Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2020

Four narrative films of note

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:44 pm

After wasting my time watching a bunch of crappy Hollywood movies to fulfill my obligation as a NYFCO member to judge front-runners like “Joker” or “1917” for our awards meeting in early December, I am finally returning to my kind of films. These are generally featured in art houses like the Film Forum in New York and the Laemmle in Los Angeles. The four under review here are worth seeing if you spot them playing in your home town. There’s a good shot that they will eventually end up on Amazon, the only real contribution Jeff Bezos has made to humanity.

Corpus Christi (opens February 19th at the Film Forum)

In 1936, Ignazio Silone wrote the anti-fascist novel “Bread and Wine” that told the story of a young revolutionary who assumes the identity of a priest in order to throw the cops off his trail. He lives in a poverty-stricken village made up by the kind of backward peasant that Marx had in mind when he called religion the opium of the people. It was not exactly a call for abolishing religion since he also writes, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”

Once he assumes this identity, the revolutionary is besieged by peasants who need someone to minister to their spiritual and economic needs. This forces him to improvise, often calling upon the good sense and humanitarian instincts that made him a revolutionary.

In “Corpus Christi”, a Polish film directed by the 38-year old Jan Komasa, we have a similar plot but the main character Daniel is not a revolutionary. Instead, he is a young man who has just been released from prison to serve the rest of his term for second-degree murder through a work-release program. He is sent to a rural town to labor for a pittance in a saw-mill. The town is not nearly so poor economically as the one in “Bread and Wine” but just as spiritually bereft, if not more so.

When he was in prison, Daniel became an assistant to the chaplain. Over time he became more and more spiritually-minded and especially looked forward to singing hymns at prison masses. On the day he was to be released, he asked the priest if there was any possibility of being recommended for the Catholic seminary. He was told that his prison term made that impossible. So much for Jesus’s teachings about forgiveness.

Perhaps as a sign of his yearning for the life of a priest, Daniel purloins a priest’s vestment and takes it with him to the town where he is to become just another parolee carrying out what amounts to indentured servitude. Once there, he stops in at the local church to meditate. When he learns later that day that the local priest is about to go on a leave of absence, he puts on the clerical clothes he brought with him and convinces the priest that he is legitimate and willing to sub for him. Was he succumbing to baser motives such as higher pay and an easier way of making a living? Or did the time spent in religious services in prison transform him?

The screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz, who is only 27 years old, told 28 Times Cinema: “What fascinated me from the beginning was the ambivalence of the premise. We have somebody who maybe just does it for money. Perhaps, it’s also for some emotional profit. He wants to feel he’s someone better than he really is. Maybe it’s a whole different reason. This multi-dimensionality was what kept me going working on the story.”

They say that clothing makes the man. In his case, Daniel turns out to be much more of a holy man than the one he has replaced. In a town that is tormented by a terrible automobile accident (or deliberate homicide), he brings solace to the families that lost a son or daughter. At the same time, he comforts a woman whose husband was judged guilty for plowing his car into the one that was carrying the young people still being mourned, a year after the tragedy. The town has ostracized her in a manner reminiscent of Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”.

As someone with not a spiritual bone in my body, I found “Corpus Christi” deeply moving. It lacks the political edge of the kind of films I tend to write about but the story-telling is first-rate. It moved me in the same way that Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” did. As Daniel, Bartosz Bielenia is unforgettable.

The Whistlers (opens February 28th at the Film Forum)

This is a Romanian film directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, whose work I am not familiar with. “The Whistlers” is a crime story with a very fresh take on the genre involving crooked cops and the drug trade. The main character is a middle-aged cop named Cristi who teamed up with a Romanian drug dealer to rip off some Spanish dealers.

The plot is far too complicated to go into any kind of detail so suffice it to say that Cristi ends up on the Canary Islands to meet with the Spanish gangsters who will coerce him into leading them to the stash he and his partner have buried back in Romania. To make sure they are not found out by honest cops (a scarcity in Romania, as the film will point out) on their trail, they communicate through a whistled language that is unique to the people of the Gomera island in the Canaries. It has between 2 and 4 vowels and between 4 and 10 consonants.

“The Whistlers” was likely made for an international audience and lacks the darkly introspective character of Romanian films of 10 to 15 years ago that explored the corruption of both Communist and post-Communist rule. In its favor, it is a throwback to Alfred Hitchcock’s confections like “To Catch a Thief” or “Marnie”. Intricately plotted and swiftly paced, it is far more entertaining than the lead-footed movies I endured in the weeks before the NYFCO awards meeting in early December.

Sorry We Missed You (opens at the Film Forum on March 4th and at Nuart in Los Angeles on March 6th)

This is Ken Loach’s 55th credit as a director since 1964. Now 83 years old, he still is capable of making the kind of gut-wrenching, pro-working class film that has distinguished his career.

In the opening scene, we meet Ricky Turner, a man in his mid-forties, who is being interviewed for a job delivering packages in an unnamed British town. Formally speaking, he will not become an employee but a “franchisee”. Like Uber or Lyft, he is supposedly self-employed but no more so than the people who used to spin cloth at home in the earliest stages of capitalism. That’s a sign of the combined and uneven nature of capitalism today that the most up-to-date technology is used to exploit a worker like Ricky Turner in the same way his fellow Brits were 600 years ago.

To qualify for the position, Ricky needs a van. He can rent one from the subcontractor but at a hefty price. Like most men or women desperate enough to work in such a position, he takes a risk and puts a down payment on a van for a thousand pounds. To raise the cash, his wife Abbie sells their car, something that makes her job much more difficult. She is a home nurse who goes from house to house looking after the elderly, most of whom are suffering from dementia or some other severe geriatric illness. The job is low-paying and emotionally draining. Without a car, Abbie is forced to take the bus. When they get home late at night, they can barely communicate with their children, a teen boy named Sebastian and a grade school girl named Liza Jane.

Their absence only accelerates the self-destructive tendencies of Sebastian whose only pleasure in life is going out with his mates spray-painting graffiti, one step ahead of the cops. When he is arrested for shoplifting spray paint, Ricky has to give up a day’s pay to sort things out at the police station.

In the final moments of the film, everything is falling apart around the famuly. This, of course, is not just a story about a family. It is the story of the English working class today, as heart-felt and as compelling as Engels’s “Conditions of the Working-Class in England”. In many ways, Ricky is a casualty of the collapse of this class since the drying up of construction jobs, his mainstay over the years, has plummeted him into the depths of contingent labor.

For background on how such workers fare, I recommend an April 14, 2019 Guardian article:

The Observer has been contacted by three drivers who have delivered parcels for Amazon. They report shifts of 12 hours or more on zero hours contracts, unpaid overtime and penalties for failing to meet onerous targets. Because they are classed as self-employed, they are obliged to pay for their vehicles and expenses and do not receive sickness or holiday pay. They claim long, unpredictable hours and transport costs mean that pay can amount to less than the minimum wage.

Better yet, I recommend going to Film Forum to see this extraordinary film by our greatest living radical filmmaker.

Burnt Orange Heresy (Opens March 6th at the Landmark in New York)

This stars Claes Bang, the brilliant Danish actor, as a chain-smoking, pill-popping art critic named James Figueras who makes a living giving lectures to tourists in Italy. Author of “The Power of the Critic”, he lives beyond his means and has even been caught misusing funds meant for business expenses for his lavish life-style. This bit of thievery came this close to landing him in prison.

At his last lecture, he meets a stunning blonde and they begin a passionate affair. A week or so into the affair, he is contacted by one of the world’s most successful art dealers, a man named Joseph Cassidy, who is played by Mick Jagger to serpentine perfection.

Cassidy lives in a palatial home overlooking Lake Como. On his grounds, living in a modest cabin, is one of the twentieth century’s most famous artists, an elderly man named Jerome Debney, who is played by Donald Sutherland. Debney shocked the art world by setting fire to his studio out of weariness with the art world and its critics. Since all his paintings were destroyed, Cassidy has hopes that Figueras can persuade Debney to do one last painting so as to cash in on its rarity—and hence its value.

I imagine that Bang was cast in this role since he was so great playing the shady director of a museum a lot like the Whitney in New York. It traffics in the questionable avant-garde, even more so than the Whitney. I reviewed the film in 2017 and invite you to see it now as VOD. It is fantastic.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is based on a novel by Charles Willeford, who died in 1988. I was not familiar with Willeford. Before he became a writer, he knocked around as a professional boxer, actor, horse trainer, and radio announcer. He was a noir novelist like James M. Cain who one critic described as the “genre’s equivalent of Philip K. Dick’s best science fiction novels.” That’s a pretty good recommendation.

February 10, 2020

My NYFCO ballot for 2019

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) had its annual awards meeting on December 8, 2019. As is usually the case, my ballot and the membership majority were not quite aligned. You can check out their awards here, which agreed with the Academy Award’s choice of “Parasite” for best film of the year. I usually don’t pay much attention to awards since I don’t believe in competition but since someone on Facebook asked me what my nomination for best documentary was, I decided to post my ballot. (I told him that “American Factory” was not my first choice but defended it as a good film notwithstanding it being produced by the Obamas.)

New York Film Critics Online 2019 Awards Nomination Ballot

NAME: Louis Proyect

Breakthrough Performance (name actor/film)

 

  1. Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

 

  1. Taron Egerton (Rocketman)

 

  1. Adam Pearson (Chained for Life)

 

Supporting Actress (name actor/film)

 

  1. Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

 

  1. Jess Weixler (Chained for Life)

 

  1. Marziyeh Rezaei (Three Faces)

 

Supporting Actor (name actor/film)

 

  1. Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

 

  1. Jamie Bell (Rocketman)

 

  1. David Call (Depraved)

 

Screenplay (name film)

 

  1. The Irishman

 

  1. Marriage Story

 

  1. Chained for Life

 

Cinematography (name film)

 

  1. Arctic

 

  1. Joker

 

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

 

Use of Music (name film)

 

  1. Rocketman

 

  1. Joker

 

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

 

Debut Director (name directors/film)

 

  1. Joe Penna (Arctic)

 

  1. Adam Egypt Mortimer (Daniel Isn’t Real)

 

  1. A.B. Shawky (Yomeddine)

 

Director (name directors/film)

 

  1. Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)

 

  1. Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story)

 

  1. Aaron Schimberg (Chained for Life)

 

Actress (name actor/film)

 

  1. Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

 

  1. Carlie Guevara (The Garden Left Behind)

 

  1. Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir (Woman at War)

 

 

Actor (name actor/film)

 

  1. Robert De Niro (The Irishman)

 

  1. Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

 

  1. Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

 

Ensemble Cast (name film)

 

  1. Knives Out

 

  1. Bombshell

 

  1. The Wild Pear Tree

 

Picture (name film)

 

  1. The Irishman

 

  1. Marriage Story

 

  1. Three Faces

 

Foreign Language (name film)

 

  1. Woman at War

 

  1. Rojo

 

  1. Styx

 

Documentary (name film)

 

  1. The Cave

 

  1. For Sama

 

  1. The Biggest Little Farm

 

Animated Feature (name film)

 

  1. I Lost My Body

 

  1. Weathering With You

 

 

 

 

February 7, 2020

The Revolutionary Cinema of Patricio Guzman

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 5:25 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 7, 2020

On February 12th, the IFC in New York will begin showing “The Cordillera of Dreams”, the latest film from Patricio Guzman. The 78-year-old Chilean is one of Latin America’s most celebrated leftwing directors, whose three-part “The Battle of Chile” became an iconic film alongside Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas’s 1968 tripartite “Hour of the Furnaces” that dealt with the revolutionary movement in Argentina. For sixties radicals like me, these films were required viewing. Timed to the release of Guzman’s latest, Ovid—the Netflix of the left—has added five Guzman films to their nonpareil inventory. After some words on “The Cordillera Of Dreams”, I will cover some of the new Ovid offerings.

Cordillera is the Spanish word for mountain range, such as the Andes that Guzman uses as a symbol of Chilean hopes and disappointment. Constituting 80 percent of Chile’s landmass, it is the primary source of the country’s copper-mining wealth and its cultural legacy. For most Chileans, it is just something seen in landscape paintings, including a mural in the Santiago subway.

Like a leitmotif in one of Wagner’s operas, Guzman returns to images of the mountains, captured beautifully by a drone. They serve as a backdrop for the nation’s search for identity in a period when neoliberalism governs all social relations. That identity remains with him despite not having lived in the country since the coup. In dozens of films since “The Battle of Chile”, he has struggled to keep alive the dreams that marked the pre-coup years when everything seemed possible. The cordillera of dreams is a way of saying that dreams are as permanent as the Andes.

Continue reading

February 4, 2020

Ray and Liz

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

“Ray and Liz”, a 2018 British film, is now being made available as a DVD or VOD by KimStim, a small Brooklyn-based company that specializes in independent, foreign, and documentary film. It was written and directed by Richard Billingham, the son of the eponymous Ray and Liz and older brother to Jason, the three principal characters of this harrowing portrait of people living on the dole in the Black Country of England. Black is not a reference to people of African origins but to the towns just west of Birmingham, named, according to Wikipedia, for the soot from the heavy industries that once covered the area, although a 30-foot-thick coal seam close to the surface is another possible origin. Wikipedia adds, “During the Industrial Revolution, it became one of the most industrialized parts of the UK with coal mines, coking, iron foundries, glass factories, brickworks and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution.”

Now, Black Country is England’s version of Flint, Michigan or any other rust belt region in the USA. Although Billingham’s film is not meant be a history of the area and only a study of his hyper-dysfunctional family, you can easily surmise that the alcoholism that turned his parents into a child’s worst nightmare grew out of the same kind of despair that led to an opioid epidemic in West Virginia and other coal-mining states. In the same way that chronic unemployment led some people to either vote for Trump or stay at home because of Hillary Clinton’s indifference to their suffering, the film will give you a good idea of why Brexit might have succeeded. It is particularly useful in raising the question whether “socialist” measures such as the dole or council housing are adequate to the needs of people like Ray and Liz. Their self-destructive behavior obviously flows from the feeling of worthlessness after years of being unemployed.

It is impossible to determine whether all the events that take place in “Ray and Liz” are based on reality, but if the one that begins the film did take place, it is a miracle that Richard Billingham could have become the productive artist that he is today. As Job said in the Old Testament, “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

The day starts with Ray’s brother Lol coming over to babysit Jason, who appears to be about three years old at the time, while Ray, Liz and Richard go off shopping for new shoes. Like Ray and Liz, Lol is an alcoholic and totally unreliable—even more so than them. Just minutes after they depart, Bill shows up—the young, motorcycle-driving, muscular and malicious tenant who rents a room in their council house. Despite being warned by Liz that he will be “pummeled” if he touches their booze, Lol gives Bill the green light to search for their stash. He brings down a cardboard box filled with bottles of vodka, gin, whiskey and brandy that the two men begin sampling. Bill makes sure to keep pouring new shots for Lol that he gladly consumes in a graphic illustration of why mixing your drinks is not a good idea. Getting him dead drunk will allow Bill to follow through with his plans.

Once Lol crashes to the living-room floor like a falling tree, Bill arranges the near-empty bottles around him as planted evidence and robs his wallet. Next, he takes some shoe-polish and dabs it on Jason’s face like warpaint. To make sure that Ray and Liz will reach full fury after coming home, he places a carving knife in the toddler’s hand. Liz, a chain-smoking, tattooed, obese but powerful woman, wakes Lol up from his drunken slupor by beating him over the head with the heel of the new shoe she has just bought and tells him that he should never come back.

Although Billingham covers the same terrain as Ken Loach, it is not as a social critic. Indeed, I could not help but think that the film had something in common with the comic strip “Andy Capp” that was a fixture of British and American tabloids in the 1960s. Andy Capp was a worthless, alcoholic, and chronically unemployed worker who had no respect for himself or for others, especially his wife Flo who often had to drag him home from a pub. Don Markstein, the creator of a web-based encyclopedia about comic strips, wrote:

Early on, the Andy Capp strip was accused of perpetuating stereotypes about Britain’s Northerners, who are seen in other parts of England as chronically unemployed, dividing their time between the living room couch and the neighbourhood pub, with a few hours set aside for fistfights at football games … But Smythe [the author], himself a native of that region, had nothing but affection for his good-for-nothing protagonist, which showed in his work. Since the very beginning, Andy has been immensely popular among the people he supposedly skewers.

Perhaps Markstein cannot grasp that the affection working-class people had for the strip is a function of their own inferiority complex. It is like how some black people enjoyed “Amos and Andy” or how some American Indians are okay with racist names like the Washington Redskins or mascots like the Cleveland Indians’s Chief Wahoo. Although I confess to having never seen a single episode of “Shameless”, the British TV show it is based on seems to follow the same pattern as “Andy Capp”. The main character, Frank Gallagher, is an unemployed alcoholic from Northern England who has few redeeming features. Libcom, an anarchist website, does make the case for “Shameless” as drawing a contrast between “the strength, complexity and resilience of the contemporary ‘underclass’ against the patronising poverty-traps laid by liberal handwringing, middle-class moral managerialism and New Labour police-state discipline and punishment,” but I’d still stick with Ken Loach.

“Ray and Liz” is currently available as a DVD from Walmart or Target for $18.95, $7 cheaper than at Amazon. You can also wait until April, when it will be available as VOD. Although I still have reservations about its politics, it is searing and often very funny study of down and out working-class life in today’s England.

January 28, 2020

Beanpole

Filed under: Film,Russia,WWII — louisproyect @ 9:28 pm

Opening at the Film Forum in N.Y. tomorrow, “Beanpole” is a Russian film set in Leningrad just after the war has ended. In addition to the shattered buildings left behind in the 900-day siege, there are also shattered human beings who survived by their wits and a stubborn desire to enjoy a normal life once again.

Among those who will have the hardest time living a normal life again are the veterans in a military hospital who have suffered either grievous wounds and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. The nurses caring for them have suffered as well, including Iya, who is nicknamed beanpole because of her towering height and willowy build. When we first meet her, she is standing as still as a statue in the nurses’ quarters. As a former anti-aircraft gunner, her PTSD is manifested by unpredictable freezes that last for a few minutes and that made her unfit for further duty.

When she is not caring for the patients, she is in her room looking after Peshka, a toddler who craves both her attention and food. The first she can easily supply, the second on a hit-and-miss basis. Although the siege has ended, the population is just one step ahead of feeding on cats and dogs as had been the case during the war. One day, as she was playfully roughhousing with the boy, she freezes up when he is beneath her and becomes collateral damage of the Nazi’s genocidal attack.

Not long after the boy has died, Iya’s sister anti-aircraft gunner Masha shows up at the hospital to reunite with Peshka, who has been left in her friend’s care. Iya breaks the sad news that the boy has died but in his sleep rather than under her immobile body. Having been robbed of normal human reactions by four years of fighting on the front lines, Masha takes the news in stride and even remains dispassionate after learning later on that Iya was at fault.

After taking a job as a nurse, Masha hopes to rebuild her life. With her husband a casualty of the war, her top priority is finding a man who can provide the seed she needs to create a new life. Learning that battleground wounds have left her sterile, she insists that Iya must become pregnant on her behalf. Since Iya is suffering from PTSD and had little interest in men to begin with, that becomes a demand that threatens to destroy their friendship.

Unlike any film I have seen in decades, “Beanpole” hearkens back to the golden age of Russian cinema as seen in “And Quiet Flows the Don” or “The Cranes Are Flying”. Like the second film, it is a wrenching tale of the emotional and physical costs of WWII. Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1957 classic is a tale of redemption and concludes with the characters looking forward to life of peace and socialist prosperity. Given the post-Soviet sensibility of the 28-year old director/screenwriter Kantemir Balagov, hopes are placed most of all in the sisterhood the two principal actresses share.

In the director’s statement that accompanies this film that is the Russian entry for best foreign film in the upcoming Academy Awards, he stresses the importance of telling not just the story of the two women but a city that perhaps one day will be renamed Leningrad in honor of the resistance it made famous:

Beanpole is my second feature film. It is very important to me that my story takes place in 1945. My heroes, like the city they live in, are mangled by a horrible war. They live in a city that has endured one of the worst sieges in the history of warfare. This is a story about them and about people they meet in Leningrad, the obstacles that they have to overcome and the way they are treated by society. They are psychologically crippled by the war and it will take time for them to learn to live their normal lives.

I am interested in the fates of women and especially women who fought in the Second World War. According to data, this was the war with the highest participation of women. As an author, I am interested in finding an answer to the question: what happens to a person who is supposed to give life after she passes through the trials of war?

January 25, 2020

Color Out of Space

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:38 pm

Based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, “Color Out of Space” opened yesterday at the IFC Center in Manhattan and the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn. It was directed and co-written by Richard Stanley, a relative of the man who said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” The film stars Nicholas Cage as Nathan Gardner, the head of a household that goes off its rocker after a small meteorite lands near their rural home.

Unlike the more typical space invasion movie that pits such a family against little green men with ray guns, the only threat to their well-being is the odd clouds of colored light that have begun appearing nearby. They have the effect of making food taste weird and inducing strange behavior in human beings, such as Mrs. Gardner slicing off her fingers while dicing carrots. It also makes their pet dog, plants, and mother nature in general go off-kilter as well.

Cage, who is—as you must know by now—America’s greatest actor turns in a scenery-chewing performance as a husband who ignores his children’s warnings that things are getting weird. Even as the family starts behaving like the Texas chainsaw murderer’s worst nightmare and flowers start growing that look like they were painted by Salvador Dali on LSD, he soldiers on.

Something told me that he was cast as Nathan Gardner after his command performance in “Mandy”, a brilliant 2019 film that had him on a one-man, battle-ax wielding, vendetta against a Charles Manson-like cult after they kill his wife. Both films come off the assembly line of SpectreVision, a studio founded in 2010 by Hobbit star Elijah Wood “a home for creator-driven projects that test the boundaries of the genre space”, according to the press notes. In addition to these two vehicles for Cage, SpectreVision also produced “Daniel Isn’t Real”, another mind-blowing horror movie.

If you want to read the short story that the film is based on, go to the H.P. Lovecraft website. Lovecraft, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island from 1890 to 1937, was the Stephen King of his day. Although he never attained King’s popularity, there is a good chance that people will be reading his works a thousand years from now (that is, of course, if capitalism hasn’t destroyed the planet.) Just consider how his short story begins:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there. French-Canadians have tried it, Italians have tried it, and the Poles have come and departed. It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or handled, but because of something that is imagined. The place is not good for the imagination, and does not bring restful dreams at night. It must be this which keeps the foreigners away, for old Ammi Pierce has never told them of anything he recalls from the strange days. Ammi, whose head has been a little queer for years, is the only one who still remains, or who ever talks of the strange days; and he dares to do this because his house is so near the open fields and the travelled roads around Arkham.

Who knows where the film industry would be without H.P. Lovecraft? He has 204 credits as writer, including such gems as “Re-Animator” and “Cthulhu”. Although it is beyond the scope of this review to describe the writer in all his complexity, suffice it to say that he was strongly influenced by Oswald Spengler and obsessed with the idea that the barbarians are knocking at the gate. Like Spengler, he was a racist. Wikipedia reports that in an early poem, the 1912 “On the Creation of Niggers”, Lovecraft describes black people not as human but as “beast[s] … in semi-human figure, filled with vice.”

Having seen a number of films based on his works, I can happily report that this is not reflected in them. He is part of a long tradition of writers who reflect the dark night of the American soul with Edgar Allen Poe, being acknowledged by him as a major influence. As for King, I’ll let him speak for himself:

“Now that time has given us some perspective on his work,” says Stephen King, “I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” Around 1960 a young Stephen King came across an old paperback edition of Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Other Stories . It was a decisive moment for today’s pre-eminent horror writer. “Lovecraft. . . opened the way for me,” writes King, “as he had done for others before me…. it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”

 

January 17, 2020

The best films of 2019

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 9:39 pm

What a genuinely radical movie looks like:

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 17, 2020

This is now the third “Best of” survey I have posted to CounterPunch. It might be subtitled “The anti-Oscar awards” since none of the films listed would have ever been nominated for an award in the Tinseltown-dominated ceremony.

As was the case in my 2017  and 2018 “Best of” round-ups, these are all films that were screened originally at art houses in New York or Los Angeles but can now be rented for less than $5 on Amazon Prime. Thanks to Jeff Bezos (and for little else), they enjoy a second life.

As a member of New York Film Critics Online, I receive well over fifty DVD’s at year-end for consideration of an award in our December voting. This allowed me to evaluate the kind of films that dominate the Academy Awards. Except for “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story”, I found them uniformly dreadful. Among the most disappointing were “Parasite”, “Joker” and “1917”  that each will likely walk off with a wheelbarrow full of Oscar statuettes.

Continue reading

January 15, 2020

Cinematters: NY Social Justice Film Festival

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 12:01 am

Last November, I discovered a new source of progressive documentaries in New York as a result of covering the Other Israel Film Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC. Now, only two months later, the JCC is presenting another important film festival called the Cinematters: NY Social Justice Film Festival. Opening this Thursday and running through Monday, January 20th, it features nine documentaries with one narrative film on the closing night, the newly released “Harriet,” a biopic about Harriet Tubman. After having seen five of the documentaries, I recommend the entire film festival to New Yorkers since it is an antidote to the mind-numbing crap featured in your local cineplex. Given the political stakes we face in a decaying capitalist society, these are the sorts of films that help orient you to the real struggles taking place in the USA.

Scheduling/ticket information is at https://jccmanhattan.org/arts-film/film/cinematters

“American Muslim” encapsulates the spirit that guides these JCC programs. Focused on the Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of New York City’s outer boroughs, it integrates questions of faith, social identity and political imperatives in a period of rising Islamophobia. Adam Zucker, a 61-year old Jew, was inspired to make this film as a way of challenging Trump’s agenda by introducing viewers to the city’s Muslims, about whom he knew next to nothing starting out. In a profile that appeared in the Times of Israel, he said, “New York has a very large Muslim population, and I am a lifelong New Yorker, but I hadn’t really met any Muslims.” The same goes for me and probably many of you.

The film takes us on a tour of Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, Jamaica, and Ozone Park, all of which have substantial Muslim populations. The first thing you will learn is that most come from South Asia rather than the Middle East. Among them is Shamshi Ali of Jamaica, Queens, an Imam who emigrated from Indonesia, a nation that has more Muslims than those in the entire Middle East. We discover that the film got its title from his observation that pressures to unite as Muslims in the USA for political reasons create a dynamic where your country of origin and its culture will begin to matter less. Like the American Christian or the American Jew, the American Muslim will become a unified body. More importantly, it is likely to be a progressive-minded component of a society that needs all the help it can get. Reaching out to Jews, Ali confesses to Zucker that it sometimes feels like he is spending more time in synagogues building bridges to Jews that reject Donald Trump than he does in mosques.

We also hear from Debbie Almontaser, another Muslim on the front lines fighting on behalf of immigrant rights and the broader struggle against racism. A Yemeni-American, she lost her position as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city’s Arabic-themed school, after she was defended the use of the word “intifada” as a T-shirt slogan. Like Shamshi Ali, she is knowledgeable about the true spirit of Islam and the reactionary tendencies imposed on it by conservative elements, especially patriarchal norms that prevented women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia until recently.

As for the true spirit of Islam, you can see it manifested by the outreach program of Mohamed Bahi, an Algerian-American who founded and still directs Muslims Giving Back, a volunteer effort located at the Muslim Community Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Bahi organizes fund-raisers for newly arrived Muslim immigrants at the community center, including, as the film shows, Syrians that just arrived from Turkey. Fled might be a better word than arrived since the Turks were hostile to them despite sharing Muslim beliefs. Originally from Aleppo, life had become unbearable until they arrived in Sunset Park just before Trump’s Muslim ban. Destitute, they ended up sleeping on the floor until Bahi arrived one morning with a truck full of furniture. Bahi believes that Islam is more about deeds than beliefs, a lesson lost on the nativist Turks, Bashar al-Assads and Mohammad bin Salman.

Like Flavio Alves’s narrative film about a transgender female, “Changing the Game” is a much-needed documentary that will open your minds to one of the most despised minorities in the USA. In this film, we meet a trans male and two trans females who are high school students competing in wrestling and track respectively. As you may know, this has become a major controversy lately as parents of cisgender athletes demand their expulsion from competitions. Mack (born Mackenzie) has been forced to compete with cisfemales even though his deepest desire is to wrestle other boys. That mattered much more to him than becoming the 110-pound class Texas state champion in 2017 and 2018. What makes this film so great in addition to the utter honesty and magnetic personalities of its principals is the support they get from their parents or, in Mack’s case, the grandparents who adopted him after his mom could not provide adequate financial support. They are quintessential Red State personalities but utterly on his side. The grandmother is a cop and the grandfather is a good old boy in bib overalls but don’t let their appearance fool you. Every word out their mouth spells compassion in capital letters.

We also meet Sarah Rose Huckman, a cross-country skier from New Hampshire. Referring to the state’s motto “Live Free or Die,” Sarah insists that her only wish is to be free to live her life without putting up with ignorance and hatred. That’s also the wish of Andraya Yearwood, an African-American runner from Connecticut, a state that permits trans teens competing in sporting events based on their sexual identity. Considering that 40 percent of all trans teens attempt suicide at one point in their lives, Connecticut’s attitude is most welcome. Even more welcome is Michael Barnett’s film that deserves the widest possible audience in a period of deepening intolerance. Rated 100 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, this documentary deserves its accolades.

Like “Changing the Game,” “The All-Americans” focuses on teen athletes targeted by Donald Trump’s bigoted administration, in this instance Mexican-American high school football players in East Los Angeles.

Each year, there is a big game called “The Classic” that pits two traditionally Mexican-American dominated high schools against each other, Roosevelt and Garfield. If playing football is a daunting task for any student trying to keep up with geometry, even more daunting is staying a step ahead of La Migra and helping your parents make ends meet in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. In addition to being a traditional sports documentary of the kind that would be produced by ESPN, it is a guided tour of a neighborhood like those we see in “American Muslim”. Although I’ve been to LA at least 15 times in my lifetime, I’ve never gone far from Hollywood, just as I’ve never been to Sunset Park or Jamaica in New York City.

Like the best documentaries, “The All-Americans” opens your eyes to peoples you’ve met and places you’ve never been. When I used to come back from Nicaragua in the 1980s, I was always struck by how despite being materially poor, the country was spiritually wealthy. As soon as I got off the plane, I was always reminded that it was just the opposite of the USA—materially rich and spiritually impoverished. After you’ve met the football players and their families in “The All-Americans,” you’ll understand why Trump wants to build a wall. It will be the only way he and his bigoted supporters can slow down the eventual and inevitable salvation of the country.

“Always in Season” is a study that reinforces the conclusion of Project 1619 that racism is in the DNA of the USA. It is both an investigation of the possible lynching of Lennon Lacy, a 17-year old African American teen who was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina, on August 29, 2014, as well as an overview of lynching in the USA.

This is a debut film by Jacqueline Olive, an African-American filmmaker with fifteen years of experience in journalism and film.

Lennon’s mother Claudia and his brother Pierre insist that he had no reason to kill himself. So do his classmates and friends. The only people who are fixed in their opinion about this being a suicide are the local cops, no big surprise there.

In addition to covering the events that took place prior to August 29, 2014, Olive shows us the yearly reenactment of a notorious lynching that took place at the Moore’s Ford Bridge near Monroe, Georgia in 1947. Like the Civil War reenactments that has men dressing up like Yankee or Rebel soldiers, these reenactments have white men and women playing those who shot two married black couples in 1947, also played by local blacks. They were tied to a tree while a white mob shot them sixty times. After the pregnant wife of one of the men was dead, a racist carved a fetus out of her womb.

To show that some whites have repudiated the past, one of the women reenactors was the daughter of a KKK member and takes part as an act of solidarity. After seeing her father participating in a lynching when she was three years old, she decided that racial hatred was not in her DNA, at least.

Unsurprisingly, the cops have refused to reopen the mysterious hanging of Lennon Lacy as well as deciding in 2015 that there were no sufficient grounds for prosecuting anybody involved with the Moore’s Ford Bridge murders.

Directed by BBC reporter Leana Hosea, “Thirst For Justice” is as timely as the other films reviewed above. It is about the contamination of the world’s waters with spotlights on three occurrences. First, uranium waste seeping into the water of New Mexico’s Navajo peoples; second, lead in the water of Flint, Michigan; and finally, the petroleum industry’s forcing American Indians to abide by the presence of a pipeline funneling fracking output through the sacred Standing Rock burial grounds.

With a clear identification with the struggles against the polluters, Hosea interviews activists and victims of the contamination. In New Mexico, the contamination led to a cancer epidemic while in Flint, it led to neurological illnesses, especially in children.

In a Close-Up Culture interview, Hosea is asked what inspired the film. Her reply:

This journey really started in 2010 when I first visited the South West to do a story for the BBC on the proposed resurgence of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area.

As part of the report I visited the nearby Navajo reservation, where I heard there had been some historic uranium mining from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. But nothing prepared me for what I saw.

Communities were living amidst some 1,000 abandoned uranium mines and piles of waste. When the uranium price crashed in the mid-1980’s the big mining companies declared bankruptcy and left behind piles of mine waste and open pit mines, which filled up with rain water. Children swam in them and the sheep – the food staple of the Navajo – drank the water and so did the people.

Helen Nez, now an elderly lady, told me that her sheep were born with deformities, some without eyes. Then her children were born with a DNA depleting disease and died painful deaths at a young age.

Instead of investigating environmental factors, the white doctors told her it was because Indians practice inbreeding and labelled the disease Navajo neuropathy. This disease has now been linked to uranium contamination.

I had an interview with a lady one morning, but she didn’t turn up. With the roads as terrible as they are on this impoverished community, I assumed she had got a flat tire and didn’t think anything of it. But a week later I found out she had died the morning of our interview of kidney cancer. Drinking uranium contaminated water has been linked to kidney disease and reproductive cancer.

I knew this story was big and that I needed to spend more time to investigate it to do it justice. Soon after I returned to London as I got a BBC posting to the Middle East – just in time for the revolution and spent a number of years there. But I didn’t forget my time on the Navajo.

As I have said on numerous occasions, the people who make such films are the true vanguard of our time. My only hope is that the rest of the left can catch up with them. Without major financial backing assured, they risk arrest or hardship in making films at a place like Standing Rock, where journalists were considered enemies. Leana Hosea was arrested there and can likely be expected to be arrested again in some other filming project where the class struggle is at a fever pitch, god bless her.

January 12, 2020

1917

Filed under: Film,imperialism/globalization,WWI — louisproyect @ 9:33 pm

Unlike WWII, films about WWI tend to be bitter antiwar commentaries. This includes the 1930 “All Quiet on the Western Front, the 1937 “The Grand Illusion,” one of the greatest films ever made, and Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 “Paths of Glory.” Since WWI was such an obviously imperialist affair, it would be difficult to represent it as a heroic defense of freedom—even if the propaganda surrounding the war tended to make the “Huns” a demonic force.

Since, as Alexander Pope put it, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, it was no surprise that Sam Mendes would make a film titled “1917” that, while not nearly an attempt to turn the two British soldiers it features into freedom-fighters, does make their efforts to warn off their comrades from a surprise German trap look like a noble sacrifice.

“1917” is basically a two-character drama. As the film begins, we meet Blake and MacKay, two young lance corporals in a British unit embedded within a trench. The commanding officer calls in Blake, who has map-reading expertise, to lead a two-man operation that will inform another unit that the Germans are preparing a deadly trap. Blake has an added incentive to go on this mission since his brother is a soldier there. He is told to pick out someone to accompany him and he chooses MacKay, who has seen intense combat in trench warfare prior to this and earned a medal for his valor. Blake factors this into picking a seasoned soldier even if MacKay has lost his appetite for combat and, moreover, in seeing the medal as anything special. He tells Blake that it is just a ribbon.

The film evokes any number of smash hits in recent years that must have persuaded the Golden Globe judges to name it best film of 2019. The Golden Globe is made up of foreign correspondents in the USA whose taste, like the Academy Award judges, is mostly in their mouth. With separate awards for drama and comedy/musical films, “1917” won best drama although I guffawed at it a number of times. In 2018, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was named best dramatic film, one I bailed on after 15 minutes.

First and foremost, “1917” tries to stir the same emotions produced by “Saving Private Ryan,” Stephen Spielberg’s tribute to the “greatest generation.” Like the two lance corporals, Tom Hanks and his men are trying to locate Private Ryan before he dies in combat like his three brothers. It also assumes that people would buy tickets to a film that promises the same flashy but empty battlefield scenes shown in “Dunkirk,” which director Christopher Nolan shot in 65 mm large-format film stock. Finally, it has the same kind of plot that worked so well in  Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Revenant.” For most of that film, the main character, a hunter played by Leonard DiCaprio, is trying to get back to civilization after being mauled by a bear. On his own for the most part, the drama is generated by DiCaprio trying to avoid American Indian warriors or hunger on the barren plains of the north during wintertime. In “1917,” except for banal conversation between the two lance corporals, they are mostly like the main character in “Revenant”, just trying to stay alive to deliver their message rather than being delivered from wilderness hazards.

If Nolan relied on a wide-screen perspective to wow his audience, Sam Mendes uses another technological trick to keep your eyes glued to the screen. The film is shot in a single take from beginning to end, something that I only realized after reading about it after the screening. The goal was to immerse you in the experience of the two soldiers even though for me it was much more like a video game. I have to add that I have never owned one but looked over my wife’s shoulders as she played them on her new iPhone after she begin using it for the first time. Typically, the hero of a video game—often a soldier like in Mendes’s film—has to pass through increasing difficult stages in order for victory to be declared. In a video game, this involves fire-breathing dragons. In “1917,” it involved dastardly Huns. She got bored with these games after a month, just like I got bored with “1917” after 15 minutes.

In a crucial scene, “1917” veered off into the propaganda realm. Blake and MacKay have taken temporary respite in a French farm that, like much else in no-man’s-land, is depopulated. From inside a barn, they watch a dog-fight between two British biplanes and one German that is shot down. The flaming plane heads straight for the barn in just one of many artificially choreographed “thrilling” scenes and crashes just in front of the two Brits. Showing the true mettle of the civilized Anglo race, Blake climbs on the burning wreckage and rescues the German pilot who takes out his knife and stabs his rescuer to death. From that point on, MacKay is forced to soldier on alone.

In addition to getting a Golden Globe award for best dramatic film, Sam Mendes picked up best director. In my view, the most appropriate award for Mendes is most confused motivation for making a film last year. In an article about the film in the NY Times last month, Mendes made the senseless, imperial bloodbath sound like a noble cause:

After directing the James Bond movies “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” Mendes was having trouble mounting a new film project. His agent Beth Swofford suggested that he explore the World War I stories he had once told her. In 2017, a year after the Brexit vote, Mendes found further inspiration. “I’m afraid that the winds that were blowing before the First World War are blowing again,” he said. “There was this generation of men fighting then for a free and unified Europe, which we would do well to remember.”

Is this guy for real? Those winds that were blowing had to do with blocs of capital defending their narrow class interests. Germany allied with the Ottoman Empire for narrow economic gains such as providing easier access to its African colonies and to trade markets in India. Meanwhile, the Ottoman ruling class picked Germany as an ally but might have just as easily teamed up with England, which was not open to such alliance. Wikipedia states that Talat Paşa, the Minister of Interior, wrote in his memoirs: “Turkey needed to join one of the country groups so that it could organize its domestic administration, strengthen and maintain its commerce and industry, expand its railroads, in short to survive and to preserve its existence.” That’s what WWI was about, not “fighting for a free and unified Europe.”

As for England, it demonstrated an uncommon disregard for the lives of its soldiers in real life as opposed to the myth-making of Mendes’s film. As lionized in both “Darkest Hour” and “Churchill”, the Tory politician deserves a thorough debunking, especially for his role in the Gallipoli disaster. Convinced of their military (and likely racial) superiority, Churchill ordered British troops to land on Ottoman soil Normandy-style, where they expected the enemy to flee for its lives. Led by Australian and New Zealand troops, they were annihilated by Turkish troops led by Mustafa Kemal. The British lost up to 20,000 men in June/July 1915, while the entire campaign to open up a safe passageway between England/France and its Russian allies cost the lives of 53,000 British and French soldiers. Which leads me to mention another key film about WWI futility. Now available on Youtube for $2.99, Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” features Mel Gibson as a doomed soldier in the 1981 film, a time when he had not drunk the Christian/rightwing Kool-Aid. He remarked at the time, “Gallipoli was the birth of a nation. It was the shattering of a dream for Australia. They had banded together to fight the Hun and died by the thousands in a dirty little trench war.”

Dirty little trench war. That says it all.

 

January 10, 2020

Earth

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 10:17 pm

A case can be made that Nikolaus Geyrhalter is the most important living documentary filmmaker. As well, a case can be made that his latest film “Earth” (Erde) that opened today at the Anthology Film Archives in New York is his most important. As the film begins with a panoramic shot of the San Fernando Valley in California, the following words scroll across the screen: “Every day 60 million tons of surface soil are moved by rivers, wind and other forces of nature. Humans move 156 million tons of rock and soil per day, making humankind the most decisive geological factor of our time.” With this as a preface, Geyrhalter then takes us on a world tour of major excavation sites with closeups on the machinery and the women and men who operate them. On his last stop that he makes in Fort McMurray, Canada, he will not be able to film machine dreadnoughts because the tar sands extraction bosses prevent filming. However, in a perfect denouement to a film made to arouse public opinion against unbridled capitalist development, he walks the outskirts of the drilling sites with two Dene Indians whose land has been despoiled by fracking.

My first exposure to Geyrhalter’s work was in 2006 when I saw “Our Daily Bread”, an ironically titled film that takes us into the assembly-lines of meat and poultry factories, as well as the greenhouses and fields of agribusiness, where Taylorism reigns supreme. A decade later, I reviewed “Homo Sapiens” that like “Our Daily Bread” lacked narration. As a general strategy, Geyrhalter is a strict believer in showing rather than telling. In the case of “Homo Sapiens”, we see the detritus of cities and towns that have lost their raison d’être, namely their role in the circulation of capital. You surmise that the abandoned hospitals, factories, schools, jails, laboratories, forts, etc. were abandoned because they became redundant just like the homo sapiens who lived and worked in the cities and towns where they were located.

Perhaps as a result of the environmental crisis, Geyrhalter’s latest abandons the austere cinéma vérité technique of the earlier films and has him interviewing workers participating in the massive assaults on earth in the name of progress. While by no means as intrusive as Michael Moore, he is clearly interested in drawing out whatever pangs of conscience they have about being accessories after the fact in what threatens to become the Sixth Extinction.

The interviewees are a varied lot. A heavy equipment operator in the San Fernando Valley, who is leveling mountains to make way for a new development of tract housing, shopping centers and other symbols of civilization, is not particularly perturbed. If the choice is between flattening a mountain and the preservation of nature, he shrugs his shoulders and tells Geyrhalter that it is necessary since people need a place to live. If you live in California, you are probably aware that suburban sprawl is bringing mountain lions, bears and other wildlife to the brink of extinction. The worker probably understands this with a fatalistic acceptance of this eventuality made easier by good pay.

In Italy, Geyrhalter visits a marble quarry where he meets a worker who has other motivations for working there besides money. He tells the filmmaker that because the work is so dangerous, he gets an adrenaline rush everyday he is there. It has the same effect on him as a drug. On the weekends, when he is away from work, the peace and quiet leave him feeling empty.

At Rio Tinto, an open-pit copper mine in Spain, he encounters workers who, despite making a livelihood in one of the most ecologically destructive forms of mining, reassure Geyrhalter that their advanced machinery is not harmful to the nature around them and remind him that copper is necessary for electricity. We can’t go back to living in caves, after all. They sound like the grinning Koch Industry workers featured in their employer’s TV commercials.

In the first sign that Geyrhalter is ready to confront such lies, he also interviews Luis Iglesias Garcia, an archaeologist whose interest in the mine is scholarly rather than commercial. Since Rio Tinto goes back to the Roman Empire that mined silver and copper from the ground beneath them, he is on the lookout for any relics that are dug up by accident. He does not see much of a future in copper mining or any other of the earth transformation projects the film casts its eye upon:

I don’t think that Earth is giving us anything easily. We extract everything in a way, you mentioned blasting before, that is rather violent. Extracting anything from the soil is a really violent process. It is quite aggressive. Everything related to resources is done with violence. Either we change our business model to a concept that is more in line with nature conservation and the rational consumption of resources, or this system will not exist much longer. Clearly, we can either change or vanish.

Humankind doesn’t learn, neither from history nor from anything else. I don’t know why.

The archaeologist is far more detached from the murderous assault on the planet than the two Dene Indians we meet in the final episode. They have been told by the authorities not to eat more than one or two fish a month since the river that runs through their reservation has been contaminated by the toxic byproducts of fracking. Jean L’Hommecourt tells him: “For me in my culture being a Dene means people of the land, so we are of the Earth and we need the Earth to survive, to exist as a human being. In our culture we believe that every element of Earth has a spirit.”

In the only visit where mining is not currently taking place, Geyrhalter goes to a salt mine in Wolfenbüttel, Germany that has been converted into a repository for nuclear power plant radioactive waste. When they first began storing drums of the toxic byproducts in the sixties, the engineers thought they were living up to governmental regulations. The salt mine must be resistant to hazardous accidents or human malfeasance for a million years. Less than fifty years had gone by when they learned that ground water seeping into the mine would risk eating away the drums and causing a Chernobyl type disaster. During his visit, he met with the man and woman in charge of relocating the drums who did not seem sure what guarantees there could be for safe storage for the next million years anywhere on earth. Maybe it’s up to Elon Musk to transport the drums in a rocket up to Mars after he has built a brand-new world for humans there.

In an interview with Geyrhalter in the press notes, he considers such a quandary:

Germany is still trying to find suitable storage facilities. We are really talking here about our treatment of the Earth’s surface on a massive scale. It’s not just that we take things out: we also bury things inside it. You have to bear in mind that in 100 years we have created nuclear waste that will remain radioactive for the same length of time as the total history of mankind on our planet. We can’t escape from the problem of nuclear waste – but we still don’t have any concept for getting rid of it. The problem horrifies us, and we wonder how such a situation could come about… while we constantly benefit from the advantages it gives us. Just becoming outraged about things is too easy. Each of my films contains criticism of civilisation, and at the same time I would like people to understand why things are the way they are… because the population of the world is about 7.5 billion people. We can try our best to live in a way that reduces our impact, that postpones the destructive process, but essentially the world works the way it works. And apparently, unfortunately, it only works this way – no other way.

I don’t blame Geyrhalter for his fatalism. Many mornings, I wake up feeling this way myself especially after watching a few minutes of CNN. The reason things “are the way they are” is capitalism, not overpopulation. Capitalism creates commodities that can generate profit, whatever their impact is on the planet. Ironically, population growth is accelerated by capitalist-imposed poverty. Peasant families tend to be large because the children become unpaid labor. In countries that are prosperous, population tends to be stable or even decline. In any case, the answer to our problems is the intelligent use of resources. Geyrhalter may not be the person to listen to when it comes to the broader questions of ecological living but his films are a wake-up call for what awaits us as our unintelligent ruling class plunges us into ruin.

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