Back to Normal (with a POP!)

Okay. Doing a server swap wasn’t as easy as expected, and when a power supply on a computer kind of blew up on its own, that created a mild worry that maybe said machine, drives, motherboard, and other peripherals were simultaneously fried.

Happily, that wasn’t the case, but… What the Hell?

After turning on the power switch, the machine made a Bad Sound, and a second effort to restart the machine yielded a nasty POP! which in turn was followed by an acrid, silky smoldering cloud of fumes oozing from the rear power supply’s ventilation slits. Luvlee. I presume that, had I not yanked out the power cable, maybe aforementioned things would’ve been fried into oblivion.

Right now both the mirror blogsite ( and’s main URL are still going through ‘DNS propagation,’ which is a fancy schmancy term for waiting 24-72 hours until the rest of the planet’s servers re-discover the URLs, and make the sites accessible again.’s pages are functional. I noticed a few DVD review index pages still don’t load upon first attempt, but the site works – you just have to click your mouse to or The server switch was done around Friday/Saturday, so things should be normal.

In terms of the Editor’s Blog, this location is unaffected by the switcheroo, so I’ll continue with more blather from this past weekend, and nods of what’s coming next to

Shortly there will be a DVD review of A Tribute to Basil Poledouris, a concert video edited from footage of the late composer’s rare attendance at the Ubeda Film Music Festival, where he conducted a suite of themes from Conan the Barbarian, after which he soon passed away from cancer. I’ll have some thoughts on his passing in the related blog, but for now let’s say his absence from the film scoring scene is still felt when you consider he wrote one of the best scores of the eighties.

Right now I thought I’d comment on the BBC World News’ airing of Inside North Korea, the latest episode of Our World that aired Sunday afternoon, and will be repeated throughout the month.

When the BBC has a full hour to produce a news program, they have more than enough wiggle room to explore subjects, gather diverse interviews, and show plenty of footage that brings viewers a little closer to a forbidden world like North Korea.

Unfortunately, when such a hot-button subject – the unhappy lives of citizens hermetically sealed in the wacky, warped world of Kim Jong-il – is squished into a 22 min. running time, there are two ways to compact the news material: use fast montages, as was done in the BBC’s Berlin Wall series back in November of 2009, or present the doc as a series of news highlights, and that’s more or less what’s inside Inside North Korea.

It’s neither filler nor faint fodder, but journalist Sue Lloyd Roberts must have been forced to trim back on material in the editing room. The doc’s first half has her being shepherded around the wacky DPRK’s main locales: Pyongyang monuments, a token Birthday celebration for a pensioner, happy kiddies in an indoor playground, and a farm collective with one tractor. The doc’s second half (following the ad break) has Roberts speaking with a handful of North Korean escapees who’ve settled in the South, and who don’t miss the brutal regime one bit.

Where the doc hits the mark is by eliciting comments and personal statements from the exiles after Roberts plays for them footage of her recent DPRK trip.

According to the exiles, the interior children’s playground isn’t the norm for most kids; most of the populace outside of the idyllic urban centers don’t eat well (meat is reserved for the birthdays of Kim Jong-il and father Kim Il-sung, repeatedly regaled as ‘Great Leader’); the quasi-free market barn in Pyongyang is tolerated because it provides food the government is otherwise siphoning off to the million man military; and the modern tractor at a farm collective exists due to the generosity of the EU, whose circle star logo is glued to a side panel Roberts’ ‘guide’ repeatedly tries to block from the camera.

One missed opportunity of her trip to the DPRK is not getting footage of the massive architecture, which is very odd considering their massive scope is impressive, and would’ve been the one subject the guides would’ve been delighted to show off to the outside world. (In one wide shot one can also see the bat-like Ryugyong Hotel, which is being completed for a proposed 2012 celebration of said Great Leader’s birthday.)

The lost opportunities in the editing room likely included additional moments where Roberts never got straight answers from her guides. In the farm collective sequence, she asks her translator to forward a pointed question, but the man just stands there with a blank expression, waiting for her to reformulate her query into something banal and politically safe.

A few sequences give further hints of the weirdness and hypocrisy Roberts was exploiting, such as asking university students in an English class what other international leaders they admire (one student’s reply: Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung); and the handful of students permitted to use the internet, albeit through customized search engines, accessing only what’s deemed necessary by the regime’s Orwellian poobahs.

A more contrived effort to capture a totalitarian regime’s weirdness is Nick Danziger’s 1993 doc Traveller’s Tales: Adventures in the Land of SPLAJ, where Danziger attempts to secure an interview with Colonel Gaddafi. At one point he and his cameraman run away from his government handler, playing a ridiculous game of tag that ends with chuckles, even though the handler, as memory recalls, is very displeased.

The BBC’s doc is definitely worth a peek, but I’d also suggest Roberts’ efforts – rooted in straightforward journalism – is markedly contrasted by the uncontroversial approach of filmmaker Uli Gaulke in the 2006 doc Comrades in Dreams.

Ostensibly about the love of film exhibition and the lure of movie magic, the lack of any political commentary by Gaulke gave the director extensive access to government-sanctioned locations and citizens. Besides some brilliant footage of North Korea, one also comprehends the effects of the country’s’ dictatorship through subtext: through the conversations of the North Korean projectionists, and their emotions which infer personal hardship without uttering any words. (There’s also some fascinating outtakes on the DVD that provide further examples of the Great Leader’s bizarre stature as a hero forced into the psyches of citizens.)

Hopefully by Tuesday the propagation of the DNS will be complete (sounds like biological experiment in gene splicing, eh?), and I’ll provide my take on a more traditional example of propagation – the BBC/Discovery Channel mini-series Life, released by Warner Home Video.

I’m actually covering the Oprah-narrated edition, and will offer some comparisons between the merits of this alternate U.S. version, which has significant differences from the David Attenborough narrated version broadcast in the U.K. and Canada.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Copyright © mondomark