalism have created an alienated, unhappy and unhealthy population, and the only answer has to be to stop creating more inequality.
Auden in his poem September 1, 1939 said this,
All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die. Later in life Auden rejected this poem as being untruthful. But reading it now, we can see that he was not only prophetic about the devastating horror of the 2nd World War (which started on September 1, 1939) but also of the environmental crisis that will soon engulf us. Remember that Quantum theory says the universe starts anew in every instant; another world is possible.
Hexagram 30: Brightness
The sun illuminates the sky while our inner illumination is the radiance of self-awareness, spreading thoughts and feelings from our deep heart’s core to the endless expanse of the universe.
The projects we start in spring begin to develop and blossom in summer. How can we nurture them so that they continue growing and do not fail prematurely? What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow. What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow, like the story of the famous Chinese farmer,
When the family sat down to dinner, the grandfather was missing, and his grandson reported that he was in the fields ‘helping the rice to grow’.
When the family rushed out to the paddies they saw how the old man was helping the rice to grow: by pulling on the rice stalks, tearing out their roots.
The Taoist way of acting is to act without acting, and this is called wu-wei. It means not interfering, and has been translated as non-striving, not trying, or doing nothing. It is a principle of the Tao, as the Tao Te Ching says,
The Tao does nothing
And yet nothing is left undone.
How can things get done when there is no doing? Wu wei does not mean literally doing nothing, but it implies not forcing things, being willing to sit back and watch as things develop naturally by themselves before making a move, rather than jumping in nervously and disturbing them. We must give up the sense that we can control things; all we can do is what needs to be done, and to let go at that point, trusting in the power of nature and the universe.
Vanda Scaravelli teaches that we can practise yoga with action in non-action, doing the asanas without the slightest effort.
Movement is the song of the body. Yes, the body has its own song from which the movement of dancing arises spontaneously.. In other words the liberation of the upper part of the body produced by the acceptance of gravity in the lower part of the body is the origin of lightness and dancing is its expression. This song, if you care to listen to it, is beauty. We could say that it is part of nature. We sing when we are happy and the body goes with it like waves in the sea.
We often believe that someone must be sitting in silence in the middle of a mountain retreat before we can say he or she is practising non-action. But taking no action does not mean folding one’s arms and closing one’s mouth. If we are simply content to let everything act by itself, then all things will be contented with their own nature and develop on their own. If we only embrace Tao and cherish simplicity, and allow everything to run its maximum course, then the world will naturally be contented with itself.
The idea that all things are accomplished without our control is described in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna tells of the three gunas, or forces of nature,
The forces of nature are three: sattva, the light, clear, and serene harmony of pure intelligence and goodness; rajas, the fiery restless energy of anger, hatred, greed and lust; and tamas, the darkness of dullness and inertia.
Although the harmonious force of sattva is pure, giving light and health without obstructions, it still binds your mind through an attachment to happiness and knowledge. The restless active force of rajas is of the nature of passion, creating a thirst for acquiring worldly things and thus leading to the bondage of selfish attachment and compulsive behaviour. The dark lethargic force of tamas arises out of ignorance and deludes all creatures, binding them to sleepy dullness, carelessness and laziness.
Sattva binds you to happiness, rajas binds you to incessant activity, while tamas leads to confused thinking and bad judgement. The light harmonious Sattva is dominant when the light of wisdom shines from all the gates of the body. When the fiery Rajas is dominant, we see greedy behaviour, busy activity, restlessness, discontentment and desire. When the dark Tamas is dominant, there is a disinclination to act, ignorance, laziness, delusion and confusion.
The yogis who understand that the forces of nature are only the actors in the drama of life and can transcend Nature, attain the Supreme. When a yogi goes beyond the three forces of nature which constitute her mortal body, she enters into immortality, free from the cycles of birth and death. She is aware that the forces of Nature are merely playing their part, so she is able to be unperturbed by changing conditions, remaining steady and unmoved. She dwells in her inner Self, viewing pain and pleasure alike, seeing stones or gold or earth as one and the same, maintaining equanimity in the midst of pleasure and pain. She is beyond praise and blame and keeps a steady and quiet mind. For her honour or disgrace is the same; and she has the same love for her enemies as for her friends. Surrendering all selfish actions, she has gone beyond the three forces of Nature.
We need to find a way of inner silence and peace that will allow us to trust the universe enough to let it dictate what happens, and not to force the world to fulfil our demands. This is what the Tao Te Ching means when it says,
Attaining utter emptiness,
maintaining single-minded stillness,
as things act together,
I thereby watch their return.
By maintaining stillness and emptiness, we trust that the world will support and sustain us. This kind of stillness transforms our striving mind into a perfect mirror, which reflects life perfectly, but doesn’t attempt to grasp anything. It becomes like a still lake high up in the mountains on a clear day, its surface unruffled by wind or rain.
Chuang Tzu explains:
Heaven does nothing, and so maintains its serenity.
Earth does nothing, and so it has its peace.
By the union of these two non-active forces, everything is produced.
How vast and imperceptible is this process!
Things seem to come from nowhere!
How imperceptible and vast!
We can’t begin to see it!
All things in all their variety grow from this inaction.
Hence the saying, “Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that remains undone.”
But can we find anyone who trusts the universe enough to live according to “doing nothing”?
Hexagram 46: Growing Upward
Earth over Wood.
Wood grows up from the earth,
An image of flourishing.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person cultivates his virtue,
Accomplishes small things
And evolves to a higher level.
Karma is a mysterious path.
May 1st – Mayday- used to be the day created by the workers to celebrate their unity and solidarity. But now that almost all of us are workers (or self employed), we no longer feel there is anything to celebrate. For many of us work has become a drudgery, a form of indentured slavery that we must perform to make money to pay for our daily needs; a kind of curse, without joy, without pleasure, without satisfaction, without meaning. It is rarely performed as an end in itself, but as a means to an end.
The Bhagavad Gita presents a yogic view of work that is radically different than our contemporary view. The yogic view of work is called karma yoga, and is a transforming vision of how to live. If we could follow its teachings we would create a revolution in the way we think of ourselves, our actions, our relationship to others, and to the world, and this would reinvest our lives with deep meaning and purpose. The Gita shows us how to transform work from a mundane and deadening activity to a form of spiritual teaching and inner evolution.
In the Gita Krishna, a God who is the incarnation of the Hindu Trinity – the gods Brahma the creator, Siva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver – teaches the warrior Arjuna about spiritual duty and the search for spiritual freedom. In this dialogue Krishna makes the clearest statement about karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action,
Do your work, but don’t go looking for any benefits from the results. Don’t be motivated by the fruits of your actions, but you must never become inactive either. Do your work in the peace of Yoga, free from selfish desires, not moved by success or failure. Yoga is evenness of the mind, a peace that is always steady.
Work done for reward is much lower than work done through the Yoga of wisdom. Take refuge in wisdom, because those who are motivated by the rewards of their work are to be pitied. With this wisdom and stillness of mind, we can go beyond good and evil. So practise yoga, for yoga is perfection in action.
Looked at in this way, work can be an evolutionary process by which a human being progresses towards a state of being which is at one with a greater purpose, which we call the divine, or God, or Tao, or the Spirit. This aspect of the divine is not a stranger to us, as it lives within our inmost core as our deepest self, and the aim of yoga is to allow it to emerge and flourish so that it can inform our very consciousness. Karma yoga is a process of spiritual evolution.
Karma yoga calls on us to perform the ordinary activities of life, but to remain detached from their fruits or results. It asks us to concentrate only on the act itself, operating solely in the moment, considering each act as an end in itself, and not motivated by future results.
If a person’s reason is unwavering, and she is free from the desire for the results of action, she is liberated from the limiting aspects of actions performed while being attached to the objects of sense.
The unenlightened do things with attachment to results. The enlightened, however, do things with the same energy but without attachment, and so guide others on the path of selfless action.
The modern view of karma yoga is of selfless action undertaken for the good of others. But this is not the way the ancient Gita sees it. To be truly selfless does not mean to be altruistic, since actions undertaken for ends, even good ends, are still attachments and are less perfect than acts undertaken exclusively for themselves.
Krishna says that the wise, aware that there is no escape from the duties of life, fulfil their duties and submit to their work in a spirit of joy. However mean the work, they do it well, but without attachment or selfish desire. Work undertaken like this can perfect the soul, so the type of work does not really matter. As Swami Satchidananda says,
Once you are free of selfish desire
You work for the joy of it
And all your actions are as play
People worry that if they give up their ego-driven focus of work, nothing will get done. Without desire won’t we just vegetate and stagnate? Krishna explains,
The forces of nature accomplish everything. But when our minds are clouded with ego, we think that we have made things happen. Arjuna, the person who understands the relationship between the forces of Nature and actions, and sees how the forces of Nature work together with other forces of Nature to make things happen, does not become their slave. If we are deluded about these forces of Nature then we become attached to nature’s functions.
It is the forces of Nature (The Three Gunas) that really make things happen, but we delude ourselves into thinking that it is our will that has actually accomplished something, and so our ego and pride inflate, taking us further away from reality.
Once we understand that it is the potent energy of the universe that makes things happen we can stand back and let go, and this letting go allows us to function freely and easily in the world, and through this playful freedom we are able to effect the healthy flourishing of body, mind and spirit.
I see that Son of Saul, the Hungarian film about a Jewish slave worker in Auschwitz is about to be released in the UK. I’m sure it will be a gruelling experience, but I am looking forward to seeing the film. This film is fictional, but my book I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp contains the real story of a Jewish slave worker in Belzec, one of the Operation Reinhard extermination factories. Rudolf Reder was the only post-war survivor of this hell hole, where 650,000 Jews and Gypsies were murdered. In 1946 he gave an account of his experiences to a Jewish Historical Commission which was gathering testimonies for use in future war crimes trials of the Nazis. Reder’s witness statement, which runs to 40 pages, is a highly detailed, graphic and horrific account of what he saw and experienced. It is not easy to read the painful incidents that he recounts. When people ask me if I plan to make a film of the book, my response is that if the story were told truthfully, it would be the most painful horror film which would force all viewers to avert their eyes. So I am interested to see how the director in Son of Saul manages to show the unbelievable cruelties that occurred in Auschwitz to innocent men, women and children.