“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”, directed by Peter Landesman, and based on the autobiography of Mark Felt and John D. O’Connor (by this name, as well as “A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat”, and the Struggle for Honor in Washington”.
Mark Felt was the FBI special agent who became the whistleblower who broke open the Watergate scandal. Felt did not reveal his role publicly until a Vanity Fair article by O’Connor in 2005.
The film is slow-paced and studious, mostly indoors (actually the studios in Atlanta were used), often darkly lit, the furniture plain. It is rather like a stage play. Felt (Liam Neeson), shortly after the Watergate breakin in June 1972, becomes aware that the White House is interfering with the independence of the FBI, particularly in scenes with acting director Patrick Gray (Martom Csokas. A few weeks before the 1972 election, he makes the famous (“Deep Throat“, as named after the infamous porno film, which I actually saw on Times Square in 1975) pay phone call to Bob Woodward (Julian Morris). There’s no effect on the landslide in 1972, because Nixon is able to paint the protesters as essentially pinko radicals.
But after the election, moving into 1973, things unravel pretty quickly. The film telescopes the final months of Nixon’s presidency, which I personally remember well because I was going through a major transition in my own life, having “come out” a second time. I would start a new job at NBC that would lead to my moving into Greenwich Village the Monday after Nixon’s resignation.
Diane Lane plays Mark’s wife Audrey, and yet you get the feeling that their marriage has become an afterthought. The script does mention all the scandals underneath J. Edgar Hoover, whose passing is honored early in the film (early 1972). The script probably just barely hints at the idea that Hoover was likely homosexual himself.
The film never depicts Nixon with an actor, or even Carl Bernstein.
The film is not quite as eventful as “All the President’s Men” (1976, Warner Brothers) by Alan J. Pakula, based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”
The “City of Ghosts” is Raqqa, Syria; this new film by Matthew Heineman is one of the most intense about up-close conflict ever made. It is tough to watch, even with a nearly sold-out audience, which applauded at the end. It reminded me of Kathryn Bigelow and “The Hurt Locker”.
It’s pretty much a truism, that when you throw out one repressive regime with a revolution, the replacement is even more despotic. It happened to Czarist Russia, and it happened to Iran. As the film starts, we see life in this desert city on the Euphrates, from Biblical times, a low-rise city of concrete, stucco and ovals, and Muslim colors – during the Arab Spring, fomented by US social media.
The residents hardly understood what had happened as the Islamic State, ISIL, moved in and took over.
A group of journalists, including a former math teacher, started photo journals. As soon as the pressure was on, they scattered to Turkey and Germany. At least one journalist had his father and brothers targeted and executed. In Germany, police approached that journalist about putting in some kind of witness protection. Eventually, some get refugee status in Germany.
The film covers the professional production values of ISIS recruiting meda, but it doesn’t really show why young Muslim men abroad, especially in Europe, are so easily fooled. It also doesn’t show daily life in Raqqa the way the CNN special “Blindsided” by Fareed Zakaria and Jurgen Todenhofer had.
The film “Nowhere to Hide”, directed by Zaradhasht Ahmed, presents the incredible 5-year video diary of an Iraqi male nurse, Nori Sharif, over five years in Diyala province, around the town of Jalawla, in the five years after President Obama pulled American troops from Iraq and left a power vacuum.
It seems incredible that he could even maintain this diary as battlefield conditions redeveloped around him. It’s not obvious which subgroup he belongs to (maybe Sunni), but violence between Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds first develops. But in time ISIL moves into the area and forces all the civilians, including him and his family, to flee. He and his family wind up in a refugee camp of trailers, even one housing 20 people and several families.
Eventually he returns to he hospital in Jalawla and finds it sacked and trashed.
The film shows the breathtaking desert landscapes, rather like Nevada with mountains in the far distance, and Biblical stucco villages – filled with squalor and poverty as the camera goes up close. The pain is unrelenting.
The film also shows horrific war injuries to civilians still alive, beyond verbal description.
I recently received a sample legal guide by Joy R. Butler, “The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle”, with a long subtitle, “Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions”, second edition, published by Donohue.
When I wrote my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in the mid 1990s, I considered the idea of formal rights clearance for quotes I wanted to use, and there is a whole legal infrastructure of law firms in New York and Los Angeles to do this. But, as an entry self-publisher, I lacked the scale to do this. So I simply kept my direct quotes short (editing them down at one step) and well within any reasonable implementation of Fair Use. (I did consult with at least two attorneys, pro bono, one of them very high profile, familiar with the whole area of “don’t ask don’t tell” at the time.)
Joy’s handbook is general purpose in nature, intended to advise content originators ranging from independent bloggers and musicians to producers of independent films for the established festival and commercial marketplace. In six parts and 29 chapters, its sections are written in straightforward prose and numbered as if a formal legal document.
I think an underlying problem is that there is an enormous range of purpose that people have when they create and publish media. The most common motivation is profit and sales to consumers in the conventional economic sense. Much of the system around intellectual property law does presume that artists and writers may need to make a living and provide for others (families) off their work. Much content is tied to publicly traded media companies who rightfully believe that they have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the property of their investors, sometimes encouraging litigation that on a smaller scale of common sense, may seem counter-productive and frivolous. At the other end, there are the self-made “pundits”, for want of better word, who may have wealth accumulated from other sources and who simply want to be known for their critical views, for example, of the results of our highly partisan politics. They may not care about economic return the same way. This sets up a lot of tension in the legal system. At the other end, there are also “trolls”, in copyright, trademark and especially patent areas, who set themselves up as specialists in collecting legal penalties for others, rather like companies that buy bad debt to collect on it pennies to the dollar.
Some of the areas are of more direct concern than others. I notice her comments in 14.1.2 about linking, deep linking, and framing (normally embedding videos). It is true that in the early days of the WWW, some corporate content providers tried to require permission to link, especially deep link, to their content on rather poorly conceived theories of consumer confusion and illiteracy—but by 2000 or so, courts had established the idea that hyperlinks are essentially like attribution footnotes in a term paper or thesis. Electronic Frontier Foundation has written that embeds are essentially just hyperlinks – but that begs the whole question of consumer perception and literacy (which would matter more to trademark and branding than any other area). Generally, with YouTube embeds are quite simple. If a video author allows embedding, presumably it is OK (from a copyright perspective) to embed it anyway. If an original video was illegally pirated and posted, and then later embedded, usually Google takes the video down after getting a DMCA request and embed just stops working. In some cases, video authors have not realized bloggers really do embed their videos, and mark them private when they discover this. It seems practically unheard of that the blogger gets sued for linking or embedding infringing material, but I suppose it could happen, if there was an aggressive troll looking for possible targets. I do think bloggers should pay attention to whether a source or video looks legitimate and legal before linking to them For example, it is better to link to a video marked as posted by CNN than from a copy posted by someone else. I do find that embeds disappear and when I check I discover that YouTube account has been terminated under a “3 strikes rule” for multiple copyright complaints, but there seem to be no consequences for the blogger.
Likewise, it is quite common for people to embed music videos on Facebook, Twitter, Google-Plus, and the like. I do this a lot with classical music. Sometimes these videos go dark from copyright claims. I make it my own ethics policy to purchase a legitimate CD copy of a classical work I really want (like Rattle’s recent recording of a completed Bruckner Ninth) and particularly any substantial new work from any of several young classical composers whom I know personally (mostly in New York and LA). In one or two cases, I have tried to urge artists I know to put their work up on Amazon for legitimate sale.
The author provides some useful discussion of whether or how recipes and detailed handbook instruction or lesson plans can be copyrighted. Generally, facts cannot be copyrighted. Some television news outlets say that their stories cannot be “reproduced, redistributed or rewritten” but they cannot stop novices from re-reporting facts in their news stories and giving proper attribution (by links). She also discusses tattoos (and that would probably extend to temporary marks like DuoSkin). It would sound as if similar considerations would apply to chess openings and endgame problems (and similarly for other games, like Go, even card games like Poker).
I did not see discussion of Creative Commons issues (like using Wikipedia pictures).
Joy also provides description of how Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor work, similar in purpose (downstream liability shielding) for different problem areas – defamation-privacy-publicity vs. copyright.
I have read somewhere that it is possible to be held liable for linking to defamatory content, even if litigation for secondary linking seems to be very rare in practice. In fact, Joy mentions this possibility in 8.2.1 in discussing repetition in “communicating” a defamatory statement to the public, which need only be to one other person besides the subject (as in a Facebook account with full privacy turned on) to be viewed as “published” in the narrowest sense of the law. The concepts of “per se” and “per quod” in defamation can be important.
Her discussion of music rights is interesting. A composer in NYC once blogged that all composing involves some copying. How many composers have been inspired by the way the Beethoven Ninth opens?
I generally am quite careful with posting video with much disco music in bars, because some music owners seem to be quite picky and trend to use trolls, and there is not a lot of value in hip-hop music that sounds so repetitious (my opinion, at least). But I see people videotaping disco all the time when I go out.
In Section 13.3, she covers “citizen journalism” for some special topics, like photographing police activity and the First Amendment. I think citizen journalism can raise some other issues ironically for lack of normal commercial purpose, a concept I heard a judge call “implicit content” in the COPA (Child Online Protection Act) trial that I attended in Philadelphia one day (as a sub-plaintiff) in late 2006. That turned out to be important in at least one “online reputation” issue when I worked as a substitute teacher from 2004-2007, which I have covered elsewhere. In an environment where the Internet is so easily misused (for cyberstalking, bullying, sex trafficking, and terror promotion) by less well-meaning users, some people in political power may see citizen journalism as gratuitous. Ironically, as we know from the fake news (related to defamation), hacking and Clinton email problems, some of these issues had a shocking and major effect on the 2016 elections.
The book does cover the possibility of domain names, served up as first-come first served, conflicting with trademarks, and the ICANN domain dispute procedure does not always prevent trademark litigation (trademark dilution as a legal concept was strengthened by a law in 2005 under Bush). Again, domain names are often set up for expressive purposes, which can come into conflict with other interests who want to use the same name to make money and employ people (even give them health insurance) with real profits. Autarky actually means something in the content world to some people.
Joy R. Butler
“The Permission Seekers Guide Through the Legalm Jungle: Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions”
2017, Second Edition (complimentary copy mailed to me for review)
“Risk” (2017) is the latest historical and biographical film about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Director Laura Poitras provides amazing “live” coverage of events in Assange’s life starting in 2011, when he sits in a home in Norfolk, England with journalist Sarah Harrison and talks to a man about leaked State Department cables. Assange says “It is not my problem, but I don’t want it to become your problem.”
One of the most revealing monologues comes at almost the end, when Assange is asked whether he engaged or indulged in his style of journalism to gain “power”. He says that his garden is the whole world, and the only way for him to be effective as a person is to act globally. That is how I feel about my own writing.
Assange also pontificates, a bit earlier, on taking risks, especially when you need to be able to take someone else’s bullets and survive them.
Early on, the film presents another major associate, Jacob Appelbaum, rather handsome (despite the gratuitous upper arm tattoo), and explains his work with the Tor Project. The film makes the interesting point, however indirectly, that refugees and asylum seekers (in the U.S. or any western country) would need access to TOR to communicate safely with relatives back home, an issue that potential hosts would need to heed. There are scenes where Appelbaum appears in Cairo, and later in Tunis, training Arab spring activists to use TOR, as authoritarian regimes quickly turn against political change, especially in the Muslim world.
The film concurrently covers the release of Bradley Manning’s leak “Collateral Murder” in Iraq, and covers his court martial, and gender change to Chelsea Manning, and mentions her release from Leavenworth by President Obama just before the end of the film. As a result particularly of this set of leaks, the US and UK governments start to close in on Assange. There are accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which may very well be a set-up. A riveting sequence in the midpoint of the film shows Assange putting on macho-man gay leather drag (including contacts), and driving his motorcycle (left side in the UK) in bike lanes to the Ecuadorian embassy, where he get asylum in 2012. The rest of the shots of him in the film must be taken in the embassy, even Lady Gaga’s visit.
Poitras herself goes global, interrupting her narrative to show Hong Kong and just a little bit of Edward Snowden (from “Citizenfour”). Sarah accompanies Snowden to Moscow, where he seeks and is granted asylum from Putin.
The film then covers the leaks during the 2016 US presidential elections and how that probably helped Donald Trump (“I love WikiLeaks”) win the electoral vote.
The US Department of Justice announces it wants to consider prosecuting Assange for espionage and getting extradition from Ecuador. Under the Trump administration (and in a scene showing FBI offices in New York City), Wikileaks is now painted as a foreign intelligence service (maybe especially for Russia and China) and less a legitimate journalistic group to “keep them honest”.
Laura Poitras says she herself faces constant legal restraints and disruptions in travel from the TSA, as have Appelbaum and perhaps Harrison. Appelbaum faced sexual misconduct allegations which might well have been trumped up (pun).
“The Promise”, directed by Terry George, and written with Robin Swicord, apparently based on an original story, is a historical epic about genocide, specifically of the Armenians in the early days of World War I by the Ottoman Turks. The film has a bit the style of a modern western, and makes a compelling narrative with many moral points about a historical event that generally doesn’t get that much attention. In fact, even today, the Turkish government (exacerbated by Erdogan’s dictatorial and press-suppressing behavior, which Donald Trump has supported), doesn’t admit that the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians (in an area that became part of the Soviet Union) during the period.
The basic story concerns an Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), an American Associated Press journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale, who had played the Asperger-like doctor Michael Burry in “The Big Short”, helping drive the 2008 financial crisis), and the Parisian-raised Armenian woman Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), whom both men love. The movie really plays down the romantic or erotic potential of the love triangle, to pursue more abstract moral arguments.
For openers, as the film opens, Mikael is a pharmacist in the mountain town of Surin, agrees to an arranged marriage so that the dowry will pay for his medical school. It sounds off-putting to me for a promise of procreation and marital performance to pay for school, but that is how things used to be, where arranged marriages were common and people were expected to “learn to love” their socially assigned spouses. Once in school in Istanbul, the winds or war appear. A friend bribes an official so that he can get a “student deferment” from conscription for being in medical school, an issue that would occur in my own life. Eventually he faces brutality from Turkish officials who view him as a physical coward. But he escapes, in a thrilling train sequence, and gets back to Sirun to find the Turks have destroyed it.
Chris and Ana have wound up in a nearby Red Cross facility, but Chris is captured. The Turks accuse him of being a spy, but his release comes at the cost of the life of the Turk who helped him. Chris repeatedly insists his writing (he has a notebook that looks like a pre-Internet blog) is necessary so that the rest of the world learns what is going on. He even tells a French Captain that his reporting may help get the United States to join the allies in World War I (which would happen in 1917). In the final scenes, where the orphans and some families are recused by the French, Mikael uses his skills to treat civilians wounded in battle (his mother dies), and Chris has to fight like a soldier. But combat journalists often have to be able to handle themselves in battle.
The documentary “Last Days of Jesus”, from Blink Films (114 minutes, apparently an Australian produce, no director named) aired on PBS last night and will air numerous more times until Easter.
The film advances an interesting theory about the political struggle that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. The documentary style is one of narration with actors. A UNC religion professor gave a lot of commentary.
It starts by tracing the boyhood of Jesus, and showing the remains a of a stone house in Nazareth that suggest that Joseph and Mary were economically better off than generally believed. Jesus developed the skill to become a building contractor.
But as a young man he was always are of his mission, and as in the Bible, his personal epiphany came from meeting John the Baptist.
When Jesus was a teen, a political struggle in Rome developed that would have a bearing on how his own life would end. This had to do with the rise of a young man and soldier with Shakespearian ambitions, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Apparently he arranged the poisoning of political rivals and became the top confidant of Tiberius, who even wanted to build a city in his name on the Dead Sea. When he became deputy emperor, he became somewhat friendly with the Jewish establishment in the Holy Lands because he wanted stability. But a few months before Jesus’s Passion, he was summoned by the Roman Senate, expecting a “promotion” but instead was imprisoned and executed for the murders.
The Sadducees, as a conservative sect of Judaism at the time, emphasized the written law of God and were somewhat unpopular with the people in the various towns around Jerusalem. The Pharisees, often reviled I Sunday school as wanting to be heard “for their much speaking” were actually somewhat populist in some sense. (I mention the Pharisees at the opening of the last story in my “Do Ask. Do Tell III” book, that is, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”; I’ll take this up soon on my DADT Notes blog.)
In the meantime, Herod had wanted to become viewed as “King of the Jews”. He liked working with Sejanus. After the execution of Sejanus (the political scandal somehow remind me of the 2016 elections) perturbed the political climate in such a way that Herod and Pilate were affected, as well as the relationships among the various religious groups. Herod had even supported the idea of a separate religious “kind” (that is, “two kings”). That also upset the political situation of Judas, among the disciples, in particular.
The film supposes that “Palm Sunday” really happened in the fall, and that Pilate took some time before deciding to jail Jesus, who would not be crucified for several months. The political story of Judas many vary somewhat from previous accounts (like the 2006 NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas”). It may even bear on the plot ironies surrounding a short film called “Judas Kiss” embedded in the controversial 2011 gay science fiction film by that name (the lead character Danny (Richard Harmon and then Charlie David), a filmmaker, is presented as having a Christ-like charisma but yet is troubled by a certain paradox).
The film notes that writers in the first centuries may have avoided mentioning Sejanus out of fear and self-censorship, so his narrative did not make it into the New Testament. Sounds familiar? Like Trump’s battle with journalists?
“All of Me” (“Llevate mis amores” or “Take my Love”), by Arturo Gonzales Villasenor (Mexico, 2014, in Spanish), pretty much inverts the parable of the Rich Young Ruler.
A group of women at Patronas, Mexico, labor on homemade woodstoves to cook meals and gather water for migrants, who reach for it from the traveling freight train called “The Beast”. They’ve done it since 1995. Most of the migrants come all the way from Central America. Some have stopped out of fear of getting in trouble with the law, but the group still goes on, 7 days a week.
Most of the film, besides showing the harrowing food pickup, comprises interviews with the women. At the film’s midpoint, one of them relates an incident where a boy mangled his foot falling under a wheel. Although they stopped his bleeding, the women found no one would treat him until someone paid for his care. (Sound familiar?) Eventually, the Red Cross took him to a hospital where the foot was amputated and a prosthesis provided.
The women, and a few men, describe the limited economic opportunities of agricultural and manual labor. One of the men got a factory job, hazardous work welding inside pipes, and was still always in debt. One of the women is shown cleaning a pig sty, in front of farm animals who (like “Babe”) don’t yet know they will be eaten.
One woman’s daughter was about to go to college and wanted to become a journalist, but had to face the idea that if the local gangs didn’t like what she wrote, they would come after her and her family.
There are some night scenes, toward the end, in stark black and white, almost recalling the Holocaust.
This is a real food bank. I’m reminded, of course, of Community Assistance (like at Mount Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA or the Arlington Food Assistance Center near Shirlington). Volunteering in these activities is safe. Volunteering along an illegal migrant rail route is only for men and women “of faith”, which others don’t have a right to define for them. There is no debate.
All of this, of course, Donald Trump wants to stop. So why can’t Mexico get its own house in order? It’s the rich and the poor, as always.
Much of the film is within sight of Mount Popocapetel, the highest volcano in the country. A high school friend climbed it in 1962 and almost dies on it.
“All of Me“
Arturo Gonzales Villasenor
2014; 2016 US theatrical; DVD pre-book 2017/3/14, DVD street date 2017/4/11
“The Last Word” (directed by Mark Pellington, written by Stuart Ross Frank) attracted my attention because if invokes the theme as a writer as a hired hand to convey somebody else’s message.
Anne (Amanda Seyfried) is the obituary writer for a smaller Los Angeles area newspaper. I was a little surprised it could afford such a position, and he keeping her job is an issue. One day her not too cis boss, Ron Odom (Tom Everett Scott) calls her in to meet with the paper’s largest advertising supporter, Harriet (Shirley MacLaine), now a rich retired businessman living alone, her husband (Philip Baker Hall) having left her. Harriet wants Anne to write a favorable obit while Harriet is alive.
Truth is the territory of journalists, and pretty soon Anne finds out that nobody likes Harriet who, to be sure, is slowly dying of congestive heart failure (you can live a long time with it – my own mother did). Here a journalist is forced to deal with the issue of writing what other people want (or what others want them to say). That sounds a little Donald Trump-like.
But Harriet’s side of the story has some justification. She talks about living your dreams and taking risks. It seems as though she sneers at ordinary, conventional people who speak through a lens of victimization. She is sort of like an elderly female Milo Yiannopoulos (who probably will become the subject of indie film).
She tries some mentoring, and that episode (with AnnJewel Lee Jackson) left me a little aghast. It seemed a bit pimpy. But she has already admitted that the journalist is going to help her get one last act with interpersonal relationships and with helping people, so she will indeed have the right legacy when she goes.
Slowly, Anne befriends Harriet, going on a road trip (the motel looks familiar).
Harriet does get a nice memorial at the end, and Anne goes on to a great life, having reinvented herself. It all seemed a bit artificial too me.
My own writing has generally focused on my own narrative. I might have been hired to write someone else’s story, particularly with the gays-in-the-military issue. But I never had the time to leave my own world. So much for those whose sign is Cancer (no pun).
The 1952 classic film “Deadline – U.S.A.”, directed by Richard Brooks, seems timely now, given the issue of journalistic integrity as challenged by the new administration of Donald Trump.
Humphrey Bogart plays Ed Hutcheson, the managing editor of a newspaper called “New York Day”, said to resemble the “New York Sun” which had folded in 1950. One day Hutcheson is told that the newspaper’s owner, Margaret Garrison (Ethyl Barrymore) wants to sell the paper, apparently to a competitor who would put it out of business.
About the same time Hutcheson learns of a gangland murder, with connections that suggest that the real motive for the sale is to cover up an organized crime conspiracy. Hutcheson pursues the story, and is even pressured not to publish by advertisers. The script mentions ideas like “ignorance of facts”, libel, and makes an indirect reference to “the right to be forgotten.” There are a couple of interesting courtroom scenes. Finally, the mother of one of the victims provides and important clue, a diary. As the movie closes, Hutcheson publishes even as he is threatened.
The screenplay is terse and follows the pattern of maintaining urgency.
The music score by Cyril J. Mockridge and Sol Kaplan reminds me of the music of Arthur Bliss.