The War In Ukraine Pushes The World Closer To The Edge Of A Climate Precipice

CJ Polychroniou

Putin’s war in Ukraine, which could last for years, is in fact an absolute godsent to the most destructive forces on the planet, namely the arms industry and the fossil fuel companies.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constitutes a crime of aggression under international law. Putin’s regime launched an attack on a sovereign country that posed no direct threat to the Russian Federation. Russian forces have pounded cities into submission, thousands of civilians have been killed, and millions have fled as refugees.

The war on Ukraine has also fueled a food crisis in developing countries across the world and added to the widespread inflation in food prices. Russia and Ukraine export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat. But blockades and sanctions are causing wheat shortages in many Middle East and African countries.

However, the business of war is profitable. Putin’s war in Ukraine, which could last for years, is in fact an absolute godsent to the most destructive forces on the planet, namely the arms industry and the fossil fuel companies.

Military expenditure, which reached an all-time high of $2.1 trillion in 2021, will surely rise much further as several European countries have already made plans to beef up their armed forces in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a historic vote, the German parliament voted for a constitutional amendment to create a $100 billion euro ($112 billion) fund to modernize the country’s armed forces. The bulk of the money will go toward the purchase of American-made F-35 fighter jets. German chancellor Olaf Scholtz also promised that Germany would spend more than 2 percent of its gross national product on the military.  In real terms, Germany’s annual defense spending would increase by 50 percent in 2022 alone,” according to Alexandra Marksteiner, researcher at the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program. “This would catapult Germany towards the top of the list of the world’s largest military spenders. All else being equal, Germany would rank third—up from seventh in 2020—behind the United States and China and ahead of India and Russia.”

Belgium, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden have also announced a boost to their defense spendings. Indeed, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has managed to revive a “brain-dead” NATO. Even Nordic states with a long history of neutrality are now eager to join the transatlantic alliance.

In the US, where annual increases to the defense budget are routine, the war in Ukraine has created strong bipartisan support for more military spending. The Senate Armed Services Committee on June 16 voted 23-3 to boost funding for military spending by $45 billion over the Biden administration’s budget request. If accepted, the bill would raise the defense budget for the fiscal year 2023 to over $817 billion.

The war in Ukraine has also reinvigorated the fossil fuel industry and put climate action and clean energy on the back burner. With gas prices going through the roof, the Biden administration is doing everything possible to boost domestic oil production, which includes issuing drilling permits on federal lands and ordering an unprecedented release of oil from US reserves.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden had also urged OPEC and its allies to boost oil output in an effort to curb soaring gasoline prices. Biden’s plea fell on deaf ears, but his plan to visit the Middle East next month seems to have produced a change of heart for OPEC as it has just announced a hike in oil production.

Europe’s response to the energy impacts of the war in Ukraine is also shortsighted. Instead of boosting investments on clean energy as part of its goal to break free from Russian fossil fuels, the European Union simply opted to pursue new energy arrangements such as increasing imports of gas from Norway, importing liquified natural gas (LNG) from places like Australia, Qatar, and the United States, and building more LNG terminals. Natural gas may be producing less greenhouse gases than oil and coal, but it is not environmentally friendly.

Worse still, Europe has decided to turn to coal for power generation after Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom decided to curb gas supplies to several European Union countries, including Germany.

It is probably still not too late to rescue the planet. But time is surely running out, and no one should expect politicians and bureaucrats to do what must be done to save humanity from climate doom. We can still rescue this planet from global warming through the power that citizens united can have in forcing change.

At this historic juncture, and while we need to end the brutal war in Ukraine without any further delay, concerned citizens worldwide must embrace wholeheartedly the Global Green New Deal project. There is no other viable alternative for a sustainable future.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (A collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky; Haymarket Books, 2021), and Economics and the Left: Interviews with Progressive Economists (Verso, 2021).

Frank Bovenkerk & Jan Rath – Lodewijk Brunt ~ Flaneur in toga

Er is al een tijdje niks verschenen op de blog van onze vader Lo die in 2020 uit ons leven verdween. Dat vinden wij soms zonde van zo’n omvangrijk en divers document. Lodewijk’s oude studievriend en collega Frank Bovenkerk heeft samen met Jan Rath (opvolger van Lodewijk als professor stadsstudies) een uitvoerig en mooi resumé geschreven over het werkzame leven van Lo. Wij willen dat graag plaatsen als aanvulling op al het overige. Beide heren zijn grondig te werk gegaan en hebben zich ook verdiept in de periode nadat Frank en Lo elkaar een beetje uit het oog zijn verloren. Wij, als zoons van Lo, kunnen ons helemaal vinden in de feiten en hoe Frank en Jan het hebben opgeschreven. Vooral het nogal onvoorspelbare karakter van onze vader wordt raak beschreven en iedereen die hem goed kende herkent deze kant van hem wel. Ook de gedrevenheid in zijn wetenschap en vooral zijn grote passie, de stad (en dan vooral Amsterdam), komen in het stuk heel mooi naar voren. Na het lezen van het stuk hebben we toch weer opnieuw bewondering voor hem gekregen en we missen hem nog iedere dag. Papa Lo was trots geweest op dit in memoriam. Wij hopen dat de bezoekers die dit stuk lezen dat met evenveel genoegen doen als ondergetekenden.

Tibor & Omar Brunt


Trust me (we’ll get to know each other later) – Tagline: blockchain re-invents who and how we trust


I’ve been mulling a wry title for this piece. The passage of deliberation punctuated by flocks of green avians (yes, parrots and in Amsterdam!) dissecting the blue, blue firmament on their screeching way to somewhere possibly exotic, only to pivot and rush back the way they had come mere moments later.

The struggle is to find the depth of pith required to compliment the hint of wit that will sustain attention beyond a headline. ‘Trust me (again)’ comes close as does ‘Trust re-invented’. ‘Trust 2.0’ is potentially smirk worthy but only to those, perhaps, for whom Web 3.0 or Industry 4.0 elicit a familiar nod.

Trust me, this was the best I could do.

Most of us trust someone or something: a distant cousin on your mother’s side, a company, an institution, or even the government. Agreed, it was not strictly necessary to add the word ‘even’ when mentioning the government and yet…

Trust runs through us like Brighton through rock. It’s free and freely given. It’s easily and frequently betrayed only to be given again.

And so…

We trust that the barber is no Sweeney Todd; that government will safeguard state pensions; that the late-night Uber driver is, honestly, just an Uber driver; that the limited-edition Warhol is not, on inspection, a Wharwhole; that the heating engineer can distinguish a water pipe from a gas pipe; that the eviction technician barring entry to Koooolers Nightclub will not sell the enforced copy of your ID to X-Ron3023, a denizen of the dark-web and a close associate of NightKnightBungie100-2; that the recently promoted (former) assistant VP now has access to the executive bathroom on the top floor.

We need trust. The moment maker. The oil in the works. What is there without trust? And I implore you to keep in mind that trust starts with truth and ends with truth, fear leads to more fear, and trust leads to more trust, and we must surely all concur that to be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. Trust Hemmingway to weigh in with ‘The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.’

All good. Not a jot of critique from my side. Old school trust. Built over decades, augmented by endorsements of others. The trusted and tested and true assured reliance on character and values and judgement, our innate ability and strength to see the truth of someone or something leading us have confidence (unscientifically, some might say) that our best interests will be represented, or at the very least not compromised.

It’s been a battle – a losing battle – to maintain my willingness to trust those making increasingly frequent requests for, yes, my trust. You can trust us with your profile data, they cry; you can trust our claim that the coffee-famer received a living wage in the production of this premium product; that the energy powering my microwave is not only green but the greenest; and that this cod was sustainably caught in the North Sea using the latest ecologically friendly gear and the discard (read: disposing of dead fish that you’d rather not have caught) was negligible.

Sceptical? Should you find a moment in your local supermarket to peruse the little letters and labels printed on the packaging en route past Dairy and Fresh to where Linda waits patiently at the checkout, you’ll surely agree that the credibility of these claims is enhanced by cutting-edge keywords that include (but are not limited to) WiggleWoggle certified, artisan organic, free range (define range) and farm fresh(ness) – whatever that means.

Further doubts may be placated by a plethora of QR codes and high-quality logos and, without a shred of hesitation on my part, I’d like to state for the record that many of these logos go way beyond clipart.

Look, we’re a few paragraphs in and I’ve not mentioned blockchain which has not been easy. Don’t ask or expect me to defend the many (but not all) justifiable claims that cast blockchain in a poor light. Decades must pass before blockchain’s battered reputational half-life decays to the point of defying detection.

Blockchain. Disruptive? Disreputable? I need to move on as, otherwise, this post will assume book-length dimensions as I attempt to parry what many are thinking. My plea, humbly made, is that you will accept that blockchain is a ‘thing’ and that we’ll save other discussion for later.

[Author’s note: the remainder of this article contains numerous dangerous bends in train of thought, and a range of concepts and terms invented by nerds whose average age is twenty-three. Continue reading only under medical advisement].

How can blockchain replace old school trust? What could possibly supplant the handshake, the written agreement, the unshakeable faith in a bond handed down the generations?

The answer is that blockchain cannot replace any of these things.

Rather, blockchain facilitates alternative forms of trust. Trust between parties that have never met, who have not heard of one another, who do not like each other, who compete with each other and – I’m just putting it out there – do not trust each other. Blockchain facilitates trustless transactions where a distributed network of ‘verifiers of truth’ (nodes) guarantee both the execution of transactions between parties (liveness) as well as the integrity of transactions following agreement (consensus).

Furthermore, blockchain requires no mediating (meddling?) third-party as an enabler and, as a result, there is no centralised authority needed to deny or refuse or scrutinise or record any transaction or interaction between two parties. Humans are not involved in consensus forming and, as a result, there is no opinion-based influence and no ad-hoc bias. Given the same set of inputs, the blockchain will consistently resolve in the same manner each time of asking. Trust me on that.

In considering how blockchain helps reinvent trust, we need to first dispel the notion that blockchain and cryptocurrency are synonymous. The repute of the former tarnished by the ponziness of the latter. Take transactions for example. The first and best-known blockchain network was named ‘Bitcoin’, while the first and best-known cryptocurrency was named ‘bitcoin’ (the branding agency has a lot of explaining to do). And the first transaction involved a bitcoin token on the Bitcoin network.

The term ‘transaction’ can also mislead. A transaction could, indeed, refer to a payment from one party to another. However, a transaction my involve the transfer of intellectual property, or of a digital work of art (NFTs are the new black, digital scarcity and ownership guaranteed), or the verification of a claim such as the right to drive, your age (remember Koooolers), relevant skills (remember the heating engineer), your academic credentials, certain rights (remember the former assistant VP), or sustainable fish (remember the cod).

Two examples suffused with a sprinkling of geek-speak will either pave the way to your ‘ah-ha’ moment or reinforce existing beliefs that old-school trust is all you can trust.

Koooolers Nightclub
You’re at the door of Koooolers Nightclub. Midnight. The bouncer needs to see your ID. He turns to make a copy of your driving license on an ancient Xerox 1048 circa 1984. Copy? “Yes, mate. Company policy. Any other questions?” It’s raining and you don’t have any other questions. In order to gain entry to this den of partyness, you’ve just entrusted – to a stranger – your full name, your photograph, date of birth, place of birth, your driving license number, your social security number, how long you’ve had your licence, and an overview of the vehicles you are permitted to drive when all that is really required to enter Kooolers is a check on if you are old enough, not even how old you are. If we think this through, you’ve also given away your physical location confirming that you are not home, your preference for a down-market nightclub, and indicated your willingness to part with personal data at the request of someone wearing a tight suit. Self sovereign identity (SSI) is an approach to digital identity management gives individuals control of their digital identities using, often, blockchain to secure and protect privacy. SSI would change the above scenario as follows: a scan of your face would match against the blockchain secured and encoded biometrics of your ID document (this offers a proof that you are the holder of the ID based on the permission you’ve granted to perform this verification just once for this specific task). In this manner, you have verified yourself against a credential (your driving license) issued by a trusted party (the Government). You would also need to give permission to establish that your age is above the minimum age required to enter Koooolers. In this case, the same credential can be used as your date of birth is also an element of your driving license data secured on the blockchain. It checks out and moments later you are swapping stories with a retired wrestler while the barman inexpertly assembles a watery cocktail replete with maraschino cherry and tiny umbrella.

Cranking up the geek-factor a tad, the Koooolers scenario demonstrates an application of non-interactive zero-knowledge proofs that require no interaction between the issuer of a credential (the Government) and the verifier (Koooolers) to establish the veracity of a claim (you are old enough). Using SSI in combination with zk proof technology, you have been able to prove your claim without giving away any data that you’d rather keep private.

It’s true. Sustainably caught cod tastes better than other cod. And even if it doesn’t, it feels like it should and, as you’ve paid a premium for this ecologically friendly product, you’ll exercise your deity-given right to believe whatever you want about the taste.

But let’s move beyond the sustainability claims on the packaging: tiny letters, even smaller logos, certifications from bodies you’ve never heard off, a web address here, a QR code there. We are asked to trust in so many claims these days that, in order to determine which are genuine, something more is required. What follows is a cod-inspired thought experiment: a fishing boat in the North Sea. The captain, somewhat nervously, has deployed imaging and sensor-technology on his boat that captures 20 data points every thirty seconds. A trip of 16 hours would record 38400 micro-measurements on salinity, humidity, line tension, fuel consumption and a host of other metrics. Real-time processing of this data in the cloud using buzz-word compliant artificial intelligence, big data analytics, image recognition and other cool techniques provide two types of output. Firstly, actionable insights that benefit the captain immediately by suggesting, for example, adjustments to set ups, gear choice, and speed which positively impact the profitability of this trip; secondly, the cloud-based analytics will provide sustainability proofs. This latter output forms the basis of establishing verifiable sustainability claims that cod-fans can rely on. A boat can prove it has not strayed outside of mandated fishing grounds (without revealing where, specifically, it fished), that the weight of fish caught has not exceeded the amount of fish landed (without revealing how much was caught), that discard is within regulatory tolerance, that bycatch is limited, that the gear used did not damage marine ecology. These claims can be cryptographically secured on the blockchain and made available – at the captain’s discretion – to those asking for proofs.

A picky point of clarification is required here. We are talking about proofs and the role of blockchain in creating trust in claims. We are not implying that blockchain is a synonym for database. More plainly stated, blockchain is not better at being a database than, say, a database. Blockchain offers an immutable, auditable (and often) public trust layer enabling claims to be verified. In this cod example, the data, outputs and insights are all owned and controlled by the boat captain. ZK technology, as used in the Koooolers example, allows for minimal reveal without giving away information a captain would rather keep confidential.

This means that (downstream), consumers can trust in sustainability claims. Furthermore, this means that (upstream), regulators can trust in claims of sustainable fishing practices and can act (regulate) based on traceability and verification rather than on aggregate modelling and assumption.

We started talking about trust and ended up with blockchain. How did that happen?

My hopes for readers that made it this far are two-fold. Firstly, that you (now) regard blockchain as a real and unstoppable and disruptive technology and, secondly, that trust in a technology that reinvents trust is more than purely tautological.

Mike Russell is Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Amsterdam University of Applied Science and at Northumbria University. Since gaining a PhD in man-machine interaction from the University of Wales, Russell has waited decades for blockchain’s arrival. During this intervening period, he has pretended to be a software developer for ITT (Amsterdam), directed the European Management Lab for CTP (Amsterdam), dabbled as an invited researcher at Hitachi Central Research Labs (Tokyo), and taught informatics at Griffith University (Brisbane). Russell’s current research interests relate primarily to blockchain and something: blockchain and defi, blockchain in the supply chain, blockchain and the metaverse, blockchain and philanthropy.

Attie S. van Niekerk & Sytse Strijbos (Eds.) – We cannot continue like this: Facing modernity in Africa and Europe

The book is based on the view that the present trajectory of modern development cannot continue as it is now because it is ecologically unsustainable, it continues to enlarge the gap between rich and poor, and the decolonialisation movement has drawn our attention again to the specific role of religion, culture and value in human affairs and the need for a robust element of indigenisation and contextualisation. This book is strongly focused on the context of Africa, with two chapters that are written by authors from the Netherlands, for the purpose of presenting a North-South dialogue. The book contains reflection on approaches followed in building sustainable human communities in general and reflection on specific efforts to solve sustainability issues. It seeks to integrate academic reflection and insights gained from practical involvement with sustainability issues in local communities and low-income households, with contributions from Theology and Natural and Social Sciences.

Download the book (open access):

This book is the first result of a quite unique and emerging researc collaboration between three organisations, NOVA, the International Institute for Development and Ethics (IIDE) and the Centre for Faith and Community (CFC) that is housed at the Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria. The central aim is to chart an innovative course in the debate on ‘sustainability and development’. NOVA and IIDE are independent entities that both want to operate as an intermediate between the university and broader society.

The organisations at a glance

About NOVA
NOVA Institute NPC1 is a not-for-profit company that was established in 1994.
Our vision is a healthy household culture in Southern Africa. NOVA’s overarching strategic goal is to be the professional partner of choice for households and other stakeholders working towards improving the quality of life of low-income communities. NOVA has more than 20 years of experience in co-creating solutions for everyday problems with low-income households in a trans-disciplinary research and development process, and in implementing such solutions on a large scale in a phased approach, as well as in monitoring and evaluating the impact of these solutions against a defendable project baseline.

About the IIDE
The early roots of the IIDE go back to 1995 when an international group of about 15 scholars, junior and senior researchers from different disciplines (philosophy, technology and engineering science, management and systems science) came together in Amsterdam. This meeting became the start of a formal cooperation between scholars affiliated with several universities and institutions in different countries and various cultural spheres of the world.
During its first phase, this cooperation has been active as a network under the name CPTS (Centre for Philosophy Technology and Social Systems). After a decade of operations, the CPTS was transformed in 2004 into the IIDE, registered in the Netherlands as a Public Benefit Organisation, in Dutch an Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling. With the aim of stimulating North–South exchange, an independent IIDE partner organisation has been established in
South Africa and is housed at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein.

About the Centre for Faith and Community
The CFC is based in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria. Its vision is healthy communities through the formation of community and faith-based leaders. It works towards this through a bouquet of basic courses and specialised programmes, aimed at grassroot practitioners and understanding theology as change-making. It also hosts various engaged research programmes, working in and with communities, in support of their emancipatory and transformational processes. Our research themes include faith in the city, pathways out of homelessness, social justice and reconciliation, doing theology with children, spirituality and healthcare and sustainable communities. We host the Urban Studio, using the city as classroom and focusing on six geographical sites in the City of Tshwane. We also manage the Unit for Street Homelessness, doing research on street homelessness locally and nationally, contributing to policy-making processes and facilitating the Pathways Operational Centre, supporting the city and NGOs in their evidence-based homeless interventions.

Charting the course
The collaboration between NOVA, IIDE and CFC deliberately did not start with a sharply defined and detailed programme. To initiate the research process, it was decided to carry out an exploratory project, linking up to fieldwork of NOVA, IIDE and other partners in building sustainable communities. It is expected that by working together in a process of academic reflection as well as learning by doing, a programme will evolve, paving the way for the longer term. An important goal of the research is to enable local churches and other
entities to get involved in their local communities in a meaningful way. This includes developing resources such as skills, knowledge, funds and networks.

First of all, we gladly acknowledge Prof. Jerry Pillay, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, for his financial contribution that has made the publication of this book possible. We also thank the Publisher, Prof. Andries van Aarde, Dr Anna Azarch and Mrs Trudie Retief and Mr Michael Maart of AOSIS for their friendly and professional assistance, as well as the professional language practitioner, Corrie Geldenhuys.
Finally, we wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive engagement with our work.


Introductory Part

We cannot continue like this
Attie S. van Niekerk, Sytse Strijbos

Chapter 1
Where do you feel Africa’s heartbeat? The World Bank, Africa and the Christian mission
Attie S. van Niekerk

Chapter 2
Re-Integrating Technology and Economy in Human Life: On the Disclosure of Society
Sytse Strijbos

Part 1: Issues

Chapter 3
Energy transition challenges in South Africa: A study of residential coal use practices
Kristy Langerman, Farina Lindeque, Montagu Murray, Christiaan Pauw

Chapter 4
Towards a complementary approach in sustainable food production
Betsie le Roux, Mike Howard

Chapter 5
Partnerships that flourish or fail: A case study of social entrepreneurship in the Eastern Free State, South Africa
Deidré van Rooyen, Willem F. Ellis

Chapter 6
Stones, bricks and windows: Searching for a sacred place
Willem Jan de Hek

Part 2: Approaches

Chapter 7
From isolation to relation: A trans-disciplinary analysis of an improved cookstove project in Molati, South Africa
Pierre Reyneke

Chapter 8
Decolonising the engineering curriculum at the university
Willem van Niekerk, Attie S. van Niekerk

Chapter 9
Mobilising people to emerge as transformation agents for society building: A reflection on a missional team practice
Luc Kabongo

Chapter 10
The quest of sustainability in this present ‘wicked world’: How to overcome Enlightenment modernity?
Sytse Strijbos

Download the book (open access):

Bruce Springsteen – Chimes Of Freedom (East Berlin 1988)

July 1988. One year before the fall of the Berlin wall, between 200.000 and 300.000 east-berliners witnessed this historical concert. In his speech, they recommended him not to say the word “wall” so he changed it for “barriers”. Epic historical moment.

GERMAN: Es ist schön in Ost-Berlin zu sein. Ich möchte euch sagen ich bin nicht hier für oder gegen eine Regierung, ich bin gekommen um rock’n’roll zu spielen für Ost-Berlinern, in der Hofnung dass eines Tages alle Barrieren obgeriesen warden.

ENGLISH: It’s nice to be in East Berlin. I want to tell you that I’m not here for or against any government, I have come to play rock’n’roll for the East-Berliners, in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down.

Besame Mucho – Een saxofonist verstript

De muziek van de film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud uit 1958 – regie Louis Malle – is bekender dan de film zelf. Miles Davis maakte de soundtrack, die niet alleen bij jazzliefhebbers bekend is. Vaak is de muziek te horen als achtergrond bij documentaires of televisiereportages. Het onmiskenbare trompetspel van Davis wordt afgewisseld met melancholische saxofoonklanken. Er ontstaat een serie lang uitgesponnen saxofoon- en trompetsolo’s met een simpel, telkens terugkerend thema, zonder echte melodie, wat zich eindeloos lijkt te herhalen.
Filmkijkers herinneren zich vooral deze muziek bij de scènes waarin een wanhopige Jeanne Moreau, op hakjes, verdwaasd over de beregende kinderhoofdjes van straten in Parijs beweegt. Het zijn ook de enige beelden uit de film die blijven hangen. Zonder de muziek van Miles Davis zou de film waarschijnlijk al lang in de vergetelheid zou zijn geraakt.

Film noir
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud is de eerste lange speelfilm van regisseur Louis Malle (1932-1995). Het is een in zwart/wit gedraaide film noir die bij vlagen hitchcock-achtig aandoet.
Een vrouw – Jeanne Moreau in de rol die haar doorbraak zou betekenen – en haar minnaar zijn van plan haar echtgenoot te vermoorden. Het plan dreigt te mislukken wanneer de minnaar opgesloten raakt in een lift in een verder verlaten kantoorgebouw en zo zijn afspraak met de vrouw misloopt. Wanhopig dwaalt ze ’s nachts door een uitgaanswijk van Parijs, in café’s en nachtclubs op zoek naar haar minnaar.

Nouvelle Vague
Hoewel Ascenseur pour l’échafaud niet door alle filmhistorici gerekend wordt tot de Nouvelle Vague, de Franse filmstroming die brak met de traditionele wijze van filmen, geldt de film wel als voorloper ervan. Zeker is dat de film een belangrijke inspiratiebron was voor regisseurs als François Truffaut en Jean-Luc Godard, toonaangevende vertegenwoordigers van de Nouvelle Vague.
Eind jaren vijftig en in het begin van de jaren zestig weken Truffaut en Godard, maar ook regisseurs als Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer en Agnès Varda, met hun werkwijze fundamenteel af van de tot dan toe heersende filmtradities. Hun aanpak was niet gebaseerd op van te voren geprogrammeerde scènes en dichtgetimmerde scenario’s, maar ging uit van experiment en improvisatie tijdens de opnames, in camerawerk, chronologie en editing, net als de soundtrack.

Jean Seberg en Jean-Paul Belmondo

Als een van de eersten nam Louis Malle – later de regisseur van onder meer Zazie dans le Metro (1960), Pretty Baby (1978) en My Dinner with André (1981) – de camera mee de straat op. Niet om vanuit een vast standpunt te filmen, maar juist om op straat met personages mee te kunnen bewegen. Om Jeanne Moreau lopend door straten te kunnen filmen, werd de camera op een kinderwagen gemonteerd zodat ze overal gevolgd kon worden. François Truffaut filmde later op soortgelijke wijze straatscènes in Parijs voor zijn debuutfilm Le Quatre Cents Coup (1959). Truffaut liet de camera op een 2CV zonder dak monteren om de jonge Antoine Doinel te kunnen volgen op zijn zwerftochten door Parijs.

Schatplichtig aan Ascenseur pour l’échafaud is ook de beroemde straatscène in Godards A Bout de Souffle (1959), waarin Jean Seberg de Herald Tribune verkoopt op de Avenue des Champs- Élysées en door Jean-Paul Belmondo wordt aangesproken. Door – op de openingsscène na – de hele film op locatie te draaien in plaats van in een studio, doorbrak Godard fundamenteel de bestaande filmtraditie en baande hij de weg voor een nieuwe manier van film maken.

Jeanne Moreau en Miles Davis

Jazz in Parijs
In november 1957 was Miles Davis voor enkele optredens geboekt in de Club Saint-Germain in Parijs, een bekende jazzclub in de Rue Saint-Benoît. Franse jazzmusici als Barney Wilen, Stéphane Grapelli, René Urtreger en Boris Vian traden er frequent op, maar ook voor Amerikaanse jazzmuzikanten als Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Bud Powell en Kenny Clarke was het een geliefde plek. Parijs was een stad waar Amerikaanse musici graag verbleven.
Trompettist Chet Baker nam in Parijs een aantal van zijn beste platen op (op cd als Chet in Paris vol. 1-4).
In de jaren vijftig werd Parijs de stad ‘waar het gebeurde’. Europa herstelde zich van de Tweede Wereldoorlog, en Parijs was de stad waar de voorhoede van een nieuwe toekomst zich leek te kunnen manifesteren. Nieuwe stromingen in kunst, mode, cultuur en filosofie kondigden zich aan. Hoogwaardige journalistiek – de International Herald Tribune vindt zijn oorsprong in Parijs – en literaire tijdschriften als The Paris Review en Les Temps Modernes (onder redactie van Jean-Paul Sartre en Simone de Beauvoir) bepaalden mede het sociaal-culturele klimaat.

Zwarte musici hadden er nauwelijks last van racistische vooroordelen en discriminatie zoals ze dat in de Verenigde Staten meemaakten. Bovendien heerste er een gunstiger klimaat ten opzichte van drugsgebruik. Heroïne was een veel gebruikte drug onder musici. In Parijs was het niet al te problematisch om in die behoefte te kunnen voorzien. Bovendien was het Franse rechtssysteem aanzienlijk minder streng ten opzichte van het gebruik van harddrugs in vergelijking met de Verenigde Staten, waar de criminalisering en segregatie hand in hand gingen.

Juliette Greco en Miles Davis

Het was niet het eerste bezoek van Miles Davis aan Parijs. Al in 1949 had hij in Parijse clubs gespeeld. De Amerikaanse bebop was in Parijs ongekend populair, met name in de jazzcafé’s in Saint-Germain-des-Près. In Parijs werd Davis verliefd op chanteuse en actrice Juliette Gréco, die in bohemienachtige, existentialistische kringen rondom Jean-Paul Sartre verkeerde. In 1957 hernieuwde hij in Parijs zijn relatie met Gréco. Inmiddels was hij wereldberoemd, na het uitbrengen van de legendarische serie platen Cookin’-, Relaxin’-, Workin’- and Steamin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet.
Jean-Paul Rappeneau, jazzfan en assistent van Malle, kwam met de suggestie Davis te vragen voor de filmmuziek. Voor Louis Malle een uitgelezen kans zijn film publicitair een stuk aantrekkelijker te maken.

De opnames vonden plaats op 4 en 5 december 1957 in de Le Poste Parisien Studio in Parijs, 116bis Avenue Champs-Élysées. Behalve Miles Davis, bestond de band uit de Amerikaan Kenny Clarke op drums, en de Franse musici Barney Wilen op tenorsax, René Urtreger op piano en Pierre Michelot, bass. Davis gaf de andere bandleden slechts wat globale aanwijzingen over de harmoniestructuur en volgorde van akkoorden. Terwijl scènes uit de film in de studio op een doek werden geprojecteerd, improviseerden de bandleden op de beelden.
Het samenspel met de bandleden en de ingetogen, trage soundtrack inspireerden Davis vervolgens tot het maken van de plaat Milestones (1958) en van Kind of Blue (1959), volgens velen de beste jazzplaat ooit gemaakt.
In Europa werd de soundtrack door Fontana uitgebracht op een ten-inch elpee. De eind jaren tachtig verschenen cd bevat ook de alternate takes.

Barney Wilen

Voor saxofonist Barney Wilen (1937-1996) geldt Ascenseur pour l’échafaud als de start van zijn carrière. Direct werd hij gevraagd de filmmuziek voor een tweetal Franse films te componeren: Un témoin dans le ville (1958) en Jazz sur scène (1958), waaraan Kenny Clarke meewerkte. Ook maakte hij de muziek bij Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1959) van regisseur Roger Vadim, met medewerking van Thelonius Monk. Ook trad hij op het Newport Jazz Festival op.
In de jaren zestig experimenteerde hij met free jazz en ging zich oriënteren op niet-westerse muziek. In 1968 bracht hij de plaat Dear Prof. Leary uit, een eerbetoon aan lsd-profeet Timothy Leary. In de jaren zeventig en tachtig maakte hij muzikale uitstapjes naar de rock en punk en bracht hij lange tijd in Afrika door, waar hij speelde en toerde met Afrikaanse musici.
Uit het Franse clubcircuit was hij verdwenen. Zo nu en dan maakte hij nog een plaat en produceerde hij muziek van anderen.

Wilen moet stomverbaasd zijn geweest toen hij in 1987 in een Franse kiosk exemplaren aantrof van het striptijdschrift (A Suivre), met daarin het stripverhaal Barney et la note bleue.
Overduidelijk hadden scenarist Phillipe Paringaux en tekenaar Jacques Loustal zich voor de strip laten inspireren door het leven van Barney Wilen. Het verhaal: een jonge tenorsaxofonist genaamd Barney, die een opmerkelijke gelijkenis vertoont met Barney Wilen, speelt in de jaren vijftig met jazzmusici als Art Blakey en Kenny Clark, raakt verslaafd aan heroïne en beleeft meerdere tragische affaires met vrouwen. Hij moet in zijn onderhoud voorzien door te spelen in tweederangs jazzorkestjes, die een weinig indrukwekkend repertoire van uitgemolken jazzstandards spelen. Tegen wil en dank wordt het nummer Besame Mucho zijn handelsmerk. Het trieste bestaan van Barney speelt zich af in troosteloze casino’s, verlaten Franse badplaatsen en derderangs clubs, om vervolgens iedere dag op een haveloze hotelkamer een spuit met heroïne in zijn arm te kunnen zetten. Vergeten door jazzliefhebbers en zonder vrienden sterft hij in alle eenzaamheid.

Barney Wilen bekijkt de tentoonstelling met tekeningen uit La Note Bleue

Waarheidsgetrouw was het verhaal zeker niet, want Barney Wilen was springlevend, en ook Wilens levensloop had zich duidelijk anders voltrokken. Juist vanwege deze verschillen meende Wilen bij de makers van de strip verhaal te moeten halen. Er volgden pittige gesprekken tussen Wilen, Paringaux en Loustal. Het verhaal – inmiddels als stripalbum gepubliceerd – was wel degelijk bedoeld als eerbetoon aan Wilen, zo was de verklaring van de makers, maar hun research was niet al te nauwkeurig geweest. Onterecht hadden ze gemeend dat Barney reeds was overleden.
Er kwam een compromis, die zowel voor Wilen als de makers publicitair een gouden vondst bleek te zijn. Wilen nam een nieuwe cd op getiteld La Note Bleue, met nieuwe nummers en enkele standards, inclusief Besame Mucho. De nummers kregen de titels van de hoofdstukken in het stripalbum, Loustal maakte het hoesontwerp. Wilen maakte met de cd een comeback, Loustal kreeg een tentoonstelling met zijn werk en zou later furore maken als striptekenaar en illustrator. Het stripalbum moest meerdere malen worden herdrukt.
In 1987 kreeg de cd de prijs voor het beste Franse jazzalbum van dat jaar. In de herfst van datzelfde jaar speelde Wilen avond aan avond in de Parijse jazzclub Le Petit Opportun nummers van de cd. Dankzij de strip voor een opvallend jong publiek. Vaste prik iedere avond is een enthousiast gespeelde versie van Besame Mucho.

Soundtrack Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

Barney Wilen, Bud Powell, Kenny Clark e.a, Club Saint-German, 6 November 1959

Barney Wilen Quartet, Antibes Jazz Festival, Juli 1961