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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Forward, into the past: A timely reissue of Peter Watkins’ Culloden ****

By Dennis Hartley

“For some time, [United Kingdom] constitutional nerds such as myself used to float this kind of nightmare scenario, in which one or more parts of the U.K such as Northern Ireland or Scotland [votes to stay in the E.U.], while England, being the largest group [votes to leave the E.U.]...basically those other parts of the U.K. are out-voted. […] Now this has actually happened; this isn’t a nightmare scenario any longer, it’s the reality.”  - Andrew Blick, lecturer in politics and contemporary history (on CNN, June 24, 2016).

There’s been a substantial amount of speculation among the chattering class over the last 36 hours regarding a possible “contagion effect” on the nations who remain allegiant to the European Union, following the U.K.’s voter-mandated breakaway this past Thursday.

While no one with a modicum of sense and/or logic is expecting World War III to break out next week as a result of the “Brexit” referendum decision, there remain a number of compelling historical reasons why the possibility of profound political and socioeconomic instability in Europe down the road is concerning to those who keep track of such things.

For a continent that encompasses a relatively modest 3,930,000 square miles altogether (for perspective, the United States by itself is 3,806,000 square miles in size), Europe has a densely complex history of political volatility, avarice-driven disputes, willful military aggressions and generations-spanning (ruling) family squabbles that boggles the mind.

I’m not saying we haven’t gotten our own hair mussed once or twice here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A; after all, 620,000 people died in the Civil War. That said, 17 million people died in World War I, and an estimated 60 million souls slipped the surly bonds of Earth in the course of World War II. Yes, those were “world” wars, but volatility in Europe was the primary impetus. I guess what I’m saying is, the fact that we have known the existence of a unified Europe in our lifetimes is a blessing that we have taken for granted.

However, as implied by the quote at the top of the post, what makes the Brexit decision even more fascinating to me is the possibility of the U.K. itself splintering apart eventually as a result. Which in effect would be history repeating itself, particularly in the case of Scotland, which voted almost overwhelmingly in favor of remaining in the E.U. In fact, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has already announced a plan to keep Scotland in the E.U., as well as noting that drafts are in the works for legislation proposing another vote on Scottish independence from the U.K. (there was one in 2014).

To say that the history between England and Scotland is a “bloody” one would not be overstatement. Consider a particularly nasty bit of business generally referred to as the “Jacobite Uprising” or “The Forty-five Rebellion” (1745-1746). Depending on which historian you’re reading, the conflict was either a clan war betwixt Scottish lowlanders and highlanders, a religious civil war, or a Scottish war of independence against England. For the sake of expediency, I’m going to split the difference and call it “all of the above”.

The culmination of the conflict occurred on April 16, 1745 with the Battle of Culloden:

Towards one o'clock, the Jacobite artillery opened fire on government soldiers. The government responded with their own cannon, and the Battle of Culloden began. Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through hail, smoke, murderous gunfire and grapeshot. Around eighty paces from their enemy they started to fire their muskets and charged. Some fought ferociously. Others never reached their goal. The government troops had finally worked out bayonet tactics to challenge the dreaded Highland charge and broadsword. The Jacobites lost momentum, wavered, then fled.  
Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince's army. Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one.
Culloden was not only “an exceptionally bloody” battle, but holds distinction as the last such pitched battle to be fought on British soil. Although the slaughter did not stop there:
After their victory, Cumberland ordered his men to execute all the Jacobite wounded and prisoners, an act by which he was known afterwards as "the Butcher." Certain higher-ranking prisoners did survive to be tried and executed later in Inverness. […]Immediately after the battle, Cumberland rode into Inverness, his drawn sword still covered in blood, a symbolic and menacing gesture. The following day, the slaughter continued, when patrols were sent back to the battlefield to kill any survivors; contemporary sources indicate that about 70 more Jacobites were killed as a result… 
[…] 3,470 Jacobites, supporters, and others were taken prisoner in the aftermath of Culloden, with 120 of them being executed and 88 dying in prison; 936 transported to the colonies, and 222 more "banished." While many were eventually released, the fate of nearly 700 is unknown.
The Rebellion left a profound cultural impact on Scotland as well. From the same article:
[The ’45 Rebellion] had enormous psychological impact upon the Highland Scots, and severe civil penalties thereafter (for example, it became a criminal offense to wear tartan plaid). What followed can be described as cultural vandalism, with the destruction of a way of life that many had found meaningful, giving them a sense of identity and kinship.
So how does this all tie in with the Brexit vote? In a well-written 2011 Daily Kos piece inspired by the (then) 265th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, OP OllieGarky notes:
Cameron and Thatcher's recent ruthlessness towards Scottish public institutions is nothing new. It is a pale relic of previous attempts to rebuild Scotland into a properly British province, according to whatever fashion the current leaders took. […] 
Culloden and its aftermath is an emotional issue for the Scottish Diaspora. Depending on your definition, how you include or exclude individuals from the Diaspora, the Diaspora outnumbers the population of Scotland by no less than 12 to one. This loss of people has been disastrous for Scotland in recent years, leading to the rise of the Scottish National Party. […] 
The Scottish Nationalists are Nationalists in name only. They don't espouse any of the ethnocentric bile typical of traditional Nationalist groups like the BNP, or White Nationalists in the US. Indeed, the music of Scottish Nationalism is disgusted with the ethnocentric ideas that are themselves an integral part of the BNP's British Nationalism, or its predecessor the National Front's English Nationalism.
It’s no secret that there was an undercurrent of anti-immigrant nativism streaking through rhetoric spouted by some of the high profile spokespersons in the “leave the E.U.” camp.
Which (finally) brings us to writer-director Peter Watkins’ largely forgotten, yet somewhat groundbreaking made-for BBC-TV docudrama from 1964 entitled Culloden. The film has been newly remastered for a beautifully-transferred “two-fer” (Region “B” only) Blu-ray release from BFI that also includes Watkins’ more well-known (and controversial) 1965 BBC docudrama The War Game (****), which is an unblinking, startlingly realistic envisioning of the after-effects of a nuclear attack on the city of Kent.
Truth be told, the primary reason I ordered the set was to snag a copy of The War Game; I was previously unaware of Culloden (it never aired outside of the U.K., unlike The War Game, which gained its higher profile from international cinematic distribution in 1966, subsequently earning it an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature back in 1967).
It is by pure kismet that I just happened to view Culloden for the first time about 2 weeks ago, so it’s fresh in my mind; otherwise I likely never would have connected this relatively obscure battle that took place 270 years ago with the results of the Brexit referendum just this past Thursday. At any rate, I was happy to discover this gem, which is very much in the vein of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. While he shares Kubrick’s eye for detail and neorealist capture of the horror of battle, Watkins does him one better:
(From David Archibald’s essay, written for the companion booklet to the BFI Blu-ray)
“Culloden” emerged at the high point in British television. In 1956 Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble toured Britain for the first time, and the company’s non-Aristotelian, distanciation techniques, which attempted to highlight theatre’s constructed nature and, in turn, politicize the spectator, were becoming increasingly popular among leftist theatre-makers […]  
The experimental and constructed nature of [“Culloden”] is all-too apparent: on-location shooting; fourth-wall breaking direct address to the camera; repeated, shaky camera work; tight close-ups on the protagonists’ faces and the presence of a narrator who describes events as if reporting on the daily news.
The anachronistic conceit that Watkins employs cannily presages the advent of the “mockumentary” (although you will discover nothing “funny” is going on in the course of the film’s 69 minutes). Yet there is nothing “gimmicky” about it, in fact, the overall effect is quite powerful and involving. As Archibald goes on to conclude in his essay:
Yet this is not simply an adaptation of [John Prebbles’ eponymous 1962 book] but stands in its own right as a legitimate historical representation of an important chapter in Scottish and British history. […] 
[Peter Watkins] never returned to television [following “The War Game” in 1965], but he leaves behind a brace of innovative yet accessible, provocative yet popular documentaries, which remain strikingly fresh and politically potent.
Here are 2 things I know to be true: Culloden is strikingly fresh. And history is cyclical.
(Note: BFI’s Blu-ray/DVD is Region “B”; it requires a region-free player for viewing!)

More reviews at Den of Cinema

--Dennis Hartley

Let the street-fights begin

by digby

Aaand now we have street clashes between Nazis and "anti-fascists." Awesome.

At least five people were stabbed, with some injured critically, during clashes between rallying neo-Nazis and counter-protesters at the Capitol in Sacramento on Sunday, fire officials said.

Five patients were transported to local hospitals with stab wounds, said Chris Harvey, public information officer for the Sacramento Fire Department. Several other people suffered cuts, scrapes and bruises but were not taken to the hospital, Harvey said.

"It was quite a bit of a melee," Harvey said, mentioning that several different groups had descended on the Capitol, including counter-protesters.

Harvey said he did not know which groups the stabbing victims were from.

Emergency responders got the call at roughly 11:45 am. The victims were spread out over the Capitol grounds, which covers multiple blocks in downtown Sacramento, Harvey said. As of 12:45 p.m. the crowds had been dispersed and most protesters had left the area.

The Traditionalist Worker Party, a white supremacist, anti-immigration group, was holding a march Sunday “to protest against globalization and in defense of the right to free expression,” according to the group’s website. The members appeared to be vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters, who held up signs that read “Nazi scum,” according to photos and videos posted on social media.

An organizer of the rally who wasn’t at the Capitol, said on a web live stream that one person from his group had been stabbed and was being transported to the hospital.

“They got one of us but we got six of them,” he said.

Gosh, this reminds of me something. I can't quite put my finger on it. Don't worry, it will come to me.

The good news is that nobody used a semi-automatic weapon to mow down people in the crowd. There would have been dozens dead on the ground. Small consolation, I know. But this is what passes for a silver lining these days.

Update: Here's some more info:

No arrests had been made as of Sunday afternoon, but the original, permitted neo-Nazi rally was officially cancelled, ABC10 reported. That rally was to include factions from the Traditionalist Workers Party, Golden State Skinheads, Blood & Honor, National Socialist Movement and Ku Klux Klan, CBS reported.

The neo-Nazi group had planned a demonstration for several weeks, The LA Times reported, and counter protesters were evidently well organized and prepared for the event. Many carried signs or banners with slogans such as "Many colors one working class! Smash patriarchy and racism." Several protesters had their faces covered with black cloth.

Video shot by an ABC10 reporter of several fights showed the two groups bashing each other with sticks and throwing objects in a violent, chaotic fracas. Blood stains were visible on the ground and several of those involved were bleeding following the fights, including two neo-Nazis visibly bleeding from their heads.

Police officers witnessed a Klan member stab someone with a knife, an officer told CBS. A counter protester was also found stabbed inside a vehicle, CBS reported.

California Highway Patrol officers managed to break up the fights, but some members of both groups remained in the area for a time.

The Southern Poverty Law Center described TWP as a group formed in 2015 as the political wing of the Traditionalist Youth Network, which aims to "indoctrinate high school and college students into white nationalism."

They're feeling their oats these days aren't they? I wonder why?

Another gun proliferation zealot shoots up her own family

by digby

“It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.” --- Christy Sheats, Facebook, March 2016
Buzzfeed reports:
Around 5 p.m. local time, officers began receiving 911 calls about shots fired in the city of Fulshear, just to the west of Houston, the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook. 
When they arrived on scene, they found Madison Sheats, 17, and her sister, Taylor, 22, had been shot. 
One of the girls died on the street, but another was flown to a hospital in critical condition but could not be saved. 
On Saturday, the Sheriff’s office identified the girls’ mother, Christy Sheats, 42, as the shooter. 
“The armed shooter was also in the street and, after refusing to drop her weapon, was shot and killed by a Fulshear officer,” the Sheriff’s office said.
“This has been a family disturbance,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls told reporters, “and it appears that the mother ended up shooting her two children.” 
I have no words. But this is our sick, twisted gun culture in action. Too bad about all the carnage and the corpses but this is just the price we pay for freedom amirite?

James Madison was a helluva guy but that drafting error in the Bill of Rights was a real whopper.

Brexit talk for troubled times

by digby

English football hooligans

Brexit seems to have brought out a lot of heated commentary on both the left and the right. I made my opinion clear on this earlier and don't really want to get back into it in detail. (Apparently, being against it is just another sign of either my deep commitment to corrupt neoliberalism or my hatred for America. Or both.) We will see how this unfolds over the next couple of months. I remain gobsmacked by the number of stories of people now wishing they could take their vote back. It's just another illustration of why voting isn't therapy or an exercise in personal self-expression. It's fine to "send a message" but don't be surprised if the message isn't the one you intended to send.

Be that as it may, I did want to share a couple of really good pieces written by others on this subject. The first is by Jamelle Bouie at Slate. It's a wonderful piece and you should read it all. But this is the nub of the argument and I think it's very compelling:
The development of Western society over the past 300 years has occurred against a backdrop of racist domination, in which people of color were (and are) deliberately excluded from political and economic rights reserved for those persons deemed “white” (as distinct from European ancestry). All men might be created equal, but this normative equality didn’t extend to black or native Americans, just as it didn’t extend to those in South America, just as it didn’t extend to Africans or South Asians under colonial rule, just as it didn’t extend to Southeast Asians under the same. It’s how the same men who preached freedom could justify slavery and native extermination, how those who defended liberty could starve millions.

This racial hierarchy is still with us and still powerful, albeit attenuated in the face of broad taboos and the dismantling of official white supremacy. It continues to shape larger beliefs about citizenship and inclusion. Who really counts as an American? Who really counts as a Briton? Look no further than Trump’s attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born judge in the case against Trump University. For Trump, Curiel is a “Mexican,” and thus not American enough to be dispassionate in his judgment. Or, for an older vintage, see the brief right-wing push to end “birthright citizenship” in the United States.

In the United States, “whiteness” was the key to unlocking a broad array of social and economic benefits, provided to you as long as you could find the door (this despite the courageous work of leftists and radicals, black and white, in challenging those racial barriers). The same was true of other Western nations, where whiteness was a necessary (but not the only) factor in gaining access to new entitlements of citizenship.

It’s not hard to see how global capitalism and the elevation of financial markets have transformed the world over the past 30 years, upending our societies in ways we’re still trying to grapple with. What’s less obvious is the extent to which global capitalism has also upended racial hierarchies by degrading whatever material benefits accrue to those deemed “white.” For as much as capitalist economies entrench racial inequality, the logic of capital doesn’t especially care. It will impoverish black, white, and brown all the same.

Trump supporters are largely white Americans. Brexit backers are largely white Britons. And on both sides, they’re older, often elderly. In addition to everything else—all of the particular concerns of particular communities in the United States and the United Kingdom—we are witnessing a backlash to the weakening of a hierarchy that gave real status to people at the top, that protected them from the whims of capital or gave them prime social status as the expense of nonwhites.

I would just add that the upending of the patriarchal hierarchy is just as disquieting in societies all around the world. And it goes back even further. Economics certainly make this situation even more volatile. The fact that this is coming to a head in the wake of an epic financial crisis is no coincidence. But there are deeper forces at work here.

This piece by Joshua Holland is also very good. He takes a look at the polling in the wake of Brexit and unsurprisingly finds that the vast majority of people who voted for it share certain "attitudes" that place them in conflict with what I would have thought anyone would recognize as progressive, liberal or leftist:
I won’t pretend to be an expert on Europe’s common agricultural policy, but I can read a poll, and there was a doozy of an exit survey conducted by the oh-so-British-sounding Lord Ashcroft Polls. It found that those who think that capitalism is a “force for ill” were about evenly split, voting to leave the EU by a 51-49 margin. That narrow divide was dwarfed by what we might call the “asshole gap” – conservative assholes were overwhelmingly in favor of Brexiting the EU.

People who think multiculturalism “is a force for ill” voted to leave by an 81-19 margin.

People who think social liberalism “is a force for ill” voted to leave by an 80-20 margin.

People who think feminism “is a force for ill” voted to leave by a 74-26 margin.

People who think the green movement – environmentalism — “is a force for ill” voted to leave by a 78-22 margin. No word on climate change deniers specifically, but one can certainly speculate.

In other words, leave was given a big boost by the British equivalent of Breitbart readers.

The older you are, the more likely you were to vote leave. White voters supported Brexiting by a 53-47 margin, while two-thirds of Asians and three-quarters of blacks voted to Bremain. One would think that the latter have been subjected to the same economic forces as the former, but they don’t wax nostalgic for their dead empire or blame their troubles on those bloody wogs.

You will not get an argument from me that Cameron's despicable austerity measures were idiotic and cruel. I wrote about it constantly, for years. But kidding ourselves that instituting better redistributionist policies, soaking the rich, getting rid of monopolies, jailing bankers etc --- all of which I'm behind 100% --- is going to appease these people is failing to see the big picture.

This poster from the UKIP Leave campaign says it all:


Politics and Reality radio: Alan Grayson from the House Sit-In; Dean Baker on #Brexit; All Politics Are Identity Politics

by Joshua Holland

This week, we'll speak with economist Dean Baker about what's next for the UK, the EU and our IRAs following the UK's surprising move to exit the European Union. We're in uncharted waters, but Dean has some ideas about how all of this might play out.

Then we'll play an interview we recorded with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on Thursday, as he participated in the Dems' unprecedented occupation of the chamber to demand some action on gun violence. Grayson says way too much has been made of one proposal to bar people on the no-fly and selectee lists from buying guns. The Dems were also demanding expanded background checks and that the gunshow and internet loopholes be closed.

Finally, we're joined by GWU political scientist John Sides. Sides explains how people select candidates and parties, and notes that social identity always plays a major role. We only call it "identity politics" when the identity in question is being a woman or POC or religious minority.

Beastie Boys: "Shake Your Rump"
Johnny Cash: "Don't Take Your Guns to Town"
Richard Cheese: "Stairway to Heaven"
Jeff Buckley: "Hallelujah"

As always, you can also subscribe to the show on iTunes or Podbean.

The Conservative Movement's new hero

by digby

This is from Richard Viguerie's shop.  I guess the Trump clown show is catching on:

The Leftwing establishment news media has been awash in articles about “gun violence” and about the recent House Democratic Party sit-in on the House Floor to demand unconstitutional limits on the God-given right to keep and bear arms.

What you probably haven’t seen is any coverage of Representative Louie Gohmert (TX-1), the one Republican, the one brave and principled man who defied Paul Ryan and the House Republican “leadership” and who defied Louie Gohmertthe establishment media narrative on the Orlando Muslim terrorist attack to tell the truth about what got 50 innocent Americans killed at the Pulse night club – it was radical Islam, not the Second Amendment.

Rep. Gohmert’s stand for constitutional liberty was captured via cellphone video broadcast on CSPAN, but the establishment media seems to have missed what was probably one of the most dramatic moments in recent House (Boehner and Ryan) history.

The video starts with Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman standing at a microphone saying, “We should be concerned about the civil liberties aspects. There is a right to travel that the courts have found in our Constitution. There is a Second Amendment and neither of those should be taken away from an American frivolously.”

Note for Americans in flyover country; “frivolously” is the Democrats’ new substitute for “unless we coastal elite say so.”

According to a blow-by-blow posted to Hot Air by John Sexton at this point, someone could be heard starting to yell off camera and we’ll let Sexton take it from there:

Rep. Sherman continued, “I know the gentleman is afraid of what I have to say…” Then Democrats began trying to shout down the person disrupting their PR stunt, yelling slogans like “No fly, no buy.” But the disruption continued and at that point Democrats began demanding the person creating the disruption come down to the floor to “debate.”

“It appears as if the gentleman is afraid to vote and afraid to debate,” Sherman said to someone off camera. He added, “And given the weakness of his arguments and his position, his fear is well founded.” This brought a round of applause from Democrats.

Apparently that was enough for Rep. Gohmert. He approached the podium and, pointing at a poster of victims of the Orlando attack yelled, “Radical Islam killed these poor people.”

Rather than debate him as they had promised, Democrats began chanting “No fly, no buy” in an effort to shout Gohmert down. It’s impossible to hear what Gohmert says next because of the noise. Rep. Brad Sherman started to engage with Gohmert but another Democrat runs up to the microphone to stop him. Democrats didn’t want a debate.

As Democrats continued chanting, “No bill, no break” to drown Gohmert out, Rep. Scott Peters, who was holding the camera, shouted, “Why are you protecting terrorists?”

Gohmert repeated, “Radical Islam killed these people” a couple more times and then moved away from the microphone where he was surrounded by Democrats.

You can watch the entire CSPAN video through this link.

Much of what Gohmert attempted to get across wasn’t audible on the video clip due to the Democrats’ chants, but he added again and again that “radical Islam killed these people!”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Gohmert pointed at a poster held by Rep. Corrine Brown — a Democrat who represents the section of Orlando where the terror attack occurred — and that Gohmert and Brown had to be physically separated during a heated argument.

To us that isn’t entirely clear from the video, but if it is true then we say “Go Louie.”

House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner and his acolyte Paul Ryan couldn’t collectively muster enough emotional fire to light a birthday candle, let alone to cast any light on the lies Democrats use in their continual attempts to blind Americans to the threats to constitutional liberty their gun control proposals represent.

But Louie Gohmert, one man with principles – and a gut level love for his country and constitutional liberty – can do what a gallery full of House Republican mice would never dare – get mad, get emotional, get angry and confront the Democrats about what really got 50 people killed in Orlando.

And it wasn’t “gun violence” it was radical Islam.

Day in and day out, Louie Gohmert (TX-1), stands almost alone in holding the Big Government Republican establishment’s feet to the fire and demanding they adhere to conservative policy prescriptions.

Gohmert was a leading figure in the conservative rebellion that led to the resignation of the feckless John Boehner as Speaker of the House – and he was one of the few who stood for conservative principle to oppose the backroom deals that led to the election of Paul Ryan as Speaker to replace his mentor John Boehner.

Louie Gohmert’s real contribution to the future of America isn’t introducing bills; it is doing what he did on the House floor shining the light of day on Democrat hypocrisy, government abuse and establishment Republican perfidy.

There is no Republican who takes to the floor of the House more often than Rep. Gohmert to rally conservative votes or hold the GOP leaderships’ feet to the fire; from defending the Second Amendment, to defunding Planned Parenthood, to border security and sanctuary cities, more often than not the leading conservative spokesman is Texas Representative Louie Gohmert.

Republicans looking to recapture the political initiative from Obama and the Democrats need only follow the lead of Rep. Louie Gohmert and the GOP would be a slam dunk to win the White House in 2016 and build a super majority in Congress.

Rep. Gohmert’s DC office is (202) 225-3035 and the House Switchboard is 1-866-220-0044 we urge you to call Rep. Gohmert and thank him for standing for the Second Amendment and constitutional liberty – tell him he’s not alone, there are millions of Americans like us who support him.
Has anyone asked Louie if he'd be willing to serve as VP? He fits the criteria --- he knows Washington. I think he and Trump would make quite a (comedy) team ...


Tired of feeling like roadkill?

by Tom Sullivan

Roadkill Cafe in Cullen Bay, Darwin (Northern Territory) Australia
by NeilsPhotography [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Matt Taibbi last week took on the "lesser evilism" of a Democratic Party that seems to believe "all people who fall within a certain broad range of liberal-ish beliefs owe their votes and their loyalty to the Democratic Party." He sees lesser evilism (think of it as a variety of TINA - There Is No Alternative) resulting from a party structure dependent on large-money donors. Often, the banks Taibbi has dissected like a cadaver:

This is why the thinking within the Democratic Party has gotten so flabby over the years. It increasingly seems to rejoice in its voters' lack of real choices, and relies on a political formula that requires little input from anyone outside the Beltway.

It's heavily financed by corporate money, and the overwhelming majority of its voters would never cast a vote for the nut-bar God-and-guns version of Republicanism that's been their sole opposition for decades.

So the party gets most of its funding without having to beg for it door to door, and it gets many of its votes by default. Except for campaign-trail photo ops, mainstream Democrats barely need to leave Washington to stay in business.

Still, the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democrats have come to believe they've earned their status, by being the only plausible bulwark against the Republican menace.
The difference between the idealists (vote your conscience) and the pragmatists (lesser-evilism), Taibbi writes, comes down to money:
The former camp refuses to be funded by the Goldmans and Pfizers of the world, while the latter camp embraces those donors. That's really all this comes down to. There's nothing particularly radical about not taking money from companies you think you might need to regulate someday. And there's nothing particularly centrist or "realistic" about taking that same money.

When I think about the way the Democrats and their friends in the press keep telling me I owe them my vote, situations like the following come to mind. We're in another financial crisis. The CEOs of the ten biggest banks in America, fresh from having wrecked the economy with the latest harebrained bubble scheme, come to the Oval Office begging for a bailout.

In that moment, to whom is my future Democratic president going to listen: those bankers or me?
Good point. It is why so many voters (of whatever political stripe) feel like political roadkill these days. But the answer to that is not outrage, moralistic posturing or refusing to engage. The answer is not less engagement, but more. The banks and the Big Money Boyz have the clout they do not simply because of the money, but because they treat politics like it matters.

If voting doesn't matter, if it doesn't make a difference, why do older people vote with such regularity? Why do the Koch brothers spend so much of their dragon hoard to influence elections? Why do Republicans work so hard at keeping the "wrong kind" of people from showing up to vote?

Back when we had a Democratic congressman here, I knew the staff and would call the office to gauge the temperature on hot issues. I'd ask how the calls were running on a bill progressives wanted passed. Ten to one against. "Where are the Democrats?" they asked, exasperated. They'd voted, reset their politics to cruise control and went back to complaining.

A piece I wrote for Campaign for America's Future during the 2008 campaign is no longer online, but it talked about transitioning from being a political victim to something more powerful. (Sorry if it's a little preachy):
Don't you see how you're misreading me? I am not a victim. I used to be a victim, but now I'm not. Can't you see the difference?
Chip Elliott wrote that about carrying a handgun for self defense in “Letter from an Angry Reader,” published in Esquire magazine in September 1981. That line always stuck with me, only for a very different reason. A couple of excerpts from "Letter from an Angry Voter" written during the 2008 campaign apply to the current elections as well:
There are echoes of Chip Elliott in the wave of populist activism during the Bush years – the “uprising” David Sirota writes about. We used to be victims. We’re not anymore. A lot of people can’t see the difference. Press. Pundits. Party bosses. The Elliotts’ world had changed. They changed with it. So have we.

What hasn’t changed yet is the clubby political culture we’ve entered. Online criticism usually focuses on “the Village,” the Beltway culture of pundits, lobbyists, and political and media consultants. But from the beginning it was clear how much housecleaning there was to do, not just in Washington, but in our own cities and states – where corrupt politicians and secret deals reveal themselves in smoky conversations on dark hospitality suite balconies.

The old boy network has seen movements come and movements go. They believe that if they stonewall efforts at reform, we will go away. It has worked in the past. The war ends and the antiwar “radicals” evaporate. Frustrate the party upstarts and they will take their balls and go home. And the old boys get their club back.

One thing you can say for the old boys, they are patient and persistent. (Okay, that’s two things.) Patience and persistence are not the first qualities liberal activists look for in their change agents, and qualities that not enough activists cultivate in themselves. Whenever an Obama flings the wheel hard over (or not hard enough) and the ship of state doesn’t turn like a speedboat, impatient activists abandon their posts and jump ship. Do that, and nothing changes. And the old boys get their club back.
Since 2008, things have changed, but not enough. Our adversaries have retaken a lot of ground. Keeping people engaged is always a struggle:
Recruiting volunteers is like staging “The Little Red Hen.” All the barnyard animals want to eat the bread, but few show up to plant the wheat, harvest, grind or bake. Every cycle, single-issue activists appear at campaigns expecting to be crowned the candidate’s expert on wind power, gender issues, conspiracy theories or whatever. They vanish as soon as they find out what candidates really need from them: hard work and long hours. Drinking Liberally attracts lots of smart, informed people. They show up to drink, share news and complain, but too few work for campaigns or their local parties. Many on the Left have an independent streak. They’re not joiners. They don’t want to get their hands dirty in what, for want of them, remains a corrupt political process. Others argue impotently for that (fifth or sixth?) third party they say America needs, that they won't build.

Then again, a friend remarked at DL the other night how, since moving here, he’d gone from unknown to precinct chair in two years. All he did was keep showing up. He was treasurer for a city council race and now for Blue Century (our 527 that produces radio ads aimed at swing voters). Another newcomer started out organizing hundreds of Kerry supporters in 2004. Four years later she is the chair of a county party in a district where among the old boys “You ain’t from around here, are you?” could be a bumper sticker, and lacking testosterone is a distinct disadvantage. Her secret? She worked. She prepared. She showed up again and again, even after losing battles. While she organized voters across town, I spent months volunteering for a congressional race that we lost. (I spent the next two years telling prospective volunteers it was the most fun I’d ever had losing.) In 2006, the state coordinated campaign made me the district Get-Out-the-Vote coordinator – which often meant that volunteers arriving early for phone banking caught me emptying trash from the night before, and cleaning toilets. I told them, “I’m only in this for the glamour.”

It’s a simple formula: keep showing up like a bad penny. Do whatever needs doing. Be persistent to the point of relentless. We have to move beyond personality-based campaigns and candidates with more name recognition and fundraising potential than political courage. Besides, as Paul Curtis (Alien & Sedition) wrote, “The point of a political movement is to make the courage of politicians irrelevant.”

Thom Hartmann recently told radio listeners to take a just couple of hours per month to show up at party events where they can sit across the table from their congressmen and senators. Do that, Hartmann suggested, and you’ll be as influential as most Washington lobbyists.

In time, maybe more. We used to be victims. We’re not anymore. A lot of people – even our own people – can’t see the difference. Yet. Because this will take longer than a visit to the instant teller. Because the secret to building a movement capable of reforming and reinvigorating stolid American politics is to show up day after day and outwork our opponents.

Why is that so hard to understand?

During 2006 early voting in our largest county, I made regular literature drops at our busy table outside the board of elections. Eventually, the opposing party chair recognized me (sort of) and pointed as he kept lonely vigil in his lawn chair.

“You’re one of the worker bees, aren’t you?” he said, and I smiled.

You have no idea.
Anyway, the upside of staying in the fight is you stop feeling like roadkill. Even when you lose. But there's a cost. The proprietress of our local pub always comes over and asks quietly what is going on politically that she's missed.

Once in reply, I made the mistake of complaining that I used to have a life. She stabbed a finger in my direction and scolded.

"No! This is your life. This is what you do now."

Some people even appreciate it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Night at the Movies

Lazy hazy crazy: Top 10 summer idyll movies

By Dennis Hartley

Since this is the first official weekend of summer, I thought it would be a good excuse to cull a list of my 10 seasonal favorites for your consideration. These would be films that I feel capture the essence of those "lazy, hazy, crazy" days; stories infused with the sights, the sounds...the smells, of summer. So, here you go...as per usual, in alphabetical order:
Claire's Knee- This 1970 offering is "part five" of a six-film cycle by the late French director Eric Rohmer known collectively as " Six Moral Tales " (each individual entry works  fine as a stand-alone film), and my favorite of the cycle. Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) is a thirty something diplomat enjoying his final "bachelor holiday" on Lake Annecy, where he runs into old friend Aurora (Aurora Cornu). She is a writer, currently blocked for ideas. Playfully informing Jerome that he will be her Muse, she offers him a guest room, and introduces him to her neighbor, a woman with two teenage daughters, a precocious 15 year-old named Laura (Beatrice Romand) and her aloof 16-year old sister Claire (Laurence de Monaghan). It doesn't take Jerome long to start giving Aurora story ideas.  While mindfully keeping Laura's platonic crush at bay, he finds himself drawn to her sister, developing an inexplicable desire to touch her knee. Despite how that sounds, there's nothing leering about the way Rohmer handles it. To Jerome, this is an abstract and romanticized form of adulation (like Alan Ladd’s obsession with the painting in Laura), as opposed to a sexual urge. He keeps the voyeuristic Aurora apprised, as she eggs him on (she needs the material). Ultimately as enigmatic as love itself, topped off with gorgeous cinematography by Nestor Almendros.
The Graduate "Aw gee, Mrs. Robinson." It could be argued that those were the four words in this 1967 Mike Nichols film that made Dustin Hoffman a star. With hindsight being 20/20, it's impossible to imagine any other actor in the role of hapless college grad Benjamin Braddock...even if Hoffman (30 at the time) was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a 21 year-old character. Poor Benjamin just wants to take a nice summer breather before facing adult responsibilities, but his pushy parents would rather he focus on career advancement immediately, if not sooner. Little do his parents realize that in their enthusiasm, they've inadvertently pushed their son right into the sack with randy Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), wife of his Dad's business partner (the original cougar!). Things get more complicated after Benjamin meets his lover's daughter (Katharine Ross). This is one of those "perfect storm" artistic collaborations: Nichols' skilled direction, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry's witty screenplay, fantastic performances from the entire cast, and one of the best soundtracks ever (by Simon and Garfunkel). Some of the 60s trappings haven't dated well, but the incisive social satire has retained its sharp teeth.
Jazz On A Summer's Day- Bert Stern's groundbreaking documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival is not so much a "concert film" as it is a pristine, richly colorful time capsule of late 50s American life. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of gorgeously filmed numbers spotlighting the formidable chops of Thelonius Monk, Anita O'Day, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, etc., but the film is most fascinating whenever cameras turn away from the artists and casually linger on the audience and their environs while the music continues in the background. The effect truly is like "being there" in 1958 Newport on a languid summer's day, because if you've ever attended an outdoor music festival, half the fun is people-watching. Stern is breaking with film making conventions of the era; you are witnessing the genesis of the cinema verite music documentary, which wouldn't flower until nearly a decade later with films like Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Gimme Shelter.
Last Summer- This criminally ignored 1969 gem was directed by Frank Perry (The Swimmer, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Rancho Deluxe) and adapted by playwright Eleanor Perry (his wife) from Evan Hunter's novel. It's  ough to summarize without possible spoilers. At its basic level, it's a character study about three friends on the cusp of adulthood (Bruce Davison, Barbara Hershey and Richard Thomas) who develop a Jules and Jim-style relationship during summer vacation on Fire Island. When a socially awkward stranger (Catherine Burns) innocently bumbles into this simmering cauldron of raging hormones and burgeoning sexuality, it blows the lid off the pressure cooker, leading to unexpected twists. It's sort of Summer of '42 meets Lord of the Flies; I'll leave it there. Beautifully acted by all.
Mommy is at the Hairdresser's- Set at the beginning of an idyllic Quebec summer, circa 1966, Lea Pool's beautifully photographed drama centers around the suburban Gauvin family. A teenager (Marianne Fortier) and her little brothers are thrilled that school’s out for summer. Their loving parents appear to be the ideal couple; Mom (Celine Bonnier) is a TV journalist and Dad (Laurent Lucas) is a medical microbiologist. A marital infidelity precipitates a separation, leaving the kids in the care of their well-meaning but now titular father, and young Elise finds herself the de facto head of the family. This is a perfect film about an imperfect family; a bittersweet paean to the endless summers of childhood lost.
Smiles of a Summer Night "Light-hearted romp" and "Ingmar Bergman" are not usually mentioned in the same breath, but it applies to this wise and drolly amusing morality tale from the director whose name is synonymous with deep and somber dramas. Gunnar Bjornstrand (Bergman's most oft-used actor) heads a fine ensemble as an amorous middle-aged attorney with a lovely young wife (whose "virtue" remains intact) and a free-spirited mistress, who juggles a number of lovers herself. As you may guess, this leads to amusing complications. Love in all of its guises is deftly represented by a bevy of richly-drawn supporting characters, who converge in a beautifully constructed third act set on a sultry summer's eve at a country estate (which provided inspiration for Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy). Fast-paced, literately scripted and surprisingly sexy, it has a muted cry here and a whisper there of that patented Bergman "darkness", but compared to most of his oeuvre, this one is a veritable screwball comedy.
Stand by Me - Director Rob Reiner was really on a roll there for a while in the mid-to late 80s, delivering five truly exceptional films in a row, book-ended by This is Spinal Tap in 1984 and When Harry Met Sally in 1989. This 1986 dramedy sits smack in the middle of the cycle. Based on a Stephen King story (adapted by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans) it's a bittersweet coming-of-age "end of summer" tale about four pals (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell) who embark on a clandestine search for the body of a missing teenager, during the course of which they learn some hard life lessons. Reiner coaxes extraordinary performances from the young leads, who navigate a tricky roller coaster of emotions and richness of "back story" with an aplomb that belies their age and experience (at that stage of their careers). Richard Dreyfus (as the adult Wheaton character) does the voice-over narration. A modern classic.
Summer Wars - Don’t be misled by the cartoonish title of Mamoru Hosoda’s eye-popping movie-this could be the Gone with the Wind of Japanese anime. OK…that’s a tad hyperbolic. But it does have drama, romance, comedy, and war-centering around a summer gathering at a bucolic family estate. Maybe Tokyo Story meets War Games? At any rate, it’s one of the finer animes of recent years. Although a few narrative devices in Satoko Ohuder’s screenplay will feel somewhat familiar to anime fans (particularly the bombastic “cyber-punk” elements), it’s the humanist touches and subtle social observations (quite reminiscent of the work of the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu) that makes it a unique and worthwhile film.
Tempest “Show me the magic.” Nothing says “idyllic” like a Mediterranean getaway, which provides the backdrop for Paul Mazursky’s seriocomic 1982 update of Shakespeare’s classic play. His Prospero is a harried Manhattan architect (John Cassavetes) who spontaneously quits his firm, abandons his wife (Gena Rowlands), packs up his teen daughter (Molly Ringwald) and retreats to a Greek island for an open-ended sabbatical. He soon adds a young lover (Susan Sarandon) and a Man Friday (Raul Julia) to his entourage. Alas, our hero’s idyll inevitably gets steamrolled by the old adage: “Where ever you go…there you are.” The pacing lags at times, but superb performances, gorgeous scenery and bits of inspired lunacy (like a hilariously choreographed number featuring Julia and his sheep dancing to “New York, New York”) make up for it.
3 Women- If Robert Altman’s haunting 1977 character study plays out like a languid, sunbaked California desert fever dream...it’s because it was. As the late director once claimed, the story literally popped into his head while he was sleeping. What ended up on the screen not only represents Altman’s best, but one of the best American art films of the 1970s.The three women of interest are Millie (Shelly Duvall), an incessantly chatty nursing home therapist, dismissed as a needy bore by everyone around her except for her childlike roommate/co-worker Pinky (Sissy Spacek), who worships the ground she walks on, and the enigmatic Willie (Janice Rule), a pregnant artist who whiles away her days painting bizarre anthropomorphic lizard figures on swimming pool bottoms. The personas of the three merge in compelling fashion, bolstered by fearless performances from all three leads. By the end, there's no room for doubt that creations like Willie, Millie and Pinky could only have emerged from the land of Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

More reviews at Den of Cinema

--Dennis Hartley

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