Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 18, 2014

Apocalypto

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 11:51 am

Conquistadors as Liberators?

The Mad, Mad Mayan World of Mel Gibson

by LOUIS PROYECT

Since I doubt that any CounterPuncher would be inclined to watch Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” except on a dare, I almost decided not to include a spoiler alert. Gibson’s reputation precedes him, so much so that I avoided watching the film for the longest time. On a particularly arid cable TV and Netflix evening a month or so ago, I decided to give it a shot partly out of boredom and partly out of morbid curiosity.

I will give the devil his due. Gibson threw caution to the wind and made a movie that defied conventional Hollywood studio expectations. This is a tale set some time in the distant past in the Mayan empire of Central America that pits a classless hunting and gathering society against Mayan class society, with Gibson standing up for the primitive communists—as Frederick Engels dubbed such peoples.

Ironically, the film echoes “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with the hunting and gatherers living in a state of peace and harmony soon to be threatened by a technologically more advanced society but one with more retrograde values. Also, like the original “Planet of the Apes” that starred Charlton Heston, “Apocalypto” relies on a deus ex machinasurprise ending that is intended as a commentary on civilization and progress.

The plot of “Apocalypto” is quite simple. Within fifteen minutes after the beginning of the film, a Mayan raiding party attacks a small village living in Yanomami-like simplicity deep within the rain forest, killing women and children wantonly. The men are then put in chains and led off to a Mayan city, where they are doomed to be sacrificed to the gods in the grizzliest fashion. A high priest cuts open the captives’ chests one by one and plucks out the still-beating heart to the adulation of the Mayan masses.

Gibson makes sure to make the Mayans look as scary as possible, with tattoos and piercings in such abundance that you might think you are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

read full

July 4, 2014

The ISO versus Socialist Alternative

Filed under: Counterpunch,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 12:57 pm
Todd Chretien
CounterPunch WEEKEND EDITION JULY 4-6, 2014
The ISO Versus Socialist Alternative

Sectarian Delusions on the American Left

by LOUIS PROYECT

Another International Socialist Organization Internal Bulletin has been leaked to the public over on the External Bulletin website, home to a group of former members. It contains an article written by long-time leader Todd Chretien that targets Socialist Alternative (SAlt)—the group that is rightfully proud of their comrade Kshama Sawant being elected to the Seattle City Council and for her role in the passing of a $15 minimum wage.

I have been partial to Chretien in the past because of his close ties to the late Peter Camejo, whose gubernatorial campaign in California he helped organize in 2003. I worked closely with Camejo in the early 80s and confess to having stolen all my best ideas from him.

The ISO’s chief criticism of Socialist Alternative’s electoral strategy is that it is “triumphalist”, a musty term from the Marxist lexicon. Specifically, Chretien regards SAlt’s call for a hundred independent candidates to run in the 2014-midterm elections as an “overblown perspective”. In his view, her victory did not necessarily mean that political conditions had ripened to the point where such a large number of candidates would be forthcoming. Such “triumphalism” might even be catching–to the point where ISO’ers would be seduced into believing that it was feasible to form a new “broad” party in the near term, or that regroupment of the far left was the order of the day. Heaven forefend.

read full

June 27, 2014

Secret Reunion

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Korea — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm

Jang Hoon’s “Secret Reunion”

Korean Border Noir

by LOUIS PROYECT

In April 2013 I wrote a survey for CounterPunch  on Korean War movies made by Koreans that included Jang Hoon’s The Front Line, about which I wrote:

Set during the final months of the war, soldiers from either side have not only grown war-weary; they have gotten into the habit of dropping off gifts to each other-like wine and cigarettes-at a designated secret store-box at the bottom of a bunker near the front lines.

This is the second reconciliation film directed by Jang Hoon. His “Secret Reunion”, a 2010 film I have not seen, is about former north and south Korean spies bonding together out of a shared interest.

The very good news is that “Secret Reunion” is now available on Netflix streaming. It is Korean filmmaking at its very best. If you are familiar with Korean film, that’s reason enough to check it out. If Hong Kong cinema has seen its day, you can make the case that Korea not only carries on in the grand tradition but also elevates it to a higher level.

read full article

June 20, 2014

Children of Paradise and the Redemptive Power of Art

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

Marcel Carné’s Masterpiece

Children of Paradise and the Redemptive Power of Art

by LOUIS PROYECT

Recently Jeffrey St. Clair polled a group of CounterPunch contributors on what they considered to be the greatest 100 films ever made (coming soon). My list omitted “Children of Paradise”, a 1945 French film that was sitting on my shelf for a couple of months incarnated as two Netflix DVD’s (the film runs for 195 minutes). Let me make amends for that now after having seen it for the first time—where have I been all these years? Although I didn’t rate my top 100 in order of greatness, Marcel Carné’s masterpiece, about which Francois Truffaut once said “I would give up all my films to have directed Children of Paradise”, would certainly be among the top ten.

When you enter the world of “Children of Paradise” that is set in the 1830s, you recognize immediately an air of artifice that begins with the opening scene, an image of a curtain that upon lifting reveals hundreds of Parisians milling about a street filled with acrobats, clowns, magicians, jugglers and other artists performing in the open air. The street was known as the Boulevard of Crime, not so much for assaults on the citizens who flocked there but for the theaters that specialized in policiers.

read full article

June 13, 2014

Goodbye, Lenin

Goodbye Lenin

by LOUIS PROYECT

I hope that CounterPunch readers will forgive me for taking valuable time away from my film reviews of neglected treasures while I answer one of my critics from the “Leninist” left. As it happens, Paul Le Blanc, the International Socialist Organization’s avuncular scholar of Bolshevik history, devoted pretty much of a whole chapter to me in his latest book “Unfinished Leninism” (the chapter has the same title) and I would like the opportunity to use CounterPunch for my reply.

I am not accustomed to answering points made in a book but since many of the arguments about what Lenin stood for and whether he has any relevance for today’s left take place in books and in Historical Materialism, a high-toned print journal behind a paywall, I really have no choice. As a strong believer in the Internet, I would prefer to debate there since I see it as the modern counterpart of the Gutenberg press, the primary means of communication of our rebel forerunners. My guess is that if the quarrelsome Lenin were alive today, he would be conducting his debates on the Internet as well.

As a history professor, Le Blanc is obviously much more comfortable holding forth from a lectern or the printed page. That’s true for the rest of the ISO as well that sees the Internet as a necessary evil. As a handy tool to distribute an electronic version of their print publications, it would be much better if it weren’t a breeding ground for bilious critics and those who circulate their top-secret internal bulletins.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/13/goodbye-lenin/

June 6, 2014

The Story Behind “Zaytoun”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Palestine — louisproyect @ 3:00 pm

A Ravaged Screenplay

The Story Behind “Zaytoun”

by LOUIS PROYECT

If you’ve been monitoring Israeli film over the past ten years or so, you will be aware that there is an ongoing effort to promote the reputation of the government through subterfuge. Since the days of outright propaganda are long past, what you see more and more are films that stress reconciliation with the Palestinians in the old-fashioned Hollywood liberal mould found in something like “The Defiant Ones”, a film that starred Tony Curtis as a southern white racist (a most unlikely role for a Brooklyn Jew) and African-American actor Sidney Poitier, who was so frequently cast as the long-suffering symbol of a race that needed to be integrated into American society.

Last week I heard from screenwriter Nader Rizq, who had a startling revelation about changes made to his screenplay in violation of his integrity as an artist and spokesman for his people’s rights. Rizq told me that my assessment of “the overarching liberal Zionist agenda of its director and producers” was right on the money and advised me to look at the website he created to show what the Israeli producers had done to his film: www.zaytounthemovie.com.

I strongly urge you to go to Rizq’s website and read the entire sad story for yourself but do want to include a key section:

As financing fell into place and pre-production began toward the end of 2011 however, troubling hints of censorship started to appear.

First it was a request to alter a scene that showed the effects of Israeli phosphorus and cluster bombing on the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.

The scene had been in the script for years and demonstrated how phosphorus shrapnel continues to burn inside the body of its victim for days. The only recourse is to keep the wound soaked in water, a resource particularly scarce in war time. Also illustrated was how cluster bombs kill and maim.

Read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/06/the-story-behind-zaytoun/

May 30, 2014

Three Independent Films: “The Wind Will Carry Us,” “Age of Uprising,” and “Night Moves”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 7:02 pm

Trailers for films under review

Counterpunch Weekend Edition May 30-Jun 01, 2014

Is Abbas Kiarostami the World’s Most Talented Film-maker?
by LOUIS PROYECT

Jonathan Rosenbaum named “The Wind Will Carry Us” as one of the ten greatest movies of the past 50 years while Martin Scorsese identified its director Abbas Kiarostami as representing “the highest level of artistry in the cinema.” Those accolades should be sufficient to motivate New Yorkers to see a revival of the 1999 masterpiece opening today at the IFC Center. If not, let me add my two cents.

Even if the audio died as the film began, you would be mesmerized by the steady procession of images on the screen before you. When he was 18, Kiarostami won a painting competition that helped him be admitted to Tehran University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. After graduating, he made a living as a commercial artist. It is only when he began making films that his early passion for the fine arts began to be satisfied. On strictly a visual basis, sitting through the 118 minutes as the film unwinds is equivalent to seeing a photography exhibit at the MOMA by one of the great masters.

Since I anticipate no problems with the audio at IFC, I can promise you that the dialog will match the visual elements. Kiarostami’s film can best be described as magical realism but without the magic. The sense of wonderment does not come from characters and objects defying the natural order but from their own unique relationship to the natural order so at odds from the film’s major character, a sophisticated documentary filmmaker from Tehran who has come to a tiny mountainside village populated by Kurds. They live as they have lived for hundreds of years, tending their herds of cattle and goats, while he is tuned into the latest technologies including a cell phone. The running gag of this bone-dry comedy is his need to get into his Land Rover to scale a nearby hilltop to receive an in-coming call whenever his cell phone rings. By contrast, communications in the village are strictly from one windowsill to the next.

read in full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/30/is-abbas-kiarostami-the-worlds-most-talented-film-maker/

May 9, 2014

Ken Silverstein’s “The Secret World of Oil”

Filed under: corruption,Counterpunch,crime,energy — louisproyect @ 5:08 pm
Ken Silverstein’s “The Secret World of Oil”

Ken Silverstein

A Descent Into Big Oil’s Inferno

by LOUIS PROYECT

Reading Ken Silverstein’s “The Secret World of Oil” is like picking up a rock in the middle of the night and shining a flashlight at the creepy, crawly things found beneath. The emphasis is on the word secret since many of the men he scrutinizes prefer it that way. Even when their activities remain within the law, their assault on ethics and decency would provoke a Sodom and Gomorrah punishment from a just god if one existed. Is moral turpitude, criminality and a bestial level of greed intrinsically connected to making a living as a middleman in the petroleum industry? That is the conclusion a reader would draw after reading the fast-paced and entirely entertaining tour led by Ken Silverstein, our Virgilian guide to a Dante’s Inferno fueled by oil and gas.

Silverstein manages a juggling act that puts Philippe Petite to shame. While his record of investigative journalism, especially that part of it dealing with energy industry sleazebags, is well-established, he manages to ingratiate himself with some of the major players even managing to establish friendships. Of course, if one of them is gazillionaire Ely Calil, an oil middleman who is one of the richest men in England, there are certain rewards. Dinner on Calil’s dime would include on one occasion “a bouillabaisse, small plates of scallops in a truffle sauce, and veal loin with poached pear”. One imagines Silverstein taking notes under the table surreptitiously for a future article. If details such as this give the reader a sense of the opulence enjoyed by oil tycoons no doubt within the law, it is really the business side of things revealed by Silverstein that make you wonder if he will ever be invited to dinner again.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/09/a-descent-into-big-oils-inferno/

May 2, 2014

NY Indian Film Festival 2014

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,india — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

New York Indian Film Festival 2014

East Supplants West (On Film, At Least)

by LOUIS PROYECT

In 1998 Andre Gunder Frank’s highly controversial “ReOrient” appeared. It argued that “the East” (mainly China and India) would eventually supplant “the West” as hegemonic powers, thus reestablishing the relationships that existed before 1492 when all of Columbus’s fleet could be put on the deck of the flagship of Zheng He’s fleet that made multiple voyages to the east coast of Africa in the early 15th century.

I have my doubts about Frank’s overall thesis but on one level it is surely borne out by Indian cinema that now makes most American films look crude and amateurish by comparison. To see Indian cinema at its best, I urge New Yorkers to make it to the New York Indian Film Festival that runs from May 5th to the 10th. It can only be described as an embarrassment of riches.

read full review

Trailers for films being reviewed:

 

April 23, 2014

Bellocchio Versus the Barbarians

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Italy — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

One of the Left’s Greatest Film Directors

Bellocchio Versus the Barbarians

by LOUIS PROYECT

From April sixteenth to May seventh, the Museum of Modern Art is presenting a retrospective of the work of Italian director Marco Bellocchio, one of the great film directors of the Italian left. As with Bertolucci, Pasolini, Visconti and Pontecorvo, Bellocchio’s films are intensely political as well as artistic triumphs. Born in 1939, Bellochio, a friend of Pasolini, joined the Maoist Union of Italian Communists (Marxist–Leninist) in 1968, a sect whose newspaper bore the title popular in those circles: “Serve the People”. His motto would ultimately be “Serve the Audience”.

Bellocchio was always far more interested in human drama than propaganda. Made one year before he joined the Maoists, the narrative film “China is Near” is anything but propaganda if you take Pauline Kael at her word (and who wouldn’t?). She describes the film’s Maoist anti-hero Camillo, who is committed to sabotaging his older brother’s campaign for municipal office on the Socialist Party ticket, as a “prissy, sneering despot” and “a seventeen-year-old seminary student turned Maoist who looks the way Edward Albee might look in a drawing by David Levine.” The film derives its title from graffiti scrawled by Camillo on the walls near his brother’s campaign HQ.

If you have access to Hulu Plus, I recommend a look at “Fists in the Pocket”, Bellocchio’s debut film. Made in 1965 when he was only 26, it is deeply influenced by Godard and Buñuel. Like “China is Near”, the film is about a family at war but the story has only a tangential relationship to Italian society. Living in a decrepit villa in the Italian Alps, a blind matriarch has four grown children living under the same roof with her. A good Catholic, she tries to maintain her sanity in the face of nonstop quarrels, often turning violent, and tearful reconciliations among her troubled brood. The oldest son is the only one gainfully employed, while his younger sister and two younger brothers spend their days alternating between juvenile pranks and coping with the epileptic seizures that run in the family. Alessandro, one of the younger brothers, has the devilish soul and self-loathing of a Karamazov brother. He plots to kill his mother, himself and his two other epileptic siblings in order to allow the oldest brother to live a normal life. I should add that this is a comedy and a very good one at that.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/23/bellocchio-versus-the-barbarians/

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