Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 20, 2015

Digital Rebellion: the Birth of the Cyber Left

Filed under: computers,Counterpunch,Internet,journalism — louisproyect @ 1:49 pm
Todd Wolfson’s “Digital Rebellion”

Can the Net Drive Social Movements?

by LOUIS PROYECT

Largely through the writings and public addresses of David Graeber, Marina Sitrin, John Holloway and others, “horizontalism” became a buzzword to describe various movements over the past fifteen years or so that were inspired by the Seattle protests and marked by direct democracy, communications through the Internet, militant tactics, and a belief that occupations of public spaces could prefigure a future, more just world. Ideologically, anarchism and autonomist Marxism loomed large—understandably so since the “verticalism” of the old Left seemed to have run its course.

As is so often the case, movements and institutions that appear to contradict each other can often be resolved on a higher level. In this instance, given the exhaustion of “horizontalist” initiatives over the past couple of years, an analysis of the contested ideological terrain is more necessary than ever. As a major contribution to the debate, I cannot recommend Todd Wolfson’s “Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left” highly enough. If you read an excerpt from the book’s introduction on last weekend’s CounterPunch, you will understand that the book is directed to the activist left and is not the typical academic work despite the author being a member of the Rutgers University faculty and the book being published by the University of Illinois Press.

Eminently readable, Digital Rebellion is a mixture of reporting and theory all designed to move beyond the horizontal-vertical duality and achieve a synthesis that draws from the best of both worlds. While the words Syriza and Podemos cannot be found in its pages (and of course Podemos was born after the book was published), their presence looms over its pages. As political parties, they were midwifed by the occupations of the horizontalist left–so much so that at least one well-known autonomist has broken ranks and come around to seeing the benefits of wielding state power, hitherto something seen as anathema. Jerome Roos of Roar Magazine, an autonomist stronghold, gave an interview to Syriza in which he said that “Syriza’s radical internationalism is uplifting and a positive contrast to the neoliberal cosmopolitanism of the business class.” These are welcome words indeed.

read full article

February 6, 2015

Tangerines

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

Zaza Urushadze’s “Tangerines”

Guns for Hire in Abkhazia

by LOUIS PROYECT

As a peace activist, I have gone out of my way to see films such as “The Grand Illusion” and “King of Hearts” over the years. Largely as a result of Hollywood’s incestuous ties to the Pentagon as reflected in films such as “American Sniper” and “Hurt Locker”, it has been more difficult to see anything in recent years with a pacifist bent except Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July”.

This week I had the good fortune to attend a press screening of “Tangerines”, a joint Estonian-Georgian production that is being submitted as Estonia’s best foreign language film to the 87th Academy Awards ceremony being held on February 22nd. As far as I am concerned, it also deserves best picture, director and actor awards but what would you expect from an unrepentant Marxist after all?

“Tangerines” is set during the war between Georgia and Abkhazia in 1992-93, one that will probably only be familiar to those who keep a close eye on the politics and history of the former Soviet Union but not to the average viewer. It is to the everlasting credit of Georgian writer/director Zaza Urushadze to have made a film that is a universal statement about the evils of war that will be absorbing even to an audience member with scant knowledge of post-Soviet politics. Like William Blake seeing eternity in a grain of sand in his “Auguries of Innocence”, this is a film that will allow you to see the futility of wars of aggression throughout history, and all the more so in an epoch of thermonuclear weapons. As Blake put it in the same poem:

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly

For the Last Judgment draweth nigh

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar

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January 30, 2015

“White God,” “The Turin Horse” and “Au Hasard Balthazar”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:37 pm
“White God,” “The Turin Horse” and “Au Hasard Balthazar”

The Cinema of Cruelty

by LOUIS PROYECT

As the Academy Awards draw near, it seems appropriate to write about three films light years removed from the Hollywood film industry that are united by the theme of cruelty to animals and that wear their art film credentials proudly (even though one film subverts pulp genres).

One is “The Turin Horse”, the final film made by auteur extraordinaire Béla Tarr over a thirty-seven year career and that is inspired by an anecdote about Nietzsche coming to the aid of a horse being beaten by its livery cab owner. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he was asked to name a film that had real quality. His answer was Aki Kaurismaki’s “Le Havre”, a film he “really loved”, as did I. ( When the Hollywood Reporter began mentioning that it might receive an Oscar for best foreign language film, Tarr interrupted him:

Who cares about this stupidity? You know what I mean. This kind of quality is not for the Academy Awards. This kind of quality and sensibility is for you and the other people – for personal use. The others are just part of a fucked-up business, which is not my business.

Béla Tarr came to mind after seeing “White God” at a press screening a while back. Directed by fellow Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó, it about the mistreatment of a teen girl’s beloved dog Hagen by various people and institutions. As such, I decided to write about the two films as well as about Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar”, a 1966 film about the abuse of a donkey—a work that I had somehow ignored despite Godard’s comment: “Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished…because this film is really the world in an hour and a half.

full review

Trailers for films under review:

January 2, 2015

Why Selma Matters Now More Than Ever

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:09 pm

A Collective Response to Cop Terror

Why Selma Matters Now More Than Ever

by LOUIS PROYECT

“Selma”, the stunning new film based on Paul Webb’s screenplay and directed by the previously unheralded African-American Ava DuVernay, makes for an interesting side-by-side comparison with Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. Both films revolve around the circumstances attending the passage of key legislation affecting Black America: in the first instance, the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery and in the second the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that sealed the doom of Jim Crow, a legacy of white America’s abandonment of Reconstruction.

“Selma”, however, has exactly what “Lincoln” lacked, namely the agency of Black self-emancipation dramatized by the Selma to Montgomery march. If Lincoln was seen as a wise benefactor of a sidelined Black population whose leaders like Frederick Douglass failed to materialize on screen, the prime mover in “Selma” is Martin Luther King Jr. who is played to perfection by David Oyelowo, the actor last seen as a cartoon version of a Black Panther member in Lee Daniels’s “The Butler”. He is far better served in this new film.

Both films pay close attention to period detail and use the speeches that are part of the backbone of American progressive politics, including Lincoln’s and LBJ’s. It is of some significance that the speeches given by King in “Selma” are only approximations of what he said in Selma since the King estate refused to allow the speeches to be used by DuVernay. So she wrote the words herself after steeping herself in the original for months.

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December 26, 2014

Reading Trotsky While Watching Kurosawa

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Kurosawa,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm
In Search of a Marxist Method for Film Criticism

Reading Trotsky While Watching Kurosawa

by LOUIS PROYECT

A couple of weeks ago an Australian friend and fellow Marxist raised some interesting questions about film:

I have just moved to the capital city of the state and attended my first film festival. I have always enjoyed movies but in the past have been living in regional centers.

It got me thinking about what constitutes a “good movie” and yourself and David Walsh are the only two Marxist movie critics I can think of. David never seems to like anything very much and his discussion of culture – which is interesting- relies heavily on Trotsky’s ‘Literature and Revolution’.

I know you have written in passing about the sort of movies you like but wondered if you’d written more systematic about Marxism movie criticism.

Despite having written over nine hundred film reviews in the past twenty years or so, I have never really given much thought to the question of “Marxist movie criticism”.

Unfortunately Walsh has stopped writing film reviews for the World Socialist Website, which for my money was the only thing worth reading there. It’s a dirty little secret but most of the material that appears on wsws.org is extracted from the bourgeois press and then spiked with Marxist rhetoric about how evil the capitalist system is, as if we needed any reminding. I’d rather read the NY Times and make such observations myself.

Unlike Walsh, I stay away from Hollywood films except for the end of the year when I am obligated to watch a sufficient number of films like “Gravity” or “Zero Dark Thirty” to make sense out of the nominations my colleagues in New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) put forward at our annual awards meeting. Most of what I review is either documentaries or gritty neorealist films from “foreign” countries (nothing is more foreign to me than Hollywood) so I have a much lighter burden than Walsh.

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December 19, 2014

My film picks for 2014

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 11:44 am
From “Winter Sleep” to “Particle Fever”

The Year in Film

by LOUIS PROYECT

I deliberately refrained from attaching the word “best” to the films listed below out of consideration that my personal taste weighed heavily. While I would have no problem defending the picks based on artistic merit, there is a subjective factor that is probably no more arbitrary than that reflected in any other critic’s “best of” list even if they are reluctant to admit that personal taste tilted the scale. I can only say that if you have seen and valued films based on my recommendations, then you should look for those listed below in local theaters or on the Internet.

As a rule of thumb, I probably pay less attention to the visual aspects of a narrative film than I do to more conventional dramatic elements such as character development and plot. This meant that I had little use for a film like “Mr. Turner”, a work that made it to many ‘best of 2014’ lists on the basis of breathtaking images of the British landscape evoking the work of the boring and repulsive artist whose life it was celebrating. I could only wonder why Mike Leigh would want to make a film about such a man when you are better off going to the museum and looking at his paintings. My benchmark for such films was “Lust for Life”, the biopic about Vincent Van Gogh that was co-written by Irving Stone, from whose novel the script was adapted, and Norman Corwin. As you may know, Norman Corwin wrote and produced 100 radio plays in the 1930s and 40s, the medium’s golden age. The only images evoked in those classic plays were those that Corwin’s words produced in your mind’s eye.

Read full article

November 28, 2014

Arrogance, Propaganda and Fabulation at the New York Times

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,journalism — louisproyect @ 6:29 pm

Inside the Grey Lady

by LOUIS PROYECT

For most CounterPunch readers, Judith Miller is the name that springs to mind if asked to identify the New York Times reporter discredited by articles written during the early days of the “war on terror”. As it turns out, she was not the only one to lose a job over bogus reporting. The other disgraced reporter had no particular ideological stake in Dubya’s wars but his fall from grace says as much about the Grey Lady’s overblown reputation as hers. I speak of Jayson Blair, the subject of an intriguing documentary titled “Fragile Trust” that originally aired on PBS and that can be purchased from Bulldog Films, an outlet for radical documentaries (in line with their politics, they offer the film to activist and advocacy groups at a reduced rate.)

In the April 26, 2003 NY Times, an article titled “THE MISSING; Family Waits, Now Alone, for a Missing Soldier” appeared under Blair’s byline. It told the story of a Chicano mother agonizing over the disappearance of her 24 year old son Edward in Iraq, where he was serving as an Army mechanic.

The opening paragraph in the article–“Juanita Anguiano points proudly to the pinstriped couches, the tennis bracelet in its red case and the Martha Stewart furniture out on the patio. She proudly points up to the ceiling fan”–bore a striking similarity to one by Macarena Hernandez that had appeared a week earlier in the San Antonio Express-News. Hernandez had written: “he points to the pinstriped couches, the tennis bracelet still in its red velvet case and the Martha Stewart patio furniture, all gifts from her first born and only son.” Other similarities abounded.

read full article

Trailers for reviewed films:

November 21, 2014

The Business of “Art vs. Commerce” in Hollywood

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:55 pm
Alejandro Iñárritu’s “Birdman” and Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up, Philip”

The Business of “Art vs. Commerce” in Hollywood

by LOUIS PROYECT

Starting around this time each year I try to catch up with the American narrative films that I anticipate my colleagues in New York Film Critics Online will be considering for awards at our yearly meeting in early December. Unlike those who get paid to review junk like “Horrible Bosses 2”, I write about films that my colleagues tend to ignore. As one fellow pointed out a couple of years ago, he never reviews documentaries because his readers do not go to see them.

For the most part, the films that I put on my list are those that are likely to make the final cut at the NYFCO meeting. These tend to be those that the New Yorker Magazine and other arbiters of middlebrow taste deem “intelligent” and “daring”. Inured as I am to such judgments, I see watching them more as a chore than anything else. All in all, it reminds me of the cramming I did in for high school geometry finals.

This week I made time in my busy schedule for “Birdman” and “Listen Up, Paul”, films that have main characters involved with making art. In “Birdman”, Michael Keaton plays the former star of the Birdman movies now in his sixties who is directing a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s short story collection “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. The eponymous antihero of “Listen Up, Paul” is a young novelist who develops a friendship with an older novelist clearly based on Philip Roth. With allusions to Raymond Carver and Phillip Roth, what could go wrong? Clearly we are miles ahead of “The Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” but when you start a thousand miles behind the marker set by a Stanley Kubrick or an Alfred Hitchcock, the prospects are guarded at best.

read full article

Trailers for films under review:

November 8, 2014

Make a contribution to CounterPunch and start feeling better

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Screen shot 2014-11-08 at 12.02.16 PM

I am reproducing Jeff St. Clair’s letter below prepended with my own appeal.

As many of you know, I have been a regular contributor to CounterPunch for a while now for both the magazine and the website. It affords me to reach a much wider audience than I can with my own blog and puts me in some very good company covering the cultural front. My articles generally appear on the weekend edition next to David Yearsley’s and Charles Larson’s. While most people probably hone in on the current events type stuff, I put their articles on the front burners. Unlike just about every other outlet on the left wing of the Internet, CounterPunch has some truly amazing material on the arts, equal in my opinion to more specialized journals. For example, Yearsley’s latest examines the career of Johann Friedrich Reichardt, a contemporary of Mozart who attended Kant’s lectures as a teenager and became a committed foe of absolutism. Although I consider myself well-schooled on classical music, I had never heard of Reichardt. Where else would you find such an article? I hate to sound sectarian but surely not on ZNet.

Now I know that most of you, particularly you tenured professors, can easily afford to pony up $100 per year to help keep CounterPunch afloat. Think about it. That’s only $8 per month. I bet that about that much gets lost falling out of your pants and below your sofa cushions every month. That $100 would be scarcely missed by most of you but of enormous benefit to the left. So go ahead and do it. You’ll feel much better afterwards, a feeling that is hard to come by in these gloomy times.

Louis Proyect

—-

A Final Plea from CounterPunch Editor Jeffrey St. Clair

I don’t like begging for money. None of us at CounterPunch do. We understand that money is a weapon, invariably used against the poor and the defenseless, with vicious results. Begging for money is distasteful and degrading. But we are trapped by the very system that we are trying to break down. Until the glorious day comes when the system crashes, we need money in order to keep exposing the dire human toll exacted by the neoliberal policies that now rule much of the world.

CounterPunch is not based in a relatively enlightened nation like France, where the government subsidizes small and independent publications. We don’t get infusions of cash from Venezuela’s oil fields or Colorado’s marijuana trade. We don’t inundate you with ads. We don’t take money from big foundations with hidden agendas or political parties or even political sects. We depend on our readers and only our readers to keep us running. No one pulls our strings. Or calls our shots. We are only beholden to you. But that comes at a cost. Once a year our readers have to step up and shoulder part of the burden.

We are not asking for much. Our business manager Becky Grant keeps us on a trim, if not austere, budget. Let me lay it out for you: Our entire annual budget is around $360,000 a year. That’s what it costs to operate the website, publish CounterPunch magazine and CounterPunch Books. Editing and maintaining the website consumes 80 percent of our time, but generates no daily income. We offer it as a kind of commons. We want to keep access to the website free to all.

Donate Today!

Every month, hundreds of thousands of people access the CounterPunch site–most of them every day or two. Of course, if each of our online readers contributed only $10 we wouldn’t have to humiliate ourselves with another fund drive for five years. But we know that’s not the case. Many readers can’t even afford that much. Others simply won’t contribute. That places the burden on our core group of supporters, the many thousands of people across the world who identify themselves as “CounterPunchers.” This year more and more CounterPunchers are donating, but they’re donating smaller amounts than in the past. We know times are hard. We know that the recession has only evaporated for those in the top 1%.

But in recent weeks, two generous CounterPunchers have come forward to ease the burden a bit. They have offered to match any contribution of more than $100–and through our monthly donation option–you can get your $100 matched for as little as $10 per month. I urge you to please take advantage of this opportunity offer.

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November 7, 2014

Interstellar

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 8:22 pm

“Interstellar:” Sensationalism In Search of Sensibility

Lost in Space With Christopher Nolan

by LOUIS PROYECT

Regular readers of my film reviews are probably aware that my focus is on works that follow in the humanistic tradition of classics such as Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy or Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”. As such, I generally have little reason to write about the typical Hollywood blockbuster except toward the end of the year when I have a responsibility as a member of New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) to vote on exactly such films.

For NYFCO, something as crude as a Michael Bay movie would never pass muster. But like most film critic societies that are tied by umbilical cord to the Hollywood studios, there is a place at their table for something like “Gravity” that received best director and cinematography awards in 2013, even though it was nothing but Michael Bay adapted to the carriage trade.

Since I have a suspicion that Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” that is opening at theaters everywhere this week will have the same sort of middle-brow appeal as “Gravity”, I thought it was worth my time to attend a press screening a couple of days ago. Since the film was being screened on IMAX, the medium that Nolan considers optimum for the sort of thrills he seeks to impart, it would be my introduction to an experience that like 3D seeks to substitute sensationalism for sensibility.

As I sat before the immense screen at the AMC Lincoln Square being assaulted by the loudest sound system I had ever encountered in a theater, I was reminded that no amount of technology could replace an intelligent plot and character development. If there is anything that Christopher Nolan represents as a filmmaker, it is the belief that technology trumps just about everything else.

read full article

Alternate trailer

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