Review: See No Evil – The Moors Murders

An unsettling insight into the horrific Moors murders

How do you get inside the minds of the horrific Moors Murderers? The 2-part television series See No Evil does just that, giving us a chillingly accurate insight into the lives of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley during the time they kidnapped 5 children aged 10-17. They savagely abused them and buried the remains on the Saddleworth Moors in England between 1963 and 1965. The body of one victim, Keith Bennett, is thought to still be up there and remains unfound to this day.

The production was fully backed by the families of the victims, based on extensive research, interviews and Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith (Matthew McNulty). If not for Smith, the missing children would probably have never been linked back to Brady (Sean Harris) and Hindley (Maxine Peake), each murder leaving no trail whatsoever. Only after their confessions and the forensic analysis of the bodies did we find out their recurrent pattern for killing these children. The children were always alone, and always asked to help look for a lost glove of Myra’s. Ian would reportedly proceed to rape and then strangle the child with a cord or a shoelace. We never see this happen, only through David’s time spent with Ian do we start to see red flags that indicate Ian’s perversion and twisted mind.

In an attempt to include David into their secret, Myra and Ian arrange a live murder for David to witness. This is the only gruesome shot of the 2 episodes, in haunting red lighting Ian wields an axe fourteen times into his last victim, seventeen-year-old Edward Evans. Somehow keeping his cool, David does as he is told and helps clean up the mess. In the early hours of the morning he finally gets home, a total wreck, to his wife Maureen (Joanne Froggatt). Through a mixture of heaving and sobbing from shock, he tells her everything. Maureen coils at the idea that her own sister (Myra), that she knows so well, could be capable of such atrocities. Nevertheless, at the break of dawn the pair rush to the police station. This experience will destroy their lives forever, and is only the beginning of a painful “concatenation of circumstances”.

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Once denounced, the trail of evidence comes together incredibly fast. The discovery of Evans’ body in Brady’s flat along with the axe. Soon followed a suitcase, containing tape recordings and photographs of the sexual abuse of missing ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey. The sound is not heard and the photographs are not exposed, mercifully so. Including the sound of the tape recordings of the young child or the obscene photographs taken of her would have been unnecessary to the depiction of the story. The mere knowledge of their existence is enough and was a card the director did well not to play.

David Smith is initially questioned by the police, as Brady and Hindley attempt to include him in the rape and murder of the children. Public opinion of Smith is convinced he is the third Moors Murderer, and this will follow him and Maureen for their entire lives.

Finally, Brady and Hindley are charged with three counts of murder and concurrent life sentences. It is only in 1985 that Brady confessed to the killings of sixteen-year-old Pauline Reade and twelve-year-old Keith Bennett, of which only the body of Pauline was found in 1987 on Saddleworth Moor. Ian Brady remains imprisoned today, in the high-security Ashworth mental hospital since being diagnosed as criminally insane in 1985. Recently, Brady remorselessly explained that his actions were simply in pursuit of the ‘existential experience’ of it all.

Intended for television in 2006 on the 40th anniversary of the pair’s conviction, this was a remarkable effort in bringing this unsettling story into the light once again. A very well cast, tasteful production that I recommend watching to anyone interested in true stories or the psyche of criminals.

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Review: Sky Ladder

Sky Ladder explores the creative process and difficulties of a true great in contemporary art

The art of Cai Guo-qiang is like a moment in time. A drop of creativity in the pool of conventionalism. Kevin MacDonald’s Sky Ladder explores the artistic process behind his work, the origins of his illustrious career, and the shackles of patriotic ‘collaboration’.

From humble beginnings in Zhangou, the historic origin of fireworks, Guo-qiang’s father, Cai Ruiqin, was a highly respected calligrapher. A craft allowing for little personal expression, he found solace in books, regularly spending entire weekly salaries acquiring them to the detriment of his family. ‘It’s my fortune’ he told his son, ‘and one day that will be yours, too’.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be, as a drastic new ideology was sweeping through China. Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution cleansed society of so-called bourgeois elements bleaching huge periods in history, paralysing the country politically and economically. A dangerous time for classical artists and musicians, Ruiqin was forced to burn his extensive collection of books and in turn watched his son’s future reduced to ash.

And it is from those very ashes that a phoenix rises, one symbolising the flourishing of art and culture through the 1980s, the true Cultural Revolution. A time for experimentation, to push the limits of what is possible. For Guo-qiang, this was gunpowder. To essentially destroy a classical portrait through controlled detonation and call it art, to call that moment art, was simply unheard of, yet his work established a niche in the contemporary art community launching him on a trajectory to international fame.

Little by little, a shift towards a capitalistic government is becoming evident. One that takes art in it’s purist form, strips away the passion and replaces it with fanfare and melodrama. There is no greater example in Guo-qiang’s life than his 2001 APEC Conference firework show. It was conceived as a cacophony of sight and sound, coupled with suggestive themes, his trademark. With potentially the most symbolic scene following, a meeting with government officials, we watch as an increasingly desperate Guo-qiang clings to his ideas with every aspect deemed against agenda. ‘The government is here to help you’ he’s told, ‘you just have to figure out something creative with all these chains on you’. Prevented from abandoning the project from latent patriotism, the resulting soulless display is a tragedy, both for himself and, through MacDonald’s candid filmmaking, the viewer.

When an artists achieves high popularity, the likes of Damien Hirst for example, they become a brand, a large cog in the capitalist machine – often losing sight of their original cause. This issue is presented matter-of-factly, illustrating MacDonald’s disdain for the current art environment. To avoid this fate, Guo-qiang works with the unknown. Those who create for passion and self-fulfilment, the foundations of greatness. His long-awaited dream, to connected Earth to the Universe through a ‘Sky Ladder’, has wrestled with the requirement of investment. A costly venture that has suffered multiple cancellations over two decades (due to issues with weather, and an unfortunate increase in security following 9/11 terror attacks), he plans one final attempt. This time not for the eyes of the world however, but for family and friends, especially dedicated to his almost 100 year old grandmother. The affair is a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by Chinese virtuosi, with work completed in secret to avoid interference from the government. After more delays due to bad weather, Guo-qiang seizes his opportunity and what follows is simply joyous, a euphoric spectacle as dream becomes reality. His masterpiece, realised.

Sky Ladder is akin to peering through the keyhole. A brief glimpse into an ordinary man with truly extraordinary ambitions. Driven not by money, but by an incessant need to provoke discussion, instil a sense of wonder and most of all, to make his family proud. An event almost lost to the ages, MacDonald’s documentary is an astonishing extension of Guo-qiang’s art, a profound experience and an honour to watch.