Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 11, 2014

No God, No Master

Filed under: anarchism,Film,repression — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Although marred by a clumsy script, weak character development, tone-deaf dialogue, implausible coincidences, amateurish acting, and an obtrusive film score, “No God, No Master” is one of the more important films showing in New York right now. What saves it is the theme, which is the historical background to the Palmer Raids of 1919 that led to the arrest and pending deportation of 10,000 Americans in the aftermath of an anarchist bombing campaign meant as retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.

Among the historical figures that are depicted in the film are:

  • William J. Flynn, the chief of the bomb squad in New York where most of the action takes place
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Mitchell Palmer
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Emma Goldman
  • Carlo Tresca, the anarchist leader who served on the Dewey Commission to clear Leon Trotsky of the charges leveled by Stalin
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Louise Berger, an anarchist who plotted to kill Rockefeller
  • Luigi Galleani, one of Berger’s co-conspirators

As you sit watching the film, you forgive all the miscues since it is mostly faithful to historical details except for one just barely forgivable peccadillo. Played by the incomparable David Strathairn, William J. Flynn is depicted as a free speech liberal challenging Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover on the need to deport radicals simply for their ideas. The connections to today’s world are palpable.

The film was actually made in 2009 and only found a distributor five years later. One supposes if Green made a mumblecore movie about a couple of college drop-outs who decide to become pimps, it would have been jumped on immediately. Of course, it is up to malcontents like us to patronize the Quad Cinema in New York where it opens today so that Hollywood understands that indie films about serious topics have an audience.

April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Master of Putting On a Show, Dies at 93

Filed under: Film,New Deal,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:22 pm

NY Times, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Master of Putting On a Show, Dies at 93

Mickey Rooney at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif. in 2012. Credit Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life — the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60 — died on Sunday. He was 93 and lived in Westlake Village, Calif.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

He stood only a few inches taller than five feet, but Mr. Rooney was larger and louder than life. From the moment he toddled onto a burlesque stage at 17 months to his movie debut at 6 to his career-crowning Broadway debut in “Sugar Babies” at 59 and beyond, he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue.

As Andy Hardy, growing up in the idealized fictional town of Carvel, Mr. Rooney was the most famous teenager in America from 1937 to 1944: everybody’s cheeky son or younger brother, energetic and feverishly in love with girls and cars. The 15 Hardy Family movies, in which all problems could be solved by Andy’s man-to-man talks with his father, Judge Hardy (played by Lewis Stone), earned more than $75 million — a huge sum during the Depression years, when movie tickets rarely cost more than 25 cents.

full article

I wrote this on August 8, 2000:

Babes in Arms

As you can well imagine, this recent bit of nastiness involving my free speech rights has left me feeling stressed out. So, taking a break from my usual Saturday night routine of poring through leftist journals while listening to Bel Canto opera on my stereo, I turned on the 1939 film “Babes in Arms,” starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, based on the Rogers-Hart plan and directed by Busby Berkeley. This film combines Busby Berkeley’s “rags to riches” ethos and popular front sentimentality. Anybody who wants to understand the 1930s through the prism of popular culture should rent this garish little jewel without delay.

Mickey Moran (Rooney) is an adolescent songwriter and aspiring director whose vaudevillian father is unemployed. His girl friend is Patsy Barton (Garland), who likewise comes from an impoverished show business family. All of their friends are in the same boat. The film opens with Moran and Barton performing the great Rogers-Hart tune “Good Morning” to a couple of stony-faced music publishers, who are trying to make up their mind whether they will buy the song or not. When they tell the boy that they will pay $100 for it, he faints. After coming to, he rushes home to turn the check over to his desperate parents.

His parents have figured out a scheme that will solve their financial woes. They will go on the road again with an old-time vaudeville show. When the kids suggest that they be brought along as part of the act, they are turned down. Their role would be to stay at home to watch over things.

This sets in motion the basic plot of just about every Rooney-Garland vehicle. They decide to put on their own show, which will be called “Babes in Arms.” Late at night, after the youthful crew of singers and dancers have embraced Rooney and Garland’s proposal, they march down main street singing and dancing, while carrying torches. Their excitement culminates in a bon fire in a deserted square. Since this scene was shot at the same time Nazi torch-light parades were a daily occurrence in Germany, one might surmise that the film-makers were subconsciously reflecting the kind of warped sense of “volkish” optimism at work in the Third Reich. We do know that the director Frank Capra, another quintessential depression era popular front figure, was an admirer of Mussolini, who had managed to get the trains to run on time. Oddly enough, the original inspiration for Hitler’s torch-light rallies were American football pep rallies that he learned about from an aide, who had been educated at Harvard.

After the cast is assembled, Moran makes the decision to use Dody Martin (Leni Lynn), a new arrival in town, for the lead female role instead of his girl-friend. Dody is a stand-in for Shirley Temple, and a risible figure in the film. She is surrounded by a retinue of butlers and handlers. When Moran has dinner with her at her mansion, the audience sees the opulent settings from his point of view. The class differences are palpable as the boy apologizes for his squeaky shoes.

When the show debuts on an outdoor stage, we see another side of 1930s popular culture, which was unfortunately on display almost universally. The opening skit is “Oh Susannah” performed in blackface. This kind of racist “humor” was a stock element of many 1930s musicals and comedies, including those made by the leftist-leaning Marx brothers. Fortunately a rain storm comes along and forces the show to close in the middle of the “coon show.”

After a few trials and tribulations, the youthful troupe receives some funding and they present a show which provides the climax of the film. It is a rather grotesque but musically effective production number featuring Mickey Rooney as FDR and Judy Garland as his wife Eleanor. They sit on what amounts to a throne in the middle of a stage, while various characters plucked from the fabric of American society plead their case. A “hillbilly” needs to be rescued from bankruptcy. You shall receive it, says FDR. An unemployed worker demands a job. He too shall receive it. The curtain falls with flag waving and patriotic high spirits. Despite the reputation 1930s films enjoy as being socially aware, this was the extent of it far too often.

April 4, 2014


Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film,religion — louisproyect @ 5:28 pm

Noah, Revised

A Hard Rain


More Tolkien than Torah, Darin Aronovsky’s “Noah” is a cinematic tour de force that combines breathtaking CGI-based imaginary landscapes with a film score by Clint Mansell that hearkens back to Hollywood’s golden age of Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner. Even without a single minute of dialog, the film achieves the mesmerizing quality of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy, especially the last installment Naqoyqatsi, the Hopi word for “Life at War”.

Like other films that view the bible as a theme to riff on in the manner of Miles Davis improvising on a banal tune like “Billy Boy”, Aronovsky takes the material of Genesis 5:32-10:1 and shapes it according to his own aesthetic and philosophical prerogatives. As might be expected, the Christian fundamentalists are not happy with the film since it turns Noah into something of a serial killer on an unprecedented scale, acting on what he conceives of as “the Creator’s” instructions, namely to bring the human race to an end. Religious Jews who have a literalist interpretation of the bible have been far less vocal, no doubt a function of the Hasidic sects viewing all movies as diversions from Torah studies. (For those with unfamiliarity with Jewish dogma, the Torah encompasses the first five books of the Old Testament that are replete with fables such as the Great Flood, many of which have inspired some classic cinematography, such as Charlton Heston splitting the Red Sea.)

Unlike the fable it is based on, Aronovsky’s Noah never received instructions about being fruitful and multiplying. His intention is to leave the planet to the animals and wind down the human race’s participation in the tree of life, to use the title of Terrence Malick’s overrated 2011 film. In my view, Aronovsky has much deeper thoughts and more sure-handed cinematic instincts than Malick could ever hope for. To pick only one scene, the massive moving carpet of animals headed toward the Ark is a CGI tour de force. Instead of a stately procession in circus parade fashion, it is more like a zoological tsunami that anticipates the great tsunami soon to follow.

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The Unknown Known; Watermark

Filed under: Ecology,Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 5:19 pm

Two legends of documentary filmmaking have seen better days. Last November I was disappointed to see Frederick Wiseman take the side of the university administration in its attempt to thwart student protests over escalating fees. If anything, Errol Morris’s “The Unknown Known”, opening at theaters everywhere today, is even more of a failure. It allows Donald Rumsfeld to defend himself for 103 minutes with hardly any tough questions from Morris, his interlocutor. And when he does stray into Mike Wallace “Sixty Minutes” territory, it is always with the absence of a follow-up. Indeed, the closest resemblance is not to Mike Wallace, but to Charlie Rose or Larry King, the masters of softball interviews.

The new film is obviously modeled on Morris’s 2003 “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” that gave the Johnson administration’s Pentagon boss a platform. That film was somewhat easier to swallow since it demonstrated that the war-maker was suffering from some pangs of conscience, including a scene with him weeping—one that it was easy to describe as a display of crocodile tears.

That was to be expected with a war in which American imperialism was the clear loser. With Iraq, there is no abiding sense that the Pentagon’s nose was bloodied. In fact, the main point that Rumsfeld makes throughout the film is that it was worth it, even going so far as to insist that there was no deliberate attempt to con the American people into believing that there were weapons of mass destruction.

On top of the ideological self-justifications, there is the added ordeal of putting up with Rumsfeld’s personality. He is one of the more insufferably vain and boring personalities that has ever emerged out of the military-industrial complex, an ambitious hustler who started out as a Nixon administration operative and moved upwards and onwards to the heights of the Pentagon under George W. Bush. With his cold smile and “gee whizzes”, and “goshes”, you hope for something—anything—that will knock him back on his heels. Needless to say, this is not to be expected from Errol Morris.

Morris and Rumsfeld even managed to frustrate the Washington Post, a pillar of the establishment:

In the film, Morris quotes a 2003 Washington Post poll showing that 69 percent of Americans believed Hussein was involved in 9/11, then cuts to Rumsfeld suggesting the same at a news conference when he sarcastically rejects suggestions to the contrary. “It isn’t a confrontation in the sense of [me] saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ ” Morris said. “But, golly gee whiz, it’s all there.”

If Morris’s oblique strategy invites frustration, so does Rumsfeld’s seeming inability or unwillingness to confront the implications of his policies and actions, whether they have to do with interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay or the planning of the war itself. Whereas “The Fog of War” presented a fascinating portrait of McNamara as a historical figure reflecting, often painfully, on the events he witnessed or authored, in “The Unknown Known,” Rumsfeld often offers vague, inconclusive cliches: About Vietnam, he says simply, “Some things work out, some things don’t. That didn’t.” About Iraq, “Time will tell.”

In attempt to better understand the career of the much-heralded Errol Morris, I checked Wikipedia and was startled to discover that the “edgy” documentary filmmaker lost his edge long ago:

Although Morris has achieved fame as a documentary filmmaker, he is also an accomplished director of television commercials. In 2002, Morris directed a series of television ads for Apple Computer as part of a popular “Switch” campaign. The commercials featured ex-Windows users discussing their various bad experiences that motivated their own personal switches to Macintosh. One commercial in the series, starring Ellen Feiss, a high-schooler friend of his son Hamilton Morris, became an Internet meme. Morris has directed hundreds of commercials for various companies and products, including Adidas, AIG, Cisco Systems, Citibank, Kimberly-Clark’s Depend brand, Levi’s, Miller High Life, Nike, PBS, The Quaker Oats Company, Southern Comfort, EA Sports, Toyota and Volkswagen. Many of these commercials are available on his website.

Finally, it is necessary to take stock of the Errol Morris legacy. Giving scumbags the right to hold forth unchallenged for over a hundred minutes has been seen in two other highly regarded films. The first is “Act of Killing” (http://louisproyect.org/2013/07/20/fact-versus-fiction-in-three-new-films/), a film that Morris actually co-produced and that gives Indonesian death squad leaders a chance to tell their part of the story, as if there was one. The other is “The Gatekeepers” (http://louisproyect.org/2013/01/31/the-gatekeepers/), an Israeli documentary that gives a platform to the Zionist entity’s military judges, a bunch of disgusting war criminals who go unscathed.

Don’t bother with this crappy movie. You can watch FOX-TV for free.

“Watermark” is the second film I have seen that is based on the work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian who specializes in landscapes of the most sterile and industrialized places on earth, particularly in China where the government is on a forced march to “modernize”. His first was the aptly named “Manufactured Landscapes” that I reviewed in 2007, about which I said:

He is not the typical photographer. As a teenager, he worked in automobile assembly plants and gold mines in Northern Ontario. Although he refrains from editorializing in his photographs (as does this very fine documentary), it is very clear that he is appalled by this spectacle of “progress”. In one scene, he shows a neighborhood in Shanghai that has been razed in order to make way for spanking-new high rises, with the exception of one old house whose elderly female inhabitant refuses to move. The high rises were simply built around her. The million or so villagers who were about to lose their homes because of the construction of the mammoth Three Gorges Dam had no choice. The film shows them being paid by the government to demolish their homes to make way for the new reservoir that will be created by the dam.

In “Watermark”, he returns to the same preoccupations but more closely focused on the rivers, lakes, and underground reservoirs and the communities they serve that are jeopardized by unsustainable practices such as China’s megadams and irrigation dependent on the Ogalalla aquifer.

There are interviews with people whose lives and culture are deeply intertwined with traditional and more sustainable use of the water systems such as Chinese abalone fisherman who work communally and a Native American from northern British Columbia.

As in Burtynsky’s first film, the footage is ravishingly beautiful even when what is being seen threatens the health of the planet, such as the Chinese megadam. There are also some fascinating meditations on the special power of water, as a scientist notes that without water there cannot be life itself. For a plant or a human embryo to grow, it needs water. In fact, the amniotic fluid an embryo grows in is like a tiny ocean. Another scientist observes that water owes its existence solely to the accident of a comet—a huge snowball in effect—colliding with the planet earth billions of years ago.

March 29, 2014

Action movie cliches

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:02 pm

See cliche #10 below

Okay, let me start with a spoiler alert, not that it will make much difference to my regular readers. This is something that happens at the end of Liam Neeson’s idiotic “Taken 2”, whose only redeeming feature is that it was filmed in beautiful Istanbul. Neeson, playing an ex-CIA agent, is alone with the father of an Albanian gangster he killed in “Taken” who has vowed to kill Neeson in revenge. You know how those Albanians are into vendettas, right? Anyhow, Neeson gives him his gun and offers him a choice: “You can continue the cycle by killing me or resolve it by putting the gun down.” After saying that, Neeson begins walking away. You know how those dirty Albanians are, right? He aims the gun at Neeson’s back and opens fire but nothing happens! The chamber is empty! Neeson throws the bullets on the ground and then puts a patented CIA death grip on the Albanian’s face and the movie ends. I said to myself as I watched this scene, “Self, haven’t you seen the empty chamber scene a hundred times before”? At least one other critic (http://www.thelondonfilmreview.com/film-review/review-taken-2/) has taken note of the clichéd character of “Taken 2”, writing that it was “determined to tick a box for every action movie cliché going”.

So, off the top of my head, here’s the most overused action movie clichés I’ve run into over the past 50 years or so. This includes westerns, war, spy, crime, science-fiction and horror movies.

1. The empty chamber – described above.

2. Throwing up at the sight of a mutilated corpse – Typically, a rookie cop seeing his first dead body turns away in horror and then begins puking. This may have had some impact when you first saw something like this in 1965 or so but after seeing it a thousand times your tendency is to yawn.

3. “You don’t have to do this” – a plea that a man or woman makes to a killer who has a pistol trained on them. Why can’t they say something like this instead? “If you don’t shoot me, I’ll promise to be your best friend”.

4. Car crashing into a fruit stand – probably first seen in an Indiana Jones movie. The fruit goes flying everywhere and the peddler, usually wearing a fez and mustache throws up his hands in dismay. Time to retire this.

5. Guy being chased or chasing someone in the street straddles the hood of an oncoming car and bangs on it a couple of times for emphasis – clearly related to #4 above. This should be retired as well.

6. Villain smacked with a shovel or some other heavy instrument but not finished off – this usually happens with about 10 minutes left in a horror movie. A serial killer has been knocked over the head and the heroine (usually) stands over him with the shovel or club in her hands. And then walks away toward freedom. Of course, you know that with 10 minutes left in the film Jason or Freddy will reappear for the final showdown. Whenever I am watching such a scene with my wife, we look at each other knowingly and say something like “She should smash a cinder block on his head until his brains spill out of his broken skull”. No such luck.

7. Trying to escape in a car from the villain – There are different versions of this. In most instances, just before the heroine (usually) turns the key, the killer busts the window open and grabs her by the throat. In a variation on this, she is so spooked that her trembling hands can’t get the key into the keyhole. Or, the engine won’t start after she turns the key. Boring.

8. Corpse materializes in a well or some other body of water – In escaping from the villain, there’s often a scene where the hero or heroine ends up in a well or body of water, the more fetid the better. 9 out of 10 times the skeletal remains of his previous victims will float to the surface.

9. Soldier within weeks of honorable discharge gets a bullet in the head – That’s a staple of war movies since the 1940s, as far as I know—granted that I am old but not old enough to have seen them when they first came out.

10. Gangsters versus gangsters, or cops versus gangsters train guns on each other in close quarters in anticipation of all hell breaking loose – This is a staple of Hong Kong movies, especially John Woo. Following Tarantino, his British and American imitators recycled this plot staple and turned it into a cliché.

March 26, 2014

Return to Homs

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:22 pm

“Return to Homs” has the distinction of not only being the first documentary made about the Syrian revolution but also being a work of great sensitivity, political insight and courage. I saw it last night at the Museum of Modern Art as part of the annual New Directors/New Films Festival and urge New Yorkers to see a screening at 9pm tonight at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. (The festival is jointly produced by MOMA and Lincoln Center.)

It is fairly easy to understand why this would be the first major documentary to emerge after three years of war. To start with, it is not easy to gain entrance to Syria through the normal channels. One must assume that director Talal Derki, a Syrian who lives in Germany, came across the border “illegally”. And once he was there, he took great risks in filming in an extremely dangerous location. From August of 2011 to August of 2013, he was on the front lines of the action in Homs with Syrian fighters being wounded or killed all around him, including some of the young men featured prominently in his film. But perhaps the key reason is that American documentary filmmakers, despite tacking to the left, saw little motivation in taking up the cause of “jihadists”. Not long after the early halcyon days of the Arab Spring, a consensus arose that the rebels were no better than the regime that they sought to overthrow. So naturally it would take a Syrian filmmaker to step forward and make the case for his oppressed countrymen. Abandoned by most of the world, including the left, it is up to the Syrians themselves to determine their own future.

In the opening scenes of “Return to Homs”, we meet the two young principals, star soccer goalkeeper Abdul Basset Saroot and media activist Ossama al Homsi. Both are paradigmatic figures. Basset leads mass rallies in the spring of 2011 in the streets of Homs using the distinctive Syrian call-and-response style. Meanwhile, Ossama is everywhere with his Sony video camera capturing the people as they dodge the snipers’ bullets while protesting peacefully. One might easily surmise that Ossama was a member of a Local Coordinating Committee, a grass roots network of young activists who used Youtube and social media to get the word out.

After Baathist killers cut down one too many peaceful protesters, the young men in Basset and Ossama’s circle decide to arm themselves and defend the movement. Ossama, however, feels that this is a mistake. Peaceful protest must prevail against all difficulties. Basset makes the case that most Syrians made, however. Even though taking up arms created its own risks, it was being forced upon them. They had no choice.

Once that decision was made, Homs became a living hell. Armed with nothing more powerful than AK-47’s and RPG’s, Basset and his comrades stood off tanks, jets, and heavy artillery. In excruciating detail, we see entire blocks of apartment houses turned into rubble, including those of Basset and Ossama. We see them in their former living rooms and kitchens, gazing at the wreckage. Ossama looks in vain for a filter for his Sony and only manages to retrieve a coffee mug. Both young men find themselves on the run as the siege of Homs tightens it grip. A sense of desperation develops even though Basset and the other young fighters vow to fight on despite all odds. In thinking about an analogy for their situation,  cities like Leningrad and Stalingrad during WWII, when Hitler’s forces killed both by bullet and by starvation, came to mind.

On February 12, 2014 the NY Times reported on the extraordinary achievement of “Return to Homs”. Using professional digital cameras and some Sony Handicams, the sort of modest device you bring with you on vacation, director Talal Derki and his fellow Syrian co-producer Orwa Nyrabia covered the critical phases of the struggle in Homs using their electronic gear in the same way that John Reed used his typewriter in Mexico and Czarist Russia. So modest were their means that they even lacked a credit card to pay for the registration fees at the Sundance Film Festival. Fortunately the organizers waived the fee.

When in Homs, they recharged their phones and laptops from car batteries and portable gasoline generators. They risked their lives to sneak past army checkpoints, and when things turned too deadly to continue, they taught Basset and his comrades how to use the Handycams. The footage was then smuggled out.

Of particular interest was the willingness of two veterans of the American film industry to show solidarity with Orwa Nyrabia when his life was in danger:

Mr. Nyrabia was detained at the Damascus airport on Aug. 23, 2012, and later accused of making a film with a terrorist. He was held for three weeks by military intelligence in an underground prison, he said, thrown together with 84 younger Syrians, most of them conscripts apparently reluctant to shoot fellow Syrians. “They had blinked before shooting,” he said.

His fellow inmates were deferential, Mr. Nyrabia said. “They wouldn’t make me queue for the bathroom because I was considered very old.” [Nyrabia is 36!]

Mr. Nyrabia, who now lives in Berlin, attributed his release to pressure on the Syrian government from international publicity about his disappearance. A group of prominent filmmakers and Hollywood celebrities including Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, along with members of 24 international and American cinema associations and unions, signed a petition demanding that the Syrian authorities free Mr. Nyrabia.

While Syria’s government routinely ignores demands by Western political leaders, Mr. Nyrabia said, “when it’s De Niro or Scorsese, that’s embarrassing.”

It is too bad that the American left has less interest than such luminaries in showing such solidarity.

One can only hope that general distribution of “Return to Homs” might help to change some minds. It is about as powerful a testimony to the heart and soul of one of the great revolutionary struggles of the past half-century, as determined in its own way as the Vietnamese fight to rid its country of colonialism. When you see a young man like Basset with no military training  challenging a tank with nothing more than a machine gun, you understand that freedom is more precious to him than life itself.

In the Q&A, director Talal Derki mentioned that his next film will be about Syria’s struggle against a new threat that is as inimical to freedom as the Baathist dictatorship: the Islamic fundamentalists of ISIS and similar militias. Since he will be at the Q&A tonight as well, I urge New Yorkers to try to make to Lincoln Center. It will be your film experience of the year.


March 22, 2014

Grace Lee Boggs; The Hypnotic Brothers

Filed under: african-american,Film — louisproyect @ 5:58 pm

Two documentaries arriving in New York this week are stirring testaments to the political and cultural heritage of the Black community. Ironically, the first—“American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs”—that opened yesterday at the AMC Loew’s on 19th Street is about a 98 year old Chinese-American woman whose entire political life was so enmeshed with the Detroit Black struggle that everybody regarded her as an African-American. The other film is “Brothers Hypnotic”, a film about the young sons of an alumnus of the Son Ra Orchestra who formed a brass ensemble that simultaneously reflects their father’s Black consciousness while stubbornly sticking to its own musical agenda. It opens on Monday at the Maysles Theater in Harlem, the go-to place for outstanding documentaries engaged with the Black experience.

For those who follow my film reviews, you are probably aware that I avoid the kind of hyperbolic praise that gets attached to those full-page ads in the NY Times. So when I tell you that “American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs” is the greatest documentary about an American leftist I have ever seen, I mean it. Granted that they are far and few between, this is still a movie that had me spellbound from beginning to end. It reminded me—and would remind anybody who ever passed out a leaflet—what it means to challenge the system and why such a life is so much worth living, no matter how many times your nose gets bloodied in the process.

Grace Lee Boggs, the daughter of a man who owned a successful Chinese restaurant, began studying at Barnard College just as the Great Depression was at its deepest point. Like so many other children of privilege, she decided that her lot was with the unemployed and the working class. But unlike most of her peers, she gravitated toward the Trotskyist movement rather than the CP. Obtaining a PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr in 1940, she found herself deeply influenced by Hegel and particularly the role of the dialectic that she thought useful in understanding capitalist society. This Hegelian predisposition naturally led her to the Workers Party shortly after hearing CLR James speak in Chicago. James had been a co-leader of the “Johnson-Forrest” tendency in the SWP (he was Johnson and Raya Dunayevskaya was Forrest) and a leading theorist of the Black struggle.

The film does not really delve too deeply in the Byzantine twists and turns of the Trotskyist movement (broadly defined) but James and Dunayevskaya broke with the Workers Party because of what they considered its foot-dragging in the Black struggle and rejoined the SWP in 1947. In 1950 the Johnson-Forrest tendency abandoned the SWP and set up shop as the Correspondence group, named after their magazine.

One of the more important members of the Correspondence group was James Boggs, a working-class African-American from the Deep South who after meeting Grace Lee wasted no time in proposing marriage. The Boggs’s closest collaborator was Marty Glaberman who was the editor of the magazine.

Chinese-American director Grace Lee’s first film was “The Grace Lee Project”, an attempt to find namesakes who defied the stereotype of an Asian woman who was as Rotten Tomatoes described it: “a quiet, studious over-achiever who was cheerful, Christian, and never got into trouble.” Nobody could be more unalike from that than Grace Lee Boggs who not only didn’t think of herself as Chinese but also was just one step ahead of being thrown in jail as a subversive. The new film includes footage of the 2005 documentary with a spry 84-year-old Grace Lee Boggs walking so fast that the director could barely keep up with her.

“American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs” includes a generous helping of James Boggs footage, a man I regret never having read. When the couple moved to Detroit, James took a job at Chrysler in order to understand the changes in the working class as well as changes in the industry. This was not a “colonization” effort but much more of an attempt to make a living while conducting research on the class struggle. Boggs wrote a book titled “The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook” that includes some of the earliest insights into the role that automation would play in the capitalist system. It is interesting that both he and Harry Braverman, another defector from Trotskyist dogmatism, would explore such a major transformation of American capitalism during its infancy.

Grace Lee Boggs is nowhere near as spry today as she was in 2005 but her mind is as sharp as it ever was. The film shows her interacting with young activists for whom she is a legendary figure. Although Detroit has pretty much become “Destroit” as SWP comrades from that city used to refer to it in the 1970s, she remains optimistic about its future. Her most recent projects include community gardening and safe street initiatives seemingly different from her more militant activism of 50 years ago but that still incorporate her deepest humanistic impulses.

Toward the end of the film, there is a fascinating exchange between the director and her subject over her unceasing optimism. Doesn’t she have any regrets about what she did with her life, including her decision not to have children? And how could she feel fulfilled when so many of her projects withered on the vine?

In 1999 Paul Buhle wrote a review of her memoir “Living for Change” that addressed the question of the disjunction between goals and the achievements that is worth quoting:

Lee herself moved to Detroit in 1953, married black auto worker James Boggs, and commenced a life of unceasing local activism. Much of the rest of Living For Change settles into a detailed description of personal life that defies summarization, but offers a rewarding, intimate study of ideas and activities in the cauldron of race and class contradictions during the 1950s-1990s. I remember once calling Detroit information without Grace’s home address and the telephone operator exclaiming, “You mean Grace Boggs!” It is no exaggeration to say that tens of thousands of Detroiters regarded the couple as perennially scrappy but beloved members of an extended family.

In some ways the story is heartbreaking. The group around C.L.R James disintegrated and one by one, the Boggses broke with their erstwhile comrades over personal and political differences. The early promise of the civil rights movement, which so roused black Detroit and the Boggs’ supporters, was stifled by the waves of massively destructive “urban renewal,” suburbanization and plant closings, bringing increased poverty and despair. New organizations, like the groupings around the Manifesto for a Black Political Party and their own National Organization for an American Revolution, failed after making a contribution to educating young (especially black) radicals through pamphlets, study groups and endless personal appearances by the two at conferences. In the end, as once-radical mayor Coleman Young bowed to the corporations to keep Detroit afloat, and the black middle class followed whites in abandoning the inner city, the Boggses with the rest of the Left were outgunned, bypassed by the postindustrial recklessness of capitalism.

But Grace Lee Boggs was never one to be kept down by mere defeats. As memorable volumes by James Boggs for MR Press pushed beyond received truths to creative adaptation-sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but always creative-race found new ways to make herself useful. ln identifying with the black community for decades, she emerged during the 1970s-1980s as a public speaker and intimate advisor for (and to) Asian-American Studies. Meanwhile, she joined with other community activists in new coalitions against drugs, violence, and casino-gambling in Detroit, among many other causes. Ossie Davis catches the spirit when he says about her story, ” Here is a book for the hungering heart, or even a picnic.” With Grace Lee Boggs, it could not be otherwise.

My very highest recommendation for “American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs”.

In one of the more memorable comments from Grace Lee Boggs in the aforementioned film that dates from the early 60s, she says that Blacks are not trying to become equal to whites but equal to the image they have in their mind of a fulfilled and free Black American.

That would describe Phil Cohran to a tee. Born in 1927, he was a successful jazz musician who turned his back on moneymaking gigs and founded the Affro-Arts Theater and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago during the 1960s, projects associated with cultural and political challenges to the status quo.

The Affro-Arts Theater was a regular venue for Black militants, so much so that it became the obsession of the local Red Squad. After Stokely Carmichael spoke there, the cops convinced a judge to shut it down.

His personal life was just as radical as his artistic life. In addition to the eight children he fathered with one wife, he initiated relationships with two other women who moved into his Chicago home. At one point twenty-four of their offspring were living with Phil and his three wives in a sort of benign version of Philadelphia’s MOVE. The house was a vegetarian and Black consciousness haven dedicated most of all to the religion of Black music, particularly jazz. As luck would have it, all three women were trained musicians.

8 of the Cohran boys would study brass instruments from an early age. Like any other young men, they rebelled against their father without any likely nod to Freud’s Oedipal Complex. Instead the rebellion was based on their own ideas about what kind of music they would play.

The band they formed, Brothers Hypnotic, was an eclectic blend of jazz, gospel, hip-hop and what sounds to my ears a lot like Gabrieli—with a complex polyphonic texture. They started off as a street band but later evolved into a more conventional concert venue act that toured Europe and performed with stars like Prince and Mos Def.

Directed by first-timer Reuben Atlas, the film adheres pretty much to concert tour documentaries that have been made about groups like the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. Most of it consists of performances or the musicians talking about music and their lives.

What they seem to share with their father after all is said and done is a fierce independence of mind that makes them wary of becoming just another band signed with a commercial label. Unlike so many hip-hop artists with a crass devotion to filthy lucre, the Hypnotic Brothers are committed above all to their artistic vision. As such, this documentary has inspirational value in a period of history lacking much in the way of inspiration.

March 14, 2014

Talking about film

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm
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Speaking in Tongues

Richard Estes

During the first half hour, Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist, returns to talk about film.

Afterwards, Susan Spronk provides background about ongoing protests in Venezuela, The Third Insurrectionary Moment of the Venezuela Right, within the context of the bureacratization of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Missed the Show?

http://library.kdvs.org/archive/view/show_id/2580 (March 14th show)

Three political films

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 2:38 pm

Like “Forget Baghdad”, “The Jews of Egypt” is a loving tribute to the Arab anti-Zionist Jew and also directed by an Arab. In an article for Counterpunch last May (http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/03/voices-of-the-mizrahim/), I described Samir’s “Forget Baghdad” as both a valuable portrait of Mizrahi life as well as Communist oral history in the style of “Seeing Red”.

In the director’s notes for “The Jews of Egypt”, Amir Ramses explains why he made the film:

Four years ago, after three feature films, I decided to pursuit an old dream of mine, making a film about another Egypt I have known only in books and films, an Egypt where Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists lived next to one another in full tolerance. A cosmopolitan Egypt or as my professor with whom I worked many years as an assistant the outstanding director “Youssef Chahine” used to say to me: “in Alexandria in the 40s when we saw a pretty girl in the street, we never wondered about her religion before trying to hit on her”, funny as he was, that’s how he summarized the Glory and joy of pre 1952 Egypt.

As for me, I grew up in a society where when you say the word “Jewish” it always combined with “Zionist , Israeli” and of course as soon as you say these words, hatred appears, yet I was always fascinated by Singer Laila Mourad, Musician Mounir Mourad and others like Youssef Darwish who all were amongst the most important persons each in his field in Egypt and all 3 were Jewish–that contradiction between modern intolerant Egypt and cosmopolitan Egypt in the first half of the 20th century is what led me to make this film .

Not all the interviewees are Communists but each has a fascinating story to tell. What they all have in common, however, is a certain “rootless cosmopolitanism” that defined life in a city like Smyrna before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. One older woman who was forced into exile after Nasser took power (his policies toward Jews were depressingly similar to Ataturk’s “Turkification”) says that she loved Alexandria because it was a gumbo where all races and religions interacted with each other and made each other better. After decades of living in “civilized” France, she never felt nearly as happy as she was in Egypt.

All of the interviewees were living in exile except one. Now in his 80s and a veteran Communist who converted to Islam in order to be able to be more effective politically, Albert Aryeh is the virtual star of the film as he reflects back on a lifetime of activism and his complex relationship to Egyptian identity. Never at a loss for words, Aryeh muses: “I’m not a fan of Om Kalthoum, to be honest, and yet I am still here. And many of the others who simply loved her aren’t.”

His attitude toward the exclusionary policies that set in after the Zionist state was created is a mixture of philosophical resignation and disappointment over the stupidity of Nasserite rule. After he married a Muslim woman (ostensibly for love rather than political expediency), the police interrogated her for what they deemed a suspicious act.

Also interviewed are members of the Curiel clan, scions of patriarch Daniel Curiel who was one of Egypt’s wealthiest businessmen. His son Henri was arguably one of the most important figures on the left until his untimely death at the age of 64 from an assassin’s bullet in 1978. Although his assailant was never identified, the film speculates that the Mossad was responsible.

In 1943 Curiel founded the Communist-led Egyptian Movement for National Liberation (HAMETU) that became the Democratic Movement for National Liberation (HADETU) four years later. Jailed repeatedly with other CP’ers, he was finally exiled in 1950 despite the HADETU’s role in launching the 1952 revolution led by the free officers and General Nasser.

His post-exile activities suggest a breach with the CP since Curiel focused almost exclusively on aiding third world insurrectionary movements, especially the FLN in Algeria. So committed to the Algerian cause, he donated his father’s mansion in Egypt to the Algeria government for use as a consulate.

His son Alain Gresh, who is interviewed throughout the film speaking in Arabic, is the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique.

“The Jews of Egypt” opens at the Quad in New York on March 28th. Highly recommended.

Opening today at the Cinema Village in New York, “Xingu” is a biopic about the Vilas-Bôas brothers who were Brazil’s most passionate defenders of indigenous rights. Unlike the typical Hollywood hagiographical treatment, the brothers are treated as a flawed human beings working in an environment that would exploit their weaknesses, particularly being dependent on the government and the military’s financing and logistical support at the very time when the Amazon was being “colonized”.

It turns out that two of the brothers, who come from a privileged family and are seeking an adventure, pretend that they are simple “peons” looking for work when they line up at a government recruiting station in 1943 that is staffing up for a colonization project in the Amazon rainforest. Before they get on line, they exchange their regular clothing for a peasant’s garments and when asked to sign a form, they use their thumbprint pretending illiteracy. I chuckled to myself when watching this scene since it reminded me of the act so many Trotskyist college graduates put on when trying to get a job in a factory or mine in the late 70s as part of our own “colonization” efforts. Needless to say, the Vilas-Bôas brothers were far more effective than we ever were.

Xingu refers to both the river and the region of northern Brazil, where the colonizing expeditions were being sent. In 1943 this would be the first time that Indians saw white men and vice versa. Perhaps as a function of their education but more likely a reflection of their humanity, the brothers decide to approach a band of fearsome natives on the Xingu river, perhaps taking their lives in their hands. Instinctively they present gifts to the menacing looking dozen or so Indians in a gesture that is essential to hunting and gathering societies—the so-called potlatch.

Within a few months, the settlers and the natives are on the best of terms. But a few months later the time-dishonored patterns of genocide set in. A flu that starts in the white men’s camp gets transmitted to the Indian village, killing half of the population including the chief who welcomed them as brothers. From that point on the Vilas-Bôas brothers make the creation of a protected area for Indians their life work. Despite the rotten compromises they are forced to make with the military and the government, they never lose sight of this.

A Guardian obituary for Orlando Vilas-Bôas, the last of the surviving brothers who died in 2002, put it well:

Non-aggression was not the norm in those days: most who ventured into the forest regarded the Indians as savages to be shot like animals. Villas Boas himself said: “On our expedition, the peao (labourer) with the least number of crimes had eight murders under his belt. I lived for 40 years among the Indians and never saw one of them slap another in the face. But we were the ones who were going to civilise [them].”

The Villas Boas brothers realised that the Indians had no protection against the society that would advance along the tracks opened up by the expedition, and from then on Orlando and Claudio, in particular, devoted themselves to creating an area where the indigenous nations of the Xingu area would be safe. They were joined by anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and public health doctor Noel Nutels, and the result was the Xingu National Park, an area of 26,000 square kms where 15 different previously warring tribes learned to live together. They belonged to the four main language groups of indigenous peoples in Brazil: Aruwak, Karib, Gê and Tupi. The park was the first of its kind in the world.

“Big Men” is a documentary about the oil industry’s impact on Africa that opens today at the IFC Center in New York. It is focused on a deal cut with a small Texas firm called Kosmos run by Jim Musselman and the government of Ghana to conduct offshore drilling operations. Since the film is relentlessly devoid of obvious editorializing, it allows Musselman and the Ghanians to define their goals without ever asking them any tough questions. Directed by Rachel Boynton (and executive produced by Brad Pitt), the strategy seems to be to allow the viewer to make their own decisions about the possible value of oil to the country.

About as far as it ever comes to editorializing are the scenes of despoliation and criminality in next-door Nigeria, a nation where oil is a curse rather than a blessing as it is in Venezuela. We meet criminal bands that blow up pipelines without regard to the environmental impact when they are not siphoning off the oil to sell on the black market.

The film is structured as a kind of mystery with the Texas and Ghana principals trying to put themselves in the best light without the benefit of outside experts telling us that so-and-so is about to cheat the people of this developing nation out of their precious resources.

Reviewers are generally sympathetic to the neutral posture Boyton takes. For example, the Village Voice critic writes:

There’s hope that Ghana might be different. Boynton interviews many officials in the new government, then led by now-deceased president John Atta Mills, who speak passionately about preserving Ghana’s wealth for Ghana. “You can live in relative comfort,” Mills promises a crowd in the run-up to the election. That means, of course, getting “greedy,” as Musselman would have it — “They’re just as crooked as they can be,” he says of Mills’s administration — but not getting as greedy as almost everyone else in the world has. Will Ghana succeed? This film, a great one, demands a follow-up.

I would have preferred a more engaged perspective that would have provided an answer to the question of whether Ghana will succeed but that goes with the territory of being an unrepentant Marxist.

If I had made this film, I would have asked some tough questions about Kosmos’s connections with the Blackstone Group that poured $500 million into the firm in 2008. In fact the failure to examine these ties is my main criticism of Boyton’s work. Peter Peterson, an investment banker who since retiring has campaigned to destroy what’s left of the American social welfare safety net, founded Blackstone. This leaves me feeling somewhat less than sanguine about Ghana benefiting from Kosmos’s presence.

The Blackstone Group was co-founded by Stephen A. Schwarzman, who remains the private capital firm’s CEO. If he refused to grant an interview to me, I would have camped outside his office Michael Moore style and then trailed him down the street camera in hand yelling out questions to him like this one:

Mr. Schwarzman, you made $213 million in 2012. When the Obama administration tried to get private capital firm owners like yourself to pay more than a paltry 15% tax, you compared that to Hitler invading Poland. Do you plan to fight for your right to make unlimited wealth as if you were a Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto fighting for his life?


When you celebrated your 60th birthday, you rented the Park Avenue Armory for $3 million, including a gospel choir led by Patti LaBelle that serenaded you with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” If New York catches fire, do you plan to serenade it with a fiddle like Nero?

I imagine if I presented Brad Pitt with such a scenario, I would have had to use Kickstarter for funding instead.

March 11, 2014

Socially Relevant Film Festival 2014

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:39 pm

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Rated SR is the clever short name for the Socially Relevant Film Festival that will be held at the Quad Cinema in New York between March 14 and March 20. To my knowledge this is the first time such a festival has been held and based on the evidence of the six films I’ve seen, it would be very good if it became a permanent feature of New York’s rich cultural and political tapestry.

It might be obvious from my Counterpunch review of “From both sides of the Aegean” that the subject of ethnic cleansing in Turkey is very close to my heart. Despite my love of Turkish culture, I feel an even deeper connection to the people who have resisted forced assimilation.

That in essence is the subject of Hamshen Community at the Crossroads of Past and Present, a documentary directed by Lucine Sahakyan that takes us into the remote hinterlands near the Black Sea to meet Armenians who were Muslimicized and Turkified in the 16th century long before the genocide and expulsions of the 20th century. Since Turkey has historically regarded them as countrymen, they have managed to avoid the brutal treatment meted out to Christian Armenians and Kurds even though they speak an Armenian dialect that is on the decline. Even if the language disappears, it is doubtful that their traditions will as well since Hamshen identity is as powerful today as it was a half-millennium ago based on the evidence.

The film has a charmingly old-fashioned quality as the director narrates throughout the film in Armenian about all the good-hearted and lovely people she meets in a virtual travelogue. In some ways, the film transported me back to 1958 when feature films were often preceded by a 15-minute “short subject” with a title like “Along the Silk Road” or “Welcome to Wine Country”.

Although they number less than a million, the Hamshen are used to fighting above their weight. The film mentions that despite their Muslim affiliations, atheism and Marxism have also gained wide acceptance—explained perhaps by their proximity to the USSR in its infancy. Today you can see pictures of Che Guevara carried at their protest marches.

Although the film does not have a trailer, this performance by Hamshen musicians above should give you a good idea of the pleasures found in a documentary that includes lots of folk music and dance from this altogether appealing nationality. If Turkey ever found itself, it would do everything it could to preserve Hamshen ethnic identity along with that of the Kurds. That would be as much a contribution to their civilization as the Topkapi palace.

In Offside Trap, factory worker and HR manager fall in love despite class differences

Offside Trap is a German narrative film obviously very much influenced by Lauren Cantet’s 1999 Human Resources that pits a yuppie son who works in HR against his  dad who is an assembly-line worker in a  plant that is facing cuts. The son has been told by the bosses to come up with a downsizing plan whose first victim will be his dad.

In Offside Trap the HR employee put in charge of slashing jobs in the German branch of a multinational that makes washing machines does not like the idea of eliminating people who have worked there for decades but her professional pride makes it somewhat easier. But when she meets and becomes infatuated with an assembly-line worker who is determined to fight the cuts, the same kind of tension shapes the plot. Oddly enough, it evokes the 1957 Desk Set that starred Spencer Tracy as a computer expert whose plans to replace workers with machines outrages long-time employee Katherine Hepburn. Like Desk Set, Offside Trap verges on romantic comedy rather than the grimness of Human Resources. The title of the film refers to the company soccer team that is made up of men who are trying to build solidarity with workers in other factories owned by their bosses who operate out of the USA.

It is very topical, dealing with the blackmail that workers face nowadays in places such as Boeing and Volkswagen. Take cuts or else we shut you down—that’s the boss’s ultimatum. It is not surprising that a film tackling this conflict comes from Germany rather than the USA.

Coal Rush is a documentary that reminds us that corrupt and greedy energy producers can poison and kill us by dumping their waste products into water supplies other than through fracking. This is a story about Massey Energy using spent coalmines as a reservoir for slurry, the byproduct of treating coal with water and chemicals just before it is loaded into railroad cars that seeps out into the surrounding countryside.

People living in economically devastated Mingo County are enduring a virtual epidemic of cancer, serious skin diseases and organ damage from water that comes from their wells, often colored brown, foul-smelling, and impossible to drink.

The film is focused on a class-action lawsuit against Massey and interviews with the people who have suffered because of this giant corporation’s criminal behavior. It is galling to see their TV commercials throughout the documentary that—like BP’s—blather on about their commitment to Green values. The CEO of Massey is one of the nation’s biggest scumbags who would not even use water from a well on his own property because it was fouled by his slurry. Massey’s defense was that well water has never been safe to drink. In a just world, CEO Don Blankship would be put in prison for life and forced to drink the water from wells in Mingo County.

Penetrating through the policy debates about immigration heard on FOX, CNN or MSNBC, Stable Life introduces us to an undocumented Mexican husband and wife originally from the ravaged state of Puebla who work as grooms in a California race track stable and their three children. Although they are impoverished by American standards and are crowded into two rooms, they feel blessed to be on their own and doing work that gives them pleasure. The oldest son has begun racing horses and the two younger kids treat the stables like a playground while the two remaining children remain in Mexico until they can put together the funds to bring them into the USA “illegally”.

Throughout the film, La Migra remains a constant threat even though no American would dream of living in their conditions and working for such low pay. Despite the hardships, the family enjoys simple everyday pleasures like barbecues and birthday parties. The one person who should watch this film is the current occupant of the White House who has deported record numbers of “illegals”. Come to think of it, he should watch it from a cell next to Don Blankenship’s.

Ira McKinley is a well-known African-American video activist in Albany who is the subject of The Throwaways, a title that refers to how capitalist America treats people like him and those whose cause he takes up through his citizenship journalism. In many ways he is the counterpart of the people in Syria who have used Youtube to document Baathist brutality. For McKinley, it is the racist killer cops of Albany who need to be exposed.

When McKinley got out of prison in 2002 after serving 3 years for a drug violation, he found obstacles in his path everywhere to getting a job and becoming a normal functioning member of society. Determined not to go back to prison, he has cobbled together a decent existence even if a marginal one. His real ambition, however, is not to get rich but to serve as a “tribune of the people” as Lenin puts it in “What is to be Done”. He is a ubiquitous figure in Albany’s Black community using his camera to document police misbehavior.

This article from Albany’s Times-Union newspaper should give you a flavor for the kind of filmmaking made possible by digital cameras by the courage of men and women who understand the power of film to communicate themes of social relevance:

Ira McKinley, all 6 feet 4 and 270 pounds, lumbered across the hushed, carpeted vastness of the seventh floor of the State Library in baggy jean shorts, oversized T-shirt, unlaced white sneakers and L.A. Dodgers baseball cap flipped backward.

He moved past the reference desk and dropped into an upholstered swivel office chair at a cubicle in front of a computer terminal. He leaned back, charged a cellphone and started answering emails, just like he owned the place.

The State Library serves as a de facto office for the 49-year-old Air Force veteran, community activist, filmmaker, ex-convict and homeless man. He is a producer and creative force behind the documentary film “The Throwaways,” a narrative that traces McKinley’s troubled past and the larger struggle for economic and social justice in the city’s impoverished South End and beyond.

It’s an angry rant captured with handheld cameras, panning shots of abandoned buildings, closeups of clenched fists at local protests and interviews with frustrated inner-city residents and a hip-hop soundtrack. McKinley is well-read and articulate, his politics a mash-up of Malcolm X, Cornel West and Angela Davis.

“Ira got impatient with the traditional route for social change and decided to get vocal and to push back,” said Bhawin Suchak, the film’s co-director, producer, cinematographer and editor. “I hope people will be inspired by Ira’s story. He faced a lot of tough things and overcame them.”

Filmed with $10,000 raised through Kickstarter, a rough cut of “The Throwaways” was screened locally last winter. McKinley is trying to schedule showings around the state this fall in a bid to raise an additional $45,000 for post-production in the hope of landing a distributor.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, “but I don’t give up easily.”

Read full article

To be quite candid, Forward 13: Waking Up The American Dream breaks no new ground in its jeremiad against America’s rich, prompted in large part by the director’s personal calamity in 2008 when both his business and home were lost like so many millions of other Americans. Since he was a producer by profession, he was in a better position to oversee the making of the film and lining up a financier—one Adam Bronfman who is the son of Edgar Bronfman Sr., the whiskey empire magnate and former President of the World Jewish Congress. The son has Huffington Post, Salon.com, the Nation Magazine type politics as opposed to his right-leaning father.

Pat Lovell, the director of the film, shares those politics so you can expect an hour-and-half of the sort of thing you can hear on MSNBC most days, with the Koch Brothers pilloried and laments about the erosion of American democracy. With the constant presence of Obama operative Van Jones throughout the film, you have no trouble figuring out the film’s viewpoint.

Despite all this, I found it fascinating—more from Pat Lovell’s personal experiences than his political analysis. He grew up in an oil family from Houston and enjoyed all the benefits of wealth and security. When the 2008 recession smacked him in the face like so many other Americans, he was determined to get to the bottom of things. He is still not there but hopefully his experiences will help to take the next step in consciousness, which is to make the leap into seeing that is the capitalist system rather than greedy individuals that threatens the planet.

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