Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 26, 2020

Dinner Party, Becky: Grindhouse masterpieces on virtual cinema

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:20 pm

Just heard from the publicist that “Becky” reviews should wait until June 1. Will repost then.

May 25, 2020

Dariush Mehrjui’s “The Cow”, the film that launched the Iranian New Wave

Filed under: Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

About a month ago, Shalon Van Tine, the young and brilliant Marxist film critic that joined me in an interview by Eric Draitser, messaged me on FB: “I had a lot of fun talking to you on the podcast today! Since you like Iranian cinema, have you ever seen The Cow? I absolutely love that one.” I messaged her back: “Never saw ‘The Cow’ but am familiar with its importance. Loved doing the show with you, btw. Our tastes are very similar.”

About a week ago, I decided to see if the film was available as VOD. Not only was it available, it was just one of a vast library of Iranian films, many with subtitles like “The Cow”, that are archived on the IMVBox website. It is entirely free without subtitles and only $2.49 with. There are 323 films with English subtitles, including “The Cow”. For anybody with the least bit of interest in one of the world’s great filmmaking industries, IMVBox is indispensable.

Made in 1969, “The Cow” (Gaav, in Persian) was like the ship that launched a thousand new wave films in Iran. Well, maybe not a thousand but certainly a hundred. Directed by Dariush Mehrjui and based on a screenplay by his good friend Gholam-Hossein Saedi, it is set in an impoverished farming town in southern Iran. It is so poor that Masht Hassan (Ezzatolah Entezami) is considered wealthy because he owns just one cow. It is not even clear if the cow is productive in the conventional sense because we never see Hassan milking her. She is much more of a pet that he dotes on. When he feeds her hay in the barn (more of a shed, really), he always puts some straw in his mouth to encourage her. It is almost as if he is worshipping the cow like a Hindu.

Perhaps, Mehrjui had the films of Satyajit Ray in the back of his mind since “The Cow” evokes the Apu Trilogy. As is the case with Ray, Mehrjui refuses to idealize rural life. At the start of the film, we see children hazing the village idiot with none of the elders chiding them. It is only when the most respected of them, a man named Islam, steps in that they back off.

When Hassan goes off for some business in a nearby town for a couple of days, the villagers are shocked to see in his absence that the cow has died unexpectedly, with a pool of blood close to her mouth. Dreading the impact this would have on him, they bury her and agree on telling him a story about her running off when he returns. No matter how many of them reassure him that this is what took place, he simply refuses to believe them. She had no reason to run off, he insists. Like someone in mourning, he retreats to the barn and sits inconsolably next to her stall. After a day or so, he snaps psychologically and assumes her identity, even to the point of consuming straw this time for real. It is up to Islam and two other villagers to seek help for him. They tie a rope around his waist, as if he were a farm animal, and begin on a long trek to the closest city where they hope to find a mental hospital to take him in.

I should add that although Mehrjui is often viewed as a disciple of Satyajit Ray or the Italian neo-realists, there is one scene toward the end of the film that reminds me of the very end of Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal”, at least visually. It is a long shot of the three villagers hauling Hassan by a rope toward the city, like Death leading Bergman’s characters off in the distance in a macabre dance. Bergman is on top, Mehrjul below:

Although funded by the Shah’s film company, he refused to allow it to be seen abroad since it went against the grain of his “modernization” posturing. After the Shah was overthrown, Ayatollah Khomeini gave the film his blessing, thus allowing this first seed of the new wave to grown into many new flowers.

If you are familiar with the work of either Abbas Kiarostami or Jafar Panahi, you will recognize the similarity immediately. Like Mehrjui, they made films on location in remote rural villages with nonprofessional actors. However, for key roles such as Hassan and Islam, Mehrjui chose professionals with distinguished careers. Ezzatolah Entezami, who played Hassan, would have had 56 credits as an actor when he died in 2018 at the age of 94. “The Cow” might have been in his first film but he began as a stage actor in 1941.

In addition to being tuned into Western culture as director and writer, Mehrjui and Saedi were the Iranian counterparts of the 60s radical movement, with hopes that they could put an end to the monarchy alongside the political radicals.

As for Western culture, Mehrjui was less than impressed with the UCLA film school where he enrolled back in 1959. He dropped out and began learning how to make films on his own. His take on UCLA was most astute: “They wouldn’t teach you anything very significant… because the teachers were the kind of people who had not been able to make it in Hollywood themselves… [and would] bring the rotten atmosphere of Hollywood to the class and impose it on us.”

Like many of the movement activists, Mehrjui initially welcomed the “anti-imperialist” Ayatollah Khomeini, who was much more supportive of “The Cow” than the deposed monarch. It didn’t take him long to figure out that Khomeini was about to impose clerical rules on the film industry. In 1981, he went into exile in Paris but returned to Iran four years later after deciding that he could still make films with integrity in Iran where clerics ruled—unlike Hollywood, where the dollar ruled.

Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi was much more of a revolutionary than Mehrjui and paid for it dearly. Wikipedia reports that in 1953, after Mohammad Mosaddeq was toppled, he and his younger brother were arrested and imprisoned at Shahrbani Prison in Tabriz. As members of the Tudeh party, they were prime suspects of “subversion”. He got in trouble again as the editor of Alefba, a literary magazine with fearless political independence, when he was arrested in 1974 and then tortured by SAVAK, the Shah’s version of Bashar al-Assad’s Mukhabarat. Once Khomeini came to power, Sa’edi continued to be a defender of political freedom and working-class power, but in exile. In 1985, when he was living in exile in Paris, he suffered severe depression over his political disappointments and became an alcoholic, dying of cirrhosis in 1985.

May 24, 2020

St. Marks Place

Filed under: art,bard college,Film — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Click to play

As I watched Richard Allen’s six-minute film “St. Marks Place”, I couldn’t help but remembering what I wrote about the old New York of my youth in a piece about the pandemic:

Slowly but surely, everything that endeared New York to me has died largely because of the predatory nature of real estate development as symbolized by the evil presence in the White House.

Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Vanishing New York, just posted about the photographer Robert Herman, who jumped to his death from the 16th floor of his Tribeca apartment building last Friday night. Herman’s suicide note read, “How do you enjoy life?”

Like Jeremiah, Richard has the old New York in his heart, reflected not only in the film but in his book of photography titled “Street Shots/Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970s” that captures the vitality of the city before it became gobbled up by CVS’s, HSBC’s and 75-story condos filled with hedge fund managers. I am not sure about the availability of the book but if it piques your interest, drop me a line at lnp3@panix.com and I’ll put you in touch with Richard. The last time I saw him in NY, he had a carton of the books that he was dropping off at local bookstores, at least those that hadn’t been put out of business by Amazon.

Photos from Street Shots/Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970s:


Of all the people I knew at Bard, there were only three that I have been in touch with in recent years. One was the great poet Paul Pines who died of lung cancer in 2018. Now there are two people I remain in touch with, Richard who will be making films until he dies and Jeffrey Marlin, my chess partner who will be writing fiction until the grim reaper carries him away. All three of us are prime candidates for a COVID-19 torpedo attack but we hope that social distancing will keep us going.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that the four years I spent at Bard College and the eleven in the Trotskyist movement were very intense. In the first instance, spiritually and socially. In the second, politically. And at Bard College, my memories of Richard are most vivid.

He was part of a crowd that included Kenny Shapiro, Blythe Danner, Lane Sarasohn, and Chevy Chase. I loved Blythe and Chevy but couldn’t take Kenny, who died in 2017. Despite my distaste for Kenny, I have to admit that he was very talented. When he graduated Bard, he moved to NY and developed an off-off-Broadway show called “Channel One” that featured Lane, Chevy and Richard’s satire on network TV. Eventually, that became a movie called “Groove Tube”.

If you go to Richard’s Vimeo channel, you can see Richard bouncing off a brick wall in a brief film (this was in the days of Super-8) followed by a very young Chevy Chase in bell-bottom jeans performing in a homage to the days of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

But for the best slapstick comedy, I recommend Richard’s “One-armed bandit” that won the Sony Pictures Classic Short Film prize at the 2018 Asbury Park Music and Film Festival. Look carefully and you’ll see Chevy playing a cop in the final moments.

May 23, 2020

COOKED: Survival By Zip Code

Filed under: COVID-19,Film — louisproyect @ 9:10 pm

Although Bullfrog Films did not allude to this in their publicity about “COOKED: Survival By Zip Code”, this documentary demonstrates that the class divisions at work in the pandemic are nothing new. Directed by Judith Helfand, it examines the worst heat disaster in American history. During the heat wave of 1995, 739 mostly elderly and Black residents of Chicago died during a seven-day period.

Like Michael Moore, Helfand went to Chicago to get to the bottom of the story and interviewed key analysts who had studied the heat-related disaster, as well as holding people who were the counterparts of Donald Trump back then to scrutiny through archival footage. As it happens, they were Democrats like Mayor Richard Daley Jr., whose father was infamous for ordering the cops to beat up peace demonstrators in 1968. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree apparently. The Mayor followed the Trump tactic of self-congratulation: “I think that the city did a very good job…”

As the film titled indicates, it was a matter of which zip code you lived in. If it was one for a mostly white middle-class part of the city, you had air conditioning. If you lived in a Black and poor neighborhood, you had a target on your back if you were elderly or had underlying conditions. If you had both, your chances were maybe 50-50. Poverty made an air-conditioner unaffordable. On top of that, many old folks were not in communication with family for one reason or another. After their corpses were discovered, they were trundled off to a funeral parlor. When the funeral parlors couldn’t handle the traffic, the city dispatched refrigerated trucks to keep them warehoused until the heat wave was over.

There are two remarkable figures who are interviewed throughout the film. One was Steve Whitman, who was born into a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1943. Through hard work, he earned a PhD in biostatistics at Yale in 1969. As head of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s epidemiology program, he played a major role in studying and explaining the 1995 Chicago heat wave. He saw the deaths as unnecessary. The city should have been better prepared to relocate those at risk to air-conditioned shelters. Whitman died from cancer in 2014. At the time, he was heading up Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI), a group he founded to promote health equity.

The other expert is Eric Klinenberg, the author of “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.” Wikipedia describes him as a public sociologist, a term I’ve never heard before. I would say that if there’s ever a left movement in the USA that can get past sectarianism and reformism, he belongs in the leadership. His commentary on the Chicago poverty-induced massacre are both informed and passionate. In an interview (https://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/443213in.html) with the U. of Chicago Press that published the book, he said something that foreshadowed what we are facing today with Trump in the White House, Chicago 1995 writ large:

In 1995 there were no uniform standards for determining a “heat related death,” so officials had to develop them. Edmund Donoghue, Cook County’s chief medical examiner, used state-of-the-art criteria to report 465 heat-related deaths for the heat wave week and 521 heat deaths for the month of July. But Mayor Richard M. Daley challenged these findings. “It’s hot,” the mayor told the media. “But let’s not blow it out of proportion.… Every day people die of natural causes. You cannot claim that everybody who has died in the last eight or nine days dies of heat. Then everybody in the summer that dies will die of heat.” Many local journalists shared Daley’s skepticism, and before long the city was mired in a callous debate over whether the so-called heat deaths were—to use the term that recurred at the time—“really real.”

“COOKED: Survival By Zip Code” can be rented from OVID.tv. If you haven’t subscribed to OVID yet, this is a great reason to start. For group and academic purchase or rentals, check with Bullfrog.

May 16, 2020

A Good Woman is Hard to Find; Blood Quantum

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

While commercial Hollywood films have ground to a halt during the pandemic, indie films have had a new lease on life through what they call virtual cinema, a fancy term for VOD. I get invitations to review them practically every day and prioritize films with a political message.

Since most of you are house-bound like me, you probably might be on the lookout for films with an emphasis on pure entertainment. While the two films under consideration in this article could never be described as mindless entertainment, they both fall under the rubric of pulp fiction. Both are premiere efforts by young directors and have some shortcomings that are a function of inexperience, but are also attempts that are mostly successful and lots of fun in their own crash-bang way.

“A Good Woman is Hard to Find” is set in a Northern Ireland estate, their word for England’s council housing. Like the housing projects of the USA, they are incubators of drug-dealing, the only trade that can support a family in many cases.

As the film begins, we meet Sarah (Sarah Bolger) and her two toddler children, a boy named Ben, who is mute, and his sister Lucy. Ben became mute after he watched his father get stabbed to death in the street near their home. Like many of the other men in the estate, he was a petty drug dealer and probably killed by a rival dealer. That, at least, is what the local cops believe. When Sarah stops by their headquarters to see if they have made any headway in finding the killer, they tell her that they can’t waste their time with gangland rivalries.

With her husband dead, the family barely scrapes by. When her son purloins a chocolate bar at a local supermarket, the manager shames her. Her only pleasure in life beside reading bedtime stories to her children is using a neon-pink vibrator. In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, after she discovers that the batteries are dead, she goes through her children’s toys desperately trying to find ones that aren’t.

While determined to protect her children from the jungle-like conditions beyond her front door, trouble breaks down that door into her meager sanctuary one day. A local dealer named Tito has stolen the drugs of two men higher up on the food chain and forced himself into her apartment to elude them. After surveying the situation, he decides that her place would be the perfect place to stash the drugs and even offers her a cut of the proceeds he makes reselling them on the street.

One day, as he is off on his rounds, her son Ben discovers the drugs and scatters them across the children’s bedroom floor as if they were talcum powder. When Tito stops by to collect his goods to sell on the street that day, he flies into a rage and tries to rape Sarah as punishment for her son’s childish mistake. Self-defense saved her from being raped, but the gangsters Tito ripped off are now determined to invade her apartment in search of Tito and the drugs. “A Good Woman is Hard to Find” climaxes with her transformation into a merciless avenger determined to both protect her family and get to the bottom of who killed her husband.

“A Good Woman is Hard to Find” is a blend of Ken Loach’s class-inflected themes and action-oriented movies about women taking care of business, like Jennifer Lopez’s “Enough” or Julia Roberts’s “Sleeping With the Enemy”. Directed by Abner Pastoll, a 38-year old British director born in South Africa, its main flaw was in failing to show the preparation Sarah went through as she readied herself to confront and defeat her tormentors. It was a bit too compressed and strained credulity. Other than that, it is a first-rate premiere film.

If you’ve spent anytime reading about American Indian society, you’ll know that the term “blood quantum” indicates whether you are a full-blooded native. The test was not introduced by the Indians themselves, but by the American government to determine whether an individual, band or nation was entitled to benefits.

In many ways, the test has become an arbitrary dividing line between natives defending their sovereignty and a method of exclusion. For example, Ward Churchill was viewed as having no standing as an Indian because he could not offer up evidence of his blood line. By any measure, however, he was a member of the Cherokee people and qualified to speak and act on their behalf. With so many Indian tribal officials are acting on their own behalf through graft, their blood is a poor measure of determining their identity.

It is available on Amazon for only $4.99.

“Blood Quantum”, a zombie horror film, was written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, who was born on the Mi’gmaq reservation in Canada. Everybody in the cast is an American Indian, except a character named Charlie who is the pregnant girlfriend of Joseph, the troubled son of Traylor, the chief of police on a Canadian reservation, where “Blood Quantum” was filmed. With zero Indian blood quantum, Charlie (Olivia Scriven) is resented by many people on the reservation, including by Joseph’s older brother Lysol, a nickname that captures his mean and violent temperament. He is the most extreme example of an Indian, whose legitimate grievances against whites makes him not only capable of killing her but his own brother for violating blood ties.

The film begins with Traylor’s father Gisigu gutting the salmon he caught in the lake near the reservation. To his surprise, the gutted fish continue to flop around after their presumptive death. Later that day, after Gisigu’s dog has fallen gravely ill to some unknown disease, he asks his son to stop by and put a bullet in the animal to end its suffering. Once that is done, Traylor puts the dog in his trunk to be disposed of later. When that moment arrives, the dog is just as alive as the gutted salmon and far more dangerous.

The reservation and the nearby town eventually fall prey to a zombie attack that is choreographed as if in a George Romero movie. Bitten once and you are doomed. Except for the Indians, that is. For some reason, if they have the sufficient blood quantum, they are immune to zombie bites just like someone with COVID-19 antibodies. As I said in a March 27 CounterPunch article, there are striking affinities.

Once a week, I go shopping with my wife and can’t help feeling queasy as I pick up an avocado to see if it is ripe enough. In my memory banks, this summons up scenes from a George Romero zombie flick or “The Walking Dead.” From their well-guarded base, the living make periodic forays into various towns looking for food, medicine, or other essential goods. This is the equivalent of us going to a grocery store or a pharmacy. In “The Walking Dead” (I bailed on the show after Rick died), one of his crew might open a door looking for canned goods only to discover that zombies lurked behind it. Death could come in the form of a zombie assault or an accidental exposure to a coronavirus-laded avocado. The logic of zombies and coronavirus is deadly. They both exist to replicate themselves, just as does the capitalist class.

As the immunized Indians begin to take white survivors into their makeshift fort, Lysol’s anger rises to psychopathic levels. This leads to a confrontation between him and those Indians who do not see blood quantum in exclusionary terms. In the press notes, director Jeff Barnaby describes his alienation from any such tests, whether applied to immigrants or to Indians:

Since the Trump election win I have never felt less welcome here in my life, in this time and place, hate for the other is at a premium. The bitterest paradox to being native in the 21st century is knowing that you’re going to have to embrace the culture that has tried to exterminate you in order to guarantee your own survival. Being Mi’gMaq and knowing the history of the Americas, and having to live in the aftermath of colonialism, there is a vicious hypocrisy to modern xenophobia: the immigrants that came here and murdered the original inhabitants are scared that immigrants are going to come here to murder them. In the interim, native people and new immigrants are getting murdered.

Like “A Good Woman is Hard to Find”, “Blood Quantum” has some first-time filmmaking flaws. Intent on showing the psychic damage done to American Indians, Barnaby bent the stick in one direction, making his characters either destructive toward others, such as Lysol, or self-destructive like his younger brother Joseph. In zombie movies, it is always best to have a couple of people in leading roles who you want to identify with. Otherwise, it becomes a bit of a slog. “Blood Quantum” comes close to that at times, but never crosses the line.

The film is available on the Shudder cable channel, but you can see it for free with a trial membership to Shudder through Amazon.

May 10, 2020

A conversation on film with Eric Draitser and Shalon van Tine

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

Eric Draitser

Shalon van Tine

Louis Proyect

On May 8th, Eric Draitser posted a new podcast to CounterPunch that was based on an interview with me and Shalon van Tine, a PhD student who has written for Cosmonaut, Red Wedge and Left Voice, three of my favorite magazines.

Like me, Shalon is a polymath who has written both on film and lots of other things. Her website has links to articles on Soviet Propaganda Film and the Russian Revolution as well as on Janis Joplin.

The interview was structured around a discussion of five films that each of us loved. Since we are all house-bound because of the pandemic, we picked films that were not only great but that can be seen for free on the Internet, with maybe one or two exceptions.

Her picks:

Strike (Eisenstein, 1925)
Salt of the Earth (Biberman, 1954)
La Chinoise (Godard, 1967)
El Norte (Nava, 1983)
Sorry to Bother You (Riley, 2018)

Mine:

Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954)
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925)
Crimson Gold (Panahi/Kiarostami, 2003)
Ceddo (Sembene, 1977)
Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)

Although Shalon is much younger than me (as is Eric and just about everybody else), I was really impressed with her commitment to art films with a political edge. As part of the renaissance of Marxist thought, it is inevitable that young people look back at Eisenstein’s films to see how they reflected workers power. It was no accident that we both chose two of his masterpieces.

Eric did a great job as an interviewer, a function of his own passion for the same kinds of films. He created a FB group called Stage Left: Movie Talk for Radicals, where you can find other leftist cineastes in conversation.

May 9, 2020

Rewind

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:34 pm

“Rewind,” a powerful documentary about the sexual abuse of children, was initially scheduled to open in theaters on March 27th at the IFC Center in New York, and April 3rd in Los Angeles, with a national rollout to follow. However, like all other film releases nationwide, the movie’s theatrical opening was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Like other films I have been covering since early April, it is now available as VOD as well as to be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens on May 11th (complete screening information at www.rewinddocumentary.com).

The film was directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger, the 30-year-old filmmaker who, along with his sister, was molested repeatedly by two uncles and a cousin. The film is structured as a kind of deeply personal series of recollections by Sasha and his rueful mother and father who failed to intervene.

“Rewind”, as the title implies, conflates his memories with the action taken on a VCR to go backward. It becomes clear from the start of the film that his family was obsessed with home recordings that serve as the narrative thread that ties this horrifying family drama together. At the beginning of “Anna Karenina”, Tolstoy writes, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” One might surmise that when sexual abuse takes place, each tale has its own peculiar twist. In Sasha’s family, there was a big appetite for mugging for the videocamera and competition as to who could be the most “entertaining”.

Sasha’s father Henry, the youngest of three brothers, was mostly content to film his two brothers. Howard, the oldest, is the star. An opera protege as a child, he became the cantor at Temple-Emanuel, the prestigious Reform synagogue on New York’s Upper East Side. Vaingloriously, he seeks the camera’s focus. Larry, the self-styled comical middle brother, is always performing in sort of a manic version of Robin Williams, mugging for the camera with a fake British accent and other “skits”. You meet them early in the film and have an intuitive sense that there is something “off” about them but it takes a while to see how much.

Growing up in this household made Sasha something of an extrovert and camera-hog himself. A plump child after the fashion of Spanky in the Our Gang comedies, he enjoys being in the limelight and being “on”. In footage taken by his father at his bar mitzvah, we see Sasha moonwalking. At a picnic, he is seen doing a Jim Carrey impersonation. As is the case with his uncles, you begin to wonder if there was something eating away at him as well.

We learn that Sasha was a well-adjusted and exceptionally bright student but around the age of seven, he began to exhibit strange, if not psychologically disturbed, behavior. One day, he made a mask out of his underwear. Like most children, he had difficulty finding words for a traumatic experience so, in keeping with the family’s theatrical tendencies, he acted it out. He even cut out little eyeholes in the underwear-mask so he could see, and then ran down the stairs. His mother was shocked to see that he written words like loser and bitch on the mask and that his “performance” ended with him grabbing a knife, putting it to his mouth, and screaming.

This was Sasha’s way of calling attention to the suffering he was enduring. His older cousin Stewart, the son of the madcap uncle Larry, was raping him on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Stewart, Larry and the blessed cantor Howard were all taking turns abusing him and his younger sister Rebekah.

I get notes from publicists all the time asking me to review horror movies. None of them could have been more frightening than what is depicted in “Rewind”, nor is there any monster more predatory than Howard. The end of the film is focused on the teen-aged Sasha gathering up courage to testify at Howard’s trial. At the time, the man was tightly connected to major, mostly Jewish, power-brokers in New York through his exalted Temple Emanuel position. They all did their best to protect him from prosecution, including Robert M. Morgenthau, who put Linda Fairstein in charge of the racist Central Park Five prosecution.

Sasha’s father’s obsession with video photography led to a successful career running a film production studio in Pennsylvania that eventually came to an end. When Sasha and Rebekah became old enough to have the courage to confront their relatives and their parents’ failure to stand up for them, the unfolding crisis made it impossible for them to continue as a family.

Perhaps the best thing that came out of his relationship with his father was being inspired to follow in his footsteps as a filmmaker. In the film notes, he explains why he decided to make “Rewind”:

I was 23 years old and I was just finishing college. I was doing some assistant editing work for a National Geographic show and there was just this one night I was sitting in the office alone. I was sitting in this editing bay by myself and there were two things going through my mind. One was: Wow, after everything I’ve been through, I love where I live, I love my friends, I love my job, I love the work that I’m doing. I’m really loving this life I’m living. But the other conversation that was happening in my mind was negative. There was this self-deprecating voice inside of my mind that had followed me from my childhood, the victim voice that I think so many abuse victims share, which says: I’m not worthy. I’m not lovable. I’m not worthy of this incredible experience. I felt that if people knew about my past, and what had happened to me, they wouldn’t want to associate with me. That what happened to me made me gross. I realized that my life was going in a beautiful direction but that I wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy and embrace it unless I faced whatever it was inside of me that was still pulling me down. So, I called my dad and asked him for the tapes.

While I understand that many of my readers would be drawn to escapist entertainment while being confined at home during the pandemic, I strongly urge you to rent “Rewind”. It is a deeply affecting story of how sexual abuse occurs in all sorts of settings, including a family that will remind many middle-class Jews of their own ostensibly normal family—including my own.

May 8, 2020

The Planet of the Humans

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 1:47 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 8, 2020

Ever since Mother Jones owner Adam Hochschild fired Michael Moore for refusing to publish Paul Berman’s attack on the Sandinistas in 1986, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for him. But when he got down on his knees on the Bill Maher Show in 2008 to beg Ralph Nader not to run for President, a lot of that affection disappeared. For the past dozen years, I had grown weary of his conventional Hollywood liberalism that smacked of Rob Reiner and all the other millionaires who always ended up pleading for a vote for the lesser evil.

You could have knocked me over with a feather after I discovered that Moore had executive produced a film titled “Planet of the Humans” that broke with the liberal establishment. Like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest, all the voices of establishment liberalism, from The Nation to Rolling Stone, swarmed around his head. The editors of the pink-tinted Jacobin must have suffered whiplash when news of the film broke. Only last November, Meagan Day’s adulatory piece titled “Michael Moore Was Right” appeared. Like Trotsky losing favor in the mid-20s, Michael Moore became an unperson after “Planet of the Humans”.

Jacobin unleashed their ecomodernist hitman Leigh Phillips, who penned a piece titled “Planet of the Anti-Humanists” that predictably condemned the film as “Malthusian.” He even raised the possibility that Moore and director Jeff Gibbs were “anti-civilization,” as if they were plotting to recreate the world of Alley Oop and The Flintstones.

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May 1, 2020

Socially Engaged Cinema in a Time of Social Distancing

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:07 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 1, 2020

When New York movie theaters closed down on March 15th, so did invitations to the press screenings needed for my reviews. Unlike other film critics, I don’t cover Hollywood films. My beat consists of documentaries, foreign-language and American independent films that get screened in places like the Film Forum and Cinema Village in New York, the Laemmle in Los Angeles, et al.

This month, while Hollywood lies dormant and the entertainment press troubles itself over its impending doom, there are a number of films that came my way that CounterPunch readers should find interesting. While I have referred to them in the past as VOD, the film distributors, who are connected to the art theaters, have come up with a new term to describe the films under consideration below. They are part of the Virtual Cinema world, a term I guess that is meant to evoke virtual reality.

Whatever you call it, it is an opportunity to see leading edge cinema unlike most of the escapist fare featured on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, et al. Indeed, they are far more relevant to the current pandemic crisis insofar as they imagine that another world is possible.

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Films covered in review:

April 21, 2020

Why Don’t You Just Die!

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:31 pm

Unless you are one of those fat slobs wearing a MAGA cap out on the street demanding that Chick-fil-A’s be re-opened immediately, you’re like me—under house arrest from COVID-19. Assuming that you’ve run out of things to watch on Netflix, I have great news. I just watched “Why Don’t You Just Die!”, a Russian film originally slated for theatrical opening in N.Y. but re-packaged as VOD yesterday (availability below).

This is a film that has a few things in common with Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”. It takes place under a single roof, features morally deficient characters, and has enough blood pouring from their veins to fill a hot tub. Tarantino intended that his film be enjoyed for its grand guignol humor. Unfortunately, like most of his recent films, the gags fell flat.

The good news is that Kirill Sokolov, a 30-year old Russian, has out-mastered Tarantino at his own game. Rotten Tomatoes has a brief profile on the wunderkind:

Born in 1989 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 2012, he received a master’s degree in the Physics and Technology of Nanostructures. However, even as he worked to complete his degree in Physics, he began making short films with his friends, initially using just ketchup as blood. Inspired by films such as “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Evil Dead 2,” “Oldboy,” and “Kill Bill” Volumes 1 and 2, Sokolov discovered that he had both a love and a talent for dark comedy, a genre which has yet to gain popularity in Russia.

In the opening scene of “Why Don’t You Just Die!”, a young man with the body and face of a veteran mixed-martial-arts fighter stands outside the door of a Russian apartment with a hammer clutched in one hand behind his back. With the other, he is just about to ring the apartment’s doorbell but hesitates for a minute or so. He is there to use the hammer on the man who lives there, a middle-aged cop named Andrey, whom his girlfriend wants killed. The cop is her father, and rapist continuously from the age of 12. At least that is what he has been told.

Welcomed into the apartment, Matvey continues to keep the hammer concealed. He sits down opposite the scowling father at the dining table where he is in the middle of his lunch. (No matter the gladiator ring violence that goes on in the apartment, Andrey continues to eat, raiding the refrigerator at one point after drilling holes in Matvey’s leg with a power tool.)

Andrey is totally bald, bull-headed and built like a door. In the course of asking Matvey what brings him there, the hammer falls from his trousers and sets into motion about ten minutes worth of bloody mayhem that will leave you laughing out loud. Although film buffs will recognize the Tarantino influence, for me there is just much of a trail of bread crumbs that lead you to classic Warner Brothers cartoons. For all practical purposes, the blood that comes pouring out the veins of both Matvey and Andrey evokes the coyote and the roadrunner just as much as Tarantino’s early classics.

This is Sokolov’s first film and a most auspicious one. I urge you to spend the modest rental fee to see it. It will get your mind off this fucking pandemic and the failure of the political establishment to act in our interests.

Availability:

Apple TV US – https://apple.co/2yhBkhi

Google Play US – https://bit.ly/3cys9rG

Microsoft US – https://bit.ly/3eAnVBP

 

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