Category Archives: Film

“DRIVEN: FROM WHEELCHAIR TO RACE CAR”— Back on the Track

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“Driven: From Wheelchair to Race Car”

Back on the Track

Amos Lassen

Mike Bauer lived a fast life and some say it was because he was born too fast. He lived out his dreams—singing, acting and motor sports but then a tragic accident put a hold on everything. A motorcycle accident not only left him paralyzed and in chronic pain but as we can surmise, depressed. Mike Bauer was on the verge of suicide when he met Dr. Scott Falci, a rehabilitative neurosurgeon and an amateur race enthusiast, who saw Mike s potential. The two men dared to venture into the uncharted territory of designing a race car with adaptive controls specifically designed for the paraplegic driver.

Falci immediately recognized the signs of Bauer’s depression and then went on to learn about his patient’s earlier life of which racing cars was a part of.
Bauer was a man who could reinvent himself in a moment and he was constantly on the movement before the accident. Falci saw what Bauer needed and he had been working on developing new technologies to put wheelchair bound race enthusiasts into some kind of racing experience. His goal was to have “motorsports” added to the existing athletic and recreational sports. He did not want those who suffered spinal cord injuries to be deprived of something they loved and he began to develop adaptive technology. For Mike Bauer, he built a 2001 Corvette C5 Stingray that is equipped with hand acceleration controls, an infrared shifter and a hand brake. The design team of RaceKraft worked with him to get Bauer back behind the wheel.

It is very obvious that for director Brian Malone that this film was made out of love. It could easily have become melodramatic but it manages to keep us smiling as we watch. Malone looks at a family whose life was pulled apart by a tragic accident and then how so many people come together to give Mike Bauer a life of importance and one of which he can be proud. There is a great deal to be learned here—not just about “motorsports” but about humanity and love for each other. You cannot help but feel good after seeing this. I actually felt as if Mike Bauer is my friend and that is the highest praise I can give.

The DVD has special features that include feaurettes, “The Car Build” and “Mike’s Test Lap”, a trailer, photo gallery and interactive menus.

 

“BORDER LIVING”— A New Documentary from Israel

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“Border Living”

A New Documentary from Israel

Amos Lassen

“Border Living” is Ronit Ifergan’s new documentary about a young family that after experiencing hard time decides to move and set up home on the Israel/Gaza border. They soon find themselves dealing with a reality that places them in an ongoing state of insecurity. New questions arise— How do they face this new challenge and what do they learn about the boundaries of happiness?

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They could no longer afford big city living and they decided to take their two kids and leave central Israel for the cheapest place they could find to live in. That happened to be Kfar-Aza, a beautiful kibbutz on the border of the Gaza Strip. Kfar-Aza is a prosperous kibbutz and enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere even in its proximity to the “occupied” territories. They adjusted (or so they thought) to kibbutz life quickly but then came the first Qassam missile from Gaza followed by a second and a third and the new life that they had embarked on was starting to fall apart.

This film shows the last three years when the missiles falling on the kibbutz became routine.  The family debated with themselves as to what was the ‘right’ thing to do. They faced tough questions about their family and their responsibility as parents as they struggled with their children’s and their own anxieties.  Although it may seem unbelievable, they found the courage to cope with the situation and eventually they became even stronger.

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As we watch this intimate documentary of a family’s survival in a complex Israeli reality in a place that makes one re-examine all one’s boundaries and beliefs, we find ourselves doing the same. 

“LIVING STARS”—-At Awesome Fest, July 3 and Free

“Living Stars”

At Awesome Fest, July 3 and Free

Gary M. Kramer


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One of the highlights of Awesomefest’s summer line up is the free July 3 screening of the irresistible documentary, Living Stars, at 9:00 pm at Clark Park
, 4398 Chester Ave, in Philadelphia. This infectious, plotless film is an hour-long assemblage (by directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat) of various home videos of Argentine people dancing to popular music. The film opens with Fabián Biscione, a dentist, grooving to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” in his office. His animated expression belies a joy that shows how music and dancing is not only a form of self-expression, but also a form of escape from his work. Biscione encourages his daughters to perform for the camera as well, as he accompanies each of them in separate dance routines later in the film.

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Most of the dancers in Living Stars perform in their kitchens and living rooms. Rosita, a housewife, is arguably the most ingratiating dancer. Two of her friends perform an enjoyable backup routines as she dances away in her foyer. Usually, when other friends or family members are in the frame, they tend to be expressionless, sipping mate, or even trying to appear otherwise engaged. This aspect adds a layer of voyeurism to the activity on display. Meanwhile, one of the more impressively choreographed performances belongs to Ivan Pacek, a student who performs cartwheels, splits, and other gymnastic contortions in his backyard as “Titanium” by David Guetta (featuring Sia) plays on the soundtrack. He may not quite have rhythm, but he is amazingly limber.

The short videos strung together here are typical of the YouTube clips that have propagated in our digital/internet culture in this age of twerking, but amateur performance has also been encouraged by the success of (American) TV programs like American IdolSo You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars (which have Argentine iterations). The filmmakers here are presenting their “Living Stars” without irony; these are joyous celebrations of people just having fun in their homes. Any inference otherwise is up to the viewer to ascribe.

Living Stars 2This lack of judgment on the performers may be why it’s more amusing than creepy to see a young girl dance interpretively to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” or a young boy kick up his heels to the Weather Girls’ gay anthem “It’s Raining Men.” Likewise, it is highly entertaining to watch a pizza delivery guy perform Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in drag—especially when his wig falls off. Britney Spears is a popular singer for the Argentine dancers in Living Stars. Her hit “…Baby One More Time” is performed twice in the film: once by Santiago, a student, in a precisely choreographed routine, and later by another student, Sofía, whose rendition in her kitchen is more free form. In fact, Sofîa cannot help laughing when her mother starts to steal the spotlight and gyrates to the music.

There is a thinly veiled sexual component to all of the dancing, but songs like “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, as performed by Luciano, a handsome actor, proves his failure to grasp the lyrics’ meanings. In contrast, a realtor’s rendition of “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO is actually somewhat seductive. As for two students dancing in their underwear, this vignette plays more as a goof than any kind of erotic (or homoerotic) gesture.

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The “costumes” the performers showcase are another fascinating aspect of the film. From sparkly black hot pants to tight-fitting silver pants, or a guy dressed up like a cowboy, the way the dancers construct their looks reinforces much about their identities and performances. Similarly, the interior designs of the performance spaces are fascinating, and often more interesting than the dancing. The backgrounds, like the outfits, reveal subtle cues about class and gender. The choice of songs and dance style is also quite telling.

Significantly, the performers are mostly unselfconscious—whatever their level of talent, they all dance with heart. And this is why Living Stars is so enjoyable. Seeing Sebastian, a young man, dance to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” it is clear he put considerable thought into his routine, which he no doubt practiced. He is obviously having fun, even if he is performing moves that might make the Material Girl cringe. And while a boy named Marcos does a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” that is far from the King of Pop’s graceful moonwalking, he exhibits a good sense of rhythm. Such is the jubilant nature of the film.

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While Living Stars does have a repetitious quality to it, and some of the vignettes get a little tedious, the film never really wears out its welcome. Perhaps this is because the music is mostly upbeat and varies between Latin music, rap, and American pop hits such as Elvis’s “All Shook Up,” which prompts a retired couple to swing, and Kim Wilde’s 80s classic “Kids in America,” which a young woman named Aime performs on roller skates. Living Stars certainly offers viewers a good time watching these dancers. And audiences may be laughing with them as much as at them. Moreover, this film may even prompt folks who see it to go off and create a video performance of their own.

Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.

“LIFE SENTENCES” (“MISHPATEI HAHAIM”)— An Orthodox Mother, A Terrorist Father

life sentences“Life Sentences” (“Mishpatei Hahaim”)

An Orthodox Mother, A Terrorist Father

Amos Lassen

Nimer Ahmed is the son of Fauzi al Nimer, an Arab from Acre, Israel and an Israeli Jewish mother from Nahariya. They married in the early 1960s and neither of their families were happy about it. They had two children—a son, Nimer and a daughter. Without his family knowing so, Fauzi was a Palestinian terrorist who was ultimately convicted of carrying out over 22 terror attacks in Israel.

Nimer’s mother left Israel with her children and moved to Montreal where they became part of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and never speaking about the man they left behind. Now Nimer is married—to his Arab cousin and living in Acre—and is the father of two children. The film looks at Nimer’s life as he traveled with his mother to Montreal and then on to Tunisia and then back to Israel. He had an isolated childhood of torture and his adulthood is also one of conflicts. As we watch this movie, we deal with the question of identity; how we define ourselves and how others see and define us.

“Life Sentences” follows Nimer’s journey from Israel to Canada, and from Tunisia back to Israel. It examines an isolated, tortured childhood and a conflicted adulthood. A profoundly affecting film, it addresses the question of identity, how we define ourselves and, perhaps more crucially, how others define us. When the family lived in Canada, no one suspected the real identity of the Jewish boy and girl who studied with other Jewish children. However, when they grew up, the two took separate paths—the daughter became an ultra-Orthodox Jew and the son fell in love with and married his Muslim cousin.

No one suspects the real identity of the boy and the girl who study alongside other religious Jewish kids. When they grow up, the two will take opposite paths – she will become an ultra-orthodox Jew, he will fall in love and marry his Muslim cousin. “Mommy-Nimer-Shlomo-Solomon-Ahmed-Pinto” is the lonely boy who has lived in many worlds, spoken many languages, and had many names but it is his embrace of humanity through compassion is what we see here.

Nurit Kedar and Yaron Shani, the directors knew that Nimer lived in Israel. Actually Kedar had been wanting to make a film about Fauzi but felt it might be too sensational but as he got to know Nimer he saw something about him and his belief in the humanity of man. However, Nimer had a very hard time putting his feelings into words. Shani warned him that making the film meant talking about subjects that might be hurtful and exposing, and after the first interview Nimer could not sleep for two days and was unsure whether to continue. He needed to know and to understand if the directors did not  touch the pain in his life, people would not understand the awful oppression he went through as a kid and the price that he and his family have had to pay.”

The pain that Nimer feels is not because of his father but because of the people who surrounded him, who wanted him to be something that he’s not.” At the end of the film Nimer makes it clear that he wants no part in any organized religion and rejects all patriotism and racism. For Nimer, labels do not hold any weight and he feels that they are fake. He does not want to be a part in the society in which he lives and feels that as long as people kill each other because of their beliefs he will be caught in the crossfire and of course he will be affected, but in his mind he is not a part of it. Because of this, he is lonely but he is also honest with himself.

“S#X ACTS (“SHESH PEAMIM”)— Sexual Abuse in Israel

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“S#x Acts” (“Shesh Peamim”)

Sexual Abuse in Israel

Amos Lassen

More than once I have read that if a film is American and about sex it is considered dirty while foreign films about sex are considered art. I understand this to mean that American films have a juvenile attitude toward sex (the “American Pie” series) while foreign films look at sex with a more mature eye. “S#x Acts” an Israeli film directed by Jonathan Gurfinkel, is most definitely serious, and it’s most definitely of artistic intent. However, it also doesn’t tell you much about the provocative subject of teen sexuality that you don’t already know.

The story is set in the present. Gili (Sivan Levy) is a teen that changes schools and she is determined to improve her lame social status. Over the course of a few weeks she hooks up with several different boys, all from her new school. Their encounters get more and more sexual, exploring their limits each time further. The boys are eager to take what is so generously offered, and Gili is thrilled to get the attention. There are no tears, no complaints, no consequences, and no adults. There is no one who says that maybe something is wrong and the teens here get up to some truly irresponsible sexual behavior.

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The title in English is ambiguous— it can be read as both “six acts” (a nod to the film’s structure) or “sex acts,” and whose use of the pound sign suggests the centrality of new technology to the lives of its characters. Even though the circulation of an impromptu sex video plays a key role in the film, the technological angle is almost a side note to the meatier stuff of a naturalistic portrait of teenage behavior.

Gili is most romantically inclined toward the most noxious of the three, Omri (Eviator Mor); she half rebuffs his efforts and half rewards them, agreeing to fellate him, but not let him penetrate her in a club bathroom. Things continue to get worse for Gili, as she has sex with another kid in which the question of her consent becomes highly blurred, and later gets humiliated at a party thrown by Omri.

So why does Gili put up with this behavior? That’s the question the film asks, and its refusal to provide definitive answers is both its most admirable and most troubling quality. Gurfinkel and screenwriter Rona Segal present a young woman in a precarious position, desperate to make an impression at a new school, troubled by economic factors (her family is of far more modest means then her new acquaintances), and, presumably, in search of genuine affection. She uses the only tool she knows how to use, her sexuality, to bridge the gap, but the result is that the boys view her increasingly as a purely sexual object.

The film’s observational stance, which, coupled with an aesthetic of rough-hewn camerawork and blurred backgrounds, offers only selective glimpses of the teens and their actions, we never know exactly what Gili’s motivations are. Therefore the film can illustrate patterns of behavior rather than drive home theses about the desperate cycles of teenage sexuality.

The film comes close to presenting Gili as a willing perpetrator in her own victimhood yet  the film’s ultimately sympathetic viewpoint never allows it to quite cross the line and it remains a worthwhile piece of work.

Gurfinkel shows how secular teens residing in the affluent beachfront suburbs of Tel Aviv are every bit as horny, lonely, self-centered, and destructive as their fresh-faced American cousins who we have seen in films. The film is divided into six episodes. We first meet 16-year-old Gili after she’s transferred  to a new high school and is uploading photos of herself onto a local social web site in hopes of making friends. The self-taken shots do gain attention, but not of the right sort. Because she is poor, unstylish, and not attractive enough, Gili seems like an easy plaything to exploit by the “in” boys in town and that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Tomer (Roy Nik) desires a hand-job, his pal “Why-don’t you-shave-it?” Omri (Mor) graduates Gili into oral sex, overweight “loser” Shabat (Niv Zilberberg) takes her a bit further, and eventually Gili will be offered up as a bar mitzvah present, and there is still more to come. Gili perfectly captures the neediness of a young girl wanting to belong and willing to say “yes” to any offer that might lead to romance and acceptance but  the film with its “based-upon-true-life” screenplay by Rona Segal unfortunately does not give us enough of a back story to allow us to understand Gili’s degradation. 

Gili apparently likes Tomer, and has a sexual encounter with him.  His friend is the rich, good-looking, popular Omri who will then hit on Gili and have a dry-humping encounter with her in a pool in front of Tomer.  This is “Act One” and “Act Two.”  “Act Three” involves Gili giving Omri a blowjob while another boy – Shabat – watches and touches her buttocks.  It is frustrating watching her put herself in situations where she knows she’ll be uncomfortable – situations in which things will happen to her that she doesn’t necessary to want to happen but knows will end up happening.  But Gili wants these things to happen, and yet she’s also incredibly passive during these encounters with the boys.  That is one of the things that made the film so difficult to watch.  Gili is sort of asking for it, and yet she’s also so passive when around Omri (in particular).  A group of popular girls make fun of what she’s wearing behind her back, but when she meets up with them and tells them that she’s “hooked up” with Tomer and Omri they seem impressed.  They are also impressed when she gets them into a club using Omri’s name.  All of it feeds into Gili’s lack of self-esteem and need for approbation.

“Act Four” involves a sexual encounter with yet a fourth guy and Omri.  Here, Omri is more forceful with Gili than he has been before.  Up to this point, Omri has been playful with Gili, calling her “sweet” and “beautiful” among other things.  But when she disses the fourth guy who is a part-owner of the club they are in, Omri gets upset with her particularly when she refuses to let Omri have intercourse with her in the men’s bathroom.  She leaves the club and is picked up by Shabat in his car.  He’s nice to her and takes her home; but he wants something from her, it’s obvious.  In “Act Five,” she goes to Shabat’s place after not being able to meet up with Omri who she really likes and wants to be with.  With Shabat, she puts up her most aggressive fight back and yet the two end up having sexual intercourse.  He thinks she wants it; after all, she has done everything necessary to create her reputation as an “easy” girl among the guys at her new high school.

“Act Six” finds Gili in Omri’s bedroom with a bunch of guys.  I am not saying what happens here because to do would spoil the film for those who want to see it. Director Gurfinkel perfectly brings everything together in the last 15 minutes – all the film’s uneasiness comes to a head in the final act.  This is a difficult film to watch and yet was rewarding when considered as a whole.   Watching the acts of what could be called “sexual abuse” are painful to take in one right after the other. I really was pained because I spent years teaching Israeli youth and I cannot imagine my students acting like this even thought I am sure there were those that did. The film pulls no punches in its exploration of one girl’s self-induced exploitation by a group of guys all for the sake of a sense of acceptance.

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S#x Acts is certainly timely. It attempts to portray incidents like the Steubenville, Ohio rape case — situations in which teen boys are either too dumb to know, or too callous to care about, the point at which their actions tip over into sexual violation. Gurfinkel shoots in a documentary-like style that often feels very real, and the utterly naturalistic performances add to that. Watching the movie is frequently uncomfortable because, let’s face it, we know the things it is depicting are happening somewhere in the world right now. S#x Acts is critical of the behaviors of its characters while maintaining empathy for poor, confused Gili, yet the film fails to provide the kind of structure that would have allowed it to have a more defined perspective on the subject matter. There’s no early development of Gili, so she’s already offering herself up when we first meet her. We don’t fully understand the factors that led her to make the decision to give boys whatever they want, at her own expense. Similarly, we see precious little of her life in between these sexual encounters, making it tough to know how she feels in regard to her liaisons after the fact. And while the movie is astute in its portrayal of adolescent males selfishly thinking only with their “little heads,” the story’s justification for such a mentality is a bit too thin: Lackadaisical parenting is to blame here. That’s true to a certain extent, but a lot more things contribute to the shameless exploitation of women. S#x Acts fails to acknowledge them.

In some respects, the film does work as a cautionary tale. It’s well made on a technical level, feels gritty and real, and leaves you with an appropriately unsettled feeling. The plot, ironically, just doesn’t go far enough. A too-abrupt ending fails to make a statement as one would like, and without fuller development of Gili’s motives — or a more defined expression of how she feels in regard to her increasing degradation – the super-explicit sex scenes are so uncomfortable as to become distancing. S#x Acts is admirable for its intentions; the execution but on the other hand it comes up short.

“POLICEMAN” (“HASHOTER”)—- Different Tribalism

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“Policeman” (“HaShoter”)

Different Tribalism

Amos Lassen

In “Policeman” two different types of tribalism come into deadly conflict. Thirty something Yaron (Yiftach Klein) is part of an elite anti-terrorism police unit of the Israeli government, tacitly allowed to perform undercover assassinations of Arab enemies. Firmly believing he lives in the finest country in the world, Yaron is proud of his job. He is strong and muscular and about to become a father. His bond with his fellow policemen is tight and he has been with most of them since they were in the Israeli army together. They all seem to work beautifully together and really enjoy each other’s company.

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We see the milieu of the policemen with an exaggerated machismo that borders on the erotic. Every time they meet, these buff hunks, grab hands or pound each other’s backs. Their attachment to their weaponry is also rendered sexual. Admiring the shape of a teen waitress, Yaron displays his gun, and asks if she wants to touch it. I remember it was the same with me when I served in the Israeli army—my rifle became my lover and I slept with her every night. 

Then the film shifts to another gun-worshipping tribe, a band of Jewish radicals who plot class warfare through violent means. Led by handsome blond Natanel (Michael Aloni) and Shira (Yaara Pelzig), these fanatical youngsters infiltrate the Jerusalem wedding of a billionaire’s daughter and take hostages of the rich and powerful in order to bring their manifesto to the national media. When Yaron’s unit is called to restore order, the policeman, who cannot comprehend a Jewish terrorist, is forced to confront a new reality.

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Nadav Lapid directed this compelling drama about his homeland’s burgeoning social unrest and in the beginning of the film, he concentrates on Yaron’s day-to-day activities, which involve attending a barbeque where men playfully wrestle and he checks himself out in the mirror while holding a baby (to see how impending fatherhood will suit him). He even tries to pick up a 15-year-old waitress at a café by showing her (and asking if she wants to stroke) his gun. He is defined by virility and power and his steadfast belief in the unassailable virtue of his country, which must be protected at all costs in a manner similar to the health of his unit, which—under fire for a prior shooting that claimed some Palestinian lives—he plans to protect.

In scene after scene, Yaron is the MAN,  the most athletic, the best looking, and the alpha male among his tight-knit five-member anti-terrorism unit. He is also charming and we see that when he performs  a pop song for his heavily pregnant wife wearing nothing but his bath towel, all He dances for her, but it’s really all, about him. He loves being the center of attention, and the camera loves him almost as much as Yaron loves staring at his own reflection. His preening behavior is plainly recognizable, as is the sense of brotherhood among the cops (not to mention the blue wall of silence surrounding an investigation of Yaron and his team.) I felt that the director over-emphasizes the rituals of machismo, from the back slapping (thump, thump, thump) to the fetishizing of guns that carries over the entire film. Hitting on an underage waitress, Yaron pulls out his gun, places it on the table, and offers her to touch it.

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The  less convincing second half of the film is centered on Shira (Yaara Pelzig), a petite 22-year-old blond student with alabaster skin. She’s the brains behind another cohesive entity. In her mother’s luxury high-rise doorman apartment, she and her three male comrades write a manifesto against what they see as a violent, racist state of masters and slaves, which concludes with the resolution that it’s time for the “rich to start dying.” They turn towards a Red Brigade-style of terrorism that occurs in a vacuum, a fait accompli. Despite their lengthy time on screen, Shira and her co-conspirators remain opaque. She’s like an Israeli Patty Hearst, without the transformation to Tania.

The credibility of the film is lost a bit takes a hit when her group carries out its plan of action. What results are some the weirdest, nonchalant reactions at a crime scene (even stranger, the violence occurs at a wedding, already a fulcrum of emotion.) Since Shira’s victims aren’t scared or bewildered, the tension level stays on low, undercutting the film’s climax.

It is a somewhat uneven film with neither half proving to be particularly engaging, and when there is a moment of drama/suspense it really didn’t leave much of an impact.

The student revolutionaries plan to kidnap some of the nation’s wealthiest billionaires at a wedding and read out a decree on television that declares: “its time for the poor to get rich and the rich to start dying”. They don’t seem to care about how much harm they do as long as their revolutionary ideas are expressed and met. They meet a hurdle when one of their squad, Oded, reveals their plans to his father, who then decides to accompany the students and protect his son.

This is basically a dark film that lets us laugh occasionally but by and large it is about Israelis  who want to do what they have to in order to build a better country. 

“ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER”— Sex, Politics and Race

anita poster“ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER”

Sex, Politics and Race

 Amos Lassen

“Anita” is the story of a young, brilliant African American Anita Hill who accused the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of unwanted sexual advances during explosive Senate Hearings in 1991 and thereby ignites a political firestorm about sexual harassment, race, power and politics that resonates 20 years later today. This is a dramatic look at the consequences to a private citizen acting out of a civic duty to ‘speak truth to power.’ For the first time on film we hear Anita Hill speaks about “her experience in the Senate Hearings, her impact on issues of sexual harassment, workplace rights for women and men, social justice and equality”. The film is really about the empowerment of girls and women, and men, through the extraordinary story of Anita Hill.

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 In 1991 George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, an African/American, to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and as he had only served as an Appeals Court Judge for just 18 months, another appointment of the President, Bush evidently felt strongly enough about the man and wanted to fast-track him into one of the most important jobs in the country.

As usual the FBI launched a background check into the Candidate and Anita Hill, a young lawyer, was questioned about her former boss at the Equal Opportunity Commission. The FBI wanted her opinion as to his suitability for the new post. She carefully filled it out making a point to note that Thomas’s behavior towards her had sometimes been sexually inappropriate. To her utter astonishment the FBI not only took note but also subpoenaed her to appear in front of the Senate Confirmation Hearing to testify.

 During an eight-hour session Anita Hill was repeatedly and aggressively questioned and challenged on every minute detail in such a way that it seemed like she herself was on trial. The Senators on the Justice committee who, like most people at that time, had never come across ‘sexual harassment’ made it very, very clear in their intimidating and hostile manner they obviously did not believe Hill’s testimony.  They also chose not to call any of the witnesses that she had brought along that could have collaborated all of the charges.

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 The elderly (white) all male Senators chaired by Joe Biden and including Ted Kennedy had no hesitation in repeatedly asking Hill to detail some of the more lurid aspects of her accusations. However once Thomas himself took the Stand he rapidly bullied them in to acquiescence by playing the “race card” and stating, “This is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kow tow to an old order, this is what will happen to you.” This was addressed to the Senators.

The Justice Committee vote was split, and Thomas’s nomination went through to a full Senate Vote where it scrapped through with the smallest margin for a confirmation of a justice in over one hundred years.

 Anita Hill is a quiet self-effacing Lawyer that stood up to the bullying tactics of a hostile committee in front of the television cameras and she never lost her composure t despite the risks to her career. She left Washington to go back to her job as a law professor as the controversy tried to die down. Thomas took his position as the most conservative Justice on the Supreme Court and didn’t utter one single word in court at all until recently. Despite the fact that Hill took a polygraph test and passed and Thomas refused his test, there were still parts of the establishment that insisted that it was Hill who wasn’t telling the truth.

Director Frieda Mock brings us this documentary and it uses the newsreel footage and blanket media coverage of the Hearings to tell the earlier part of the story. It fills in the gaps of a story that many of us did not fully understand and we see here a woman who was brave enough to tell the truth.  Hill’s career from then on only blossomed as she accepted the unofficial but crucial role forced upon her as an advocate for women’s rights.  She now teaches law at Brandeis University and is a powerful public speaker. She is a dignified and articulate woman who will not allow herself to be bullied.

The effects of her stance went way beyond how it affected her personally and in many aspects she paved the way for women. This movie is a fine record of how this one determined and unselfish women took a great personal risk to insure that men understood that bullying and sexual harassment would not be tolerated.  It may not have stopped Thomas, but it has stopped a great many others, as well as encouraged future generations of women everywhere to challenge anyone who dare too try.

 The footage shows a group of men trying to embarrass and intimidate Hill and it is spliced together with retrospective readings by Hill, her corroborators, and other witnesses/experts on the case, the footage of the hearing is the penultimate case of blaming the victim. Puritan squeamishness and misguided political correctness change the course of the hearings and ultimately perpetuate the same kind of misogynistic mentality from which Hill’s testimony seeks to safeguard America’s legal system. The complete lack of open-mindedness and sympathy to Hill’s story from the panel reveals an overwhelming lack of sensitivity, as well as the necessity for her perseverance to speak the truth.

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We barely hear from Thomas aside from the dramatic address he delivered while using the race card. Thomas had his chance to speak twenty years ago though, and the archival footage allows him to say more than one wants to hear. He compares the investigation to a public lynching and argues that the case is all a ruse to keep an African American out of higher office. Thomas’s spin on the situation perverts the dynamics of the case, as it shrouds it in a veil of “otherness” that compounded the case against Hill because she was both a women and an African American, and hence, less credible a witness from the perspective of a white male gaze.

 We get an unfavorable look at an instance in which justice failed. But Mock does not focus on the fallout of the hearing, but rather on the positive outcome that arose through the attention brought to Hill’s story. Hill’s success story plays out in the somewhat overdrawn final act of the film that follows her along trips to speak at numerous events. She still inspires people twenty years after the event, and it’s easy to see why.  

“BB KING: THE LIFE OF RILEY”— The Man and His Music

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“BB King: The Life of Riley”

The Man and His Music

Amos Lassen

BB King rose to become a major force in the music industry yet he started as a poor orphan boy in the Mississippi Delta. His story is one of survival and we learn all about him as other notables share how he became the person he was. The documentary opens with Bill Cosby speaking about how the story of Riley B. King (more famously known as B.B. King) is one of survival. Other celebrities and musical greats including Bruce Willis, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton also chime in with their commentary about the blues legend. They speak to the distinct sound of his music recognizable by only one note and the ever present vibrato.

Morgan Freeman gives  speaks of King’s early years—he was born in 1925 on a sharecropper’s plantation along the Mississippi Delta. King reflects on his early years as he refers to himself as just a blues singer, while sitting on his tour bus headed back to his birthplace for the annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival. It is clear that the early period in his life is what shaped the man he would become. He was influenced by the reverend Archie Farms and King learned a lot about both music and himself from attending church regularly. This was important because King was not immune to the realities of the era. The KKK was very active in his community and he was witness to a lynching that still haunts him to this day.

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A plantation owner he once worked for gave him his first guitar and because of his love of music he left the Delta and headed for Memphis when he was 23. He became a disc jockey at WDIA records and kept that job for 5 years. We was known as Beale Street Blues Boy back then but this soon changed to Blues Boy and then to Bah played in the Memphis clubs at night, sang on the radio and cut 4 sides for Bullet Records. It was also in this period where he came up with the name for his guitar, stemming from a night club fight over a girl named “Lucille”. King’s professional musical career started to take shape in 1955 when he toured with his band the B.B. King Review playing the black clubs on what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. This is also where got the reputation for tirelessly touring; sometimes playing up to 360 days a year.

The documentary was directed by Jon Brewer who focuses on many of the important moments of King’s life with special emphasis on his 1964 quintessential album “Live at the Regal” that had guitar players ranging from Paul Rogers to Bono. The film even highlights how King ended up touring with groups like The Rolling Stones and U2 later in his career. In this way King was introduced to a whole new fan base abroad while offering additional legitimacy to all those who had doubted him back home.

 The documentary shows the level of respect that traditional legends in rock have for a true pioneer.  We hear commentaries from music legends that speak about King’s 1964 album. Sid Sidenberg, King’s manager saw the potential in King and wanted him to branch out and he booked him on tour with the Rolling stones which brought him a large audience. We hear Bono speak of King some twenty years later but the real highlight of the film is when B.B. speaks about his music, his peers Albert & Fred King and influences such as T- Bone Walker. The interview is cut from three different discussions from the early middle and late part of his career. Another wonderful moment is the 2011 concert at the White House, playing along Mick Jagger with President Obama joining him in a rendition of Sweet Home Chicago.

This is a chronological narrative that takes a while to pull us in but it finally moves into what we’re all waiting for – his music, and the guest appearances of so many rock legends.

Some of the historic footage of BB King on stage with such bands as The Stones in the 60s, and U2 two decades later, as well as clips from a very recent appearance at London’s Albert Hall – well into his eighties, with a voice as powerful as ever – is terrific. Despite his enormous charisma, success, and iconic status, the man is surprisingly humble and down to earth, speaking with humor of his early years: his love of music and of people – especially those of the opposite gender. The film blends together present day and vintage interviews with archival footage and the occasional stylized recreation.

The long list of famous musicians who discuss BB King and his work provides some fascinating information into the influences of some rock ‘n’ roll greats. The archival footage of BB King touring with the likes of The Rolling Stones in the 1960s and U2 in the 1980s is appealing and it’s great to hear about BB’s mammoth influence on music, including some vintage audio footage of John Lennon wailing about how he wish he could play guitar like BB. Despite the mass praise and worship, BB King remains incredibly humble and grounded and his charisma sucks us in with his tales of his past and great fondness for people, and in particular, women. The documentary occasionally adds a twist on the generic interview, blending old interviews with present day to tell the same story and it’s intuitive to see those who know BB best, including an ex-wife and a cousin-in-law, discuss the musician in personal detail.

 So even though the film is sometimes repetitive and starts slow, it is a pleasure to watch. 

“PROPAGANDA”— America From a North Korean Perspective

propaganda

“PROPAGANDA”

America From a North Korean Perspective

Amos Lassen

“Propaganda” is one of the most controversial films ever made and it hits hard as it examines the influence of American culture on the rest of the world (from a North Korean perspective). The film has been described as “either a damning indictment of 21st Century culture or the best piece of propaganda in a generation.”

 The film has already gone on to win awards and it brings us to a new generation of filmmakers. Director Slavko Martinov “parodies its language and stylings, before targeting the mountain of hypocrisies and contradictions that make up the modern Western narrative. In doing so, the film delivers a devastating blow to those who might be quick to laugh at ‘backward’ ideologies before considering how political and cultural trends have weakened Western claims to the moral high ground”. The film is divided into chapters with such names as “Rewriting History,” “Creating Ideas and Illusions” and “The Cult of Celebrity,”  and it goes after advertising, war, TV, consumerism, religion, censorship, celebrity and historical revisionism  which are all sources of, or the result of state propaganda – in a way that is thoroughly North Korean—- alarmingly authentic and disturbingly precise. The film is already responsible for an international incident involving the NIS (South Korea’s CIA), the Catholic Church, Homeland Security and the FBI. Martinov and his crew stand accused of being North Korean agents by the South Korean government.  What we see here is ourselves as others see us. The film holds a mirror to the media of the West and parodies her politics and has history and shows us how they have been shaped by propaganda.

The film brutally insults and criticizes Israel, the USA, 9/11, democracy, religion, capitalism, advertising, TV, cinema, celebrities, computer gaming. The insults are heavy and come at us fast and furiously and with footage that backs what they say. I found it impossible to turn away from the screen.

The film truly startled me. I have always thought that our lives in the West are what we chose based mostly on class in a system that keeps us perpetually confused and complacent. Stop and listen to the kinds of conversations going on in America today and I do not necessarily mean your own. Our lives seem to be centered on gossip and the new technology (which allows us to gossip even more quickly). In which we live in a world where we have isolated ourselves with meaningless things and we find a kind of alienation. Even if we love the person next to us, we are alienated. As a nation we seem to lack memory and therefore out world is satisfactory to us. We realize that with all that we have, we are a useless population when it comes to cooperation, peace, or compassionate humanity.



Even though this film is an unusual social experiment, it comes across as a leftist rant based on the frustration and struggles of the Western world. This is a film about us,  our countries, and our fellow man’s struggle to live in it. It is an attempt to not only highlight, but force us to understand via shock, that we are not free simply because we are capable of saying so. This is a commentary on consumerism in the West and even though it is not a genuine North Korean propaganda film it discusses everything in such a is so damning that it could very well have been. Whether what it discusses is 100% factual is not important as it is building a discussion and it forces audiences to see themselves from the view of an unbiased third party.

It is the winners that write history but this time “Propaganda” shows an honest look at history and form the perspectives of outsiders looking in. “Propaganda” is a powerful, poignant critique of modern history, the history that we are not taught in school. We see the man behind the curtain that is running things in this modern, corporate totalitarian oligarchy, and it does it with powerful and unforgettable imagery. The film shows how Western people, and more specifically the US and the UK are distracted by entertainment and consumerism while our leaders continue to plunder the world, killing not only foreigners, but ourselves as well by our lax drug and food laws. The most startling fact is that 10 percent of Americans can’t find the United States on a map. 
”Propaganda” analyzes the changing American attitude of international stoicism into their rise to global imperial power and how that change happened when America really changed (during World War II) into what it is now. This is an important part of US History many do not focus on.

 The genius of the film is that its from the perspective of North Korea, one of the few countries that does not buy into the global corporate world order, so it can freely criticize how the global Corporation runs the world. We get an insight into the decline of Western civilization and we see the driving force behind the way the most powerful nations on earth are built and how they lead.

“THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP”— A Look at Nat Hentoff

the pleasures of being out of step

“The Pleasures of Being Out of Step”

A Look at Nat Hentoff

Amos Lassen

Nat Hentoff, legendary jazz critic and civil libertarian is the subject of this new documentary. Hentoff’s career follows the great culture and political movements of the past65 years. He is a man of ideas and he personifies free expression. He is regarded as one of the creators of alternative journalism. While the documentary is basically a historical narrative of Hentoff, it uses the themes of liberty and identity and we see Hentoff at the Great Depression as well as at the Patriot Act. Through interviews, archival footage and music, the film non-linearly presents a life filled with independent ideas as it forms an enduring voice for the ages.

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Anyone who listens to jazz and has recordings made in the last 50 years has seen and/or read Hentoff’s liner notes. He is one of the staunchest defenders of the First Amendment and we see how these are linked in this film directed by David L. Lewis. It is the same mind that defends free speech and listens to the new music of the 1940’s and 50s. Lewis uses historical and news footage, and interviews with other music critics and musicians, to create an essay on freedom of expression, and freedom of thought.

Hentoff has been a pioneer in musical journalism and his reviews of jazz have changed the way the genre was considered by the white audience—he gave it artistic value that caused us to embrace it as a unique American art form. His extreme views on abortion and the defense of Iraq have put him into a strange category that both spares him and propels him into what we know as bipartisanship. He is outspoken and a defender of our rights.

Hentoff, a Renaissance man for the new renaissance, has written twenty nonfiction books, nine novels, and two memoirs. His writing has been published in Down Beat, The Village Voice, The New Yorker, Jazz Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Playboy, Esquire, The Atlantic, The Progressive, and The New Republic.

He is the pioneer who celebrated jazz as an emerging art form and was present at the creation of ‘alternative’ journalism. He was the first non-musician to be named a Jazz Master by The National Endowment of the Arts, while his humanitarian efforts and political commentary have shaped international discourse on freedom of speech. 

In the film we find three intimate interviews (among others) that were filmed by Tom Hurwitz, the award winning cinematographer. This is Hentoff’s story and it is made up of his writing and what others have said about him and with music by the very best–Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Bob Dylan. There are never before seen photographs and wonderful archival footage of these musicians as well as of  other cultural icons such as Malcolm X and Lenny Bruce at the height of their influence and talent Lewis discusses Hentoff’s influence with Floyd Abrams, Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, Dan Morgenstern, Aryeh Neier, Karen Durbin, Margot Hentoff and Phil Woods, among others.



What we see here is the essence of what makes Hentoff such a key character in some of America’s most revolutionary cultural and social movements. The film is built on a structure that is as unpredictable as the music Hentoff praised. We go back and forth in time as the film focuses on important moments in the Hentoff’s career. He shares his thoughts on how to become a writer (“bylines make you sound like an authority”), his view of his hometown (“the most anti Semitic city in the country”), his religion (“I’m a Jewish atheist”), we hear Hentoff speak about himself.  

Hentoff is a self-proclaimed “lowercase libertarian”. He wrote for the “Village Voice” for more than 50 years helping establish the paper’s feisty tone and in his later years often taking on the left itself, especially in a series of columns arguing against the right of women to have an abortion.

In the film, former “Voice” editor Karen Durbin argues that Hentoff’s pro-life stance “doesn’t have intellectual underpinnings.” The film’s greatest value is in how it offers something of a record of Hentoff is like. He smiles as he talks about the trouble he has caused in his columns or when speaking of the one subject that engages him as much as civil liberties: the jazz giants of the 20th century, many of whom he championed in his famous liner notes for their records. Stanley Crouch tells us that Hentoff’s notes for’ Sketches of Spain” was the first time any critic had truly understood the greatness of what Miles Davis and Gil Evans were up to.

For years he was the New York editor of Down Beat, then as a founder and editor (with Martin Williams) of The Jazz Review, the first publication to consider America’s greatest music with academic rigor. He even also produced jazz records himself. We hear the music of big personalities of Mingus, Miles Davis, and other jazz greats. We also hear a part of  his interview with a young Bob Dylan for Playboy, and we see a short clip of Billie Holiday singing on a jazz TV show Hentoff briefly ran. There are anecdotes about Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, and other remarkable people and we get a fascinating tour through some of the First Amendment controversies that Hentoff stirred up when he wrote his weekly Voice column. He is a man who is always principled and he argued for the free-speech rights of America Nazis.

We see Hentoff as an amused, amusing, endlessly fascinating man who has many stories to tell.