Category Archives: Film Review

Not so Black and White: Belfast in the 1960s

For those not familiar with the vicissitudes of Northern Ireland, Kenneth Branagh’s 2021 film Belfast may not give one a full idea of the terrible things that happened there over a period of three decades- euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’. Many died in a war of colonial origins involving Irish nationalists, Protestant loyalists and unionists, and the direct involvement of the British Army and Government.

However, that was then and this is now. A quieter, slowly changing, more peaceful air hangs over Northern Ireland since 2005 when the IRA announced the end of its armed campaign.

Despite some flare-ups, the peace is holding and hopefully creating the conditions for a more tempered mutual understanding of two communities that underwent so much division for so long. Branagh’s film sits neatly into that crevice arguing for a basic human understanding and empathy, to encourage unity and mutual acceptance.

Brannagh’s Oscar-winning screenplay (seven nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay) tells the story of nine-year-old Buddy from a working-class Ulster Protestant family. He lives on a terraced street of mixed Protestant and Catholic families who all know each other well and get on with each other well. A group of Protestant loyalists attack the homes and businesses of the Catholics, as well as putting pressure on Buddy’s father to participate in the violent sectarianism which he refuses to do. Buddy becomes very attracted to a fellow high-achieving Catholic classmate, Catherine, and they become friends. Buddy’s father works in England and comes home as regularly as he can while his wife struggles with their accrued debts.

Brannagh’s story avoids sectarian rhetoric and shows us that the Catholics and Protestants had much in common: their working class struggles with poverty and emigration.

Apart from historical differences of origin, and Unionist politics notwithstanding, the people had much in common culturally to unite them. Throughout Irish history since the 18th century Protestants have been leaders of movements that emphasised British heritage, as well as movements that asserted Irish identity.

These similarities have created confusion even amongst the people themselves as the visual differences between Catholic and Protestant are not obvious in Ireland.

Thus, Buddy tries to figure out the differences, through tutelage, about the sorts of names and spellings Catholics use as distinct from Protestants. One example of naming traditions stands out from recent history – the TV debate between Mr Ken Maginnis (the Ulster Unionist security spokesman) and Mr Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein’s senior negotiator), as reported in the Irish Times in 1997.

The debate highlighted the similarities as much as the differences between two politicians who used different spelling versions of the same name (Mac Aonghusa). (The name, Aonghus (One Strength), resulted in not one, but two famous drinks, the other being Hennessy’s brandy (the O’hAonghusas). Both Maginnis and McGuinness are formed from the colonial phonetics of a coloniser who could not speak Gaelic, confronted with the colonised who could not read or write. They simply wrote down what they heard, often accurately recording the local accents. Over time the names became shibboleths for different sets of ideas, both names being determined by the coloniser.

Although descendants of colonists who arrived from Britain in the early 17th century, by the 18th century many Protestants had, in the words of Albert Memmi’s famous theory of the ‘coloniser who refuses’, formed the Irish Volunteers (local militias) in Ireland in 1778. The Volunteers were made up of Anglican Protestants, Presbyterians and a limited number of Catholics. Taking advantage of the British preoccupation with the American Revolutionary War, the Volunteers paraded fully armed and demanded an end to the tariffs that Irish goods had been subject to upon entering Britain (unlike British goods which could be imported freely into Ireland). Many of the Volunteers were concerned with “securing Irish free trade and opposing English governmental interference in Ireland. This resulted in them pledging support for resolutions advocating legislative independence for Ireland whilst proclaiming their loyalty to the British Crown.”

Orangemen marching in Bangor on the Twelfth of July 2010

In the pre-partioned Ireland of the 19th century many Protestants were nationalists. For example, Thomas Davis, the Irish nationalist, was well known for a doctrine of nationality that he propagated through the newspaper, The Nation, of which he was one of the founders. He described his tenets as “a nationality that would embrace all creeds, races and classes within the island […] which would establish internal union and external independence”. As a Protestant of mixed English and Anglo-Irish parentage, his nationalist views and writings put him into conflict with the colonial strategies of the empire. By proclaiming the slogan “gan teanga, gan tír” (no language, no nation) he tried to redress some of the worst effects of colonial policies.

Indeed, the six counties of Northern Ireland had communities of Irish speakers. The census figures of 1851 and 1891 demonstrated the presence of Irish-speakers respectively as follows: Antrim 3,033 (1.2%) and 885 (0.4%); Armagh 13,736 (7.0%) and 3,486 (2.4%); Derry 5,406 (2.8%) and 2,723 (1,8%); Down 1,153 (0.4%) and 590 (0.3%); Fermanagh 2,704 (2.3%) and 561 (0.8%) and Tyrone 12,892 (5.0%) 6,687 (3.9%). There were minor Gaeltachtaí (Irish-language communities) in Tyrone, the Sperrins (Derry), the Antrim Glens and Rathlin Island that had all but died out by the 1940s.

In the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising many of the revolutionaries were interned in a camp at Frongoch in Merionethshire, Wales. There were some Protestant internees, such as Arthur Shields, Harry Nichols and Ellett Elmes (Dublin); Sam Ruttle (Tralee and Kildare) and Alf Cotton (Tralee and Belfast) whose background in the Volunteers, Citizen Army and Conradh na Gaeilge demonstrated the non-sectarian outlook of the revolutionary movement.

The first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde (1863-1949), was the son of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) minister and had been influenced by nationalist circles while studying for a Doctorate of Laws in Trinity College. However, it was his speech “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland” in 1892 that heralded a qualitative change in the struggle to maintain and develop the popular basis of support for the Irish language. Hyde elaborated on his call for de-Anglicisation, which he emphasised, was not conceived out of Anglophobia:

When we speak of ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising the Irish Nation’ we mean it, not as a protest against imitating what is best in the English people, for that would be absurd, but rather to show the folly of neglecting what is Irish, and hastening to adopt, pell-mell, and indiscriminately, everything that is English, simply because it is English.

Maybe because of his Church of Ireland background, Douglas Hyde stayed away from direct involvement in politics but had he been alive he would have most likely supported the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), signed on 10 April 1998 which established in law basic principles such as:

The British government would uphold the right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide between the Union with Great Britain or a united Ireland.  The people of the island of Ireland, North and South, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The Irish government would try to address unionist fears of a united Ireland by amending the Irish Constitution according to the principle of consent.

In other words, there would be no change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people.

On 28 July 2005, the IRA announced the end of its campaign, and promised complete decommissioning of all its weapons, to be witnessed by clergymen from Catholic and Protestant churches.

A republican mural in Beechfield Street, Short Strand, Belfast, during the mid-1990s, with the Gaelic text Slan Abhaile “safe home” to British troops. Security normalisation was one of the key points of the Good Friday Agreement. (Photo credit:  Jimmy Harris, taken 1995, Flickr)

In 2007, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed to share power with republican party Sinn Fein, and Paisley and McGuinness became First Minister and Deputy First Minister. McGuinness said after Paisley’s death:

Our relationship confounded many. Of course, our political differences continued; his allegiance was to Britain and mine to Ireland. But we were able to work effectively together in the interests of all our people.

More recently Linda Ervine (whose brother-in-law is the former UVF commander and politician David Ervine) started the Turas Irish Language Project in east Belfast 10 years ago. She noted that the programme has gone from strength to strength as Protestant, loyalists and unionists in Belfast are learning the Irish language in increasing numbers.

Whatever the decisions the Protestant people make about their future in the UK or a united Ireland the cultural similarities born of sharing the same place will remain of utmost importance. Ervine notes:

I think what was interesting at the time – now this was 11 years ago – the Protestant women were really intrigued, because we’d never had the opportunity, and the Catholic women were much more interested in the royal wedding that was coming up and what Kate’s dress was going to look like.

Branagh’s film Belfast is an important reminder that all our futures are dependent on what unites us rather than what divides us.

The post Not so Black and White: Belfast in the 1960s first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Dystopian Movies Fit for a Dystopian World

The Internet is watching us now. If they want to. They can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is, that will make us feel we’re part of the medium. The scary thing is, we’ll lose our right to privacy. An ad will appear in the air around us, talking directly to us.”
— Director Steven Spielberg, Minority Report

We have arrived, way ahead of schedule, into the dystopian future dreamed up by such science fiction writers as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick.

Much like Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984, the government and its corporate spies now watch our every move.

Much like Huxley’s A Brave New World, we are churning out a society of watchers who “have their liberties taken away from them, but … rather enjoy it, because they [are] distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.”

Much like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the populace is now taught to “know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.”

And in keeping with Philip K. Dick’s darkly prophetic vision of a dystopian police state—which became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report which was released 20 years ago—we are now trapped into a world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams and pre-crime units will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

Minority Report is set in the year 2054, but it could just as well have taken place in 2022.

Seemingly taking its cue from science fiction, technology has moved so fast in the short time since Minority Report premiered in 2002 that what once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction.

Incredibly, as the various nascent technologies employed and shared by the government and corporations alike—facial recognition, iris scanners, massive databases, behavior prediction software, and so on—are incorporated into a complex, interwoven cyber network aimed at tracking our movements, predicting our thoughts and controlling our behavior, Spielberg’s unnerving vision of the future is fast becoming our reality.

Both worlds—our present-day reality and Spielberg’s celluloid vision of the future—are characterized by widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining, fusion centers, driverless cars, voice-controlled homes, facial recognition systems, cybugs and drones, and predictive policing (pre-crime) aimed at capturing would-be criminals before they can do any damage.

Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Government agents listen in on our telephone calls and read our emails. Political correctness—a philosophy that discourages diversity—has become a guiding principle of modern society.

The courts have shredded the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In fact, SWAT teams battering down doors without search warrants and FBI agents acting as a secret police that investigate dissenting citizens are common occurrences in contemporary America.

We are increasingly ruled by multi-corporations wedded to the police state. Much of the population is either hooked on illegal drugs or ones prescribed by doctors. And bodily privacy and integrity has been utterly eviscerated by a prevailing view that Americans have no rights over what happens to their bodies during an encounter with government officials, who are allowed to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.

All of this has come about with little more than a whimper from an oblivious American populace largely comprised of nonreaders and television and internet zombies, but we have been warned about such an ominous future in novels and movies for years.

The following 15 films may be the best representation of what we now face as a society.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966). Adapted from Ray Bradbury’s novel and directed by Francois Truffaut, this film depicts a futuristic society in which books are banned, and firemen ironically are called on to burn contraband books—451 Fahrenheit being the temperature at which books burn. Montag is a fireman who develops a conscience and begins to question his book burning. This film is an adept metaphor for our obsessively politically correct society where virtually everyone now pre-censors speech. Here, a brainwashed people addicted to television and drugs do little to resist governmental oppressors.

 
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
The plot of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, as based on an Arthur C. Clarke short story, revolves around a space voyage to Jupiter. The astronauts soon learn, however, that the fully automated ship is orchestrated by a computer system—known as HAL 9000—which has become an autonomous thinking being that will even murder to retain control. The idea is that at some point in human evolution, technology in the form of artificial intelligence will become autonomous and human beings will become mere appendages of technology. In fact, at present, we are seeing this development with massive databases generated and controlled by the government that are administered by such secretive agencies as the National Security Agency and sweep all websites and other information devices collecting information on average citizens. We are being watched from cradle to grave.

Planet of the Apes (1968). Based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, astronauts crash on a planet where apes are the masters and humans are treated as brutes and slaves. While fleeing from gorillas on horseback, astronaut Taylor is shot in the throat, captured and housed in a cage. From there, Taylor begins a journey wherein the truth revealed is that the planet was once controlled by technologically advanced humans who destroyed civilization. Taylor’s trek to the ominous Forbidden Zone reveals the startling fact that he was on planet earth all along. Descending into a fit of rage at what he sees in the final scene, Taylor screams: “We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you.” The lesson is obvious, but will we listen? The script, although rewritten, was initially drafted by Rod Serling and retains Serling’s Twilight Zone-ish ending.

THX 1138 (1970). George Lucas’ directorial debut, this is a somber view of a dehumanized society totally controlled by a police state. The people are force-fed drugs to keep them passive, and they no longer have names but only letter/number combinations such as THX 1138. Any citizen who steps out of line is quickly brought into compliance by robotic police equipped with “pain prods”—electro-shock batons. Sound like tasers?

A Clockwork Orange (1971). Director Stanley Kubrick presents a future ruled by sadistic punk gangs and a chaotic government that cracks down on its citizens sporadically. Alex is a violent punk who finds himself in the grinding, crushing wheels of injustice. This film may accurately portray the future of western society that grinds to a halt as oil supplies diminish, environmental crises increase, chaos rules, and the only thing left is brute force.

Soylent Green (1973). Set in a futuristic overpopulated New York City, the people depend on synthetic foods manufactured by the Soylent Corporation. A policeman investigating a murder discovers the grisly truth about what soylent green is really made of. The theme is chaos where the world is ruled by ruthless corporations whose only goal is greed and profit. Sound familiar?

Blade Runner (1982). In a 21st century Los Angeles, a world-weary cop tracks down a handful of renegade “replicants” (synthetically produced human slaves). Life is now dominated by mega-corporations, and people sleepwalk along rain-drenched streets. This is a world where human life is cheap, and where anyone can be exterminated at will by the police (or blade runners). Based upon a Philip K. Dick novel, this exquisite Ridley Scott film questions what it means to be human in an inhuman world.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). The best adaptation of Orwell’s dark tale, this film visualizes the total loss of freedom in a world dominated by technology and its misuse, and the crushing inhumanity of an omniscient state. The government controls the masses by controlling their thoughts, altering history and changing the meaning of words. Winston Smith is a doubter who turns to self-expression through his diary and then begins questioning the ways and methods of Big Brother before being re-educated in a most brutal fashion.

Brazil (1985). Sharing a similar vision of the near future as 1984 and Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, this is arguably director Terry Gilliam’s best work, one replete with a merging of the fantastic and stark reality. Here, a mother-dominated, hapless clerk takes refuge in flights of fantasy to escape the ordinary drabness of life. Caught within the chaotic tentacles of a police state, the longing for more innocent, free times lies behind the vicious surface of this film.

They Live (1988). John Carpenter’s bizarre sci-fi social satire action film assumes the future has already arrived. John Nada is a homeless person who stumbles across a resistance movement and finds a pair of sunglasses that enables him to see the real world around him. What he discovers is a world controlled by ominous beings who bombard the citizens with subliminal messages such as “obey” and “conform.” Carpenter manages to make an effective political point about the underclass—that is, everyone except those in power. The point: we, the prisoners of our devices, are too busy sucking up the entertainment trivia beamed into our brains and attacking each other up to start an effective resistance movement.

The Matrix (1999). The story centers on a computer programmer Thomas A. Anderson, secretly a hacker known by the alias “Neo,” who begins a relentless quest to learn the meaning of “The Matrix”—cryptic references that appear on his computer. Neo’s search leads him to Morpheus who reveals the truth that the present reality is not what it seems and that Anderson is actually living in the future—2199. Humanity is at war against technology which has taken the form of intelligent beings, and Neo is actually living in The Matrix, an illusionary world that appears to be set in the present in order to keep the humans docile and under control. Neo soon joins Morpheus and his cohorts in a rebellion against the machines that use SWAT team tactics to keep things under control.

Minority Report (2002). Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and directed by Steven Spielberg, the film offers a special effect-laden, techno-vision of a futuristic world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. And if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams will bring you under control. The setting is 2054 where PreCrime, a specialized police unit, apprehends criminals before they can commit the crime. Captain Anderton is the chief of the Washington, DC, PreCrime force which uses future visions generated by “pre-cogs” (mutated humans with precognitive abilities) to stop murders. Soon Anderton becomes the focus of an investigation when the precogs predict he will commit a murder. But the system can be manipulated. This film raises the issue of the danger of technology operating autonomously—which will happen eventually if it has not already occurred. To a hammer, all the world looks like a nail. In the same way, to a police state computer, we all look like suspects. In fact, before long, we all may be mere extensions or appendages of the police state—all suspects in a world commandeered by machines.

V for Vendetta (2006). This film depicts a society ruled by a corrupt and totalitarian government where everything is run by an abusive secret police. A vigilante named V dons a mask and leads a rebellion against the state. The subtext here is that authoritarian regimes through repression create their own enemies—that is, terrorists—forcing government agents and terrorists into a recurring cycle of violence. And who is caught in the middle? The citizens, of course. This film has a cult following among various underground political groups such as Anonymous, whose members wear the same Guy Fawkes mask as that worn by V.

Children of Men (2006). This film portrays a futuristic world without hope since humankind has lost its ability to procreate. Civilization has descended into chaos and is held together by a military state and a government that attempts to keep its totalitarian stronghold on the population. Most governments have collapsed, leaving Great Britain as one of the few remaining intact societies. As a result, millions of refugees seek asylum only to be rounded up and detained by the police. Suicide is a viable option as a suicide kit called Quietus is promoted on billboards and on television and newspapers. But hope for a new day comes when a woman becomes inexplicably pregnant.

Land of the Blind (2006). In this dark political satire, tyrannical rulers are overthrown by new leaders who prove to be just as evil as their predecessors. Maximilian II is a demented fascist ruler of a troubled land named Everycountry who has two main interests: tormenting his underlings and running his country’s movie industry. Citizens who are perceived as questioning the state are sent to “re-education camps” where the state’s concept of reality is drummed into their heads. Joe, a prison guard, is emotionally moved by the prisoner and renowned author Thorne and eventually joins a coup to remove the sadistic Maximilian, replacing him with Thorne. But soon Joe finds himself the target of the new government.

All of these films—and the writers who inspired them—understood what many Americans, caught up in their partisan, flag-waving, zombified states, are still struggling to come to terms with: that there is no such thing as a government organized for the good of the people. Even the best intentions among those in government inevitably give way to the desire to maintain power and control at all costs.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, even the sleepwalking masses (who remain convinced that all of the bad things happening in the police state—the police shootings, the police beatings, the raids, the roadside strip searches—are happening to other people) will have to wake up.

Sooner or later, the things happening to other people will start happening to us.

When that painful reality sinks in, it will hit with the force of a SWAT team crashing through your door, a taser being aimed at your stomach, and a gun pointed at your head. And there will be no channel to change, no reality to alter, and no manufactured farce to hide behind.

As George Orwell warned, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.”

The post Dystopian Movies Fit for a Dystopian World first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Oliver Stone Answers his Critics

Two of the greatest speeches ever delivered by an American president bookend this extraordinary documentary film.  It opens with President John F. Kennedy giving the commencement speech at American University on June 10, 1963 and it closes with his civil rights speech to the American people the following day.  It is a deft artistic touch that suggests the brevity of JFK’s heroic efforts for world peace and domestic racial equality and justice before he was assassinated in a public execution in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

In the former anti-war speech, he called for the end to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the halt to the arms race, and the abolishment of war and its weapons, especially nuclear.  He said:

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax   Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine  peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind  that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life  for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

In the latter address to the American people, having just sent National Guard troops to the University of Alabama to make sure two black students were admitted despite the racist objections of Governor George Wallace, his words transcended the immediate issue at the university and called for the end to the immoral and illegal discrimination against African Americans in every area of the nation’s life.  He said:

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the  slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

Having framed the documentary thus, Oliver Stone and the screenwriter James DiEugenio do a masterful job of explaining what really happened in the years of Kennedy’s short presidency, why he was such a great threat to the CIA and the military industrial complex, what really happened when they killed him, and how the Warren Commission, the CIA, and the corporate media have worked hand-in-hand to this day to cover up the truth.  The current two-hour version of JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass will be followed in a month or so by a more detailed four-hour version.

The importance of this film is twofold:  It establishes an updated historical record since the Assassination Records Review Board (AARB) was established as a result of Stone’s 1991 breakthrough film, JFK, which forced the release of previously hidden documents, and, more importantly, it emphatically shows why JFK’s assassination is crucial for understanding the United States today.  For without a clear and unambiguous accounting of why he was killed and by whom (I do not mean the actual shooters), and who in the government and media has covered it up, we are doomed to repeat the past as this country has been doing ever since.

Because JFK Revisited assiduously documents the essential claims of Stone’s 1991 film and adds to it with the latest factual material released since the ARRB required the release of the previously secret documents, the film, like the JFK film before it, will be denounced by the same media/intelligence forces that slammed the earlier movie.  Back then the bogus critiques claimed Stone’s imagination had gone wild and he distorted history, so now the best way for those critics to rip this evidence-filled documentary is to omit mentioning its contents and to continue calling him a conspiracy obsessed guy still intent on promoting his fantasies.

Once it was his “fictions” that were ridiculous; now it is his facts, despite his research colleague and screen writer James DiEugenio’s exhaustive confirmation of the facts that will be released later this year when the annotated script is published.  JFK Revisited proves with facts that Stone was right in 1991.  Even then, but little known, is that JFK was also accompanied by a book of the film that included copious research notes.  But facts don’t seem to matter to Stone’s critics, then or now.  They are too damning.

So let’s examine the documentary.

It opens with Kennedy speaking at American University and quickly switches to a montage of condensed news reports of the shooting in Dallas, Kennedy’s death, people’s reactions, Oswald’s arrest, his claim that he’s a “patsy,” Ruby’s killing of Oswald, JFK’s funeral, reports that Kennedy was shot from the front and the rear, the formation of the Warren Commission and the naming of its members, including most significantly the former Director of the CIA Allen Dulles whom Kennedy had fired, the Commission’s finding that Oswald alone killed the president, that there was no conspiracy, the Zapruder film, and NBC’s Chet Huntley saying that the assassination is thoroughly documented (in the Warren Commission Report) and it’s all there for anyone who would like to pursue it.

Huntley’s ironically false statement is followed by a jump cut to Oliver Stone in Dealey Plaza telling how it wasn’t all there at all, that The Warren Report was a sham, and how in the intervening years plenty of new information and evidence has been revealed by the Church Commission Hearings in 1975 that uncovered the CIA and FBI’s machinations in assassination plots at home and abroad; followed a decade later by the public showing of the Zapruder film and the subsequent House Select Committee on Assassinations’ (HSCA) finding that there was probably a conspiracy in Kennedy’s murder.

Although the Warren Report came under questioning during these years, the HSCA sealed half a million “dangerous records” until 2029.  But as a result of Stone’s JFK film in 1991, the government was pressured to pass The John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act with its Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).  The ARRB ordered the release of the secret documents within four years.  Over two million pages were released and they are housed at the National Archives, although certain documents are still being withheld.

One could argue that the truth about the assassination was obvious from the start and that only elements within the U.S. government could have carried out this crime and covered it up. That only simple logic was needed to solve the crime because from the start the Warren Commission made no sense with its magic bullet explanation, and that only national security operatives could have withdrawn the president’s security protection, etc. That new documents are not needed. That arguing any of this is just a pseudo-debate and a waste of time.

There is cogency to that argument, but Stone prefers to take a different route and use the released records to bolster his argument and establish a cinematic record for future generations.  He is making accessible in a two-hour movie a powerful historical lesson that should be seen by everyone; it is one absent from the history books students read in school.

That his enemies will try to dissuade the public from viewing the film is not surprising, for doing so with the supporting testimonies of so many experts and the presentation of the suppressed official documents make these critics look like fools, or simply the tools they are.  For while this film relies on many documents forced out of the government’s own vaults and therefore hoists the critics with their own petard, it is also a reminder that the media is deeply infiltrated with CIA plants and assets, as has been shown by the revelations of Operation Mockingbird, a program that surely never ended but has only intensified today’s propaganda.

One glance at the headlines of reviews of this film since its release two months ago reveals the vituperative personal nature of the attacks on Stone, showing that the film’s evidentiary content is of no interest to the reviewers. Ad hominem attacks will suffice. Even the one review I read previous to writing this – sent to me by someone who considered it to be positive – was a sly piece of disinformation disguised as praise.  The enemies of truth are not just vulgar morons but very sophisticated tricksters.

Let me break down the evidence presented in the film in order of appearance.  First, the so-called three bullets and the magic bullet.  Second, the alleged rifle and new evidence confirming that Lee Oswald was not on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository.  Third, the autopsy, its faked photographs, and the pressure placed on the Parkland Hospital doctors to change what they saw with their own eyes.  Fourth, Oswald’s history working with the CIA and FBI, his fake defection to the Soviet Union, the coverup of the intelligence agencies’ use of Oswald from start to finish, and the other plots to assassinate Kennedy in Chicago and Tampa that follow the same template as Oswald in Dallas.  Fifth, why Kennedy was murdered.

None of these issues are analyzed in some half-assed theoretical way, but are supported by documentary facts – evidence, in other words.  As Stone says, “Conspiracy theories are now conspiracy facts.”  Nevertheless, those writers whose review headlines I mentioned prefer to call Stone “looney,” a “conspiracy quack,” etc. as they ignore the facts, new and old.

The Magic Bullet

The Warren Report claimed that since three empty shells were found on the floor of the sixth floor of The Texas Book Depository that only three bullets were fired, and from that spot.  The FBI claimed that all three bullets hit inside the car, two hitting Kennedy and one Gov. Connolly.  But evidence showed that one bullet missed the car, striking an underpass.

This forced the Commission into a dilemma, and so Arlen Specter, the future long-standing senator, conjured up the so-called Magic Bullet Theory, claiming that one bullet hit and passed through Kennedy only to hit Connolly, zigzagging absurdly and causing seven wounds.  It was ridiculous but conveniently avoided admitting that there had to be more shots and therefore a conspiracy.  The Magic bullet – CE 399 – was said to have been found in pristine condition on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital.  This bullet was foundational to the Warren Commission’s case, but Stone shows with released documents that there was no chain of custody for this bullet and that lies were told about it.  He further shows how this magically found pristine bullet could not have passed through two men and emerge like new.

The film immediately demolishes the Warren Commission’s basic premise.

The “Rifle” with No Oswald on the Sixth Floor

And then this: the film shows that the rifle Oswald is alleged to have used and ordered through the mail with its paper trail (he could have walked into a store and bought one without leaving evidence) does not look like the famous highly questionable photos of Oswald posing with a rifle in the back yard.  But more importantly than various other anomalies concerning the rifle(s-?), such as the absence of Oswald’s hand prints, is the new evidence the film documents about Oswald’s non-presence on the sixth floor.

Researcher Barry Ernest went to the National Archives to find the original testimony of Victoria Adams who worked on the fourth floor and knew Oswald.  He discovered that it was missing and that  the Warren Commission had destroyed the tapes.  So he went and found Adams, and what she told him contradicted the Commission’s findings.  It was claimed that after shooting Kennedy, Oswald quickly went down the back stairs to the second floor lunch room.  Adams told Ernest that immediately after the assassination she went down the back stairs from the fourth floor and saw no one. Ernest found corroborating evidence from two other women, Sandra Styles who accompanied Vicki Adams down the stairs and Vicki’s supervisor Dorothy Garner who saw them descend, to back Adams’ testimony, about which the Warren Commission lied.  Further proof that Oswald could not have shot Kennedy from the sixth floor window since he wasn’t there.

The Head Wound and the Autopsy Coverup

With video testimonies from Doctors Perry, Clark, and Crenshaw from Parkland Hospital, Stone shows how the original testimonies placed the neck and head wounds to Kennedy coming from the front, but that pressure was applied to Perry to recant, which he did, only to later to admit his recantation was a lie and that the wound in Kennedy’s neck was an entrance wound.

Then with the autopsy, we learn how it was controlled not by forensic pathologists experienced in doing autopsies on gunshot victims, but by shadowy military and intelligence figures.  We learn of another magic bullet that allegedly was found in Parkland Hospital where it was claimed it fell out of a back wound of the president.  But this bullet later turns out to be The Magic Bullet after further legerdemain by Warren Commission member Gerald Ford.

This stuff is highly comical if it weren’t so sinister, and it is surely “unbelievable” as the eminent  forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht tells the viewer. That one of the autopsy doctors burned his notes and another had his disappear might not be new knowledge, but to learn that two honest FBI agents who witnessed the autopsy and were not called as witnesses by the Warren Commission – James Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill, Jr. – were shown the autopsy photos in depositions taken by the Assassinations Record Review Board in 1997 and claimed that Kennedy’s head had been doctored to conceal his gaping rear head wound is startlingly new evidence.

As is the important diagram Sibert drew of a large head wound in the back of the head supporting a shot from the front.  As is the ARRB’s declassification of forty witnesses’ testimony that they saw a gaping hole in the back of the President’s head consistent with a shot from the front.  As is the White House photographer Robert Knudsen’s admission thirty-years later that the photos he took were after the head had been doctored to conceal the wound.  As is the evidence that the autopsy photos of JFK’s brain in the National archives are fakes.

Thus, the film emphatically shows that the new forensic evidence proves that there were multiple shooters and that Oswald, who was not on the sixth floor, was not one of them.  Oswald, because he was killed by the F.B.I. affiliated Jack Ruby two days later, never had a trial, but if he did, in light of all we know now, he would never be convicted, yet the media, led by The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, etc., have spent decades covering up the truth and claiming Oswald killed Kennedy, just as they have with their equally bogus claim that Sirhan Sirhan killed RFK. They can not be so ignorant not to know they are spouting absurdities, so one can only conclude they are lying to protect the killers.  That they are accomplices after the fact.

Oswald the Patsy and his Connections to the CIA and FBI

This section contains much evidentiary information about Oswald that is in the 1991 film.  That he was associated with David Ferrie, Guy Bannister, and Clay Shaw (alias Betrand), all of whom were FBI and CIA affiliated.  That he was a provocateur playing multiple roles, one day an anti-Castro protester and the next day a Castro supporter.  That he was trained as a Marine at a top secret Military base in Japan that ran U-2 spy flights run by the CIA over the Soviet Union. That his defection to the Soviet Union was likely a part of a CIA defector program. That after marrying a Russian wife, he was welcomed back into the U.S. by the government he “betrayed” and greeted upon his arrival by an intelligence asset who got him to Dallas to hook up with another CIA operative, George de Mohrenschildt.

Everything we learn about Oswald makes it clear he was working for the CIA and FBI while simultaneously being on their watch list for years.  The CIA denials that this was true were lies. We learn that the ARRB had a hard time getting the CIA to hand over documents on Oswald, that both the FBI and CIA lifted flashes on Oswald in early October 1963 which allowed him access to the Dallas parade route without attention.  We learn that the Secret Service destroyed their threat sheets for 1963, those being reports of JFK’s prior trips and threats associated with them.

Essentially, we learn again with documentation what was in the earlier film, JFK, and more; all of which proves that Oswald was being run by the CIA and that he was used as a patsy after the assassination.  We see the similarities to the earlier plots on the President’s life in Chicago (see JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass re the Chicago plot) and Tampa that are eerily alike to that in Dallas.  We learn everything essential, and yet this is just the two-hour version of the film.

Why Was Kennedy Killed, Who Benefited, and Who Had the Power to Cover it Up?

In the conclusion of the film, we are told all the things that Kennedy did that made him an arch-enemy of the CIA and the military. Kennedy, who was hated by the CIA even before the Bay of Pigs disaster, afterwards fired the CIA Director Allen Dulles and his subordinates and promised to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds after he realized that they tricked him with the Bay of Pigs.

In 1961, they also killed those Kennedy greatly admired and was working with on issues of decolonialization: Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. Less than eleven months into office, JFK was faced with a savage enemy from within that he didn’t control.  He told the French ambassador that he was in no way involved in the CIA’s attempts to assassinate French President  Charles de Gaulle, his ally, and that he had no control over the CIA.

After JFK’s assassination, Allen Dulles told journalist Willie Morris that Kennedy “thought he was a god.”  This from the man who had his henchmen kill with impunity and loved the Nazis with whom he worked and brought into the U.S. government (see David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard).  In a document uncovered by the ARRB called the Northwoods Document, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended to Kennedy that he approve a false flag operation to start a war with Cuba by blowing up an empty plane over Cuba and blaming it on Castro and setting off bombs in American cities killing Americans for the same purpose.  Of course, Kennedy refused, only intensifying their hatred of him.  Then when he wouldn’t bomb Cuba during the missile crisis in October 1962, gave his American University speech the following June, sought reconciliation with the Soviet Union, and decided to withdraw from Vietnam, the die was cast: He had to die.

Who has benefited from his death?

The war manufacturers first and foremost, for they have been reaping their bloody profits ever since. The war against Vietnam was just the start, for the wars and alarms of war have never stopped.

And the CIA, working as the leading edge for the military around the world, continuing the Pax Americana for Wall St. and the power hungry millionaires and billionaires who hate democracy.

And of course, the media companies that are stenographers for the CIA, the politicians who pimp for them, and the vast interconnected power elites who cash in while playing innocent.

Finally, without having to explicitly say it, JFK Revisited makes it emphatically clear by presenting evidence that the criminals who committed this terrible crime, together with their media accomplices, were the only ones able to cover it up.

Of course, there is more to this powerful and important film than I have mentioned here, all carefully laid out and documented.  Those who criticized Stone’s earlier movie and continue to hurl insults at him rather than consider the evidence he and DiEugenio present are the worst kind of anti-intellectual sycophants.  If they were forced to dispute the content of this film step-by-step, that would simply expose their agendas, something they must keep hidden to safeguard their establishment credentials.

JFK Revisited ends with an important reminder from David Talbot that the truth of this film about an event that took place long ago is so essential to understand because of its contemporary relevance. It is not dead history. The “horror show” we are now experiencing has its roots in JFK’s public execution on the streets of Dallas, when the killers sent the most obvious message:

Obey or you will suffer the same fate.

The United States is still controlled by the forces that killed President Kennedy – the CIA and those who comprise the national security state that wage war at home and abroad in contradistinction to everything JFK was trying to accomplish. Their cowardly allies in the media are everywhere.

There is a reason why, as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tells the viewer near the film’s end, that all across the world there are streets named and statues erected to honor President Kennedy: for people know that he was a brave man of peace and human reconciliation and that he died at the hands of scoundrels intent on stopping his work.

With JFK Revisited, Oliver Stone has truly honored this fallen hero.  Like Jim Garrison in JFK, he offers this film as his closing statement to the jury, which is all of us.  Here is the evidence.  Consider it closely.  Render your verdict.

By doing so, we may yet take back the country from the forces of evil.

Bravo to Stone and DiEugenio!  They have created a tour de force.

The post Oliver Stone Answers his Critics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Battle at Lake Changjin: China’s Anti-war Film

For decades, Hollywood has produced a plethora of films extolling American military prowess in warfare. Aside from Oliver Stone films and a few others, e.g., Casualties of War, usually these Hollywood films depict the United States as a force for good defeating fascists and other evildoers. Never-ending US militarism has provided a cornucopia of potential war scripts for Hollywood. Currently designated bête noires have already featured in Hollywood war films. In 1984, Hollywood made Red Dawn about an invasion of the US by the Soviet Union. In 2012, Red Dawn was updated to the other source of US demonization, China. However, capitalism and the lust for profits caused a switcheroo. The Chinese market is very lucrative for Hollywood. Consequently, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) bogeyman was substituted in as invading the American homeland.

The Soviet Union and Russia have produced a number of war films, albeit to little fanfare in the West. In the western world, Hollywood has been ruling the movie roost. Recently, however, Chinese film production has grown by major leaps and bounds, and blockbusters have been among the film fare. China is now the world’s largest cinema market, and it is expected to continue to grow.

The major Chinese film of 2021 was a war epic, The Battle at Lake Changjin. It was produced at a cost of $200 million and grossed $905 million worldwide. It was commissioned by the Communist Party of China for its 100th anniversary in 2021.

The year previously, 2020, China honored the 70th anniversary of its People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) that made the sacrifice to fight the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea. This war is encapsulated in The Battle at Lake Changjin.

A basic outline of what preceded China’s entry into the war on the Korean peninsula is that the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south were engaged in a civil war, a war precipitated by the US splitting the country in two. The DPRK had advanced throughout the ROK except for a small southern pocket when the US decided to interpose itself into the war on the side of the ROK. The US would also manage to bring the United Nations on board, bringing other countries to its side. This massively tipped the scales, and the war pushed north over the 38th parallel. China had warned the US on numerous occasions to stay away from the Yalu River that delineates the Korean border with China. (For detailed and footnoted substantiation read A.B. Abrams’ Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power. Review.)

Near the beginning of the movie, viewers see US planes strafing the environs of the Yalu River. China was very reluctant to enter the war, having not so long ago emerged from its own civil war. At the time China was a poor country looking to get back on its feet. But as pointed out in the film, that generation had to fight to spare a future generation from having to fight the war.

Thus, the 9th Army of the PVA is sent across the Yalu River during the frigid winter of 1950. The PVA was ill equipped, and they were going up against the best equipped and most formidable army of that epoch. At Changjin Lake temperatures plunged to -30°C. The film depicts ferocious fighting, numerous casualties, gore, and deaths on both sides. The remnants of the fleeing UN army made it to the port in Hungnam and escaped on vessels. The UN-US military would retreat back over the 38th parallel.

China had won that battle, but jingoism is muted.

Despite warnings from the Chinese side, the US breached the Yalu River, and China responded. Nowadays, a scenario plays out in Europe where Russia has warned the US against further eastward expansion.

The US ought to have drawn some lessons from the debacle of losing to “Mao Zedong’s peasant army.” But history reveals the US was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan by peasants with AK-47s; to flee from peasant fighters in Viet Nam; told to leave from war-ravaged Iraq; and it is still mired in the abject embarrassment it helped cause in Syria, reduced to being a thief of oil and wheat.

The Battle at Lake Changjin also commits Hollywood-style theatrical excesses. However, there is no glorification of warring in the film. The sensitive viewer can only conclude that war as a means to settle differences or to impose oneself on another is barbaric and immoral. But when one side resorts to violence, the other is forced to fight back or to submit. As Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata put it: a choice of dying on one’s feet or living on one’s knees.

The film’s obvious message is that violence must be rejected by the peoples of all countries. But not only that: violence in all its forms must be rejected by humanity. The violence of oppression, brutality, inequality, poverty, racism, intolerance, etc all carry the seeds of greater violence that leads to all-out war.

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The Green Knight: A Captivating Allegory on Human Adventure

The Green Knight, written and directed by David Lowery, is undoubtedly one of the most original and interesting films of the previous year. The film, adapted from the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, tells the story of Gawain, a medieval Knight in Camelot, the castle of legendary King Arthur, who sets out on a journey to test his courage and face the Green Knight.1 Yet, as we shall see, although a metaphysical medieval fantasy film, The Green Knight has a profoundly worldly approach and some timely implications.

After an introduction with Gawain (Dev Patel) and his mistress Essel (Alicia Vikander), a prostitute, action begins in the palace of King Arthur (Sean Harris), whose nephew is Gawain. At Christmas, Arthur invites Gawain to sit at his side. At the same time, Gawain’s mother (Sarita Choudhury), a witch who intends to make him king, invites through magic the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) to the castle. The latter promises that any knight who confronts him will win his green ax, but will have to visit him after a year at the Green Chapel, where he will receive the same blow in return. Gawain responds and beheads the knight, who walks away with his head at hand, laughing and reminding him of his oath.

After a year of debauchery, Gawain departs for the Green Chapel, taking with him the green ax and a green girdle from his mother, which will protect him from all evil. On his way he encounters various adventures: a group of robbers steal his horse, ax and girdle; a beheaded woman villager in a hut asks him to put her head at its place; he meets a fox with a human voice as well as a race of women giants and is hosted in a castle by its lord (Joel Edgerton), whose wife, a double of Essel (also played by Alicia Vikander), seduces him. While being there, a mysterious woman wrapped in bandages, who is actually his mother, gives him back the green girdle.

Eventually, Gawain arrives at the Green Chapel, where the sleeping Knight awakes on Christmas morning and prepares to behead him. Gawain reacts, saying he is not ready, and in a vision he fantasizes he escapes and returns to Camelot. He becomes a knight and king after Arthur’s death. Essel gives him a son, but he abandons her and marries a noblewoman. His son is killed in battle, his castle is besieged, his family flees away and he, removing the green girdle, eventually falls decapitated to the ground.

Seeing what the future has in store for him, Gawain removes the girdle, turns to the Green Knight and tells him that he is now ready to accept his fate. The latter raises the ax with the words, “Now, off with your head”, and at this point the film ends.

The Green Knight, as has already been mentioned, is a highly allegorical film, a metaphor for the human quest (this being also partly true of the medieval poem on which it is based). This makes it susceptible to a variety of interpretations. However, a central nucleus can be discerned in it. It becomes clearer when one takes account of the changes Lowery has introduced to the original story, creating thereby the specific atmosphere that gives the movie its identity.

Contrary to the medieval myth, which highlights chivalrous ideals, Lowery’s hero has hardly anything chivalrous about him. He is rather an anti-knight, an uncertain young man still at his formative age. He has good, positive elements and moods in him, he seeks greatness, but without possessing a positive goal of his own. His existence is carried away and dominated by external forces that he does not control and to which he adapts passively or reacts spasmodically. His relationship with a prostitute, Essel, also points away from chivalry in any sense.

These original, decisive traits of the hero have been keenly noted by critics. In a detailed analysis, Alissa Wilkinson points to their centrality in Lowery’s version: “In the [medieval] poem, Gawain is already a beloved and respected member of the Round Table, noted for his chivalry. In Lowery’s film, Gawain is young, impetuous, prone to carousing, and ashamed of how little of his life has been spent on bold and brave exploits. He’s new to manhood. In other words, he’s also “green,” and that’s an important part of the story… In the film, unlike the poem, Gawain has a love interest named Essel, a young woman… who is a sex worker, and dreams of spending her life with him.”2 And Alison Willmore adds that the film “is about someone who keeps waiting for external forces to turn him into the gallant, heroic figure he believes he should be… at the film’s heart is a lesson that’s as timeless as any legend – travel as far as you like, but you’ll never be able to leave yourself behind.”3

Indeed, it is the innovations noted by Wilkinson that modernize the story and at the same time, in a sense, make it timeless.4 Clearly, while a medieval king would look quite different from a modern royal remnant like queen Elizabeth II or from Alexander the Great, there is a much closer affinity between youths of every epoch. Yet, while these unformed traits could be partly shared by youths at all times, Lowery makes us feel that they are still distinctive of the hero: in the year that follows after his first encounter with the Green Knight we do not see him change or mature in any way.

The external, foreign forces that dominate Gawain are embodied by his mother and the world of magic she sets in motion. That already points to a close, necessary connection: they are not something accidental, which he could bypass, but lie at the core of his destiny, which is not determined by him, but is rather predetermined by what he should become, in accordance to social roles and conventions.

The Green Knight, on the other hand, personifies the experience of life, wisdom and self-knowledge that each person gains in his journey. Far from being a frightful, horrific force, in the end he addresses Gawain with understanding and humanity. In a sense, it could be said, he elevates him to a conscience of his human duty, however cruel and fearful this may be.

The robbers on their part may be compared to the hardships on the road, the fox with the animal instinct of self-preservation – she warns Gawain not to continue on his way to the chapel, as this will be his doom – the beheaded woman to human aspirations that remain unfulfilled, the giant women with the ideal of a bright, humane future and the lord and lady with the ideal of happiness that Gawain would desire for himself and Essel.

Lowery’s depiction of the Middle Ages is basically realistic in its spirit. True, he does not focus on the oppressive aspects of social relations, crystallized in secular and religious powers, as Verhoeven’s movie we discussed recently does,5 but to their viable aspects. There is nothing problematic in this; every society has its viable aspects, otherwise it could not endure for long, and the Middle Ages were no exception to this. The decisive question, however, is whether these aspects allow for a valid, genuine realization of human aspirations, and this turns out not to be the case with Gawain.

Another aspect in which the film remains realistic and worldly is the insignificant role played by religious and magical forces in developments. Religion with its miracles is in fact absent from the story, while magic simply serves as a tool to confound reality with imagination and help the allegory unfold. However, having been set as a frame, the world of magic does not determine the hero’s decisions or interfere with their realization. This accords with another contrast with the medieval poem: in the later much emphasis is laid on Gawain’s temptations, while Lowery focuses on the hero’s adventures, with his actions being responses to real challenges.6

In one connection, the Green Knight can also be seen as personifying the world of nature, as opposed to the sterile and static Christianized world of Camelot.7 However, it is precisely here that the backward, barbarous features of medieval society come to the fore and are revealed, in the final scenes of the movie, as necessary aspects of all discriminating societies. Gawain’s quest for happiness and goodness proves unfeasible, because the conditions for its fulfillment are missing: wicked social norms will not allow a king to marry a prostitute. Realizing what he would become if he lived –a king whose apparent greatness would be based on a lie– he tells the knight to take his life. The crucial final scene sums up the meaning of the film: the recognition that death and non-existence are better than a fake, meaningless, even if flamboyant life.

Georg Lukacs, the famous Hungarian Marxist, had argued in his time with some justification that allegory, being closely linked, like parables, etc, with religious moods, lends itself to mystifications and distortions of reality in the spirit of religion and mysticism. Yet all things are two sided. Lowery’s film bears witness that, provided one holds a “this-sided” worldview, allegory can be quite helpful in artistic generalization, in raising the particular to the general.

The Green Knight deservedly received almost universal praise in sites like “Rotten Tomatoes” and “Metacritic”. Yet even some partly negative criticisms seem to justify this appraisal. Thus, Keith Watson argues that being “A self-consciously revisionist take on Camelot lore… [the film] smooths out the enduring mysteries, opaque psychology, and narrative idiosyncrasies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, resulting in a work that’s only superficially more daring and enigmatic than its source material.”8 We think, however, that it is precisely this smoothing of mystery in favor of real human motives, values and aspirations that makes the film truly remarkable.

Lowery himself stressed the importance of the final scene in the plot: “[The beheading of the hero is] a positive thing… He faces his fate bravely, and there’s honor and integrity in that. But that doesn’t mean that he’s dead, he’s killed. He received the blow that he was dealt, and all is set right within the universe of the film.”8

One should only add that to the same extent the film succeeds in strongly conveying the feeling that not everything is right within the kind of society that causes the hero’s tragedy and demise. This, together with its inspired, captivating and artistically gifted exploration of human adventure, is what makes The Green Knight a valuable achievement.

  1. There exist in fact two earlier movies based on the same poem, Gawain and the Green Knight (1973), Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984), both directed by Stephen Weeks. Yet they are generally considered as failed.
  2. A. Wilkinson, “The Green Knight is glorious and a little baffling. Let’s untangle it.”
  3. A. Willmore, “The Green Knight Is a Ravishing, Unsettling Fantasy.”
  4. I.e., in the sense of not being above time, but of expressing what is common to all times.
  5. See Chr. Kefalis, “Benedetta: A ‘Provocative’ Film that Demythologizes Religion.”
  6. A. Wilkinson again aptly notes this difference of emphasis in her article: “In the poem, the journey is described as arduous, but Gawain’s adventures are only hinted at. In the film, two main adventures are shown.”
  7. See also here Wilkinson’s remarks: “one way to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is to view the Green Knight as representative of the natural world –the wildness of creation and even a more pagan spirituality, full of witchcraft and unseen creatures– impeding on the deeply Christianized and slowly modernizing world of Camelot.
  8. See “The Green Knight.”
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Benedetta: A “Provocative” Film that Demythologizes Religion

Relatively recently we criticized Man of God as a film that obscures reality and, by deifying religious feeling, could lead those who adopt its standpoint only to wrong, deceptive paths.1 Benedetta, Paul Verhoeven’s latest film, can in many ways be considered its opposite. It is a film that demythologizes, deconstructs and keenly dissects religion with all its various counterparts, the Church, mysticism, etc. Yet, it does this on a high artistic level, with unshakable realism and persuasiveness, clarifying thus all those things Man of God tried to hide and embellish.

Admittedly, Verhoeven is a somewhat uneven director. Some of his films, such as RoboCop and Total Recall, are commercial, Hollywood type productions, a fact partly damaging the issues they raise. But he is also a director with a keen sense and ability to expose the corruption of the bourgeois world, especially the star system, of which he is a part. Another classical film of his, Showgirls, was one of the sharpest anatomies of the showbiz ever, receiving at its time many unjustified negative reviews. Benedetta does the same thing with regard to the Church and monasticism, not with the aim of countering religion scientifically but of demonstrating its role in real life.

A true story

The story takes place in the early 17th century, a time of papal omnipotence in Italy, when medieval prejudices and institutions were still dominant. It is based on the life of the mystic abbess Benedetta Carlini, who had a lesbian relationship with one of her nuns, Bartolomea. Verhoeven loosely follows Carlini’s biography,2 giving his own version, which becomes a social critique of the time and of our time as well. And while the critique focuses, as we have said, on medieval papacy, it acquires broader, contemporary dimensions.

Benedetta (played by Virginie Efira), a young woman with a religious upbringing, is dedicated by her father, a wealthy Tuscan lord, to a monastery in Pescia. There she begins to have visions, and when during such an experience the signs of crucifixion appear on her body, she is proclaimed abbess by the local bishop, setting aside her aged predecessor (Charlotte Rampling). Meanwhile, Benedetta begins an affair with Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), a young woman who is raped by her father and brothers and takes refuge in the monastery just to escape her martyrdoms. When Christina, the daughter of the old abbess, who had accused Benedetta of causing herself the signs by self-injury, is sentenced to self-whipping and commits suicide, the abbess secretly watches the girls’ erotic meetings and makes sure they come to the knowledge of the Florentine Nuncio (Lambert Wilson). The latter comes to Pescia and imposes the removal of Benedetta, who, as soon as Bartolomea confesses about their relationship after being tortured, is condemned to be burned on the stake.

Meanwhile, plague has spread in Florence and the Nuncio and the old abbess get infected. In the end, when Benedetta is tied to the stake, the people of the city revolt and kill the Nuncio and his entourage, while the dying abbess, a victim of the circumstances, helps Benedetta. The latter and Bartolomea escape from Pescia, but next day Benedetta announces that she must return, even if this means to be burnt on the stake, because the monastery is her home and there is no life elsewhere for her. In the epilogue we learn that Pescia was not touched by the plague and Benedetta lived until her death in confinement in the monastery.

The main thing is not whether the movie remains true to the original story – which it does to some extent – but the specific point of view with which Verhoeven approaches it and the atmosphere he creates. At every step, religion, the Church and monasticism are revealed as a lie, a fig leaf for the very earthly, selfish pursuits of their servants who have nothing to do with their religious wrappings.

The old abbess proves to be a merchant of faith, who takes care to extract from the rich parents of the girls the maximum possible price for their acceptance in the monastery. When Benedetta’s wealthy father, who is supposed to have dedicated her piously to God, brings her there, we see him haggling hard with the abbess about the owed sum. The local bishop, learning about the marks on Benedetta’s body, decides to support her becoming the abbess, not because he believes in the “miracle,” but because the news will draw attention to his bishopric and help him rise in the hierarchy. The Nuncio, on his part, will react and try to exterminate the heroine for the exactly opposite reason, as he views these developments as a threat to his own power. Even Bartolomea’s brutal father and rapist, joyfully allows her to leave when his pay rises from ten to twenty dinars. In short, money and power are the common goal of all, for the achievement of which religious “faith” serves as a vehicle to some, as theft, cruelty and prostitution serve to others.

In this deceptively pious world, Benedetta is comparatively the more honest person, as she truly experiences her visions and ecstasies, which include a direct communion with Christ and various demons. But even in her case, there is no doubt that the “miracles” are fabricated and she causes her wounds herself. When the marks of Jesus appear on her body, she forgets to make them on her forehead, in correspondence with Christ’s crown of thorns, and Christina, the abbess’s daughter, sees her inflicting them later. Even in the end, when Benedetta shows the crowd the new wounds that have appeared in her hands, supposedly by divine providence, to incite them against the Nuncio, Bartolomea finds the nearby fragment of a vase, which to all appearances has been suitably used for the purpose.

A plausible question is whether the absence of some genuinely faithful priests in the film, such as the protagonist and the nuns in Man of God, violates the realistic representation. After all, in all ages a portion of the clergy cherished a sincere conviction that they represented the law of God, and their deeds and words, even if they diverged, were not in complete disharmony with it, as is the case in Benedetta.

We think not, for a number of reasons.

To begin with, the movie refers to a time when the corruption and fanaticism of the papal church had reached its peak. Throughout the 16th century Rome was steeped in prostitution and the popes lived in luxury, often having mistresses, indulging in intrigue and murder and collecting revenue from the infamous pardons. Pope Leo the 10th had famously said: “Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.”3 The next phase, during which the story of Benedetta Carlini takes place, was marked by the Counter-Reformation, the Holy Inquisition (Giordano Bruno was burned on the stake in 1600) and the persecution of witches. All this did not mean a real change of morals, but a reaction to the Lutheran Reformation, through the most obscurantist oppression. Verhoeven justifiably omits the exceptions in order to portray ​​the true spirit of the age.

Secondly, the film does present some pious types, but it turns out they are hopeless in this situation. The abbess’s daughter, Christina (Louise Chevillotte), is one such case, who puts truth above everything else. Christina decides to denounce Benedetta’s fraud not because she does not believe in miracles, but because she requires a true miracle to believe, and she knows that in this case it is a lie. However, she is condemned by her own mother, who has warned her not to reveal the truth and when she does, she denies her, as she believes that acting at that moment will not help getting rid of Benedetta and will harm her and the monastery.
Christina, like the pastor who hears the confessions of the nuns, is a layman figure, and their religious faith, after removing its metaphysical cloak, is nothing more than a naive and immediately unfeasible requirement for purity and authenticity. Christina, however, lacks the hard experience of life, which the resourceful and strong Bartolomea has, with the consequence that her love of truth remains idealistic.

Another question that could be asked is whether Verhoeven is over-modernizing the past, shifting to it problems and experiences of our time. The pace of developments in the movie, e.g., is a bit too fast, in a way more suited to the present than to the Middle Ages. This of course can be explained by the need to include all the necessary episodes and it is true that he tries to highlight the conditions of the time, as in the scene when Bartolomea sits for the first time in her life on a crapper. A more intricate director like Coppola would probably convey more accurately the spirit of the age, and this is also true of recent productions such as The Green Knight that make contemporary allusions in a subtler way. The crucial question, however, as Lukacs used to remark, is whether the creator succeeds in extending those tendencies of the past that lead to the present, or simply artificially loads the past with alien to it tendencies and behaviors of the present. Verhoeven’s more direct approach does not lose the right path, preserves naturalness and has its own merits.

The aesthetic result is greatly helped by the excellent match and natural playing of the actors. In addition, Verhoeven adorns the film with humorous episodes, such as the dialogue between the dying Nuncio and Benedetta,4 as well as some bold love scenes, culminating in Bartolomea transforming a small statue of the Virgin into an erotic aid.

The latter finding may seem blasphemous to some, and it would indeed be if it was inserted arbitrarily, for no real reason. But it allows Verhoeven to intensify the confrontation between the Nuncio and the heroine. In an important dialogue, the Nuncio, after finding the statue, accuses Benedetta of perversion and that her love for Bartolomea violates Christian faith, just to receive by her the answer that in Bartolomea she loves all other people. The discovery of the statue during the interrogations in a “crypt” Bartolomea has opened in the voluminous accounting book of the monastery, makes a strong hint to the lust for pleasure hidden behind all power relations.

Reactions and reviews

With its sharp challenge to prevailing prejudices and conformism, Benedetta was certain to provoke reactions and criticism, but they generally failed to reach its core and confront the issues it raises.

Benedetta has been widely described as a “provocative” film, and it really is. However, its “provocations,” far from reflecting Verhoeven’s personal whim and craving to shock people, bring us face to face with the inhumanity of a historical era, differing only externally and formally from ours.

Although the attitude of the Catholic Church so far has been to keep silent – wisely so because an open condemnation would only add to the strong sense of its hypocrisy that those who see Benedetta will get – fundamentalist Catholic organizations have protested against “insulting Jesus” and the like. Characteristically, during the screening of the film at the New York Film Festival in September, a group of Catholics held placards with slogans such as “We vehemently protest the blasphemous lesbian movie ‘Benedetta,’ that insults the sanctity of Catholic nuns.”5 The site of the eloquently titled “The American Society for the Protection of Tradition, Family, and Property,” presents us with thundering articles on “Why the Movie Benedetta Is Blasphemous And Anti-Catholic.”6 while Russia banned the film.

On the other hand, the film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, received positive reviews from critics, with an 85% acceptance in Rotten Tomatoes.7 Many, however, saw it as a reflection on the relationship between sexual freedom and faith. This dimension does exist, as the weight of erotic scenes suggests. But it is far – even if we accept, which is quite doubtful, that this was Verhoeven’s intention – from being the chief one. This is why criticisms that the film is just trying to scandalize, without having anything to say, are quite erroneous.

This kind of feeling is somehow promoted even by critics in “progressive” sites like Vox. A. Wilkinson, citing a number of recent movies with nuns, finds Benedetta a typical “nunsploitation film” and quite “unsurprising… Nunsploitation movies are salacious, often hypersexualized, and frequently critique the practices, rituals, and authority of the Catholic Church.” Having said that, however, Wilkinson hastens to add there is more in the movie: “Benedetta is not, fundamentally, just a romp about lesbian nuns. It’s about a religious hierarchy filled with people who have very little faith in God but have found in the church some way to access power and standing… Benedetta is also about church politics, fundamentally corrupt and self-serving, more interested in personal gain and decadent living than the slowly encroaching plague and the spiritual well-being of the faithful.”

Why then not focus on what is important in the film and be consumed with dubious comparisons?

In Greece there were quite a number of hostile criticisms and some more objective ones. It is not superfluous to take a look at them.
M. Theodoropoulou makes an extremely disparaging critique:

Benedetta… [tries] to pass as a serious psycho-social critique of blind power instead of a childish troll… Throughout his career, from RoboCop to Basic Instinct and from Showgirls to Elle, Verhoeven has dealt with issues of faith, flesh, power and sex, but here the clumsy attempts at humor, the low budget satire and the superficial clash of the sacred with the insignificant make the film correspond to nothing more than a farce in a schoolyard.

All this could, of course, be true, but it should have been substantiated somehow. Our critic does not bring a single argument, presenting her attacks as self-evident and leaving us in the dark.
A much more serious criticism is made by Chr. Mitsis, yet he stops halfway. Mitsis aptly identifies the element of social criticism that is constantly present in the film, a fact depriving a basis from all kinds of superficial rejection:

If one expects that the film will focus exclusively on the forbidden love affair of the two women and the denunciation of clerical intransigence, he will surely be surprised. Benedetta maintains Verhoeven’s aggressive sarcastic stance on uncontrollable passions and their clash with a strict institutional conformity. Here the latter is represented by all the ‘people of God’, who from the representative of the Pope to the abbess of the monastery bargain economically and politically for each of their spiritual confrontations. In a male-dominated, violent and sick (literally and figuratively) world where everything is sold and bought, Verhoeven does not counterpose two romantic, in love women.8

Having made these valid remarks, Mitsis rebukes however Verhoeven’s “cynicism,” which, he deems, “brings to the fore the instinct of survival and mocks bitterly perpetrators and victims, slowly but steadily beginning to be carried away by his frantic mood for ruthless parody.” Because of this, “the characters slip into the grotesque, the plot culminates in an uncontrollable noisy conflict, psychological moods change in a minute and a subversive, dark satire ends in an unequal parody.”8

Here the critic, in our opinion, misses the point. The cynicism he detects exists indeed in the film. Only is it not a cynicism Verhoeven implants from outside, but – as Marx used to say in such cases – a cynicism that inhabits within the thing itself. As a result, he fails to appreciate in their authentic meaning important elements of the plot and especially the final scene of the film that have nothing of the parodic mood he attributes them. In any case, he gives us a good reason to complete these points.

Benedetta is, in fact, a harsh film, depicting the barbarity of the Middle Ages, and more broadly of all exploitative societies, in order to inquire whether there is a way out for human realization. It is quite reminiscent of one of Verhoeven’s first films, Flesh and Blood, in which two groups of medieval mercenaries killed each other. But while there the emphasis was on individual adventure, here we find a fairly faithful representation of the social forces acting behind individuals, with individual fates being strongly determined by those forces.

The resulting image of religion basically coincides with young Marx’s assessment of religious sentiment: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”9

On the other hand, those critics, such as L. Katsikas,10 who believe Benedetta represents instinct as opposed to religious fanaticism, are quite wrong. Benedetta‘s persistent appeals to close the city walls when the plague spreads –what is left of her ecstasies if their metaphysical vestments are removed– is the voice of reason, even if it comes about by a combination of calculations (her pursuit not to let the Nuncio enter the city) and instinct (her mystical frenzy and the oppressed hedonistic background that lurks behind it). In an age of primitive barbarism, logic cannot be imposed by persuasion, but only by fear and superstition (the comet interpreted as a divine sign), taking the form of divine commands, the violation of which will evoke punishment. Only in this way can the basic norms of behavior be observed, which make it possible for people to live together and, in the given situation, to be saved from the terrible disease. Benedetta’s decision to return to the monastery is a recognition of the little that religion offers to human fulfillment in the prehistory of humanity, but at the same time a demonstration of its inadequacy. And while Benedetta is defeated and subjected to the Church authority in the end, the Nuncio’s violent death and the salvation of the city seem to imply a fundamental historical openness.

While it would be mistaken to carry directly the film’s problematic to the present day, there exist quite obvious implications. It is enough to replace the plague with the Covid pandemic (although the filming preceded it), religious fanaticism and torture with racism and abuse of women today or the rape of children by Catholic priests, to have the feeling that humanity has not progressed much since then and that the root cause of this will be found in the dominant institutions. At the end of the movie the viewer is confronted with the question: “If Benedetta necessarily chooses the monastery from prostitution, can this dilemma be the choice in our times, when a good life for all is possible?”

The uprising of the masses is present in the scene when the crowds attack the Nuncio and his entourage. Verhoeven, who had made in the past interesting films about the socialist movement, such as Katie Tippel, does not ask questions – his material does not allow it – about whether and how such a movement could develop today and become effective. But he shows us the ineffectiveness of all other attitudes, the noblest epitome of which is exemplified by religion. This makes Benedetta one of the veteran director’s most mature and comprehensive films.

*****

  • The writer expresses his thanks to Nikos Christopoulos for his remarks in a discussion about the film.
    1. See Chr. Kefalis, “Green Knight or Man of God?”. Man of God, directed by Yelena Popovic, has been extolled by the Greek Orthodox Church as a model of “Christian ideals” in our times.
    2. Verhoeven utilized Judith C. Brown’s 1986 book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. With regard to Carlini’s life, see “Benedetta Carlini.”
    3. Quoted in “Renaissance Papacy.”
    4. The Nuncio asks Benedetta if she saw in her ecstasies whether his soul was in Paradise or in Hell and, when she answers “In Paradise”, he opposes her, “You are lying again.”
    5. See E. Shafer, “Catholic Protesters Congregate Outside ‘Benedetta’s’ New York Film Festival Premiere.”
    6. L.S. Solimeo, “Why the Movie Benedetta Is Blasphemous And Anti-Catholic.” Verhoeven is vilified in the article because he is a member of a society that views Christ not as God but as a rebel – a view indicative of his strengths and limitations. For the ban on the film in Russia, see, e.g. “Benedetta with Virginie Efira banned in Russia.”
    7. See “Benedetta (film).”
    8. Chr. Mitsis, “Benedetta.”
    9. See K. Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction.”
    10. This assessment leads Katsikas to some extreme judgments: “Paul Verhoeven maintains the pretext of a parable about the dangers of religious and all other kinds of fanaticism and the sweeping, almost cosmogenic call of instincts. ‘Benedetta’ is sure to entertain fans of easy challenges and promises to make a lot of tickets in movie halls. In no case, however, should it get confused with good taste, good cinema and good intentions. It is a childish sadomasochistic spectacle that knows no subtlety and which attacks the sensibilities of the public with the rush of a bull in a glass shop” (L. Katsikas, “Cannes 2021: Paul Verhoeven’s infamous ‘Benedetta’ is the ideal scandal film for those who wanted something like this.”)
    The post Benedetta: A “Provocative” Film that Demythologizes Religion first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Violence and the State

    From Macalla Teoranta website

    In mainstream culture, social and political violence by the poor depicted in cinema is generally situated in narratives that try to maintain the legitimacy of the state. Consequently it also tries to delegitimize violence that may threaten the state.  For example, the recent Mexican-French film New Order (2020) depicts the street violence and demonstrations of the poor as mindless violence, murder, and robbery, rather than as an inevitable reaction to decades of extreme poverty and oppression.

    In these scenarios, the indigent, the poor, the working class, have no rational program, no ideological agenda, and no democratic future where they could be in the driving seat of economic and cultural progress. They are forever condemned to explosive, cathartic and senseless cyclical violence that is then simply stage-managed by the state through its courts, police, army and prisons. It could be argued that the main reason for these depictions of the poor is that mainstream culture is itself one of the tools used in the maintenance of that status quo.

    Two recent Irish films, Arracht (‘Monster’) (2019) and Herself (2020), depict violence in very different eras. Arracht is based in Connemara in the middle of the nineteenth century, while Herself is set in a modern urban setting in Dublin. On another level, both films show how violence is allowed to be depicted in mainstream cinema.

    Arracht, for example, is a well made film with much work gone into the authenticity of the depiction of the potato blight and the subsequent desperation of the local inhabitants. The narrative centres on Colmán Sharkey who lives on the Atlantic coast with his wife and young son. Colmán has taken on Patsy Kelly as a farmhand and fisherman, a dodgy character who was in the Royal Navy. The landlord has raised the rents and Colmán decides to talk to him personally, bringing Patsy with him. However:

    At the landlord’s estate, Colmán unsuccessfully tries to persuade him not to raise rents due to the famine devastating the country. Patsy wanders off where he encounters the two collection agents and the landlord’s daughter. He murders all three before being discovered by Colmán, who is shocked by what he finds and notices a frightened young girl has witnessed the scene. Patsy kills the landlord, leading to a confrontation with the Sharkey brothers in which Sean [Colmán’s brother] is fatally stabbed. Enraged, Colmán brutally beats Patsy and leaves him for dead.

    Soon these murders enter local nationalist folk culture in the form of a ballad sung by local fishermen. It is assumed that Colmán killed the landlord and he is seen as an heroic resistance fighter. However, it was shown that Colmán is not a violent person from an earlier scene when Patsy disarms an armed man sent to collect the rents, and Colmán orders Patsy to return the gun.

    We know that the violence in the landlord’s house was committed by Patsy and not Colmán. In this case it is the actions of a sociopath (Patsy) which are immortalized in culture despite Colmán’s non-violent approach to resistance. There is a sleight of hand here that shows radical nationalist culture as illegitimate violence carried out by sociopaths and furthermore depicts the singers of the ballad as being ignorant of the facts of the situation, and that they are glorifying deeds that are basically portrayed as terrorism.

    Given the severity of colonial oppression in Ireland in the nineteenth century, violence against the landlords or representatives of the state is unsurprising. Resistance by the peasants is delegitimized and limited to the legal and courts system, which is upholding the landlord rent increases and evictions that are exacerbating the conflict in the first place.

    A similar cinematic sticking point over legitimate and illegitimate violence occurs in Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins set during the Irish War of Independence. Jordan has the IRA explode a car bomb even though car bombs were not used until much later during the Troubles. Some critics focused in on this event as legitimating the later IRA campaign which they saw simply as modern terrorism unlike the earlier struggle for independence.

    In Herself, the contemporary story of a woman (Sandra) fighting back against her violent ex-husband in the courts system, is a more positive narrative in that it shows her struggle against the structural violence of state bureaucracy. Furthermore, her tenacity in also resisting criminal violence by her ex-husband works well on both literal and symbolic levels.

    Poster for Herself

    While her battle against domestic violence is an uphill struggle against the prejudices of the state court system she eventually wins custody of her children. Her decision to build her own house in the back garden of the wealthy doctor she works for is an interesting twist in that her desire to be free and independent is determined by middle class power and control. However, her determination to create something for herself is significant as the learning processes involved in building a house counters modern consumerist ideology with the practical knowledge of production.

    Furthermore, Sandra organizes a team to help her build the house, working for free, which harks back to an old Irish social tradition of a meitheal (where neighbours would come together to assist in the saving of crops or other tasks).

    Unfortunately, the finished house is then burned down by her ex-husband in a criminal act of revenge. Yet this does not deter her (or her friends) from starting afresh. Thus the film carries a positive message that one can win out through struggle within the system, but also symbolically without the system, with the collective help of others despite enormous setbacks and challenges.

    Despite the fact that the legitimacy of the state is maintained in Herself (winning custody of her children through the courts, her husband being caught and put away for years), the message of struggle, learning, and co-operation towards a common goal is quite subversive. She learns not only how to fight the system but also how to construct a new way of being within the system which has profound possibilities for the future (learning new skills, working collectively, solidarity, etc.).

    A similar situation can be seen in The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), a film by Ken Loach set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), wherein the First Dáil  sets up a parallel court system to the colonial institutions, which not only became accepted and recognized by the local people (de facto) but were eventually to become de jure with the setting up of the new Irish state.

    However, whether the message is conservative (Arracht) or progressive (Herself), it is usually oblique, as overtly radical content rarely gets screened. Cinema is an extremely costly business, and screenplay and finished film decisions are made by wealthy and conservative producers. Yet, every now and then films depicting working class life and struggles are produced which are significant, for example, Salt of the Earth (1954), The Organizer (1963) (Italian), The Battle of Algiers (1966) (Italian-Algerian), Blue Collar (1978) (USA), Norma Rae (1979) (USA), Vera Drake (2004) (UK), I, Daniel Blake (2016) (UK

    The post Violence and the State first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    No Time To Think: The Changing Geopolitics of International Blockbusters?

    By Official James Bond 007 Website

    The latest Bond flick No Time To Die was certainly a rollercoaster ride of exciting action scenes and great special effects, yet contained more than a quantum of longueurs. With a running time of 163 minutes it certainly tries the patience and the bladders of its audiences (who I saw popping out of the cinema throughout the film). Personally, I think 90 minutes is enough for any film, especially since the disappearance of the intermission and ice-cream selling of yore. In this case, the increased length seems to have been to incorporate backstories of some of the individuals involved. The effect of this is to attenuate Bond’s appearances in the film, while adding very little to the story (hence the longueurs).

    One effect of this narrative style is to put more emphasis on the story of Bond and less on the usual geopolitics and action we associate with Bond films. Now this is very interesting considering that if one was to ask oneself: which country would be the most likely target and villain of the latest Bond film as a cultural representative of the world’s imperialist and neo-colonial powers? It would have to be: China.

    Who’s bad?

    Yet there were no Chinese baddies, no stereotyped ‘yellow peril’, no Chinese mad scientists, no Chinese monomaniacal nutter bent on ruling the world. Why would this be? Could it be something to do with new British geopolitical sensitivities and Brexit anxieties over its current position in the world? In the past the Russians were usually targeted, as well as the more abstract multinational SPECTRE baddies. At least during the Cold War (and some time after) there was definitely a cultural reflection of the realities of geopolitics in the James Bond narratives. Are they keeping one eye on the potential economic and military alliances of the future while keeping the other eye on their current alliances?

    Instead what we get is yet another Russian mad scientist with a comically exaggerated Russian accent, lots of SPECTRE goings on, and the monomaniacal nutter ‘Lyutsifer Safin’ (with equally crazy spelling). Thus we have a caricature of the early Bond films with some ’emotionally deep’ background filling to make up for its lack of relevance to current geopolitics.

    Added to this emasculated plotline is the Bond’s 007 replacement with Nomi, his successor – a female black Bond. Not that there’s anything wrong with a female black Bond, but it does show one of the weaknesses of current identity politics, that her identity as an operative for an imperialist, militarist organisation is more important than her identity as a colonial victim of imperialist, militarist organisations in the past.

    The Noname Book Club, for example, tweeted the general point that:

    under white domination we consistently celebrate the “first black …” because we’ve been taught that assimilation into white society means safety, upward mobility, liberation. beyond how this can lead to black children idolizing the first black billionaire or war criminal, […] it also individualizes / romanticizes black success. it reduces our desire for collective liberation and makes us hyper focus on white approval.

    There is also a slight ramping up of what I call the ‘theatre of cruelty’ factor – that is the pushing beyond the normal standards of ‘common decency’ that underlies cinema narratives in the public sphere. In general the depiction of violence and cruelty has been increasing steadily since the 1950s and 1960s, progressively desensitising audiences to basic human norms (another role of action movies like the Bond films). In this case, a child (Mathilde) is used in the narrative as a human shield but in the end the film does not go so far as to actually hurt her – there are still some limits to what is acceptable in the public’s eyes.

    One Empire

    Militarism

    However, there seems to be very few limits to the extent to which the British government is creating new and targeted strategies to promote support for the military, for example:”Armed Forces Day, Uniform to Work Day, Camo Day, National Heroes Day – in the streets, on television, on the web, at sports events, in schools, advertising and fashion – the military presence in civilian life is on the march. The public and ever younger children are being groomed to collude in the increasing militarisation of UK society.”The role of these forms of militarism has been to encourage people “to see the military, and spying, in positive terms; to think of violent, military solutions as the best way to solve international disagreements; and to ignore peaceful alternatives.”Children have long been drawn in through comics such as The Boy’s Own Paper, published from 1879 to 1967, and aimed at young and teenage boys. For example the first volume’s serials included “From Powder Monkey to Admiral, or The Stirring Days of the British Navy” and promoted the British Empire as the peak of civilization.

    Later comics about World War 2 were founded in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as War Picture Library (1958), The Victor (1961) and Commando (1961) (which is still in print today) were popular for decades after the war. According to Rod Driver, these comics

    had a strong focus on patriotism and heroism. They stereotyped people from enemy countries as cruel or cowardly, and used derogatory terms such as jerries, huns or krauts for German people, eyeties for Italian people, or nips for Japanese people. A generation of children grew up with a very distorted view of the war and people in other countries.

    As for the adults, stereotypes and cruelty are still the stock in trade of culture producers and the James Bond films rejoice in them.

    The Victor cover

    Recruitment campaigns

    The significance of Nomi as a black 007 can be seen in new recruitment advertisements which feature a black female soldier. Women represent less than 10% of the British Army, so they launched a new female-led recruitment campaign. According to Imogen Watson, the ‘This is Belonging’ campaign:”follows the army’s most successful recruitment to date. Four days after the launch, the record was broken for the highest number of applications received in a single day. After a month, 141% of the army’s application target was reached. By March, it had surpassed 100% of its annual recruiting target for soldiers, for the first time in eight years.”

    International institutions

    In one sense James Bond films depict a reality that despite the many International institutions dedicated to promoting world peace, military build-ups continue apace. In an article entitled ‘The False Promise of International Institutions’, John J. Mearsheimer writes “that institutions have minimal influence on state behavior, and thus hold little promise for promoting stability in the post-Cold War world.” [p. 7]

    He discusses the differences between the ideas of Realists and Critical Theorists. The Realists believe that there is an objective and knowable world while the Critical Theorists see “the possibility of endless interpretations of the world before them”, and therefore there is no reason “why a communitarian discourse of peace and harmony cannot supplant the realist discourse of security competition and war”.

    However, there is a contradiction in that, for example, Americans who think seriously about foreign policy dislike realism as it clashes with their basic values and how they prefer to think about themselves in the wider world. Mearsheimer outlines the negative aspects of realism that depict a world of stark and harsh competition, where there is no escape from the evil of power and which treats war as inevitable. Realism goes against deep-seated beliefs that progress is desirable and “and with time and effort reasonable individuals can solve important social problems.” One major problem is that while the international system strongly shapes the behavior of states, “states still have considerable freedom of action”. He gives the example of the failure of the League of Nations to address German and Japanese aggression in the 1930s. Thus, the role of international institutions may actually be to stave off war until countries feel ready to attack or defend themselves.

    What he does not discuss, however, are the situations where ordinary people rose up to extricate their nations from imperialist wars, such as Ireland in 1916 (“We serve neither King nor Kaiser), and the Peace! Land! Bread! campaign of the Bolsheviks in 1917. These campaigns show that while ordinary people are generally considered cannon fodder in times of war, it is possible for future mass movements to transcend the narrow triumphalism and national chauvinism encouraged by recruitment campaigns and blockbuster films.

    The post No Time To Think: The Changing Geopolitics of International Blockbusters? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Great Fear: The Accelerating Apocalypse

    Theatrical release poster

    For apocalyptic disaster films, they don’t get much more up close and personal (and apocalyptic) than the film Greenland (2020). Set in contemporary times, the story revolves around the news that an interstellar comet named Clarke is heading for Earth, and that it was made up of fragments of rock and ice big enough to wipe out modern civilization.

    John Garrity, a structural engineer, receives a message from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notifying him that he and his family have been selected to go to emergency bunkers. While he is at home a massive fragment lands on Tampa, Florida and wipes it out live on TV. Garrity receives another message with instructions to head to Robins Air Force Base for an evacuation flight. They are to be taken to large bunkers in Thule, Greenland, as the largest fragment is expected to cause an extinction level event.

    However, as panic sets in among his neighbours there is mutual shock as they realise that they have not been selected, and Garrity is unsure why he was. Gradually he realises that his skills as a structural engineer would be required in the rebuilding of the post-apocalyptic world, hence the reason for his inclusion.

    As others realise the value of the wristbands the family have been given for the flight to Thule, Garrity and his family become targets for different kinds of attacks and schemes to wrest the wristbands from them throughout the narrative of the film.

    Overall, Greenland is a well crafted film and focuses on the family’s desperate attempts to make it to Thule before the main fragment of Clarke strikes Europe (!) and destroys civilization.

    The most interesting aspect of the film is the drama around the conflicts between the ‘chosen few’ and the rest of the population. While Garrity may be an all-American citizen, he does not reject the elitism of his new status but embraces it wholeheartedly. He may be a member of a democracy, and hold democratic values but when push comes to shove, all that is very quickly forgotten about in the panic. It’s every man for himself and he accepts the changes in state ideology from citizen to elect in a heartbeat.

    The ‘chosen few’

    The idea of the ‘chosen few’ is not new. According to the bible, Jesus initiated a New Covenant on the night before his death during the last supper. Those who had heavenly hope would be selected by God to rule with Christ as kings with him for 1,000 years. The Bible also gives the number of those anointed:

    Revelation 14:3–4, ‘And they are singing what seems to be a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one was able to master that song except the 144,000, who have been bought from the earth.’

    The Ladder of Divine Ascent is an important icon kept and exhibited at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt. The gold background is typical of icons such as this, which was manufactured in the 12th century after a manuscript written by the 6th century monk John Climacus who based it on the biblical description of Jacob’s ladder. It depicts the ascent to Heaven by monks, some of whom fall and are dragged away by black demons. (The recent scenes of chaos at Kabul airport with people crowding up stairs to passenger jets and falling off military jets are unfortunately brought to mind)

    Elites have always tried to keep a section of their loyal, unwavering followers on board with their ideology by doling out good jobs, high status symbolism (e.g. knighthoods), or good pay (for mercenaries). While they espouse democratic ideologies which imply that everyone is important, they are also very aware that their actions lead to mass resentment (e.g. massive national debts, unemployment, inflation, declining national health systems, etc.), and the potential for mass uprising. For this reason, for example, middle-class political police can be more important to the state than working-class national armies.

    The mass media play an important role in reducing resentment by playing up the activities of politicians, ideologically controlling the news and history, and popularising the use of specific language.

    Every time an idea critical of the ruling ideology becomes popular it is relabeled or branded with terms such as:’political correctness’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns about “language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting to groups of people disadvantaged or discriminated against”); ‘cultural Marxism’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns of, for example, feminism, multiculturalism, gay rights, etc); ‘conspiracy theory’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns regarding anomalies in high profile events); ‘The Good Guys’/’The Bad Guys’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns regarding who the state defines as progressive or reactionary); ‘wokism’ (covering up or trivialising legitimate concerns regarding racial prejudice, discrimination and social inequality, etc.); thereby sterilising the ideas and fitting them into ‘acceptable’, non-threatening language.

    Every new deviation from the capitalist norm is diverted and instantly bubble-wrapped so that it does not impinge on the growing mass consciousness/suspicion that something is wrong. Whistleblowers are hounded (Assange, Snowden) and workers are kept quiet or ignored (Boeing).

    Originally printed in New York World, October 30, 1884. Reprinted: Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings. HarpWeek. HarpWeek, LLC.  A political cartoon parodying James G. Blaine. Wealthy and influential figures dine on dishes labeled “Lobby  pudding”, “Monopoly soup”, “Navy contract”, etc. while a poor family begs.

    Furthermore, Monolithism denies radical difference in ethnic groups (the most reactionary become the spokespersons of the group), while on a philosophical level Modernism, Postmodernism and Metamodernism deny reason and radical opposition. All with the promise that if you are good, if you behave yourself, you will be put on Santa’s nice list and become one of the chosen few when the financial/political/social catastrophe or cataclysm begins.

    During the crisis, the rhetoric of universal protection collapses (neighbours shocked and disappointed), leading to struggle for survival in elite terms (bunkers, planes, boltholes).

    The struggle for survival

    It is then that the masses realise that they have been duped, misled, or even deluded. Because Greenland could be said to represent the ideology of the elites, then one sees the choices offered by the elites are: to be chosen or damnation, and no other possibilities. Similarly, when the elites represent the masses they are in negative terms of fear, for example, the symbolism of the masses of zombies in the film World War Z (2013). (See also my article on World War Z

    Historically, mass uprisings result in a fundamental change in society, not a temporary blip in the ruling ideology, therefore elites have a good reason to be afraid. For example, the Great Fear in France in 1789 ultimately resulted in the end of its feudal system:

    The members of the feudal aristocracy were forced to leave or fled on their own initiative; some aristocrats were captured and among them, there were reports of mistreatment such as beatings and humiliation, but there are only three confirmed cases of a landlord actually having been killed during the uprising. Although the Great Fear is usually associated with the peasantry, all the uprisings tended to involve all sectors of the local community, including some elite participants, such as artisans or well-to-do farmers. Often the bourgeoisie had as much to gain from the destruction of the feudal regime as did the poorer peasantry. Although the main phase of the Great Fear died out by August, peasant uprisings continued well into 1790, leaving few areas of France (primarily Alsace, Lorraine and Brittany) untouched. As a result of the “Great Fear”, the National Assembly, in an effort to appease the peasants and forestall further rural disorders, on 4 August 1789, formally abolished the “feudal regime”, including seigneurial rights.

    “You should hope that this game will be over soon.”
    Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back.

    Current elite ideology of the future tends towards ideas of bringing about global governance, or post-apocalyptic colonies on earth, the Moon or Mars. Like lemmings going over a cliff (or the aristocracy of the eighteenth century), they can only imagine a future with themselves in total control, or total destruction.

    Thule in Greenland, where there is an American military base, is symbolically appropriate as “in classical and medieval literature, ultima Thule (Latin ‘farthermost Thule’) acquired a metaphorical meaning of any distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”.”

    Unlike the destruction wrought by comet Clarke in Greenland, we are not doomed to be destroyed or hiding in bunkers because of an errant comet, but only condemned to have our future dictated to us forever – unless we take our destiny into our own hands.
    The post The Great Fear: The Accelerating Apocalypse first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The REAL First Rule of Fight Club 

    (Credit unknown)

    Life in the United States of Algorithms has me thinking about Fight Club again — reading snippets, posting quotes, and watching YouTube clips until I finally gave it a re-watch. Such is the power of Fight Club. I saw it in the theater when it came out in 1999. It was love at first sight. Like the well-programmed white male “radical” I was, I swooned at the anarchy [sic] and anti-corporate virtue signaling and dutifully memorized Tyler Durden’s pithy one-liners. Over the ensuing years, I read the book a few times and re-watched the film version more than a few times.

    Eventually, as I became “woke” to the once-invisible-to-me influences of patriarchy, I saw Fight Club quite differently. It suddenly appeared as a horrifying homage to male pattern violence, misogyny, and white supremacy. Middle-class white males were the “real” victims and the path to redemption was, of course, soaked in blood. I donated my copy of the book to the local library and stopped quoting Tyler Durden (at least, in public) lest I be accused of not being the “right” kind of feminist ally. The long relationship (I thought) was over and I was at a loss (I thought) — embarrassingly unsure what I ever saw in him in the first place.

    More recently — identifying now as something along the lines of “ex-everything” — I re-visited my old crush. What I saw with my latest set of new eyes was astonishing. Fight Club is now a cautionary tale. Please allow me to introduce my final [sic] take on a piece of pop culture more than two decades old.

    Robots in Uniforms

    The Narrator (a.k.a. Edward Norton-Tyler) is an unhappy, unfulfilled, order-following corporate drone who seeks emotional emancipation by waging war against his cubicle and tie. In the process, he transforms into an unhappy, unfulfilled, order-following anti-corporate drone who misses the entire point of liberation. He’s a robot who switches uniforms without addressing his robot-ness.

    Some of Brad Pitt-Tyler’s quotations are revolutionary and inspiring. Others are just as mundane, predictable, and banal as the corporate-speak Narrator-Tyler encounters while going through the motions of his job. The book’s author and film’s director weren’t (I hope) attempting to position the two versions of Tyler Durden as opposites. We aren’t being asked to choose sides in some kind of epic showdown. Instead, we are being implored to recognize and subsequently abandon groupthink.

    The road to self-realization and deeper connections with others does not include trading one soul-crushing hive mind for another. It doesn’t mean we merely aim our strident arrogance in a new direction and label it evolution or revolution. And it probably doesn’t require us to punch anyone into submission as a recreational way to reconnect with our inner child and/or display our psychological independence.

    Fight Club is a parable. It warns us about the seductiveness of conformity, the urge to surrender and delegate the hard work of emotional labor. Sure, the 9-to-5 grind is utterly inhuman. It requires us to compromise on far too many levels and it must be avoided at all costs. But the same can and must be said about all “activist” echo chambers — from MAGA to BLM and beyond.

    Tyler DGAF

    Despite all this, there is still value in modern men tuning into our own inner Durden. Brad Pitt-Tyler can teach us to clearly define what’s important to us, fashion a mission to guide our actions, have some laughs along the way, and not give too many fucks about contorting oneself into any societal box (especially if that box reads: IKEA). Call it, “the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”

    Edward Norton-Tyler tries to reign in the ugly and unnecessary aggression, delusion, and arrogance. To do so, he goes as far as shooting himself in the face just to stop Brad Pitt-Tyler’s misguided machinations. Edward Norton-Tyler teaches us that we can be truly decent people — even as we strive to vigorously reject the mainstream formula and embrace the subversive pleasure of critical thought. In the end, it’s Edward Norton-Tyler who reaches for Marla’s hand and offers an apology (of sorts) as the violent virtue-signaling plays out all around them.

    We all have multiple personalities, contradictory ideals, and competing desires within us. They do not have to be labeled good or bad. What matters is how we manage such juxtapositions as they translate into daily behavior. In other words, the first rule of Fight Club is… balance.

    The post The REAL First Rule of Fight Club  first appeared on Dissident Voice.