Category Archives: Film Review

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.

The post The Battle at Lake Changjin: China’s Anti-war Film first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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.”
The post The Green Knight: A Captivating Allegory on Human Adventure first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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.

    Going to Hell and Back: Fighting Our Worst Nightmare

    Theatrical poster

    Interrogate the devil; he will tell you that beauty is a pair of horns, four claws and a tail.
    Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary

    Bullets of Justice is a gritty 2019 film made by Valeri Milev and Timur Turisbekov, which takes place in the United States during the Third World War. The story centres around Rob Justice, an ex-bounty hunter who is fighting a mixture of half humans and half pigs (human bodies and pig heads). They were bred under an American government secret project to create super soldiers called Muzzles. The project goes awry and years later the Muzzles are at the top of the food chain and are farming the remnants of the human race. Rob Justice is trying to find their source to eliminate the Muzzles once and for all. The film is shot with bleak scenes in very bleak colours and has quite explicit sexual and violent scenes. However, it also has a very dry sense of humour and can be very funny without intentionally playing for laughs.

    Screenshot from Bullets of Justice (2019)

    The whole premise of the film is based on the symbolic reversal of our treatment of animals as food products, and shown in all its horror. Muzzles fatten up humans in cages, kill them upside down in factories and throw corpses on to conveyor belts. Their meat is even tinned and sold (“Human Meat, Always Fresh, Steak from a well fed male”). The idea that humans are somehow ‘special’ and superior to animals is ‘debunked’. In an early scene the Grave-digger unearths a human skull and says to his kids: “See, they don’t go nowhere. They just turn into dirty old bones. God is a human mistake. We die ‘cos of some shit and we die full of shit.”

    Screenshot from Bullets of Justice (2019)

    There is an apocalyptic feeling to the film as humans are dying out and some strange human oddities form a resistance to the Muzzles (a woman with a prominent moustache, a fighter who can stop bullets with his chest, and a female leader who talks as if using a home-made speech synthesizer). However, we get the feeling that their resistance is pointless and the Muzzles are the strongest of the two opposing sets of monstrosities.

    Screenshot from Bullets of Justice (2019)

    The portrayal of human monsters is not new in culture as the depictions of the Golem, Frankenstein’s monster and Zombies makes apparent: representations of humans that cannot really live or reproduce, the symbols of anti-nature. Our anxieties about our position in the natural order of things and our treatment of animals have always been reflected in our beliefs and depictions of ourselves as a higher order and created by an omnipotent being.

    However, our relations with animals has always been fraught, as Yuval Noah Harari writes:

    About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.

    The Golden Age

    These realities contrast wildly with our mythical story-telling of a Golden Age when humans lived in “primordial peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity. During this age, peace and harmony prevailed in that people did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth provided food in abundance.”  And as Richard Heinberg has stated: Dicaearchus of the late fourth century BCE noted “of these primeval men […] that they took the life of no animal”.1

    Roman Orpheus mosaic, a very common subject.  He wears a Phrygian cap and is surrounded by the animals charmed by his lyre-playing.

    However, as the Golden Age declined through the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Heroic Age, to the Iron Age, the dire warnings got direr. As men moved from the wondrous cornucopia of nature to the wars of extractivism, they paid a heavy price for their bloodlust. Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC) wrote: “As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” Much later, Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD) follows up with similar sentiments:

    Not so th’ Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
    Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
    Then birds in airy space might safely move,
    And tim’rous hares on heaths securely rove:
    Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
    For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
    Whoever was the wretch, (and curs’d be he
    That envy’d first our food’s simplicity!)
    Th’ essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
    And after forg’d the sword to murder man.
    — Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD) Metamorphoses Book 14

    As Christianity took hold and changed the reverence for nature to the reverence for a monotheistic god, nature itself became demonised as the heavenly was substituted for the earthly. It is interesting to note the similarities between the Devil (“a pair of horns, four claws and a tail”) and the animal-like god of nature, Pan, “the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and connected to fertility and the season of spring. Pan’s goatish image recalls conventional faun-like depictions of Satan.”

    Hell

    In medieval depictions of Hell, the Devil and his helpers torture humans. Hell, as Sartre has said “is other people” and, like packed trains and buses, always seems to have an awful lot of people crammed into very small places. Moreover, the animal-like Devil and his helpers seem to be like animals getting their revenge on humans by killing them and cooking them in the same way that humans kill and eat animals, by hanging them upside down (blood draining?), roasting over a fire on a spit, boiling in large vats, or baking in a fiery oven.

    The Torments of Hell, French book illumination, 15th century. Illustration for Augustinius’, De civitate Dei, Bibliotheque de Ste. Genevieve Ms. 246, vol. 389.

    It seems that deep in our psychology, the more we brutalise animals the more we fear that one day the animals will rise up and brutalise us. However, in some sense it is already happening. As Mike Anderson writes, they do get their revenge but in a slower, but just as deadly, way:

    As far as eating is concerned, humans are the most stupid animals on the planet. We kill billions of wild animals to protect the animals that we eat. We are destroying our environment to feed to the animals we eat. We spend more time, money and resources fattening up the animals that we eat, than we do feeding humans who are dying of hunger. The greatest irony is that after all the expenses of raising these animals, we eat them; and they kill us slowly. And rather than recognise this madness, we torture and murder millions of other animals trying to find cures to diseases caused by eating animals in the first place.

    In his article ‘Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history’, Yuval Noah Harari wrote:

    The fate of industrially farmed animals is one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time. Tens of billions of sentient beings, each with complex sensations and emotions, live and die on a production line. Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals.

    At least in recent years, in tandem with the ever increasing herds and flocks of domesticated animals for human consumption, there has been the development of movements against the slaughter in animal rights activism. Peter Singer wrote about it in the 1970s in his book Animal Liberation and, inter alia, in the 2000s Joaquin Phoenix told us about this slaughter in two truly difficult-to-watch documentaries: Earthlings (2005)  and Dominion (2018).

    Colonialism and Genocide

    Our attitude towards animals, our bloodthirstiness, has unfortunately carried over into our historical and current treatment of our fellow human beings in the form of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Joseph Conrad expressed it succinctly in his novel Heart of Darkness (1899) where Mr Kurtz (making a report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs) reveals his true colonial mentality when he writes ‘Exterminate all the brutes’. The colonial mindset that sees ethnic groups as not much better than animals (brutes) is predicated on the idea that the coloniser is somehow ‘superior’ and ‘civilised’ despite the fact that nowadays and ecology-wise, it is realised that these ‘primitive’ groups generally live in tune with nature rather than destroying it, as the ‘civilised’ West does. Sven Oskar Lindqvist (1932 – 2019) a Swedish author of mostly non-fiction, took Mr Kurtz’s exclamation as the title of his book on the history of colonialism and genocide, Exterminate All the Brutes (1992). The title was subsequently used again for a harrowing four part documentary series (2021) directed and narrated by Raoul Peck who worked with Lindqvist.

    Punch (1881)

    Furthermore, even in our more ‘enlightened’ era, our attitude towards animals as our fellow ‘earthlings’ has run into other, more serious problems, as Michael Cronin writes:

    In more recent times, it is fears around what is seen as the neo-Malthusian pathology of deep ecology that prompts a reticence around stressing the animal nature of humans. In this reading of ecology, treating humans as one species among others leads inevitably to the conclusion that the only way to deal with human overpopulation is through the mass elimination of humans. As they would not enjoy higher ontological status than other species, such genocidal practices could be justified by the overall flourishing of species on the planet.2

    Once again, our fears of our brutal selves lead us to try and characterise ourselves as more important than ‘mere’ animals in a self-defeating vicious cycle. Which brings us back to the point that Pythagoras made (‘as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other’). In other words, as long as we treat animals like ‘animals’ (brutes) we will treat each other like ‘animals’ too.

    1. Richard Heinberg, (1989) Memories and Visions of Paradise: Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age, Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, p. 48.
    2. Michael Cronin, (2016) Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene (New Perspectives in Translation and Interpreting Studies), London: Routledge, p. 74.
    The post Going to Hell and Back: Fighting Our Worst Nightmare first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    A successful combination of inspiration and perspiration

    Poster promoting the theatrical premiere of the 1954 American film Salt of the Earth at a (now demolished) theater on 86th Street in Manhattan. Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, who played the leading role, is shown.

    Born in controversy but then ignored in its youth, the film Salt of the Earth has matured beautifully into a classic film in the neorealist style. Set in Zinc Town, New Mexico, a mining community with a majority of Mexican-Americans, strike for working conditions equal to those of the white, or “Anglo” miners. The town and the mine is run by Delaware Zinc Inc. who refuse to negotiate with the workers and the strike goes on for months. The story focuses on Ramon Quintero (Juan Chacón) and his wife Esperanza Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas) who is pregnant with their third child. Ramon is arrested by police and beaten in prison at the same time his wife gives birth to their new baby.When Ramon is released he counters resistance to his activities by Esperanza and he points out their struggle is for their children’s futures too. The company then uses the Taft-Hartley Act injunction on the union forbidding picketing. However, the wives realise there was nothing to stop them from taking the men’s places on the picket line. A lot of the men are quite traditional and are not happy seeing their wives on what can be a dangerous and violent place on picket lines. Ramon forbids Esperanza to go but eventually relents. However, as the full film is freely available online for you to watch on the Salt of the Earth wikipedia.org page, I will not go into full details here.

    The involvement of the women is one of the most interesting aspects of the film as they rather timidly, at first, assert that their issues regarding hygiene (sanitation and ‘decent plumbing’) are as important as the safety of the men, and Esperanza is annoyed that ‘what the wives want always comes later’. Over time the women gain more experience dealing with the police and scabs, and consequently gain more confidence in their demands too. As the mine had already been unionised the film’s real narrative dwells more on showing the men how the union is strengthened by the involvement of the whole community.

    Union Meeting

    The production of Salt of the Earth faced many difficulties from locations, cameramen to actors. A small plane buzzed overhead and anti-communists fired at the sets. They eventually found a documentary cameraman who was willing to take the risks involved with working on the project. Later, Rosaura Revueltas (Esperanza Quintero) the lead actor, was deported to Mexico and the editors had to cut in previously filmed footage to finish the narrative.The origin of the film’s woes stretched back some years when the director Herbert Biberman refused to answer the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 on questions of affiliation to the Communist Party USA, and he became known as one of the Hollywood Ten who were cited and convicted for contempt of Congress and jailed. This meant that Biberman (as well as actors, screenwriters, directors, and musicians) were denied employment in the entertainment industry for years after.  During the making of Salt of the Earth Biberman was hounded by Roy Brewer. Roy Martin Brewer (1909–2006) was an American trade union leader who was prominently involved in anti-communist activities in the 1940s and 1950s. He accompanied Ronald Reagan on his first visit to the White House.

    Brewer tried many times to stop the production of Salt of the Earth. He believed that “officers of the Writers’ Guild were under the domination of the Communist Party until the hearings of 1947. During that time they began to change the mind, the creative minds, of the people who made these pictures and they didn’t do it by selling them communism. They got them to accept the idea that it was the obligation of a writer to put a message in the film.”

    Paul Jarrico (1915–1997) the blacklisted American screenwriter and film producer of Salt of the Earth commented on Brewer’s statements:

    The studio reluctance to make message movies started long before the blacklist and Brewer’s attribute to our cleverness in manipulating the culture of America is undeserved. We were unable to get anything more than the most moderate kind of reform messages into our films and if we thought we got some women treated as human beings rather than as sex objects we thought it was a big victory and in fact one of the reasons we made Salt of the Earth after we were blacklisted was to commit a crime worthy of the punishment having already been punished for subverting American films, it was all ridiculous.

    Members of the Hollywood Ten and their families in 1950, protesting the impending incarceration of the ten

    To make matters worse, Salt of the Earth had been sponsored by a Union (the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers) and many blacklisted Hollywood professionals helped produce it. After editing in secret, the release of the film was met with an American Legion call for a nationwide boycott and the majority of theaters refused to show it. For ten years the film was ignored in the USA while finding an audience and accolades in Eastern and Western Europe. In the 1960s the film was seen by larger audiences in union halls, women’s associations, and film schools.The narrative of the film was based on an actual strike which had occurred only a couple of years before the production of Salt of the Earth:

    The film recreates the 1951-2 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico where a court injunction barred workers of the Local 890 chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Works from the picket line. As the strike continued, the community’s women assumed increasingly active leadership roles in the protests, defiantly picketing Empire Zinc themselves. The 15-month strike ultimately led to considerable gains for the workers and their families.

    The film not only laudably covered labour rights and women’s rights but also minority rights. As Mercedes Mack writes:

    On October 17, 1950, in Hanover, New Mexico, workers at the Empire Zinc mine finished their shifts, formed a picket line, and began a fifteen-month strike after attempts at union negotiation with the company reached an impasse. Miner demands included: equal pay to their White counterparts, paid holidays and equal housing. As a larger objective, the Local 890 Chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers was to end the racial discrimination they suffered as a product of the institutions created by the Empire Zinc company in their town. For example, Mexican-American workers were subject to separate pay lines, unequal access to sanitation, electricity and paved streets as a result of discrimination by company sponsored housing, segregated movie theaters, etc. […]  While women continued the strike, men assumed household duties and were not the center of the movement anymore. In January 1952, the strikers returned to work with a new contract improving wages and benefits. Several weeks later, Empire Zinc also installed hot water plumbing in Mexican American workers’ houses–a major issue pushed by the women of these households.

    The producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film in neorealist style. Christopher Capozzola describes how:

    Paul and Sylvia Jarrico heard of the strike and went to Grant County to walk the picket line; within a year, Michael Wilson was in town. Although Wilson started the script, the men and women of Local 890 finished it, insisting in the era of Ricky Ricardo that Latino/a characters would be favorably presented in the mass media. Biberman cast only five professional actors, among them a young Will Geer (better known to television viewers as the folksy Grandpa Walton) and the leftist Mexican actress Rosaria Revueltas, who called Salt of the Earth “the film I wanted to do my whole life.” Strike participants filled the ranks, most memorably Juan Chacón, who played the leading role of Ramón Quintero. His emotional richness and sly humor make him far and away the film’s best performer.

    Juan Chacón as Ramón Quintero in Salt of the Earth

    In 1982, a documentary about the making of Salt of the Earth was released, titled A Crime to Fit the Punishment and was directed by Barbara Moss and Stephen Mack. The full documentary can be seen online here.The making of Salt of the Earth was also the subject of a Spanish-British bio-picture in 2000. The film, titled One of the Hollywood Ten, was written and directed by Karl Francis and stars Jeff Goldblum and Greta Scacchi.

    Theatrical release poster of One of the Hollywood Ten with Jeff Goldblum as Herbert Biberman

    Salt of the Earth still stands up there as one of the great union films along with Blue Collar (1978) and Norma Rae (1979). However, its authenticity and sincerity arising from working directly with workers, and its successful production despite so many obstacles put in its way, will make it one of the most inspiring union films ever produced.

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