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This week, a review written two and a half years ago for Louder Than War on an award-winning film from 2018 that examined the conflict in Ukraine at that point. It’s been described as ‘a sprawling black comedy’ but if you’re looking for laughs, then best avoid this one. Donbass, though, might give at least some insights into the horror of what we’ve been seeing on our TV screens in recent days.


Named after a region in Eastern Ukraine, Donbass is a film about what is going on there and how it affects the people living there on both sides of the divide. The Ukrainian regular army and volunteers fight separatist gangs, supported by Putin’s Russia. Corruption and criminality of all kinds are rife. Humiliation is commonplace. Violence can flare at any moment.

Each of the thirteen segments that make up the film is based on a real event and are loosely linked. Most characters only feature in one section, although some feature in more.

Born in Belarus, when that country was part of the Soviet Union, writer/director Sergei Loznitsa has been dubbed the ‘maestro of miserablism’ and ‘art cinema’s ultimate bad time merchant.’ Watching Donbass, it doesn’t take very long to figure out why.

It’s like a series of thirteen nightmares, which when taken together, offers a damning critique of this part of the world.

As Donbass opens, we see a group of actors and extras getting their make-up applied in the back of a trailer. A production assistant orders them to get out, presumably to film their scene. But this isn’t a feature film or TV drama that they’re taking part in. This is propaganda, a fake news story with controlled explosions in the background and a burnt-out bus. A woman who moments earlier was complaining to a makeup artist about not enjoying her job is suddenly acting like a stunned witness to bombings. ‘It’s impossible to live like this,’ she complains. ‘Every morning I wake up full of fear.’

Later, we see a snippet of the incident being viewed as authentic reportage.

A looter is made to walk a gauntlet where he is beaten by around twenty soldiers with long sticks. A German journalist is repeatedly branded a fascist, without a shred of evidence. ‘If you aren’t a fascist,’ one Russian soldier taunts him, ‘then your grandfather was.’ A news reporter is given a guided tour of an overcrowded bomb shelter that is now home to city-dwellers seeking safety. The poverty is Dickensian, several inhabitants lie on beds obviously very ill. There is no electricity and little food or medicine. The sole toilet isn’t working. ‘It’s as if we’re living in the Stone Age,’ one of the inhabitants observes.

The most memorable scene, though, is where a Ukrainian man with his hands cuffed, is forced to stand by a lamp-post in Russia’s proxy Donetsk People’s Republic. The intention here being that passers-by can abuse him verbally or physically. It sounds medieval but some young men who blow smoke into his face record events on their smartphones to give the punishment a modern twist.

A hate mob soon assembles, with one old woman squashing a tomato into his face. It’s gruelling to watch as the barbarism only gets worse.

Donbass lasts just over two hours long but never feels like it. With one possible exception, a raucous wedding ceremony, the vignettes don’t overstay their welcome.

The story ends where it began. In the trailer with some of the actors glimpsed in the opening scene. It’s the longest sequence in the film and its final ten minutes or so is filmed in one long take with the camera static and focussing on characters who we can hear in the middle distance but not identify. It’s a chilling finale to an often compulsively mesmerising film.

Sergei Loznitsa won the prestigious Un Certain Regard Award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and he fully merited the recognition.

For more on the film, click here .

A Ronnie Spector Two for Tuesday: Do I Love You? & Try Some, Buy Some

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A few years back, I declared The Ronettes’ Be My Baby to be the greatest pop song ever recorded. Do I Love You? therefore isn’t the greatest pop song ever recorded. Arguably, it isn’t even the best song called Do I Love You? – albeit I reckon it has a slight edge over Frank Wilson’s Northern Soul belter – but the fourth British single issued by best ever girl group is undoubtedly three minutes of pure pop magic.

Released here in September 1964, the single made its way into the top thirty the following month in a chart with You’ve Really Got Me, Baby Love, She’s Not There and It’s All Over Now. Since then, it’s been covered by The Flamin’ Groovies and by Chrissie & Steve & Paul in demo form – this being Chrissie Hynde and two former Sex Pistols in the days before The Pretenders found fame. The song suits Chrissie’s voice and Steve Jones performs much better in the vocals than might have been expected, but of course, the original featuring the towering vocals of Ronnie Spector is the essential version.

The coolest woman of 1960s pop kicked off her 1970s solo career sans sister Estelle, cousin Nedra, and her beehive but with her trademark oh, oh, oh, oh-oh, ohs still intact.

The vehicle for her comeback was a George Harrison composition which he and Ronnie’s husband of the time (yeah, him) agreed to co-produce with the single being issued by Apple (yeah, that Apple).

When Ronnie released Try Some, Buy Some in the spring of 1971, interest in the former moptops was still intense. All four were represented in the British charts as solo artists: Paul McCartney with Another Day, John Lennon with Power to the People and Ringo with It Don’t Come Easy. George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord (co-produced by Harrison & Spector) was still riding relatively high, after an outrageously successful run that had seen it top the British top thirty for five weeks. Derek Johnson in NME judged that My Sweet Lord had ‘finally and irrevocably established George as a talent equivalent to either Lennon or McCartney.’ It was also #1 in the American charts (and a stack of others) while Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass was also a number one hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The odds would have been short for Try Some, Buy Some becoming a sizeable hit and it was envisaged that Apple would also issue Ronnie’s debut solo album. But the single flopped and the album failed to materialize.

Try Some, Buy Some isn’t a track that’s easy to take a shine to on initial listens. Each additional play does add to its power, though. Crazily ambitious with swelling strings and a mandolin adding a gorgeous Neapolitan feel, it regularly threatens to absolutely soar but no matter how many spins you give it, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that it wasn’t the right song to showcase Ronnie’s voice to the best of her abilities. She even sounds to be straining at times.

The singer herself was far from happy with the song. ‘I didn’t enjoy doing it,’ she recalled to Hot Wacks fanzine in the spring of 1979, acknowledging that it wasn’t in the right key for her. ‘I even told George ‘cos Phil wouldn’t listen to me, I said “what is he trying to do to me, this is just not me.” ’

Phil certainly wasn’t paying much attention to her as she laid down her vocal in an overdub room at Trident Studios. Several onlookers have noted that the maniac producer would get her to perform a take and then launch into anecdotes for twenty minutes afterwards, Ronnie silent as he gabbered on. Then he’d request another take. And again, he’d then feel the need to gabber on for another twenty minutes before asking for another take, offering only the most minimal of advice.

In 1973, Harrison decided to revive it, recording his own plaintive vocal onto the existing backing track and releasing it on his Living in the Material World album. His version also failed to fully work, albeit I do like it more than My Sweet Lord with that syrupy slide guitar and sickly mantra. You can hear the George version here and if you’ve ever wondered how a duet between Ronnie and George might have sounded, here’s a mashup uplifted onto YouTube.

Fast forward to the present century. Ronnie has changed her mind on Try Some, Buy Some and began listing it as one of her favourites. After being unavailable for almost three decades, it was reissued on the compilation Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records in 2010.

And in 2003, an artist who’d been a big fan of the single on its initial release decided to record his own cover of it on his album Reality. Guess what? David Bowie’s vocals also failed to convince, although this live version is a big improvement and it’s good to see Dave enjoying himself so much on stage.

In a Rolling Stone interview in 2016, Ronnie expressed her sadness at the death of Bowie. ‘It bothers me that a lot of the rock & roll people that I loved, that I hung out with, are gone.’

And now, sadly, she’s gone too.

Ronnie Spector: August 10, 1943 – January 12, 2022