The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
JEFF SAWTELL and BEN DAVIS trawl through the highlights, the low points the truly nauseating disasters of cinema's offerings in 2004.
IN the tradition of camp British comedy, Churchill - The Hollywood Years proved that the talented writer and director of Comic Strip Peter Richardson has made the successful transition from television to the big screen.
Sending up Hollywood caricatures of British history, it reflected the inescapable truth - that the racist assumptions of the British ruling class made many of them keen collaborators with fascism.
Significantly, at the end of almost two terms of new Labour adminstration, racism and class continue to be central to the best British films this year. Not least, Paul Morrison's Wondrous Oblivion and Amma Asante's A Way of Life.
The first, is set in post-war Britain, deals with the racism that is experienced by a West Indian family and is viewed through the eyes of a Jewish boy who desperately wants to learn how to play cricket.
The second, is a highly critical account of social alienation in south Wales.
The amazing Stephanie James plays a 17-year-old single mother who inspires the murder of a Turkish immigrant.
Ken Loach also took the Celtic road in order to make Ae Fond Kiss. Not as despairing as his usual fare, it's a Glaswegian Romeo and Juliet, with a Hindu boy and a Catholic girl being punished for their love.
Prejudice also features in Pawel Pawlikowski's brilliant and beautiful My Summer of Love, a romantic tragicomic story of lesbian love and loss between an upper-class and a working-class woman.
Controversy is also engaged in Damien O'Donnell's excellent Inside I'm Dancing, a film about two disabled characters who conspire, against the odds, to run their own lives.
Some critics considered it politically incorrect that O'Donnell chose two able-bodied actors. Others argued that it is the role of actors to play parts, not to be patronising.
Alison Peebles chose to cast a young woman with Down's syndrome in Afterlife. There's no doubt that this otherwise quite unremarkable film was saved by Paula Sage's engaging performance.
Patronising people is the soft option. Most actors would prefer to be considered and appreciated for their art and abilities, rather than being patronised for their special differences.
If it were otherwise, Shane Meadows' would have had to employ no-brainers in Dead Man's Shoes, a film in which Paddy Considine plays a character who seems to be a psychopath, seeking revenge upon a gang of bullies who killed his brother.
Racism is kicked into touch in Nick Love's Football Factory, a caustic account of the life of the fascists who attach themselves to football fans in order to initiate fights as pre-match entertainment.
There was much political anger displayed throughout the year, not least, in a spate of new documentaries, the most infamous being Michael Moore's award-winning Fahrenheit 9/11.
Undoubtedly, if Bush had lost the election, Fahrenheit 9/11 would have gone down in history as the most influential party political broadcast ever made. It certainly was a big box-office hit.
Will it now be considered an expensive flop? Although it politicised people to vote for Kerry, some say that it also contributed to Bush's victory by upsetting those who Moore hoped to educate.
Obviously, the issue will remain contentious. Histories tend to be related by the victors. But after brief gander at the Democratic US press, you might imagine Moore to have been Bush's secret weapon.
Be that as it may, the politics of Bush and the quisling Tony Blair has sparked a new wave of vital political art on a scale that has not been seen since the 1980s.
For a fuller account of their complicity in terrorising the world, you couldn't ask for anything better than Robert Greenwald's analysis of the reasons for the criminal War On Iraq.
Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot attacked the inequities of big business in The Corporation, which is a studied deconstruction of the psychotic dynamics of capitalist exploitation.
Robert Kane Papas was equally ruthless in his denunciation of the corporate mentality in Orwell Rolls In His Grave - satirising the double-think that maintains wage slavery as freedom in Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Anderson provided a poetic political overview of the place, defined by its mythology.
Never mind the Taliban destroying history, they do it every day in Tinsel Town, a city which is only recognisable through film footage, since most of its historic buildings have been destroyed.
In The Architect, Nathaniel Kahn went in search of his father Louis I Kahn, a modernist visionary who likened ancient architecture to a spiritual mission, best exemplified by his capital building Bangla Desh.
Other notable political films include Pedro Almodovar's wicked Bad Education, Gabriele Salvatores' two films I'm Not Scared and Best of Youth and Walter Salles Motorcycle Diaries about Che Guevara's road to revolutionary consciousness.
However, no matter the importance of such "foreign" films, they will always be over-shadowed by Hollywood as long as the US seeks to recreate the world in its own image.
The only country which seems capable of challenging US hegemony is China. Apart from owning the massive US debt, it is moving into markets where it is, increasingly, pre-eminent.
My favourite films this year were Chinese, especially Zhang Yimou's Hero and The House of Flying Daggers. The first celebrates the rise of Chinese nationalism 300 BC, the second the disintegration of the Tang Dynasty in 900 AD.
Yimou's poetic visual flair puts Hollywood to shame. It reminds us that, along with the former Soviet film-makers Eisenstein and Tarkovsky, he is a passionate advocate of the political picture.
I SAW more that 300 films in 2004. It's tough, I know, but someone has to do it. So I spent around 3000 minutes, give or take a couple of hours, in Soho basements, fighting sleep, nausea and amazement - or all three.
So much money has been squandered on making so many appalling movies. Now that the season of goodwill is over, it's time to name and shame some of the year's worst films.
Take the clutch of corpulent, celluloid turkeys. What links the truly execrable science fiction sewage Code 46 - a career worst, even for Michael Winterbottom - the portentously pretentious and patronising My Summer of Love, The Statement - featuring one of Michael Caine's worst performances - as a nazi Frenchman and the anaesthetic Trauma, showcasing another mesmerising display of sleepwalking by Colin Firth?
I'd gladly have paid to miss them but, sadly, you and I have already paid towards their production with our TV licence money.
These - and previous aberrations like Ben Elton's hideous Maybe Baby and the even worse Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis - were produced by David M Thompson of the BBC.
Having money to burn - our money - he did just that and got his name in the credits at our expense. Power to spend without responsibility. Now that's the kind of job that I'd like!
In fairness - and that's a word that a critic doesn't write very often - Mr Thompson wasn't responsible for every bad film that I suffered.
Astonishingly, he didn't invest in the grisly alleged comedies Sex Lives of the Potato Men and Fat Slags. Amputation without anaesthesia would have been preferable to watching Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook's rancid rutting in the former, while the latter was even worse.
More British money was misspent on Stephen Fry's vanity opus Bright Young Things, which did to Evelyn Waugh something similar to what Bush and Blair have done to Iraq. More was squandered on the wooden Thunderbirds, which burned up on the launch pad and yet more went on trying to pass off the winsome Orlando Bloom as a pugilist in The Calcium Kid.
While Britain scores strongly in my 2004 legion of dishonour, Hollywood naturally fought back like John Wayne at his most gung ho. Squeezing Halle Berry into tight black leather spawned the feline flop Catwoman.
Teaming hammy Anthony Hopkins and an out of her depth Nicole Kidman resulted in the shallow, tendentious and rightly ignored racial drama The Human Stain. Super-smug Tom Hanks came a well-deserved cropper with his inept Colonel Sanders impersonation - one of the catalogue of cinematic crimes that compounded the Coen Brothers' inept and utterly unnecessary attack on the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers.
Ben Aflleck's lumbering impersonations of a talking side of beef made the dire comedies Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas even more unendurable and Spike Lee crashed in flames with the mirthlessly racist She Hate Me.
Ask me again and I'd probably compile another equally egotistical hate list. That's the joy of reviewing - the bad and the Michael Caine ugly pass before your increasingly glazed eyes and then, just when you wonder why you do it, joyful movies like Finding Neverland light up your life and make it all worth while.