Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 17, 2017

Irada

Filed under: Ecology,Film,india — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

I have been a fan of Bollywood movies for many years. Since they are geared to ordinary people rather than international film festivals, there is a premium on story-telling and a disdain for the irony that has become so dominant in Hollywood films. This is not to speak of the song and dance routines that punctuate the films, which for me are far more enjoyable than anything in “La La Land.”

If you are a fan of Bollywood films like me or if you’d like to sample one of the more interesting examples, I recommend “Irada” that opened today at the AMC Empire 25 theater in NY. This is a detective story named that pits its hero Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi), who is a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Lieutenant Columbo, against a powerful chemical company boss named Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar). Like probably most chemical companies in India, his is dumping carcinogenic waste products into the groundwater of Bathinda, a Punjabi city.

When Sharma’s massive industrial complex is blown to bits in an apparent act of sabotage, Mishra is called in to investigate. He is summoned to the office of Chief Minister Ramandeep Braitch (Divya Dutta), where she tells him to wrap up the case as quickly as possible. She is anxious for him to not look too closely into the company’s dealings for fear that he will discover that she is helping to cover up Sharma’s toxic waste dumping that has turned Bathinda into a virtual cancer epidemic.

The Chief Minister and just about everybody else in a position of power is beholden to him in the same way that Louisiana elected officials are in the pocket of BP and other polluters. If the idea of the BRICS countries is to catch up with the West, you wonder why such a prospect ever became embraced by part of the left. With people like Narendra Modi functioning as India’s Bobby Jindal, the Indo-American governor of Louisiana, perhaps there is a different model worth embracing.

Inspector Mitra hooks up with two allies in his lonely search to find out the truth. He is aided by the widow of an investigative journalist who was murdered by Sharma’s goons and the father of a seemingly healthy and athletic young woman who developed Stage Four lung cancer after swimming daily in a Bathinda river.

Unlike most Hollywood detective movies that rely on brute force, Mitra is much more old-school. In a way, the film is a throwback to the days of Dashiell Hammett with most scenes involving the sympathetic characters trying to figure things out rather than car chases or shootouts.

I imagine that the film hit a responsive chord in India, especially in Punjab. The film, despite its Bollywood aesthetic including two songs, is not escapist. Just consider what a Punjab newspaper reported in 2013:

The Tribune, October 14, 2013
Govt sleeps as toxic waste poisons water in Punjab
Umesh Dewan/TNS

Notwithstanding claims of the Punjab Government and the state Pollution Control Board (PPCB) that emphasis is being laid on ensuring clean and green environment in the state, the practice of discharging domestic waste and untreated industrial effluents into drains, rivulets and water channels continues unabated in Jalandhar and Kapurthala.

The worst affected is the Kala Sanghian Drain, which originates from Bullandpur village in Jalandhar and goes to Chiti Bein, which finally connects with the Sutlej.

In Kapurthala, untreated sewage waste is polluting Kali Bein. Same is the fate of Wadala Drain. It merges with Kali Bein, which finally falls into the Beas. Pollution of drains and rivulets has also started affecting groundwater. This has started affecting he health of people in many parts of Jalandhar and Kapurthala.

Apart from skin diseases, a number of cancer deaths have also been reported in many villages of Jalandhar. Intake of polluted water is said to be the main cause behind rising number of cancer cases in these areas. Though, the PPCB has tightened the noose around the tanneries at the Leather Complex and electroplating units in Jalandhar, the violation of anti-pollution norms continues.

The problem

Out of about 200 electroplating units in Jalandhar, many do not have effluent treatment plants (ETPs). The result: Toxic chrome effluents are discharged into Kala Sanghian Drain.

It is being claimed that electroplating units send effluents to the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Ludhiana for treatment, but there are reports that many units continue to discharge untreated effluents into Kala Sanghian Drain. There are about 60 tanneries in Leather Complex.

Kapurthala has a sewage treatment plant (STP) with total capacity of treating 25 million litre discharge per day (MLD). Since the plant is not properly functional, the discharge of untreated domestic waste into Kali Bein goes on. Untreated domestic waste of some areas also finds its way into Wadala Drain. Lakhs of fish were found dead in Kali Bein at Sultanpur Lodhi in April this year.

The promises

Sewage treatment plants (STPs) were to be set up in Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur. Industrial units had to send effluents to the CETP, Ludhiana, or had to install their own ETPs. On February 28, 2008, it was announced that Kala Sanghian Drain would be made pollution-free within one month, but there has not been much improvement five years down the line.

On May 18, 2011, some Rajasthan residents came to Jalandhar to lodge a protest with the administration saying the 45-km Kala Sanghian Drain was polluting the Sutlej and ultimately the Indira canal that carried water to several districts of Rajasthan.

The reality

The Punjab Effluent Treatment Society (PETS) has set up a 5 MLD CETP at Leather Complex for the treatment of toxic waste, while the old CETP (1.5 MLD) is non-functional. The installed capacity of tanneries at leather complex is about 8.8 MLD.

PPCB Senior Environmental Engineer SP Garg said the PETS had initiated the process to re-commission the old CETP at the Leather Complex. “The capacity of the new CETP is being increased from 5 MLD to 6 MLD. We are hopeful that work will be completed by October 31,” said PETS Secretary-cum-Director Ajay Sharma.

Garg said board officials kept conducting surprise checks on tanneries and action was initiated whenever any violation was noticed. Kapurthala MC Executive Officer and President had been prosecuted for not been able to ensure that the STP operated properly and achieved desired standards, he added.

Jalandhar needs to have STPs with a combined capacity of 235 MLD. At present, two STPs (100 MLD and 25 MLD capacity) are functional at Pholriwal. A 50 MLD STP is coming up Opposite the Leather Complex, whereas two STPs of 25 MLD and 10 MLD capacity are being set up along the Hoshiarpur Road and the GT Road in Jalandhar. Phagwara has an STP of 20 MLD capacity, while two other STPs of 8 MLD capacity each are being set up. In Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur, 6 MLD and 30 MLD STPs are coming up. The deadline for the commissioning of all STPs is March 31, 2014.

Health hazard

Consumption of polluted groundwater has left a large number of people suffering from various diseases, including cancer. Gazipur, Allowal, Badshapur, Mehmuwal Mahla, Kohar Kalan, Athola, Mandala Chana, Gidderpindi, Bahmania, Madala, Isewal and Namajepur villages in Jalandhar district are the worst-hit. Bulerkhanpur, Sidhpur, Sunra, Chaka, Ahmedpur and Mallu villages are among the worst-affected in Kapurthala.

Tumour and cancer cases, besides stomach, eye, skin and respiration problems are common among residents of Jalandhar villages that fall in the vicinity of Kala Sanghian Drain.

Jarnail Singh of Badshapur village said: “There had been eight cancer deaths in the village. Residents of other villagers are also suffering from various ailments. The state government has completely failed to check pollution of groundwater.” Inhabitants of many other villages also claimed that the people were suffering due to consumption of polluted water.

Seechewal’s take

According to environmentalist Seechewal, the discharge of Kala Sanghian Drain goes down to Chitti Bein, then to the Sutlej and finally to Harike headworks, from where drinking water is supplied to the Malwa region. Polluted water poses a serious risk not only to the aquatic life, but also to humans.

Till all STPs were in place, the Jalandhar Municipal Corporation should make arrangements to segregate silt from untreated waste at different points, so that less polluted water was discharged into the drains, he said. “An STP has been set up in Kapurthala at a cost of Rs 12 crore, but it is non-functional. The entire domestic waste goes into Kali Bein, which is really unfortunate,” he added.

(To be continued)

The sorry state of rivers

CHANDIGARH: Punjab ranks 23rd among states and UTs in environment performance index benchmarked by the Planning Commission in its 2012 report. The poor ranking is in sharp contrast with the commitment made by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in October, 2010 that all state rivers will be cleaned by November 30, 2011. The Shiromani Akali Dal manifesto for the last Assembly polls promised “clean air, water, sky and land (saf paun, pani dharti and akash)”. It had also spelled out a 5-point programme. Nothing has changed: The Sutlej continues to be a major victim, the Ghaggar is a repository of chemical waste, as toxins are dunked into the subsoil water at various places. The result is stark: most rivers and choes remain polluted. Government sources cite the lack of funds for handling pollution. For instance, they say, the state government identified 45 towns and cities from where untreated effluents flow into either rivers or nearby choes. Safely created dumps would have taken care of solid waste. But the government doesn’t have funds to set up treatment plants. –TNS

In Dubious Battle

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:11 pm

Steinbeck’s Red Devils

When I received email from a publicist announcing the premiere of a film based on John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” directed by and starring James Franco that opens on Friday, February 17th, I knew at the outset that this would not be in the same league as John Ford’s 1940 masterpiece “The Grapes of Wrath”. Everything I have heard from Franco in the past five years or so persuades me that outside of acting he overestimates his talents, whether it is writing poetry or teaching classes in the NYU film school. If he wants to become a renaissance man, it would probably be best for him to stick to projects he is qualified for, like being named the face of Gucci’s men’s fragrance line.

Like most people I suppose, my knowledge of Steinbeck is based on “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men”, a novella I read in high school. The publicist provided a synopsis of the film: “In the California apple country, nine hundred migratory workers rise up against the landowners after getting paid a faction of the wages they were promised. The group takes on a life of its own—stronger than its individual members and more frightening.” I said to myself that even if Franco makes a mess of this Steinbeck story, it would still be worth watching for the subject matter alone. Guess what. I was wrong.

Steinbeck’s novel was based on historical events. In the early 1930s, farmworkers in California fought pitched battles with the agribusinesses we became familiar with in the 1960s when the UFW was fighting to organize farmworkers in the lettuce fields and grape vineyards.

The earlier strikes were organized by the Communist-led Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU). Franco stars as Mac McLeod, a Communist organizer who has taken raw CP recruit Jim Nolan (Nat Wolff) under his wing. The two of them head off to the fictional Torgas Valley, where they begin working at an apple orchard owned by Bolton, an old-school capitalist pig reminiscent of C. Montgomery Burns on “The Simpsons”. Not long after starting work, they learn with the rest of the men that their pay will been cut from 25 to 20 cents per hour. They can take it or leave it. Robert Duvall, a long-time Republican outlier in Hollywood, was cast as Bolton. No method acting preparation was required from someone who belonged to a labor-hating political party.

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February 10, 2017

Land of Mine

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:59 pm

Nazi Youth as Human Mine Detonators

In “Land of Mine,” Danish director Martin Zandvliet has defied conventional thinking on this historical episode and made the best narrative film I have seen this year, one that I recommend highly to CounterPunch readers. It opens on Friday at Laemmle’s in Los Angeles and at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in New York with a national rollout soon to follow.

The film has the same white-hot intensity as the 1953 “Wages of Fear” classic that had a couple of men driving trucks filled with dynamite up a treacherous mountainous road to be used to stanch an out of control oil well fire. Yves Montand, one of the drivers, carries out his assignment with great aplomb while his partner is paralyzed by fear. As each obstacle is faced on their way up the mountain, the tension mounts.

Defusing a bomb has the same sort of built-in drama. I found myself covering my eyes every time one of the Nazi POW’s was unscrewing a fuse. If you understandably don’t care much about whether such people live or die, be prepared to have your expectations turned upside down as the film progresses.

Between 1942 and 1944 Germany built the Trump-like Atlantic Wall designed to thwart an Allied invasion from Great Britain. This was a massive system of fortifications along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia with Denmark expected to be a likely landing for invasion forces. The country had more landmines per square foot than any other location along the entire European coast.

Written by the director, the screenplay has the audacity to accurately portray the Germans as teenagers who had been dragooned into service toward the end of the war to replace the seasoned troops annihilated in Russia. Like Yves Montand, who sought nothing more except to live for another day and enjoy the reward he got for delivering the dynamite, these boys wanted nothing more except to go home and pick up where they left off.

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February 8, 2017

Left on Purpose; Keep Quiet

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:32 pm

When I joined the Trotskyist movement in 1967, I got weekly reports in the New York branch about the frictions within the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee that had been founded by A.J. Muste. This was the first incarnation of the three-legged stool that made up the Vietnam antiwar coalition in its early stages, with representatives from the SWP, the CPUSA and the pacifist movement working together despite significant ideological differences.

Most of the names that cropped up in these reports were in the deepest recesses of my memory but when I heard that a documentary had been made about Mayer Vishner, the son of a Jewish garment worker who I remembered as a very young and talented leader of the pacifist wing of the coalition, I was interested to see the film that opens at the Cinema Village on Friday in the same way I looked forward to seeing Bert Schultz’s “Fordham SDS”. Vishner eventually hooked up with Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin to form the Yippies, a group far more interested in making a splash than moving the masses. They were mistaken but so were we in many ways. It is a miracle that all of us came together against the war.

Unlike the people that Bert interviewed, who largely lived fulfilling lives after “the 60s” came to an end, Mayer Vishner was one of its casualties. Like his friends Abby Hoffman and Phil Ochs, Vishner had trouble adjusting to post-radicalization realities. And like Abby and Phil, he would commit suicide but only after years of coming close to the precipice but not jumping. Indeed, “Left on Purpose” is mostly devoted to the 64-year old basket case arguing with the filmmaker and his close friends about whether there was any purpose to him living any longer. The very end of this grim but deeply dramatic documentary shows his corpse atop the bed in his filthy walk-up apartment on West 4th and MacDougal Streets, the heart of the Greenwich Village of yore when Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Dave Von Ronk could be heard on an almost weekly basis.

The title of the film is a double entendre. It refers to Vishner’s lifelong leftist commitments as well as his determination to purposely leave a life that consisted of continuous and deep depression, loneliness and an alcohol addiction that had led him to drink quart after quart of beer, even during filming. During most of the shooting, he is clad only in a filthy t-shirt, inevitably one with a political message, and underwear. With his massive beer belly, stringy gray hair flowing from a bald head down to his shoulders, the film’s subject holds forth about the inevitability of suicide amidst the filth and clutter of a tiny apartment. Within the first few minutes of the film, you cringe at the appearance of the man and his apartment and find yourself wondering why an experienced filmmaker would descend into this man’s personal hell.

As the film progresses, you are not exactly identifying with Mayer Vishner but at least grappling with the problems that almost everybody faces as they get older. Vishner has not been in a relationship for decades and is tormented by loneliness. He goes out to a wedding in Berkeley with his cousin, who is about his age, marrying a woman also about his age. He tells filmmaker Justin Schein, “What’s the point? In a few years one or the other will be forced to become a caregiver for an infirm spouse.”

Throughout the film, we see Vishner remonstrating with friends, including Schein who has become a lifeline, about the ineluctable necessity of ending his life. They tell him that he still has a lot to offer, including his work in a nearby community garden where he has sought respite from depression for 30 years by growing vegetables. There is also his political legacy that he can impart to the young but we learn that part of his isolation stems from an utter failure to keep up with the social media that younger lefties thrive on. Despite owning a computer, he has no clue how to use it.When he offers Occupy activists the organization of a phone tree, they look at him as if he stepped out of a time machine.

The film is a companion piece to “Honey”, a 2014 Italian narrative film about a young woman who is a licensed euthanasia administrator, typically serving terminal cancer patients and the like. When she runs into a man who tells her that he is simply tired of living, she adamantly refuses to help him end his suffering. This would not only be a violation of her license but something that she finds objectionable on existential grounds. Life is worth living, she insists on telling the old man who has a lot more to live for than Mayer Vishner. As “Left on Purpose” winds down, we realize that he has won the argument against his friends—including the director. After dropping off his cat, his only companion, with a friend in Texas, he returns to New York and swallows a bottle of Secanols.

Despite the grimness of the subject matter, “Left on Purpose” is touching and deeply relevant to the eternal problems of aging and death that everybody faces at one point or another as Vishner reminds a friend at one point. As a portrait of man who lost much of the purpose for living after the 60s wound down, the film will be compelling to any of my readers who identify with my own confrontations with the grim political situation we have been facing for decades now. If Vishner lacked the inner resources to keep on with the struggle, we at least understand what wore him down. Fortunately for me, the only death I seek are those of the monsters who are responsible for the oppressive system we are forced to live under and not my own—as inevitable as it is.

Also opening on Friday at the Lincoln Plaza is another documentary film about a deeply political Jew but on the other end of the spectrum, in this instance a top leader of the anti-Semitic and fascist Jobbik party in Hungary who is “outed” by a disgruntled member of the party as the grandson of a Jewish woman who was in Auschwitz. Since Jewry is based on matrilineal descent, he is found “guilty” of violating one of his party’s chief principles—the need for racial purity.

As vice-president of Jobbik and founder of its Stormtrooper-like militia, the Hungarian Guard, Csanád Szegedi was a Holocaust denier. The Guard itself was modeled on Hungary’s Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party guilty of killing thousands of Jews during WWII. Always on the lookout to increase their numbers, Jobbik officials toyed with the idea of retaining Szegedi as a member since it would make them look more “tolerant” but the ranks of the party were so racist that Szegedi was instead drummed out.

Much of the film shows him in consultation with a Hasidic rabbi who persuades him to renounce his fascist beliefs and accept being a Jew. Showing a remarkable ability to adapt to changed circumstances, Szegedi goes whole hog and becomes an Orthodox Jew putting on tefellin each morning, a leather strap that you wind around your arm down to your hand and that is terminated by a tiny box with a fragment from the Torah. Just after I was bar mitzvahed back in 1958, my father told me that I had to go to morning services in the synagogue and wear tefellin, something I had never done before. I found it so alienating that I not only stopped going to morning services but bailed out on Judaism for the rest of my life.

Szegedi is paraded around to Jewish organizations and synagogues where he talks about his conversion to Judaism and how he came to renounce fascism. Some in the audience find that this was hard to believe. How does someone who has been a fascist since his teens go through such a rapid change of heart? During a reception after one of his talks, a man asks Szegedi’s rabbi how do we know he is not still a Nazi. The rabbi replies that he is a Jew and must be accepted as such. If he has Jewish blood, he is a member of the tribe. The man asks, “A Jewish Nazi?” The rabbi replies, “Yes, a Jewish Nazi but nevertheless a Jew”.

It reminds me why I left all that behind me nearly sixty years ago.

 

February 3, 2017

The Founder; Joy

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:44 pm

Drive-Thru Capitalism: Ray Kroc, Joy Mangano and the American Entrepreneur as Schemer

As briskly paced and entertaining biopics, the 2015 “Joy”, which can now be seen on HBO, and “The Founder”, playing now at multiplexes everywhere, have much in common. They are celebrations of an entrepreneurialism seemingly at odds with the sense of “carnage” alluded to in Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. As rags to riches tales, they hearken back to one of the foundational myths of American capitalism, the Horatio Alger novels of the Gilded Age that would have you believe that perseverance and ambition could overcome any obstacle.

Joy is Joy Mangano, the inventor of the self-cleaning mop that she considered to be the housewife’s savior. She got the idea while wringing out an old-fashioned mop with her hands. After being cut by a glass shard hidden within the mop, the light bulb went on over her head. What if a lever at the top of the mop could accomplish the same task safely by squeezing the cotton strings remotely?

The Founder is none other than Ray Kroc, the man who launched a thousand McDonalds starting in 1954 after discovering the original store in San Bernardino, California that had been started by brothers Richard James “Dick” McDonald and Maurice James “Mac” McDonald. While the film does not mention the word, they had applied Taylorism to the drive-in restaurant business with all its advantages to the employer and imposing all its ills on the employee. In this generally upbeat film, the employees are extras. Fundamentally, the film is about Ray Kroc figuring out ways to push the brothers out of the business while retaining the brand name. At the end of the film, after they have been cheated and cast aside, Dick asks Ray Kroc why he ever felt the need to involve them in a franchise operation. Since he saw the method they were using to turn out burgers and fries as if they were Model-T’s coming off the assembly line, he could have gone ahead without them. Michael Keaton, playing Kroc with considerable flair, tells him that nobody would have gone to a Krocburger restaurant—too Slavic. But McDonalds? That evokes Americana.

The films have a very clever approach. They allow the audience to simultaneously cheer for the lead characters while maintaining a sense of superiority. Much of “Joy” consists of Mangano making a breakthrough at QVC, the predecessor to the Home Shopping Network, a channel that practically defines tackiness.

Making her debut selling her mop on QVC, she freezes up in front of the lights just like Ralph Kramden did in that classic Honeymooners episode when the bus driver stammers helplessly in front of the cameras with the Swiss Army Knife-like Handy Household Helper clutched in his fist. Norton tries to help him out by offering a cue. “Can it core a apple?” (Not a typo!) Poor Ralph Kramden remains frozen like the proverbial deer in the headlights and ends up going back to his bus route on Monday morning, the eternal proletarian loser.

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February 1, 2017

Three Documentaries

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:40 pm

This Friday “I Am Not Your Negro” opens in three NY theaters: Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Theater, the Film Forum and the Magic Johnson AMC Theater in Harlem. Directed by Raoul Peck, it is based on 30 pages of notes for a book titled “Remember This House” that James Baldwin intended to write about his three friends Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, all of whom were martyred in the struggle for Black Liberation.

The film is a mixture of archival footage of the three men, interviews with Baldwin and excerpts from his books narrated by Samuel L. Jackson that are intended to complete the unfinished project cinematically. Originally from Haiti, Raoul Peck has made both documentaries and narrative films, always with a political focus. A docudrama about Lumumba was favorable to the martyred anti-colonial leader while one on Father Aristide was widely viewed by Haitian activists as a hatchet job. Since Peck was Aristide’s Minister of Culture, one might suspect that something like a family feud had taken place. Peck’s latest project is a film titled “The Young Karl Marx” that will be screened at the Berlin Film Festival next week.

There’s not much new in the portraits of the three martyrs but perhaps unintentionally Peck has succeeded in making a riveting portrait of their admirer James Baldwin. My knowledge of Baldwin is sketchy at best. By the time I joined the radical movement in 1967, Baldwin had been eclipsed politically by Amiri Baraka and other Black Nationalist literary figures coming on the scene. Some Black nationalists disparaged Baldwin because he was gay, including Eldridge Cleaver who wrote a vitriolic and homophobic attack in “Soul on Ice”.

Born in Harlem in 1924, James Baldwin had ample reasons to emigrate from the USA. In 1948, he moved to Paris to begin a highly successful writing career, including a novel “Giovanni’s Room” written in 1956 that was a roman a clef about a gay writer living in Paris.

The portrait of Baldwin that emerges in this film is of a man deeply resentful of racism who has not quite established his identity within the Black liberation struggle. Although a prominent spokesman for racial equality, he always tends to couch his critiques within an older vocabulary of the existential movement that was so dominant in Paris in the 1950s as well as that of the Black church that was so influential in his Harlem childhood.

Much of what Baldwin says in the film is a combination of cri de coeur and politics but all of it is compelling. For those who have not seen Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in their prime, that’s additional motivation to see Peck’s film.

This year, I reviewed a couple of documentaries about men with Asperger’s, a form of autism not so serious that it prohibits those with the illness from developing a relatively normal life. On the other side of the autism spectrum we can find Owen Suskind who withdrew from everything and everybody at the age of three in 1994.

His father is Ron Suskind who was sitting on top of the world that year as the senior national affairs writer for the Wall Street Journal and who would win a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting a year later. Suskind was distinguished by his 2011 “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President” that captured Barack Obama in his essence:

My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Obama said. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help. … I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you … I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.

When Suskind discovered that his son was autistic, he did everything he could to break through to him as a father. Nothing seemed to work except a chance discovery one day that the young Owen was utterly obsessed with Walt Disney animated films. This led to him watching films with his son, interacting with him in various ways about the characters, and even imitating them to Owen’s obvious delight.

Much of the film follows the adult Owen as he is on the verge of leaving an institutional setting and living on his own in a supervised apartment complex. The small triumphs throughout the film, including him landing a job as a ticket collector at a local movie theater, are deeply satisfying but obviously nowhere near as satisfying as what his mother, father and older brother felt.

The climax of the film has Owen speaking to a conference of autism experts in Paris that will have you standing and cheering much more than any of the manipulative “inspirational” films that pass through the Cineplex routinely.

To its credit, Democracy Now has had three episodes on Owen Suskind, including one where he summed up his achievements:

AMY GOODMAN: Owen, what does it mean to be autistic?

OWEN SUSKIND: It means you have special talents and skills inside you.

AMY GOODMAN: What are those talents?

OWEN SUSKIND: Oh, god. Being a good artist and a piano player and a good writer, author and storyteller, and possibly a good golfer and a great problem solver.

Released in 2016, “Life, Animated” is now available for free on Amazon Prime and is also available on iTunes, VOD and DVD.

If I told you that “De Palma” consisted of nothing but the 76-year old director sitting in a chair speaking nonstop for 110 minutes about his film career, with nothing visually going on except clips from his movies, home movies of the De Palma clan, and still photos of various people he has worked with over the years, you’d think it might not be that interesting. After all, talking heads are supposed to be the bane of most documentaries.

But if you love film, as I and my regular readers do, this is a film that can’t be topped. Available now on Amazon, ITunes and other VOD platforms, this is more informative about filmmaking than any class you can take at UCLA or NYU. Basically, De Palma is a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock and has dedicated himself to making films in the Hitchcockian mode. Despite emerging as a pop culture figure in the 1940s making what appeared to be conventional mystery films, Hitchcock would become recognized as a cineaste par excellence.

“De Palma” would make a terrific companion piece to “Hitchcock/Truffaut” that can be seen on HBO Go or on Amazon with a seven-day trial membership for HBO. Sitting through both documentaries will go much further than any film school class. Trust me. Been there; done that.

Like Hitchcock, De Palma is a “sensationalist”. He wants to jar people out of their seats even though it is done indirectly. No matter how traumatized you were by the scene in “Psycho”, where Tony Perkins stabs Janet Leigh to death in the shower, you never see the knife approaching the body or flesh wounds. It is the combination of the music and the blood trickling down to the bathtub drain that gives you nightmares. The same thing is true of De Palma’s “Scarface”. In that memorable scene, where the Colombian drug dealer is taking a chain saw to Al Pacino’s partner, you never see any contact taking place, only the blood spattered on the walls and the killer’s clothing. Brilliant stuff.

 

January 29, 2017

Divided We Fall

Filed under: Film,financial crisis,trade unions,ultraright,Wisconsin,workers — louisproyect @ 9:03 pm

If victorious strikes by teamsters in Minneapolis in 1934, by San Francisco dockworkers the same year and auto workers three years later in Flint define the rise of the American working class as a powerful force to be reckoned with, three confrontations between labor and capital in our lifetime mark its retreat.

In 1981 Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 airline controllers who had gone out on strike as a signal that the partnership between labor and capital was a thing of the past. Four years later, the meatpacking workers organized as P-9 struck Hormel in an effort to maintain the good-paying jobs with generous benefits that were seen as essential for a decent middle-class existence. With the defeat of P-9, jobs at Hormel and other meatpacking jobs became non-union, low-paying and dangerous with a predominantly immigrant workforce made up in large part of vulnerable undocumented workers.

While not a strike as such, the union-led struggle in Madison, Wisconsin of 2011 was launched to prevent teachers and other public service employees from being “Hormelized”. When Governor Scott Walker introduced a bill in January of that year that would cut wages, benefits and eliminate dues checkoff—a mechanism that is essential to keeping a union functioning in a closed shop environment—over 100,000 people took part in a “kill the bill” movement that adopted many of the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street movement that erupted a couple of months later.

For those not old enough to have bitter memories of the P-9 strike, I recommend tracking down Barbara Kopple’s 1990 film “American Dream” that unfortunately is nowhere to be seen on VOD but that can be borrowed as a DVD from better libraries, such as Columbia University’s. Kopple is also the director of “Harlan County, USA”, another documentary about labor struggles, in that case a 1973 strike by coal miners in the legendary pro-union county that voted 8-1 for Donald Trump in November.

Kopple has declined in recent years, stooping so low as to make a documentary about Woody Allen in 1997 and following up with a docudrama about the Hamptons in 2002 that was a Yankee version of British soap operas like Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey.

Fortunately for us, a new Barbara Kopple has emerged, namely Katherine M. Acosta, the sociologist and obviously politically advanced director of “Divided We Fall”, a film about the Wisconsin labor struggle that I had the good fortune to watch yesterday. For now, the film has not found a distributor and hopefully this review will inspire some enterprising party to invest in this film that is equal to Kopple at her best and moreover a story that demands the attention of everybody trying to understand how we have ended up with an orange-haired baboon in the White House determined to throw us back to the 1880s. Essentially, the defeat of the public workers struggle in Wisconsin involved all of the players and all of the contradictions that led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the nightmare we are now living with.

Even if you’ve read every article about the Wisconsin struggle as it was unfolding in 2011, nothing comes close to seeing exactly how young people and workers rallied to the capitol building to put their bodies on the line to oppose Scott Walker’s anti-labor assault that was as calculated a bid to destroy organized labor that year as Reagan’s firing of the airline controllers was in 1985.

Acosta draws from a wide variety of interviewees, from relatively lowly teaching assistants at the U. of Wisconsin, including FB friend Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, who is a brilliant Marxist analyst in her own right, to sociology professor Rahul Mahajan, who I first ran into in the mid-90s as a graduate student on the list that would evolve into Marxmail. Rahul is witty, wise and as informed in class analysis as Wrigley-Field. So, with people like that in the front ranks of the occupation of the capitol building and in strategy meetings, what could have gone wrong? The title of the film says it all. The movement was divided and as such bound to fail.

There were basically three blocs involved within the workers’ camp but each with its own priorities. Those closest to the student movement like Wrigley-Field and Mahajan were revolutionaries, to put it bluntly. They saw the fight against Scott Walker in exactly the same way that Farrell Dobbs saw the fight to organize truck drivers in 1934, as the first step in building a new (in this instance, renewed) labor movement that could fight effectively for the interests of workers in general and lead ultimately to a transformation of American society.

In the middle were union officials at the local level who had to stand up for the rights of their membership, those people who would be forced to pay more for health insurance and face wage stagnation. Like the average member, the officials had a class status just one step above precarity. Losing a job as a clerical worker in an AFSCME union could plunge some into penury and worse. The officials often came directly out of that social layer and knew what was at stake.

The head of AFSCME, who was led off in handcuffs toward the end of the film, was Marty Beil. Beil, who died two years ago, was a bear of a man with Michael Moore’s physique (or lack thereof) who understood the importance of AFSCME better than the top officials in Washington. Formed in Wisconsin in 1932, AFSCME was the first and foremost organizer of predominantly white collar clerical government jobs even though it grew to include firefighters. It is of some interest that Beil’s first job was as a probation and parole officer, not exactly the sort of position that you would associate with labor militancy. As the film makes clear, the police presence at the capitol building was initially drawn from campus and local cops who were much more sympathetic to the struggle, even to the point of marching in support. Such contradictions might vex those addicted to Marxist schemas but one that the film skillfully engages with especially as these cops were replaced by state troopers who had no use for workers at all.

Another powerful presence from the local labor movement was John Matthews, the president of the city’s public schoolteacher’s union who combines a soft-spoken Midwest speaking style with a willingness to openly confront the national leadership of his union. These big shots parachuted into Madison and stayed at a luxury hotel, where they mapped out a strategy to settle the strike on terms favorable to Scott Walker.

For reasons probably having something to do with being reluctant to defend their role in in Acosta’s film, they are not heard from. But you don’t need to hear from AFSCME president Gerald McEntee to know what agenda he would follow in Madison. In 2009, McEntee was being paid $480,000 per year. When you make that kind of money, plus fringe benefits such as staying at Madison’s best hotel on the membership’s dime, you tend to lose track of the sort of class antagonisms that drove the average worker to rise up.

Another problem was the reliance on Democratic Party “friends of labor” who were just as eager as McEntee to deescalate the struggle in Madison and get things back to normal, even as they were giving speeches in support of the unions and in working to undermine Republican attempts to steamroll through Walker’s legislation.

If the film consisted of nothing but talking heads, it would still be worth watching, particularly to hear from Wrigley-Field, Mahajan and other radical students and professors at the U. of Wisconsin. But beyond that, Acosta was present throughout the occupation directing her film crew to capture the Occupy Wall Street type drama of those sitting in. That footage combined with the commentary by people involved with the struggle make up for an unforgettable movie experience that screams out for nationwide distribution.

The film makes clear that occupy type tactics could only go so far. The Republicans had a majority in the state legislative bodies and would ultimately prevail. Of course, the real question is why a shit-hook like Scott Walker could ever become governor of a progressive state like Wisconsin.

Once the occupation ran out of steam (helped along by “kettling” tactics by the state troopers), the trade union officials and Democrats thought that the answer was to replace Walker. Instead of considering ways to block the legislation by either a general strike (probably an over-projection by some leftists) or guerrilla tactics in the workplace like “sick-outs” or working by the rule, all the energy went into the recall campaign.

But the recall was to no avail. Walker was reelected. Why?

He was reelected because he was to Donald Trump as his Democratic Party opponent Tom Barrett was to Hillary Clinton. Walker had defeated Barrett in 2010 and by even more votes in the 2012 recall election. This has to do with Barrett running exactly the same kind of campaign as Clinton, one geared to the “swing voter” and careful to avoid any association with trade unions, sit-ins and the like.

But looking past the Wisconsin context, which the film understandably did not try to address, I would suggest that there was an important element that militated against success. As the film’s title implies, there were problems of being divided—but not just within the labor movement but in the Wisconsin population as a whole. Seen as benefiting from Democratic Party largesse, the taxpayers felt that these unions were a privileged layer. If Wisconsin was facing a fiscal crisis, why shouldn’t teachers et al not have to “chip in” to bail out the state?

The fiscal crisis, of course, was rooted in a system that included “starving the beast”. State budgets were in the red because taxes kept being cut. If the Democratic Party had stood up to the rich, returned tax rates to what they were under Eisenhower, pushed through single-payer health insurance and stood up for the rights of homeowners who had been devastated by the subprime meltdown of 2008, maybe the voters would have been more motivated to back the Democrats. This would have required a total transformation of the labor movement that might yet be in the offing as we sail into the stormy seas facing us over the next four years. As Harriet Rowan, one of the politically astute graduate students interviewed in the film, put it toward the end of the film, we can’t wait for the leadership to catch up with the people.

 

 

January 17, 2017

The Sunshine Makers; The Modern Jungle

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:05 pm

As I sat watching the terrific documentary “The Sunshine Makers” that opens on Friday at the Village East in New York, the phrase “Breaking Good” kept running through my mind since the film was about two men who became LSD manufacturers in the 1960s only to change the world rather than make money. Since scientists today have rediscovered the benefits of LSD, including its ability to reduce anxiety in terminal cancer patients, the two–Nick Sands and Tim Scully–were certainly on to something.

Born in 1941, Sands took mescaline 20 years later when he was a Brooklyn College undergrad. Like many people around that time (including me), psychedelics were the perfect accompaniment to Eastern religion and other forms of mysticism that appealed to many young people turned off by what Allen Ginsberg called Moloch.

This led him to become a regular at a mansion in Millbrook, New York owned by Billy Hitchcock that had become the LSD temple of Timothy Leary. Millbrook was about a half hour’s drive from Bard College and I had heard through the grapevine that Bard students had been spending time there in “psychology experiments”. Even if I had been invited to take part, I doubt that it would have interested me since my drugs of choice were marijuana and hashish that were cheap and plentiful at the time.

Eventually Sands hooked up with a Berkeley mathematical physics major named Tim Scully who was born in 1944 and just 5 months older than me. Scully became the Walter White of their operation largely on the strengths of his brilliance in all things scientific including chemistry. Wikipedia states that “In his junior year of high school, Scully completed a small linear accelerator in the school science lab (he was trying to make gold atoms from mercury) which was pictured in a 1961 edition of the Oakland Tribune.”

I imagine that everybody who sees this film will be swept off their feet but it had a heightened resonance with me. There is a certain poignancy in seeing geezers like these reflecting on their misspent (or spent perhaps) youth as you see home movies from when they were in their twenties. Sands, an Adonis in his youth, is now a slow-moving walrus-like figure who still retains a glint in his eye and a quick wit. Scully, as rail-thin as he was in his youth, is completely bald and wrinkled. But neither man shows the slightest regret in breaking the law just as I have no regret in taking part in my own kind of lawless behavior.

I only had one experience with LSD, just two months before joining the Trotskyist movement. I went to my friend Chip’s apartment on the opposite end of the floor in my West 92nd building to drop acid while he and his wife smoked pot and served as my anchor in case things got out of hand. After swallowing a sugar cube, I didn’t notice anything happening for the first 15 minutes but then the strangest thing. A rather tacky landscape on the wall depicting a fish jumping out of a lake surrounded by mountains became—how should I put it—animated. The water began rippling and the fish kept jumping out of the water. How are you doing that, I asked Chip, positive in my mind that the painting was a “novelty” he bought in Times Square that could be activated by a remote control he had concealed in his hand. Open your hand, I demanded, let me see the remote control. When he opened both hands, I couldn’t believe it. I was hallucinating. For the next two hours, I watched what amounted to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” on the living room walls but that was about it. It might have been a deeply spiritual experience for Sands and Scully but for me, it was just entertainment.

Sands and Scully were partners with Oswald Stanley who died in 2011. His words are heard throughout the film as are Billy Hitchcock’s but neither are seen on screen for reasons not given. Stanley is far better known than the others largely through his connections to Ken Kesey, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. When I say connection, I mean that both spiritually as well as in the more conventional drug trafficking sense.

The film also includes interviews with the women in Sands and Scully’s lives who, like them, are as rebellious as ever even if they look like your grandmother. In fact, it is the boldness and refusal to conform in all of these characters that makes this film so appealing. If the key to a successful documentary is “casting” the right people, British director Cosmo Feilding Mellen struck gold with these elder statesmen of the psychedelic revolution.

Mellen is the son of Amanda Feilding, whose family is descended from the House of Habsburg that came to England in the 14th Century. Like many in the British upper class, she became a renegade in her youth. And like Sands and Scully, she experimented with mind-altering substances in her youth and even conducted a trepanation on herself in 1970, a discredited procedure that consists of drilling a hole in your head for medical reasons. (She used a dentist’s drill.) Her goal was to see if it could affect her consciousness. Today, she is far more responsible as the founder and director of the Beckley Foundation that advocates for a more humane drug policy and investigates the use of psychoactive drugs for beneficial purposes.

In a profile on the Feildings in the London Times (behind a paywall but give me a shout if you want a copy), Cosmo reminisces on his youth:

Most kids find their parents embarrassing at some point, but it was definitely more pronounced for me. I was christened Cosmo Birdie for a start. The thing people knew about my parents was that they were druggies who drilled holes in their heads. [In her twenties, Amanda carried out the ancient practice of trepanation, which people believed could improve health and wellbeing.] As I got older, I developed a huge respect for what Mum stands for, but trust me, there was no cachet in it as a kid. She’s quite bohemian and has a pronounced posh voice. I can remember her coming to pick me up at school and shouting: “Cooee Bubba!” Not really what you want.

There will always be an England.

“The Modern Jungle” is documentary that will be shown at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 20th. Since I doubt that any of my readers except those living in Utah will be able to make the screening, I urge you to look for it if it opens eventually at your local art theater or on VOD.

Set in a village in southern Mexico largely populated by the Zoque Indians, it is a respectful but unsettling account of the lives of two elderly Zoques who live in rudimentary huts, a man named Juan Juarez Rodríguez and a woman named Carmen Echevarría Lopez. Their lives are circumscribed by daily routines of chopping wood for their stoves and gathering corn from nearby fields. Their lives are probably close to the ones lived by their ancestors a hundred years ago, even if it has been impinged upon by the forces of global capitalism and the Mexican landowning class. It was that class that killed Carmen’s husband 45 years before the film was made and that makes both her and Juan’s so difficult today. Even if much of the Zoque land has been swindled from beneath their feet, they still feel the pressures of landlords who would like to see them and the rest of the Zoques gone.

At first blush, I thought the film would be similar to those that I have seen in the past about Indians fending off the rich but there are some wrinkles. Juan is determined that he be paid for his services as a subject in a film that he expects to make money. In several cringe-worth scenes he haggles with director Charles Fairbanks over his pay. It will remind you that in such ethnographic films going back to “Nanook of the North”—the original—the filmmaker has the upper hand. It is to Fairbanks’s credit that he acknowledges this in very revealing footage. (The film is co-directed by Saul Kak, a Zoque Indian who did the translation.) He puts it this way in the press notes:

Here and elsewhere, THE MODERN JUNGLE is also about documentary. As it portrays cross-cultural encounters structured by and through the camera, our film doesn’t shy away from the messy interpersonal, economic, and social repercussions of filming in impoverished communities. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm describes how the author of nonfiction tends to represent himself differently than all other characters: “He forms the exception to the rule that nothing may be invented. The ‘I’ of journalism” [and, I contend, documentary]:

…is connected to the writer only in a tenuous way––the way, say, that Superman is connected to Clark Kent. The journalistic “I” is an overreliable narrator, a functionary to whom crucial tasks of narration and tone have been entrusted, an ad hoc creation, like the chorus of Greek tragedy. He is an emblematic figure, an embodiment of the idea of the dispassionate observer of life.

In contrast to this convention, I wanted to depict ‘the documentary director’ as a complex and flawed character, despite ‘his’ (that is, my) best intentions. Likewise, I wanted to show that making this film had real repercussions on the lives of its main characters. It became evident, while filming, that I too am an intruder, an outside force, a symptom of globalization in the world of Juan and Carmen. So, to make an honest film about their encounters with modernity, it seemed necessary to subvert this convention and address the ways we negotiate the power of representation.

Kudos to Fairbanks and Kak for making a film with a difference.

January 13, 2017

The Standout Films of 2016

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

One of my picks

The Standout Films of 2016

As most of you probably know, Netflix no longer bothers with the offbeat films I tend to review, either as DVD or streaming. Since my reviews cover documentaries, foreign films and American indies that tend to be shown in art houses like New York’s Film Forum, I always regret that my readers living in cities or towns where there is nothing but Cineplexes are forced to choose between multimillion dollar movies about space aliens or Judd Apatow comedies.

The good news is that Amazon and ITunes have picked up the slack. Although I hate Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook just as much as the next person, I am glad that these types of art house films can now be seen in the same year they premiered for between $3.99 and $5.99 in these venues.

I tend to avoid identifying “best of” movies or directors after the fashion of the Academy Awards and only take part in New York Film Critics Online yearly awards meetings because members are expected to take part. This week’s Golden Globe awards ceremony pretty much sums up why the whole thing turns me off. Although I managed to sit through “La La Land” that walked off with the lion’s share of the awards, I found it far less interesting than the narrative films listed below that were diametrically opposed to Damien Chazelle’s sugar-coated retro-musical.

The twenty films listed below were among the best that I saw this year but I would be loath to sort them in order by preference rather than alphabetical order. Competition of this sort always turned me off whether it is for the Nobel Prize (good for Dylan to avoid the tuxedo and gown spectacle) or even for the Isaac Deutscher Prize. I wonder sometimes what Trotsky’s biographer would think of Marxists competing with each other for a £500 prize. Or Leon Trotsky for that matter, who is history’s greatest loser in some ways. I tend to identify with losers so I guess I’ll never fit into an American society that now has its President the host of “Apprentice” where “losers” are humiliated for failing to come up with some “winning” strategy for selling junk of the sort that Trump’s Empire is built on.

All of the films below can be seen on Amazon streaming and probably ITunes, although I haven’t checked that out. By and large, they are released to both platforms at the same time. That is why, interestingly enough, that Amazon is not part of the menu that comes with Apple TV, Tim Cook’s rip-off of the Roku box.

Needless to say, none of the documentaries likely made it to cities and towns that lacked an art house. Most of the narrative films are those that were also released in such theaters with a few exceptions made for two films that deserve being singled out: “Free State of Jones” that I consider a political and artistic breakthrough and “Snowden”, Oliver Stone’s best work in many years.

Finally, I include a brief excerpt from my review of the films with a link to the full review.

Read full article

January 10, 2017

Twin Cities; Go North

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Two narrative films have come my way recently whose combined budget is probably less than 3 percent of what it cost to make La La Land but for my money are far more interesting films. One is titled “Twin Cities” and defies easy description. Even if writer/director Dave Ash is a Twin Cities resident, don’t expect it to be a warm and whimsical treatment of the region’s foibles a la Lake Woebegon. Or like fellow Twin Cities favorite sons Coen brothers whose trademark irony seems toothless compared to Ash, whose sensibility is a mixture of Kafka and Kierkegaard. The other is titled “Go North”, a post-apocalyptic tale inspired by “Lord of the Flies” that eschews the cheap thrills of the Road Warrior series in favor of a simple, even minimalist tale of survival in a world where children seek to build a new civilization based on the worst instincts of the one that has died.

As “Twin Cities” unfolds, we meet a husband and wife whose marriage is beginning to come apart at the seams. John is a computer programmer with an affectless demeanor that makes you wonder if he might be an automaton. His wife Emily is a novelist who has received marching orders from her editor to cut her 1000-page novel drastically and to make her principal characters more developed. While professing their love for each other every chance they get, there is little indication of what drew them together in the first place except physical attraction—the same bad chemistry that accounts for 90 percent of failed marriages.

“Twin Cities” is a sequel to “2021”, a film that I reviewed three years ago when its working title was “Connected” and about which I wrote:

“Connected” opens with John Cooper walking away from his cubicle into the men’s room at his workplace—a biotech company—and sticking a loaded revolver in his mouth. For the time being, he decides that life is still worth living and puts the gun away.

John would seem to have something to live for since he has been assigned to work on the company’s hot new project, an attempt to translate the human genome into computer code that would prove capable of replicating the human brain to the point of passing the Turing test: a computer is capable of fooling a human being to think that he is communicating with another human.

The irony of course is that the very programmer who is leading the project is having a devil of a time getting through to Emily, the smart and beautiful woman whose character armor—to put it in Reichian terms—would thwart a blockbuster bomb. Like John, she uses humor as a defense mechanism. On one of their first dates, he asks her to reveal something very personal about herself. Without skipping a beat, she says that she was born with two vaginas. He quickly replies that he knew there was something special about her.

The deadpan and lacerating humor continues in the sequel. Not long after the film starts, John learns that he has terminal colorectal cancer, which inspires him to seek the deeper meaning of life now that he only has four months of it left. Unlike the soulful main characters of Kurosawa’s classic “Ikiru” or Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” awaiting their own imminent demise, John treats his own prospects with his characteristic sense of the absurd.

After getting the bad news from the doctor, John returns home to fill Emily in:

“I have cancer”.

“What?”

“I have cancer”.

“What do you mean? How?”

“I went to a doctor since I haven’t been feeling well lately and they ran some tests a few days ago”.

“Fuck you”.

“I begin intensive chemotherapy in a week. And if they don’t stop it in a few months, then that’s the end of me. Colorectal carcinoma. I have cancer in my asshole. I have asshole cancer.”

While this exchange is taking place, an inane pop tune is playing on the radio. “California…Well, the sun is shining bright”.

Like most people facing death, John meets with a minister who ends up confessing to him that he really has no answers to the big questions of life and death. When he visits his parents for perhaps the last time, he is told that they only went to church because they enjoyed the social life. As they used to say in the 1960s, God is Dead.

But in the final analysis, the film is not about Existential issues but about art itself. As John exits the stage (but not in the way we expect), Emily becomes the central character and the story of the film and her elephantine novel become interwoven in a way that finally leaves your head spinning.

I have no information on the film’s distribution but keep an eye out for it at your better film festivals.

Appropriate to a post-apocalyptic film, “Go North” was filmed in Detroit and stars Jacob Lofland in the role of Josh, a fifteen-year old denizen of a Detroit (unnamed in the film) neighborhood that consists of rundown houses and abandoned factories.

Each day he goes off to a nearby school where the teachers are just a couple of years older than him and ill-prepared to teach anything except survival skills like trapping animals. Since everybody over the age of twenty-one seems to have succumbed to some global catastrophe that the film does not identify (it is not needed for a plot that brackets out social and political considerations), it is up to what amounts to high school bullies to keep order and to help propagate the species.

Josh’s teacher is an alpha male named Caleb who is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son Patrick in the casting coup of the year. If you are going to develop a villainous character for a post-apocalyptic film, there’s no better choice than the Terminator’s son.

When Caleb is not “teaching”, he is acting as overseer for the garden that Josh and other children toil in after class under the watchful eye of Caleb’s henchman Martin (Joshua Close) who epitomizes the worst aspects of the high school bully. But when social norms have disappeared such an individual can abuse his power to the point of making up Josh’s mind and that of Caleb’s younger sister Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark) to “go North” in search of a better life.

As I have stated, this film makes no pretense of trying to make social commentary about the sharp decline of American civilization and sticks to telling a story about young people on the run from predators. In effect, it is a road movie in the same genre as the Road Warrior flicks but much more modest and much more enjoyable.

The film opens this Friday at the Cinema Village in New York and on VOD. It is well worth seeing.

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