Snowden the fiction film

We’ve had Citizenfour, the documentary film, and now Oliver Stone gives us the true story as a dramatic fiction.  Laura Poitras is there, as a character, filming Snowden in Hong Kong, and it is from this scene that we flashback over his life.  That concept works well; between his own recollections and what Laura draws out (which is everything of interest about his transition from gung ho CIA operative to whistle blower; the Guardian reporter and Glenn Greenwald are only interested in The Big Story, not in Snowden’s story), we get a well developed portrait of what it takes to induce repugnance and indignation in someone who wants to serve his country.

As far as I can make out, the only real justification for the surveillance is that the enema is everywhere, security is paramount, and secrecy is vital to security, hence spying on everyone all the time. That’s what Snowden’s CIA mentor tells us and it feels like a half-baked half-truth; in  other words, as Stone tells it the whole program is a fantasmatic effort to find needles in haystacks that could be better spent pursuing specific leads and launching counter-offensives.  There is no discussion of how to promote democracy or how to build democratic institutions  among our middle east “allies,” or how to rely on “good” Muslims to help feret out the bad, etc.  There is a “hide inside the fortress” mentality to the CIA and NSA that makes effective action almost inconceivable.

All in all, an excellent complement to Poitras’s portrait of Snowden and a film with more suspense than I would have imagined.

Frank Gehry’s Bilbao

This is truly an impressive work. After seeing Sydney Pollack’s doc on Gehry where they mainly interact and Gehry talks about his career, I came away more convinced than ever that it is one of the great architectural achievements of modern times. And Pollack is generous enough to give screen time to Hal Foster who plays the Blue Meanie: it’s just not that good, not that important, and if it were, it’d be too important because museums are about the art. He should have told that to Frank Lloyd Wright before he built the original Guggenheim with its insane spiral gallery that has proven a wonder ever since!

But enough on Meanies. What struck me is the balance and proportionality of it, and the intricacy of the surfaces that curve, bend, fold and refuse to obey the rectilinear dictates of most architecture. In fact, a vast number of columns, including staircases and elevator shafts as well as the more thematically inspired columns that soar upward from the central open space within, are freestanding: they do not begin at the ground level or end at the ceiling but usually do just one or the other, or neither. It gives the whole thing a lightness and giddiness that belies its monumental size.

And the curves seem to mimic the enormous gallery of Richard Serra’s great freestanding steel sculptures that also appear unanchored in any traditional sense. See this photo below of Gehry’s sculpted space and compare it to the permanent installation of Serra. It’s just one of the many ways in this museum is a true gem and will remain so for a long long time.

Bilbao 45

Bilbao Serra

Enemies and Citizens: Why Are the Police Out of Control?

Anyone who recalls the violent attacks on strikers by police in the 19th century or in the Depression era ’30s knows that they are not necessarily nice guys. But there is also an image of the “cop on the beat” who knows a neighborhood and the people in it. He’s part of the landscape and he’s there [till recently “he” was all there was] to preserve the peace, often by diplomatic, thoughtful, non-violent means.

That changed after the 1960s and changed dramatically after 9/11. The police became militarized. More police got their training in a military trained to go after insurgents who often acted like civilians. More police joined SWAT teams that used military-grade weapons and overwhelming force tactics to go after drug dealers and hostage takers even when violence was only made more likely by the use of SWAT teams in the first place.

Fewer police were “cops on the beat” who got out of their cars and armored vehicles to develop real relationships with citizens. Trained to deal with insurgents as enemies to be neutralized or destroyed, they quickly came to see citizens as an enemy rather than as neighbors and citizens to be served and protected. Especially citizens who have historically been typed as “dangerous”: young black men.

Every week we see more evidence of the racism that underlies the militarization of the police and of the military policies designed to deal with enemies–who almost always of a different ethnic and religious background from the still dominant white segment of our society–when they are brought to bear at home.

The solution doesn’t require bemoaning crazed, racist cops; it requires a change in training and a demilitarization of the police. The police is not the army or special forces or the CIA. And its members far too often think they are fighting against insurgents who are the black to their white in a black and white game of kill or be killed. it is little wonder that snipers–angered, irrational, infuriated citizens–now appear to counterattack the police. Escalation is in the air when what is needed is a radical change in training and tactics.

Modern Wonders and Distant Talks

Do you ever wonder where “here” is when we say an online talk is “here”? I gave a talk in Zuruch at Do It Again, a terrific conference on Reenactment in Documentary and that was “there,” in Zurich, but now it’s “here,” but it didn’t happen “here” and yet it does. Maybe that counts as a reenactment or at least as a repetition, but it’s not purely a repetition since it’s from a singular point of view, not a filmmaker’s, maybe, but the Conference’s, which chose where to place the cameras, what lenses to use, and when to cut, and so on so that this is in a way a reenacting of a talk from a distinct pov, even it is close to the zero degree style made famous by our French theorist friends.

The link to it is here: The website for the conference is http://www.zdok.ch and the direct link to my talk is https://www.zhdk.ch/109306.

You may enjoy the linkage in the talk between thumb sucking and reenactments.

Science, Fraud and Documentary

Tribeca film fest plans to show an anti-science, fact-denying hoax that actually costs lives. VAXXED, akin to Dinesh DeSousa’s OBAMA 2016, denies scientific evidence, established fact, makes fraudulent claims, and is utterly indifferent to the truth. It claims vaccines cause autism and the Festival wants us to think this is a “controversy” rather than a fraud. The Festival has it on its program.
Maybe the FACT of climate warming is a controversy in need of a good forum like Tribeca when the issue is what to do about it.
What to do about this film is to protest, boycott, and warn others. Children’s lives are at stake. The unvaccinated can and do die of preventable diseases and they allow those diseases to persist and spread. The film’s claims are wrong. It’s main “champion” is a doctor who lost his license for his failure to abide by the scientific method and promoted bogus research as true. Tribeca’s failed to do the least bit of fact-checking and seems eager only to draw a crowd, no matter how misguided the message.
This Festival is heading for the recycling center, which is where the wayward and deluded go now that, in this election year, all the handbaskets to hell are overflowing.
Let Tribeca know those of us in documentary film study do NOT support hoaxes, lies and frauds masquerading as “controversy” and exploiting documentary conventions to do it.

2 Knock Out Films

So what are they?  Where to Invade Next and Room.  One doc one fiction and both tremendous.

Michael Moore has taken his boat ride to Cuba with 9/11 rescuers who couldn’t get adequate medical care in their own country and find what they need in Cuba, from Sicko, and made that gesture into a film. Did you know Italian workers can get 8 weeks of paid vacation time/year, 5 months of maternity leave, paid, and a 13th month of salary routinely? Did you know that half of the members of corporate Boards of Directors have to come from the workers in Germany? Or that Finland is far ahead of the U.S. in achieving educational goals by spending less time in school, requiring little or no homework, having no standardized testing, and relying on innate curiosity to drive students to learn?

How about Norway’s prisons, even for murderers, where prisoners have apartments with their own keys and freedom of movement as they learn how to become responsible member of society? Or Slovenia’s free university education for anyone, including foreign students? (It’s just one of dozens of countries to do so.) Or the gourmet meals Moore enjoyed in France, 3 or 4 courses, with scallop appetizers and fantastic main courses, followed by cheese and desert, not at a restaurant, but at a middle school? Or the Constitutional right to equity that women enjoy in Tunisia but not in the U.S.?

The list goes on. Moore has gone to numerous countries, not to expose their corruption and failures but what they do right. And they do a lot that we don’t even know about, even though in many cases, the idea first came from here. Penchants for insularity and attitudes of superiority have cost us dearly. Presidential candidates lie about our greatness when most of the industrial world, and beyond, is doing better than we are with such basic issues as health, education and welfare. The film is a genuine eye opener and could easily form the platform base for Hillary or Bernie, if they were brave enough to say we can actually learn from people different from ourselves.

Room is a different kettle of fish. A young woman and her five year old son have been confined to a single room for seven years when the film begins. We learn she’s been abducted and help captive, that her son has no clue what the rest of the world is like. It is, in fact, only the pretend world he sees on TV, and the view from the too high to reach skylight is like the Reality that Plato’s prisoners fail to turn around to see.  But they are not duped by illusions; they are held captive by a pervert.

The film’s power resides in 1) the fact that much of it is told from the pov of the five year old boy who is just beginning to grasp what lies beyond his room, 2) the incredible performance by Brie Larson as the fiercely protective mother of a son whose father is not to be spoken of, trusted, or believed for a moment, and 3) from the totally not fairy tale aftermath to freedom when Joy and Jack, the captives, must contend with friends and family and media that cannot comprehend or accept what these two brave souls have gone through. The film packs a visceral punch far beyond that of most films. It hits at our wounds from childhood and how we are all trapped inside the rooms and stories we are given and create. It forces us to ask how hard are we willing to struggle to escape, what price we are willing to pay, with what risk to body and soul? It’s no wonder Larson is up for an Oscar and very likely to win, but even more, this is a film up for consideration as one of the most painful, probing, disturbing, and emotionally powerful films of recent years.  It operates in a zone far beyond the formulaic dimensions of the otherwise truly best films of the year, Spotlight,  The Big Short and Revenant. And, perhaps because of that, it’s not an Oscar nominee, but it is one  of the most memorable films I’ve seen in quite some time.

Primaries and Primates

They’re all primates, these candidates, even if some don’t seem much more evolved than our evolutionary predecessors. But they all have a way of tapping into hopes and fears, for better or, more often, for worse.

The Republican candidates are a gang of teen-age trouble makers, eager to mock their elders (one of whom has already been elected President), denounce their peers, and denigrate their opponents. No integrity, decency or wisdom limits their thoughts. They are invincible, invulnerable, immortal, and dumb as all teens with a not yet fully formed brain are, especially males (and some females, think Carly) who aspire to be one.

The Democrats have a woman who we’re told we better vote for or else if we ever want to see women burst through this particular glass ceiling (but maybe think Carly again before you get down for that one). We also have a shoot from the hip, tell it like it is outsider who, like some of the Republicans, thinks it’s all rigged and needs radical overhaul, but not dismantling so much as democratizing.

He, Bernie, just won in New Hampshire. And what does Hillary’s camp do? Congratulate him and say how much she looks forward to more intense debate on issues and principles? Nope. More like, Yeah, he won, but it’s only New Hampshire. After she too spent huge amounts of time and money there.  Does that sound a wee bit peevish and disingenuous?  Isn’t that part of her problem: she sounds like she says what’s convenient or opportunistic or what votes have heard before and she thinks they want to hear again.

A news report said, “One troubling sign: Mr. Sanders was the choice, nearly unanimously, among voters who said it was most important to have a candidate who is “honest and trustworthy.””

There you have it in a nutshell. Bernie may not have all the answers and may not have the experience and expertise of a Clinton, but he has heart, and soul, and honesty. And voters can’t get enough of it. And if they start out Republican, they think the bluster puss with New York values has it too. But his racism and elitism and contempt for others will bring him down eventually.

It’s really a question of what can the Democrats do to win back Congress more than how to sweep aside the juvenile delinquents who think they belong in the White House.

All in my humble opinion, of course.