“Beach Rats” (2017), directed by Eliza Hittman, makes the case that some young cis-male men are indeed bisexual, or at least ambiguous.
The protagonist is the rather smooth Frankie (Harris Dickinson), who lives near the beach apparently in Coney Island (Brooklyn) and helps take care of a father dying of cancer. He has a girl friend Simone (Madeleine Weinstein) and gets intimate with her, but has some trouble performing. In the mean time, he sneaks down to the basement and connects with older gay men on a webcam.
In time he meets peers (the “rats”) closer to his own age, who want to meet up on the beach, maybe for sex, maybe to trade and smoke weed. Frankie demonstrates his street smarts in various ways, like the way he uses pawn shops to get cash. He does demonstrate some sense, as I recall, in asking about condoms. As the film progresses, one of the other men only slightly older than him becomes a target. A robbery on the beach may leave the other young man drowned, and the movie ends with Frankie not knowing if he has been party to murder.
The story reminds me of the real life case of Justin Berry, whom Kurt Eichenwald wrote about in the New York Times in 2005. The real story did not end so tragically, as far as I know. Older men who contact underage teens through webcams may be breaking the law (depending on age of consent) or may run afoul of federal child pornography laws.
The film has a handball sports scene near a boardwalk. I remember a place called Seaside Courts on the Coney Island boardwalk, with paddleball courts, which created a small personal sequence for me in 1989-1990. It is north of the aquarium. I don’t know if it is still there, as I was last in the area in 2004.
The film won best director at Sundance. Apparently it was shot in super 16, but looks quite crisp.
I saw the film at the Maryland Film Festival in the third floor auditorium of the newly renovated Parkway Theater in Baltimore, on North Ave. and Charles Street.
1.85:1 (16 mm)
When and how viewed:
2017/5/7, Parkway Theater, Baltimore, Maryland Film Festival, sold out
“Austerlitz”, by Sergei Loznitsa, provides a curious film concept. In a 94-minute exercise in trolling people in black and white, the filmmaker portrays tourists to visit the museum-exhibits of the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen.
The first ten minutes of the film portrays nothing but a people-watch of tourists entering the gates near a sign reading “Arbeit macht frei”. We notice many are carrying phone headsets to listen to commentary. Then we do start hearing some tour guide content. One of the most interesting is that the early camps were set up for intelligence purposes: to interrogate possible dissidents against Hitler, and even intercept plots to kill Hitler. Only later did the Jews, as well as gypsies and homosexuals, become recognizable populations.
There is a chilling scene where a guide with a British accent explains how the victims were told to expect a shower, before getting gassed with Zytron. One couple has a picture taken in front of a black crematorium.
As for the tourists, many are attractive, slender, young white males, ironically what you expect in a gay bar. You will see the same people, with recognizable T-shirts, based on companies or sports teams, more than once.
I was not aware of this massive level of tourism. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on a Tuesday morning in late May, 1999, having arrived on the night train to Krakow from Berlin, and then taking a taxi to the site (about $60 for the day). I don’t recall that there was any crowd, maybe a few other tourists walking around at some distance from me. I did visit rooms with shoes and skeleton remains, and dorms. I walked along the notorious railroad tracks. I don’t recall having a headset.
In the first chapter of my novel “Angel’s Brother”, a “part time” CIA agent, married and living a normal life of a history teacher in Texas, visits Birkenau the way I did, and in a light crowd, meets a mysterious college student and rides back with him. Why both are there develops with the story. There was one scene in the film of a young man off by himself, on a cell phone, sitting near a wall, who looked like the college student in my novel. There may have been one other person from the US that I recognized, appearing twice with the camera going blurred the second time, a rather strange effect.
A month after the death of Michael Brown when shot by Darren Wilson in Ferguson MO around noon on Saturday, August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO, filmmaker Sabaah Folayan left her medical studies in New York to work with the people and document their unrest, along with Damon Davis and photography director Lucas Alvarado-Farrar. The result is the docudrama “Whose Streets?” In fact, Farrar hosted the QA at a showing at the Maryland Film Festival today in Baltimore, which is ironic given Baltimore’s own police-related unrest in April 2015.
The film focuses particularly on seven individuals: Brittany Ferrell, a nurse; David Whitt, who recruits for Cop Watch, Tory Russell, founded of Hands Up United, which would synch with the founding of Black Lives Matter (which had actually started with the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida).
The film, using a lot of raw cell phone video in early sections and later more professionally shot, chronicles the unrest for the rest of the year, giving the spectator-viewer a front row seat to the anger. “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”
Indeed, this is a film about activism, and it does not go out of its way to analyze the fact pattern. One police officer is quoted as saying that Wilson stopped Brown just because he was walking in the center of the street. That contradicts accounts as below which maintain Wilson had been radioed about theft at a convenience store. The film shows a little of the interview of Wilson by George Stephanopoulos, a part that would sound prejudicial. The film shows the prosecutor’s reporting that the grand jury did not return an indictment against Wilson, who would wind up living in hiding against vigilantism, according to many reports.
There is also some investigation as to whether Brown had been doing barter in the convenience store, not covered in the film. This refers to Jason Pollock, whose film “Stranger Fruit” I have not seen yet (CNN).
The audience, during the QA,seemed quite tuned in to the activism, with one woman questioning whether the government would treat Black Lives Matters the way it had the Black Panthers. The audience liked the presentation of the children, including one child who makes an activist statement at the end.
The film also shows the blockage of I-70 near St. Louis by protestors, and the arrest of a woman for trying to run over some. The film also maintains that police in the St. Louis area use police profiling as an excuse to collect fines to enrich themselves. Activists note that the tear gas or riot gas (which I got to know in Army Basic with the gas chamber in 1968 at Fort Jackson) causes skin burning after the fact, even when water is poured on it.
The world of activism tends to move toward resistance, coercion, and sometimes combativeness, insisting that others who are privileged by the system, even if they didn’t directly cause oppression, are going to have their lives knocked to make things right – call it expropriation. This is not about questioning every little fact to rationalize someone’s actions. Call it revolution if you will. The extra intrusions made by the special demands of “Black Lives Matter” (relative to “all lives matter”) are supposed to make you uncomfortable.
Journalists seemed welcome to make this film, but sometimes journalists are resented as “spectators” without their own skin in the game, above demonstrating and carrying pickets like “the people”. But then try combat journalism.
In the fall of 2014, actor-musician Reid Ewing (“Modern Family” and numerous films), going to college in Salt Lake City, wrote some tweets about police treatment of Darrien Hunt (story).
Wikipedia fact page for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.
Picture: Mine, Washington DC demonstrations, Nov. 2014.
Full George Stephanopoulos interview with Darren Wilson
QA 2 – answer to my question about fact finding
QA 3 – comment that police control where media can film
On Sunday, May 7 W. Kamau Bell covered Chicago’s segregation, police bias, gang violence, and “reparations”, and “Black Lives Matter” on an episode of “United Shades of America: We (are all) The People” on CNN. They talked about “cyberbanging” and Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” (2015).
He also aired a basic episode about immigration in the second hour.
PBS Independent Lens has aired “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” (abdridged) by Brett Story on 2017/5/8; one of the landscapes is St. Louis County, surrounding Ferguson. The film covered the “garbage jail” problem where low-income residents are ticketed by small police departments and then threatened. The film also covered a judge’s wall against the media. See index for location on my legacy blogs.
Sabaah Foyolan, Damon Davis
When and how viewed:
Baltimore Film Festival, MICA Brown auditorium, full, 2017/5/7
Magnolia Pictures, Chicken and Egg (Theatrical release in 2017/8)
“The Strange Ones”, directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein, based on Wolkstein’ s short story, is another road gay mystery film, a little bit like yesterday’s. It is actually based on a 2011 14-minute short film by the same name centered around the mysterious couple’s stay at a motel and around a swimming pool (same directors and writers, different actors). The film has a moody, enigmatic presentation (underscored by the brooding music score by Rob Lowry) that reminds one of Jorge Ameer and even sometimes David Lynch.
The film introduces a muscular, bearded 20-something man Nick (Alex Pettyfer, from “Magic Mike”) taking a middle-school aged (maybe 13) boy Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) on a road trip around the Catskills in upstate New York. Nick claims they are brothers, but as the film progresses we begin to suspect that this is an abusive, legally inappropriate relationship. There are some off hints of the supernatural: Sam always takes on the first name (telepathically) of people he meets in new situations, and Nick seems to be able to make objects (like cups of black coffee) disappear.
They meet Kelly (Emily Althaus) at the motel, before going camping. Nick tries to teach Nick how to use a rifle before a tragic encounter with other hunters and a cave ensues. Sam escapes and winds up stumbling into a rehab camp for male juvenile delinquents.
The movie has lots of flashbacks as to what happened in Sam’s family, and it isn’t good. The flashbacks aren’t always clearly delineated and can confuse the narrative (which, in a couple of police and hospital scenes, becomes quite explicit and disturbing). Only the black tabby cat in the original family home really knows what happened, and when she sets out into the country to look for Sam (which a cat might do) the threads of story come together. The cat turns out to be an important character. If only animals could testify in court.
Nick is indeed troubling. His forearm tattoos are genuinely disfiguring. Sam is remarkable for his articulations. He can tell Kelly that his “brother” (who at one time had been a “babysitter”) doesn’t “get hard” with women and that makes him “gay”. But otherwise he is so macho, so cis. The old man (Gne Jones) in charge of the juvenile camp is frank, and several more responsible teens (Tobias Campbelll) seem to be running the place.
2011 Short trailer
I took the liberty of using my own 2012 picture form Whiteface (actually in the Adirondacks) for art work for the review.
“The Strange Ones”
Christopher Radcliff, Lauren Wolkstein
When and how viewed:
Baltimore Film Festival, MICA Brown Hall, 2017/5/6
“Who Took Johnny?” (2014), directed and written by a trio (David Bellinson, Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley), examines the cold case of the apparent kidnapping of 12-year old paperboy Johnny Gosch on his route in the early Sunday morning of September 5, 1982 in West Des Moines, Iowa.
The fact pattern is quite complex and it’s well go give the Wikipedia summary reference.
At first, the parents have difficulty getting local police to believe this is not a runaway. But in time at least two other tween paperboys disappeared. Johnny would have his picture displayed on a milk carton on space offered by a local dairy.
But over time, it becomes apparent that Johnny was probably abducted into a child sex ring with wealthy customers with secret lives as pedophiles, sometimes involved in child pornography. The film says that about 0.5% of men are inclined to attraction to minors, possibly by genetics or unusual environmental influences beyond their control. This can include wealthy people in positions of power to run coverups.
One of the main witnesses is Paul Bonacci, who admitted later he was in the car that took Johnny. Bonacci served prison time and had multiple personality disorder (perhaps similar to schizophrenia) that was attributed to early childhood abuse. But eventually he was released and actually got married (to a woman).
In 1997, the mother (Noreen) would testify that Johnny paid her a mystery visit in 1997 with a companion and asked her to keep quiet, and then disappeared.
A British company and the Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, MD tried to produce and distribute a documentary about missing children and sex trafficking in 1993, to be called “Conspiracy of Silence”, and the film was itself silenced.
The film also traces a role for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children founded in 1984. In recent years, the agency has maintained a database of digital images with watermarks that can be scanned matched to images on the Internet (now, even when backed up in cloud accounts, as well as in email attachments or on social media posts) for known illegal images of child pornography. The film shows some apparent pictures of Johnny in captivity, but they were not of sufficient quality for digital matching to work. But the mother insists they are images of him.
The film takes on sudden irony now because, shortly after the 2016 presidential election, there was an incident (typical news story) in Washington DC where the Comet Ping Pong Pizza was attacked by a vigilante (quickly arrested) who, somewhat gullible and in hard times himself, had believed a fake news story about a trafficking ring in that and possibly other nearby businesses.
The case should not be confused with a case in Minnesota, of Jacob Wetterling, who disappeared in 1989, and the case was resolved by confession recently (NBC story).
(Posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 9:45 PM EST)
“The List” (alternatively titled “I’m Perfect”), from 2006 and directed by Brandon Sonnier, at first sounds like genre “indie” black romantic comedy (rather like Tyler Perry), but in fact it broaches a “morally” important topic: what happens when we approach romantic or intimate relationships expecting the other partner to be “perfect” enough? Call this the “upward affiliation” problem (a term coined in the 1980s by conservative writer George Gilder). https://www.doaskdotellnotes.com/?p=511
The plot is heterosexual, and some reviewers have noted that this story would work regardless of the race of any character. In more recent years, in fact, casting diversity has started to become a “political” flashpoint in Hollywood. http://billsmediareviews.com/?p=1908
The story presents a young ad executive Lewis (Wayne Brady) who has a peculiar intellectual way of processing everything. As a manager, he makes lists of goals. For romantic partners, he makes lists of desired attributes. Lew proposes to the perfect lady on his own reality television show, and she says “No” to the Big Question. In fact, the lady retaliates by showing how far Lew falls from perfection himself. But Lew will not be deterred from using his “list” technique. He soon has his eyes on Cecile, played by Sydney Tamiia Poiter (daughter of the actor Sidney Poitier, as from “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, both 1967). He will experience his own battle of head vs. heart.
The film gradually gets back into his ad business, which involves casting and filming commercials in Los Angeles – somewhat away from the actual entertainment film business.
The “upward affiliation” problem can drag on the resilience of a population. If people are too picky about whom they will bond with (enough to marry and raise children), or not willing to stay in an intimate relationship during physical adversity, a people becomes more vulnerable to adverse externalitie and even enemies.
The idea of a personal “list” has another implementation: one can have a private “list” of persons he or she thinks the most of or would fantasize getting intimate with, and “to hell” with everyone else. Although, in my own short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is,” the ocelot doesn’t have clay feet after all.
(Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)
“Marmato” (2014), directed by Belgian Mark Grieco and written with Stuart Reid, is another documentary of an international company dealing with (and here bullying) local people to extract natural resoruces.
Marmato is a town in Colombia, in the Andean foothills, on a mountainside underneath which there is potentially $20 billion in gold ore. Over the years, individual families have owned small mines. One of these entrepreneurs is Conrado, who says “Money rules the world” and “Without economic power, no one survives,” as he is interviewed in 2006. How ironic.
A Canadian company, Medoro, makes a deal (a la Donald Trump, it seems) with the Colombian government to do a “mountaintop removal” on one side of the mountain and dig a huge open pit mine. The company’s plans include eventually creating a lake where once there had been a mountainside.
The Colombian government requires that the company hire at least 20% of the townspeople and compensate the individual owners for the property (for what seems like eminent domain), but the independent miners object, gradually forming rebel groups called “gaucheros”. The company merges with others to form Gran Colombia Gold. Confrontations with the miners increase. Not allowed to buy dynamite on their own, they come up with subterfuges to make explosives to keep working. In time they are called “terrorists”.
One of the men from the company, laying down the law while trying to change town “culture” to except big business, looks like a teenager.
At one point, there is an ideological argument, where the miners say they have ultimate property rights because they were “born here.”
The film marks the history of the takeover by burning a graph of the price of gold over the years on a wall or ore. In time, price fluctuations make the takeover much more problematic anyway.
Wikipedia attribution link for scenery from Colombia similar to film, by Juantiago, under CCSA 4.0
“Killswitch”, in 73 minutes, shows us how Internet freedom is attack from established legacy corporate interests and from gratuitous government surveillance and prosecutorial overreach, often as an indirect result of corporate lobbying. The film summarizes, with some detail in biography, the accomplishments and perils of Aaron Swartz (ending in tragedy) and Edward Snowden, and focuses on three main interview subjects: Lawrence Lessig, Tim Wu, and Peter Ludlow. It also chronicles the defeat of PIPA and SOPA (Stop On-line Piracy Act of 2011) by Swartz’s activism, which included shutting down Wikipedia and some other free sites for one day in January 2012 to make a point.
The film characterizes “the hacktivist” as a nerd who repurposes the Internet infrastructure for activism. It cites Twitter as the most adopted platform for politics, citing the Arab spring, but neglecting to mention the abuse by ISIS “recruiting”.
The aggressive action by government against some infringers, mostly concerning copyright and “piracy”, has been abetted by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. The Act, as per the film, views violation of a providers TOS (“terms of service”) as a possibly prosecutable crime. (The Act may have been motivated by a sensational Hollywood sci-fi film “War Games” in 1982.) I can recall a cyberbullying prosecution back around 2007 justified by violation of Myspace’s TOS, in pre-Facebook days. The government has, most of all in the copyright-related cases, tended to prosecute people to make examples of them (most of all Swartz, by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who also would be involved in prosecuting Dzhohkar Tsarnaev (the film shows a clip of the Boston Marathon bombing to make an indirect point). The film notes the career of former Senator Chris Dodd, who went to work for the MPAA. I’ve always wondered if what Hollywood worries about is not so much direct piracy (really, do people who can’t afford $15 premium 3-D tickets but watch pirated DVD’s affect their bottom line that much), but “amateur” competition, from films like this one, which can capture not so much consumer dollars as consumer time at home. (Even Mark Cuban admitted that to me an email about his “Blogmaverick” one time.) The film hints that government harassment is a way to send a message to introverted people (mostly young men) who are “too smart” to deal with other people more conventionally.
The NSA surveillance issue is a bit of a different beast. Here the film takes the position that the government is collecting so much information that it really can’t see the real threats, missing 9/11 and the Boston Marathon incident.
The name of the film suggests another concept not covered: the idea of an “Internet kill switch”, which a president could try to pull in a national security emergency. I think there are real concerns that Donald Trump in particular might use such a facility, particularly to shut down user generated “amateur” content that doesn’t pay for itself.
The film does not seem to be available on Amazon or Netflix, but can be watched on Vimeo from the Website for $5 by credit card or Paypal. The technical production values are quite impressive.
Related films include “The Internet’s Own Boy” (2014, Brian Knappenberger), “Deep Web” (2015, Alex Winter), “Citizenfour” (2014, Laura Poitras) and “The Thread” (2015, Greg Barker), and Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place to Hide” (2014).
“Untouchable” documents a nearly unmentionable subject, the misapplication of sex offender laws and registries.
The film traces the lives of several registrants. One man is forced to move out of his own Miami home when distance-laws are tightened and gets assigned a tent shelter underneath an outdoor bridge (albeit in a warm climate), banished into homelessness. When he is late returning from curfew because his bus from work is late, he is thrown back into prison on a “technical violation” of probation. A woman in Oklahoma is severely restricted for the rest of her life for sleeping with a 15 year old boy when a teen herself. Another man, also in Oklahoma, actually disordered with pedophilia since boyhood, lives in a trailer and describes his treatment.
The film documents the public hysteria, fueled by demonstrations (and sometimes counter demonstrations) in Florida, spurned by the activism of local attorney and legislator Ron Book, whose daughter Lauren was abused as a child. Toward the end, Ron and Lauren have a big booksigning party event in New York for Lauren’s book “Lauren’s Kingdom” as well as the earlier “It’s OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery”.
The film does mention the excesses in the use of these laws, as for cell phone sexting (as in the documentary “Addicted to Sexting” (2015) by Joseph Tosconi), and for teens close in age (when there are no applicable “Romeo and Juliet’ laws in a particular state), as with a recent case in Michigan where a 17 year old was convicted and forced to register when a 14 year old girl lied about her age online, and that was no excuse (link ) ; the sentences has since been reduced and registry removed, according to more recent news reports, such as this one from Elkart, IN).
The film doesn’t cover some critical areas, like the spate of cases surrounding chat rooms covered by NBC’s TV series “To Catch a Predator” with Chris Hansen, along with his book. It also doesn’t cover the possibility of child pornography possession prosecutions for owners of computers or sites deliberately infected by malware inserted by other criminals or possibly enemies. These cases haven’t happened often yet, but could become dangerous in the future. There was some media attention to this grim possibility in 2013 and one horrible case in Arizona as far back as 2006.
The film was followed by a brisk with the director David Feige, co-producer Adam Pogoff and one other filmmaker.
The film won the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award at Tribeca in 2016. Feige is the former Trial Chief of The Bronx Defenders and a former public defender himself.
On the whole subject matter, Reason has 2011 a piece by Jacob Sullum “Perverted Justice: sex offender laws represent the triumph of outrage over reason” (which Ron Book certainly shows in the film). In fact, “Perverted Justice” or “Peej” was the name of the civilian “vigilante” group that helped NBC set up the stings on “To Catch a Predator”. And Slate refers to this article in its own 2011 piece by Emily Yoffe, “Reform ‘child porn’ laws”. In a real world, few state-level politicians can afford “reason” when faced with real parents.
Clip 4 In this clip, Feige describes Ron Book’s attitude, that someone who didn’t have kids doesn’t understand and has no say in pleas for “rationality” in the use of the law. Being a parent calls for outrage, I guess.
Clip 5 In this clip, Feige describes the difficulty of funding the film, for which most support came from one donor; most people didn’t want to touch this subject matter.
This is a good place to mention the film “L.I.E.” (“Long Island Expressway”), 2001, by Michael Cuesta. I saw this film at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis on 9/11/2001, and met the director at a bar afterward as he was stranded by 9/11. The film tells the story of a somewhat naive pedophile played by Brian Cox. Subsequent editing before the DVD came out removed the shots of the WTC in the distance. The film was actually used in a screenwriting class in Arlington VA in 2004.
The word “Salero” literally means “salt shaker”. The documentary by Mike Plunkett, in 76 minutes, gives us a visit to what looks like the surface of an alien planet. That is, the salt plains among the Andes (part of the “Alteplano”) at 12000 feet in Bolivia. The famous Lake Titicaca is a few hundred miles away.
The film traces the changes in life there through the eyes of Moises Chmabi Yucra and his family. Moises has worked the salt flats his entire life. Salt, as an industry, is left over from the colonial Spaniards. But the discovery of lithium ore underneath the salt (and apparently in nearby mountains) will change everything. This will be Bolivia’s own industry, making it a “Persian Gulf” for the whole worldwide tech industry for a few hundred years. It will also affect how Moises earns a living (now his work has more to do with constructing new hotels and homes) in Uyuho or toward Cochabama), as well as his daughter’s future. She will get to go to college and work in tech.
This film would have been a good candidate for Imax 3-D. There are many shots of the plains, with the salt almost as white as snow, but chunkier and more textured. The mountains are distant. In some shots, irrigation water (as land use changes to farming) mixes in to produce a surreal effect, truly alien in look.
The director said that the film crew had to wait out protestors to get to the filming site in one case.
Wikipedia attribution link for Travel and Stuff, under CCSA 2.0. typical salt picture.
There was a QA at the Maryland Film Festival with the director Mike Plunkett. A particularly interesting comment concerned the demonstrations which hindered getting to the site and filming for a while. A previous demonstration had taken 90 days. It took 10 hours from La Paz by bus to get there, but now there is a small airport.