Archive for May, 2019

Making of a Writer …

Posted on May 30, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Ridhi Dastidhar in The Wire –

A prolific author, journalist and playwright, Annie Zaidi’s forte since her first book has been the personal essay – a fact now recognised with the prize and $100,000 award. And a book-deal to develop her essay ‘Bread, Cement Cactus’. 

I fight with my mother: We don’t come from this! You came from cities like Lucknow and Delhi, from secularism and cosmopolitanism, from an English-medium education. You wore breeches and rode horses!

“In Muhammadabad, a mofussil village struggling to morph into a town, we trace fourteen generations. The uncle who told me this is now gone. Fifteen generations, then.

Mom counters: Daddy said never to forget our roots. Over all protest, she builds a morsel sized house there.”

“In Muhammadabad, a mofussil village struggling to morph into a town, we trace fourteen generations. The uncle who told me this is now gone. Fifteen generations, then.

I fight with my mother: We don’t come from this! You came from cities like Lucknow and Delhi, from secularism and cosmopolitanism, from an English-medium education. You wore breeches and rode horses!

Mom counters: Daddy said never to forget our roots. Over all protest, she builds a morsel sized house there.”

“Mom says, wherever you can trace your bloodline, that place is yours. Yours as much as anybody else’s. 

By that measure, the province of Uttar Pradesh is flecked with my blood. Not just Uttar Pradesh, not just India. Pakistan too. My father’s side of t“Partition along religious lines shattered the Indian Subcontinent and nobody is allowed to forget. The wound of millions being killed and displaced is scratched raw every few years. 

Three wars, constant accusations of cross-border infiltration and terrorist activity. India and Pakistan do not give each other tourist visas. I’ve had brows raised at the post office when I tried to send books to friends across the border.”

The Nine Dots Prize aims to encourage innovative thinking on contemporary issues. In its second year it posed a provocation, ‘Is there still no place like home?’, for entrants to answer in a 3,000-word essay.

Zaidi’s entry, ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’ came out of multiple essays she’d been wanting to write for a while. “Where you grow up is very different from where your grandparents, or actually, your great-grandparents grew up,” she says. “How do you reconcile these two in terms of self-definition and identity?” 

“Whether it was about my village, or about my relationship with the land itself and where that comes from… or about the industrial township in another context – in my head these were separate books. When I saw the [Nine Dots] topic, all the ideas started to come together. I was thinking about these as disparate, but the topic forced me to draw connections between them.”

Zaidi’s essay evokes the ‘call of blood’. “What is this call of blood?” she asks. “All I understand right now is that the call exists for me. I know my cousins do not feel as strongly about that village. So this is also an investigation of how responses are shaped. Part of it is just the person I am, and part is, how do you define blood? It’s not literal DNA. I’m talking about something else.”

“It’s also interesting to think about where we draw our sense of personal identification from. I don’t feel that call comes from necessarily a narrow community. I’m not talking about Muslims, because that’s also a very fractured community with multiple identities – I mean my actual literal great-grandfather. Is this just about how I determine my personal identity or is it something larger?”

In addition to being published in print, the book that emerges from the Prize is also made available online for free as an open access pdf. 

“A great thing about Nine Dots is that it’s not invested in books per se,” Zaidi says. “The focus is more on ideas that are relevant in contemporary society. Getting the book out is just a way to get you to think about that idea.”

Zaidi is understandably jittery about elaborating on the bullet points in the press release.

It lists themes her book will address, including: the politics and economics of death in India; how industrial townships are created on the back of dislocations, and what it means for citizens’ relationships to the land; the struggle to belong to a city which changes in all recognisable forms, even down to its name.

She’s still framing her own ideas, and not ready to say too much about them. 

“I’m still in the pitch phase,” she says. “Right now all I have is a book proposal!” And about six months to come up with a first draft. The book will be published in 2020, and the Prize will enable a singular focus until then.

This kind of hybrid writing, blending memoir and journalism, is her forte. “My first book of non-fiction, Known Turf came out of blogging and me telling the stories behind the stories,” she said. At the time, Zaidi worked at Tehelka. “It was reportage-based, but also all personal essays. Some of my recent essays have also been about… [the idea] the personal is the political. As much as journalism is objective, we are all a film of experiences, and we only understand the things we’re able to understand”.

I suggest that it’s a good time for the personal essay and Zaidi immediately disagrees.

“Because of the way our media has become, suddenly everyone wants 1500-word pieces. I’ve been sitting on a 7000-word piece for two years now. When you want to deeply think about something, there’s not a place for that,” she says.

Zaidi declares herself a huge admirer of Doris Lessing. “I can’t get over the sheer narrative craft involved in The Golden Notebook,” she says. “I read it only a few years back and in a sense, my jaw is still sort of fallen.” Otherwise, she says, almost everything you read and like influences you.

In the sort of rare admission that’s so reassuring for working writers, Zaidi says, “I’ve had so many rejections! This year alone I’ve been rejected in 10-15 places. You write what you can where you can, and move on, and keep applying like mad.”

Her next novella, out later this year from Aleph Book Company, is called Prelude to a Riot. She wrote it about a year and a half ago, and it also pushes genre boundaries.

“Structurally I was employing different voices and narrative tones to show a story. It’s not actually about a riot,” she says. “I’m not interested in violence. All acts of violence – the gory detail etcetera isn’t interesting beyond a point.”

“What’s interesting [to me] is how things get that way, what are the things we’re saying to each other that push it that way. How these things develop in a seemingly normal ‘up until now everyone was happy living together’ , ‘all this while everything was happy – what changed?’ I’m interested in that.”he family came from that side of the border. Their traditions, their connection to the soil were lost when the country was carved up in 1947.”

“Mom says, wherever you can trace your bloodline, that place is yours. Yours as much as anybody else’s. By that measure, the province of Uttar Pradesh is flecked with my blood. Not just Uttar Pradesh, not just India. Pakistan too. My father’s side of the family came from that side of the border. Their traditions, their connection to the soil were lost when the country was carved up in 1947.”

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China Bans Wikipedia …

Posted on May 30, 2019. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom |

Stephen Harrison

Censorship of encyclopedias has a long history. In the 18th century, Denis Diderot and other authors of the famous Encyclopédie were denounced as heretics for suggesting that knowledge stems from observation and reason rather than religious tradition or papal authority.

In 1752, the French king’s council issued a stop order on its distribution on the basis that the publication was “destroying royal authority and encouraging a spirit of independence and revolt,” a prophetic statement just three decades before the French Revolution. 

Blocking a website appears to be the 21st-century equivalent of these encyclopaedic press injunctions, and Wikipedia has dealt with more than its fair share.

China first blocked the Chinese-language Wikipedia in June 2004 before the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Before 2015, countries could even block specific articles because Wikipedia was running on an HTTP protocol. Iran, for example, blocked Articles deemed undesirable for political, religious, or sexual reasons in 2013, including Harry Potter actress Emma Watson’s page.

But since Wikipedia switched over entirely to HTTPS in 2015, a nation’s only censorship option has been to block entire language versions. 

Turkey went ahead and blocked all of Wikipedia in April 2017, citing a controversial law to ban websites in the name of “national security.” 

Turkey has so far been the only country since the full implementation of HTTPS to institute a long-term block across all languages – at least until the latest developments with China.

As Omer Benjakob reported for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Turkish officials reached out to Wikimedia several times in 2017 to request that content be changed in two Wikipedia articles: “State-sponsored terrorism” and “Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War.”

As a matter of policy, Wikimedia does not interfere with its community-written encyclopedia projects, so Turkish representatives took matters into their own hands. As one Turkish official tweeted, “This content was not allowed to be edited. … Therefore, entire Wikipedia content had to be filtered.” 

 By contrast, China appears to have blocked the site without forewarning.

Wikimedia noted in its statement, “We have not received notice or any indication as to why this current block is occurring and why now.”

The silent approach seems to be customary for Chinese officials, who have blocked thousands of websites including the BBC, the New York Times, Quora, Reddit and Amnesty International.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has increasingly soughtto use the Great Firewall to maintain a unified “Chinanet” that reflects the party’s express values rather than diversity of opinions.

China’s banning of certain American, Japanese and European domains has helped domestic companies grow. 

Nine of the world’s 20 largest internet firms, by market value, are now Chinese, including Baidu and WeChat, which have grown exponentially partly because they have been sheltered from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

But it seems unlikely that China is blocking Wikipedia across all languages simply to provide its homegrown company with an advantage.

The Chinese-language internet encyclopaedia Baidu Baike, owned by Baidu, already has millions more articles than Chinese Wikipedia, which has been blocked since 2015.

When Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales met with Cyberspace Administration of China chief Lue Wei later that year, Wales said Wikipedia’s blocked status did not come up. But spoken or not, the key difference is openness to censorship.

Unlike Wikipedia, Baidu Baike removes content when directed to do so by the Chinese government. 

 That’s where the circumstantial evidence of the 30th anniversary of the violence in Tiananmen Square becomes too compelling to ignore.

Back in 2009, during the 20th anniversary, internet references to the demonstrations were strictly censored. When Chinese internet users searched for “June 4” on the Chinese search engine Baidu, they would receive a message that said, “The search does not comply with laws, regulations and policies.” 

With today’s prevalence of online translation tools, it would be much easier for Chinese citizens to read content from other encyclopedia editions.

Advances in translation software might explain why the government felt the need to expand what was previously only a block of the Chinese (Mandarin) edition.

Since Wikipedia is collaboratively written by a decentralised group of editors, the Chinese government is also unable to control the narrative or the nomenclature.

On the English-language edition of Wikipedia, for example, there have been fiery debates between editors about whether the events of 1989 should be referred to as the “Tiananmen Square massacre” or the “Tiananmen Square protests.”

The current English Wikipedia article uses the latter title, but devotes substantial space to describing the death toll and “the extent of bloodshed in the Square. … ”

It’s foreseeable that potentially millions of Chinese citizens would have been curious enough to conduct some basic internet research in the months and weeks leading up to the anniversary of the events at Tiananmen Square, and that they would have preferred to use a source that wasn’t censored by the government.

Now, by design, many of them will be unable to.

When Turkey blocked all editions of Wikipedia in 2017, there was some expectation that the censorship would be short-lived. The country’s previous blocks were often limited in duration, such as a two-week block of Twitter in 2014.

But Turkey’s block of Wikipedia has now lasted more than two years and is a lose-lose situation for humanity at large. The anti-censorship organisation Turkey Blocks recently tweeted, “The block of #Wikipedia in #Turkey is not only annoying, it means Turkish citizens are essentially self-excluded from writing their own history or expressing a Turkish point of view in millions of articles that chronicle our age.”

Wikimedia made a similar point in its recent statement: When one country cannot contribute to the internet’s knowledge ecosystem, “the entire world is poorer.”

Already there is a Wikipedia entry describing China’s recent censorship of all Wikipedia. Let’s hope this Wikipedia article is soon updated to describe the block in the past tense, and that the revised version will soon be accessible globally without restriction.


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Field of

Posted on May 26, 2019. Filed under: From Russia with Love |

From Wikipedia –

This is the Center of St Petersburg, Russia …

Field of Mars

An aerial view of the Field of Mars, a large park in central St Petersburg, Russia, pictured in 2016.

It is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. The park’s history goes back to the 18th century, when it was converted from bogland and named the Grand Meadow.

Later, it was the setting for celebrations to mark Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. Its next name, the Tsaritsyn Meadow, appears after the royal family commissioned Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to build the Summer Palace for Empress Elizabeth.

It became the Field of Mars during the reign of Paul I, becoming officially named such in 1805. Towards the end of the 18th century, the park became a military drill ground, where they erected monuments commemorating the victories of the Russian Army and where parades and military exercises took place regularly.

After the February Revolution in 1917, the Field of Mars finally lost its significance as a military drill ground and became a memorial area, used to bury the revolution’s honoured dead.

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Weights n Measures Stand Changed …

Posted on May 20, 2019. Filed under: Business |

The Way We Define Kilogram, Metres and Seconds Changes Today –

May 20, 2019, marks one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of measurement – and the new standards on how we define units of mass, length, time and so on are not easy to explain.

We measure stuff all the time – how long, how heavy, how hot, and so on – because we need to for things such as trade, health and knowledge. But making sure our measurements compare apples with apples has been a challenge: how to know if my kilogram weight or metre length is the same as yours.

Attempts have been made to define the units of measurement over the years. But today – International Metrology Day – sees the complete revision of those standards come into play.

You won’t notice anything – you will not be heavier or lighter than yesterday – because the transition has been made to be seamless.

Just the definitions of the seven base units of the SI (Système International d’Unités, or the International System of Units) are now completely different from yesterday.

Humans have always been able to count, but as we evolved we quickly moved to measuring lengths, weights and time.

The Egyptian Pharaohs caused pyramids to be built based on the length of the royal forearm, known as the Royal Cubit. This was kept and promulgated by engineer priests who maintained the standard under pain of death.

But the cubit wasn’t a fixed unit over time – it was about half a metre, plus or minus a few tens of millimetres by today’s measure.

The first suggestion of a universal set of decimal measures was made by John Wilkins, in 1668, then Secretary of the Royal Society in London.

The impetus for doing something practical came with the French Revolution. It was the French who defined the first standards of length and mass, with two platinum standards representing the metre  and the kilogram on June 22, 1799, in the Archives de la République in Paris.

Scientists backed the idea, the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss being particularly keen. Representatives of 17 nations came together to create the International System of Units by signing the Metre Convention treaty on May 20, 1875.

France, whose street cred had taken a battering in the Franco-Prussian war and was not the scientific power it once was, offered a beaten-up chateau in the Forest of Saint-Cloud as an international home for the new system.

The Pavilion de Breteuil still houses the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM), where resides the International Prototype of the Kilogram (henceforth the Big K) in two safes and three glass bell jars.

The Big K is a polished block of platinum-iridium used to define the kilogram, against which all kilogram weights are ultimately measured. (The original has only been weighed three times against a number of near-identical copies.)

The Pavilion de Breteuil still houses the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM), where resides the International Prototype of the Kilogram (henceforth the Big K) in two safes and three glass bell jars.

The Big K is a polished block of platinum-iridium used to define the kilogram, against which all kilogram weights are ultimately measured. (The original has only been weighed three times against a number of near-identical copies.) Imperial system, which it still mostly uses today.

The US may have rued that decision in 1999, however, when the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) went missing in action. The report into the incident, quaintly called a “mishap” (which cost $193.1 million in 1999), said: […] the root cause for the loss of the MCO spacecraft was the failure to use metric units in the coding of a ground software file, “Small Forces”, used in trajectory models.

Essentially the spacecraft was lost in the atmosphere of Mars as it entered orbit lower than planned.

So why the change today? The main problems with the previous definitions were, in the case of the kilogram, they were not stable and, for the unit of electric current, the ampere, could not be realised.

And from weighings against official copies, we think the Big K was slowly losing mass.

All the units are now defined in a common way using what the BIPM calls the “explicit constant” formulation.

The idea is that we take a universal constant – for example, the speed of light in a vacuum – and from now on fix its numerical value at our best-measured value, without uncertainty.

Reality is fixed, the number is fixed, and so the units are now defined.

We therefore needed to find seven constants and make sure all  measurements are consistent, within measurement uncertainty, and then start the countdown to today. (All the technical details are available here.)

Australia had a hand in fashioning the roundest macroscopic object on the Earth, a silicon sphere used to measure the Avogadro constant, the number of entities in a fixed amount of substance. This now defines the SI unit, mole, used largely in chemistry.

We measure stuff all the time – how long, how heavy, how hot, and so on – because we need to for things such as trade, health and knowledge. But making sure our measurements compare apples with apples has been a challenge: how to know if my kilogram weight or metre length is the same as yours.

Attempts have been made to define the units of measurement over the years. But today – International Metrology Day – sees the complete revision of those standards come into play.

You won’t notice anything – you will not be heavier or lighter than yesterday – because the transition has been made to be seamless.

Just the definitions of the seven base units of the SI (Système International d’Unités, or the International System of Units) are now completely different from yesterday.

How we used to measure

Humans have always been able to count, but as we evolved we quickly moved to measuring lengths, weights and time.

The Egyptian Pharaohs caused pyramids to be built based on the length of the royal forearm, known as the Royal Cubit. This was kept and promulgated by engineer priests who maintained the standard under pain of death.

But the cubit wasn’t a fixed unit over time – it was about half a metre, plus or minus a few tens of millimetres by today’s measure.

The first suggestion of a universal set of decimal measures was made by John Wilkins, in 1668, then Secretary of the Royal Society in London.

The impetus for doing something practical came with the French Revolution. It was the French who defined the first standards of length and mass, with two platinum standards representing the metre and the kilogram on June 22, 1799, in the Archives de la République in Paris.

Agreed standards

Scientists backed the idea, the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss being particularly keen. Representatives of 17 nations came together to create the International System of Units by signing the Metre Convention treaty on May 20, 1875.

France, whose street cred had taken a battering in the Franco-Prussian war and was not the scientific power it once was, offered a beaten-up chateau in the Forest of Saint-Cloud as an international home for the new system.

The Pavilion de Breteuil still houses the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM), where resides the International Prototype of the Kilogram (henceforth the Big K) in two safes and three glass bell jars.

The Big K is a polished block of platinum-iridium used to define the kilogram, against which all kilogram weights are ultimately measured. (The original has only been weighed three times against a number of near-identical copies.)

The British, who had been prominent in the discussions and had provided the platinum-iridium kilogram, refused to sign the Treaty until 1884.

Even then the new system was only used by scientists, with everyday life being measured in traditional Imperial units such as pounds and ounces, feet and inches.

The United States signed the Treaty on the day, but then never actually implemented it, hanging on to its own version of the British Imperial system, which it still mostly uses today.

The US may have rued that decision in 1999, however, when the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) went missing in action. The report into the incident, quaintly called a “mishap” (which cost $193.1 million in 1999), said:

[…] the root cause for the loss of the MCO spacecraft was the failure to use metric units in the coding of a ground software file, “Small Forces”, used in trajectory models.

Essentially the spacecraft was lost in the atmosphere of Mars as it entered orbit lower than planned.

The new SI definitions

So why the change today? The main problems with the previous definitions were, in the case of the kilogram, they were not stable and, for the unit of electric current, the ampere, could not be realised.

And from weighings against official copies, we think the Big K was slowly losing mass.

All the units are now defined in a common way using what the BIPM calls the “explicit constant” formulation.

The idea is that we take a universal constant – for example, the speed of light in a vacuum – and from now on fix its numerical value at our best-measured value, without uncertainty.

Reality is fixed, the number is fixed, and so the units are now defined.

We therefore needed to find seven constants and make sure all measurements are consistent, within measurement uncertainty, and then start the countdown to today. (All the technical details are available here.)

Australia had a hand in fashioning the roundest macroscopic object on the Earth, a silicon sphere used to measure the Avogadro constant, the number of entities in a fixed amount of substance. This now defines the SI unit, mole, used largely in chemistry.

From standard to artefact

What of the Big K – the standard kilogram? Today it becomes an object of great historical significance that can be weighed and its mass will have measurement uncertainty.

From today the kilogram is defined using the Planck constant, something that doesn’t change from quantum physics.

The challenge now though is to explain these new definitions to people – especially non-scientists – so they understand. Comparing a kilogram to a metal block is easy.

Technically a kilogram (kg) is now defined:

[…] by taking the fixed numerical value of the Planck constant hto be 6.626 070 15 × 10–34 when expressed in the unit J s, which is equal to kg m2 s–1, where the metre and the second are defined in terms of c and ΔνCs.

Try explaining that to someone!

David Brynn Hibbert, Emeritus Professor of Analytical Chemistry, UNSW



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Book – How to Write …

Posted on May 17, 2019. Filed under: Books |

Excerpted from an Article in The Wire –

She might be the world’s most famous romance writer, nay the highest selling living author bar none, but there’s little room for flowers and chocolates in Danielle Steel’s writing regime. In a recent interview she laughed at the idea of young people insisting on a worl life balance, and has claimed she reguarly writing for 20 t0 22 hours a day, and sometimes 24.

The result: 179 books in under 50 years, selling about 800 million copies.

Here’s How some Others See it –

Liam Murray Bell, University of Stirling. Steel’s claim reminds me of the thriller writer Edgar Wallace, who was known to write a novel over the course of a long weekend. He’d retire to his study on a Friday evening and not emerge until Monday morning, dictating his words to a secretary and stopping only for half-hourly cups of tea. Poor secretary..

Sarah Corbett, University of Lancaster. I’m sorry to say there isn’t a formula for how to write a novel (so don’t buy those “how to” books) – only hard graft, staying power, blinding self belief (rescued every morning from the teeth of doubt), and the willingness to meet the devil at the crossroads and outwit him. And to write, rewrite, write, rewrite, write, rewrite…

Edward Hogan, Open UniversityFor his 2016 book Rest, the writer and Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang collected the routines of creative people throughout history. From the habits of writers such as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Alice Munro, he concluded that four hours a day is optimum, and you need to wake up early. .

 David Bishop, Edinburgh Napier University. Steel’s regime sounds extreme, but if that works for her – so be it. Every writer has their own unique sweet spot, a time and place where they can produce words that will be ready for reading one day. The trick is finding your personal approach, and also recognising it might not suit every project.

Bottom Line – If you want to be a writer, you have to write – however you do it. That much is inescapable.

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Four Term PM with Boozing Record Unbeat …

Posted on May 16, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

SORRY the Guy Died at 89 – But a Four Term PM and with a Boozing Record Unbeat THREE CHEERS FOR THE GUY .

Bob Hawke, Australia’s longest-serving Labor Party prime minister, whose charisma and powers of persuasion earned him near-folk hero status among many Australians, died on Thursday, his wife said. He was 89.

The former union leader dedicated much of his political career to trade union issues, and he was widely regarded as a man of his people. He had a down-to-earth attitude, a passion for sports and legendary status among beer lovers — for once drinking himself into the record books.

He won four terms as prime minister, serving from 1983 to 1991 before being ousted by his own center-left party when the economy soured. Only two other prime ministers served Australia longer, and both were members of the conservative Liberal Party.

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Book on 21st Century India …

Posted on May 15, 2019. Filed under: Books |

https://thewire.in/books/book-review-after-five-years-of-modi-a-stark-choice-before-india

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Blank …

Posted on May 13, 2019. Filed under: Eloquence |

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State Violence in Punjab’s ‘Terrorist’ Period …

Posted on May 12, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Here is a Drop in a Bucket regarding State Violence in India’s Punjab against ‘Terrorists’ and their Sympathizers in the late 1980s and early 1990s …

https://thewire.in/rights/punjab-disappeared-mass-cremations-violence

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Apocalypse Now – Movie..

Posted on May 10, 2019. Filed under: Movies |

Extracted from the Wire’s Article by Alfio Leotta, Senior Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington.

The screenplay for the 1979 war movie Apocalypse Now, describes the sequence in which a squadron of American helicopters blasts Wagner while attacking a Viet Cong village during the Vietnam War.

The scene would become one of the most iconic in cinema history – acknowledged, celebrated and parodied in countless subsequent films.

On the occasion of the film’s 40th anniversary, director Francis Ford Coppola has now unveiled Apocalypse Now: Final Cut.

Apocalypse Now’s contribution to cinema history is not limited to the helicopter attack sequence. This memorable monologue uttered by Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Kilgore was voted the best-ever film speech by a survey of 6,500 movie buffs.

You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

The epic scale of the production, shot on location in the Philippines jungle, and Coppola’s operatic direction that brought together spectacular cinematography, a hypnotic soundtrack and brooding performances, make Apocalypse Now a major cinematic landmark.

On its initial release 40 years ago, the film received mixed reviews. 

John Milius: from Nirvana Now to Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is usually considered to be Coppola’s magnum opus, alongside The Godfather Part I and II. 

As producer, director and co-writer, he is regarded as the auteur of the film. In Hearts of Darkness.

Most contemporary viewers might not be aware of the major contribution another, less known figure made to the film.

John Milius, credited as co-writer of the film, was responsible for creating some of its most iconic moments, including the helicopter attack sequence. He also wrote some of the film’s most memorable lines, including “I love the smell of napalm” and “Charlie don’t surf”, and even the title itself.

 

During this period, Milius achieved international fame as creator of cinematic icons as Dirty Harry (1971) and Jeremiah Johnson (1973).

Milius came up with the title of the film before actually writing the screenplay. He said the title Apocalypse Now emerged out of his own contrarian spirit and rejection of the hippy culture that was increasingly gaining terrain in late 1960s California. In Milius’s words:

I had the title, Apocalypse Now, because the hippies at the time had these buttons that said Nirvana Now. I loved the idea of a guy having a button with a mushroom cloud on it that said Apocalypse Now. You know, let’s bring it on, full nuke.

Milius wrote extensive notes and recorded stories of returning Vietnam veterans, but did not write the screenplay until contracted to do so in 1969. During this period, he discussed the project at length with fellow USC student George Lucas, who was interested both in the Vietnam War and in directing the film. 

In 1969, Coppola, who had studied film at the University of California Los Angeles and was a close friend of both Milius and Lucas, established independent production company American Zoetrope, which would fund a number of innovative projects, including Apocalypse Now.

According to the original arrangement, Lucas would direct the film while Milius would write the screenplay. The story was conceived as a journey into the horrors of the Vietnam War and was influenced by Milius’s passion for the classics of world literature, particularly Homer’s Odysseyand Dante’s Inferno.

While writing the screenplay, Milius imagined a soundtrack that would include Wagner and The Doors. Milius’s idea to use Wagner for the helicopter attack was inspired by real events, as American troops sometimes played rock and roll music from loud speakers during the Vietnam War as a way of intimidating the enemy. The Doors, who had written several songs about the madness of the war, provided another major source of inspiration.

In Milius’s original screenplay, rogue American Colonel Kurtz (played in the film by Marlon Brando) is a big fan of Jim Morrison and his band. In one of the sequences of the original script, Kurtz orders his soldiers to blast ‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors on big speakers as their compound is attacked by the North Vietnamese army. 

Eventually, Coppola never shot the scene featuring ‘Light My Fire’, but used extracts of another Doors hit, ‘The End’, in both the opening and closing sequences of the film.

Milius and Coppola were clashing auteurs

Originally, Milius and Lucas envisioned Apocalypse Now as a pseudo-documentary shot on location in 16mm and black and white. They were interested in emulating the realist aesthetic of films such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) and The Anderson Platoon (1967), a documentary about the Vietnam War directed by one of Milius’s favourite filmmakers, Pierre Schoendoerffer. 

Milius and Lucas intended to bring cast and crew to Vietnam where they would intersperse a mix of scripted and improvised scenes of performers interacting with real soldiers and events.

But eventually, Lucas abandoned the project to direct Star Wars (1977) and was replaced by Coppola, who radically changed the original approach to Apocalypse Now. He envisioned a large-budget spectacular production.

After Coppola completed revisions of the screenplay in 1975, Milius spoke out about the two filmmakers’ conflicting creative visions. 

Milius was particularly critical about Coppola’s attempt to transform Apocalypse Now into an anti-war film and accused the San Francisco-based director of rejecting the creative input of his collaborators. In a 1976 interviewMilius claimed:

Francis Coppola has this compelling desire to save humanity when the man is a raving fascist, the Bay Area Mussolini. The final film version was far from what Milius contemptuously defined as “an anti-war movie”. 

Many scenes and lines created by Milius remained virtually untouched and Coppola retained Milius’ key themes, in particular the conception of war as simultaneously exciting and horrific, the ultimate expression of man’s “inherent bestiality”.

Later in his career, Milius changed his opinion of the film, expressing appreciation of Coppola’s revisions and describing the director as “a genius on a par with Orson Welles”.

For their work on Apocalypse Now, Milius and Coppola received a nomination for best screenplay at the 1979 Academy Awards. In the 1980s, Milius went on to direct films such as Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Red Dawn (1984), but a combination of commercial flops and health problems would lead to the gradual decline of his career in the 1990s and 2000s.

For creating many of the ideas behind Apocalypse Now, Milius should be remembered as a major contributor to one of the most influential stories ever told on the big screen.

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