“Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”: 2003 biographical documentary covers activist who connected many issues

A few years ago, Human Rights Campaign (HTC) gave away copies of a DVD for the 2003 PBS POV film “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”, a biography   I overlooked it, and discovered it while packing to move from house to condo this fall in my own personal “downsizing”.

The 84 minute documentary is directed by Bennett Singer and Nancy Kates. It features a lot of black and white newsreel footage in small aspect, as well as interviews with two of Rustin’s male partners and also Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Rustin is perhaps best known for working with Dr. Martin Luther King on various events including the 1963 March on Washington, as a covert gay man.  But his life spanned many issues, moving from communism to anti-communism, working with labor unions to get them up to speed on civil rights, draft resistance, and only later in life openness about homosexuality. The film ends with some coverage of the 1987 LGB march on Washington;  the 1993 LGB march was larger and better known (I attended it) and covered heavily by writers like Andrew Sullivan.

Throughout his life, the FBI closely monitored him.  He served prison time for resisting the WWII draft, and wrote to his male partner from prison as if his partner was a woman. He had at one time joined the Young Communist League (in 1936) but after the US entered WWII the communists dropped their interest in race relations.  Ironically, later, he would push for racial integration of the military, which Truman achieved in 1948.

Later in life, he would be busted for public sex in Pasadena CA in 1953, and the history of a “morals charge” would be used in rhetoric against him, as by Senator Strom Thurmond (whom we know emphatically opposed lifting the ban on gays in the military in 1993, with his “it isn’t normal” rant in a public assembly in Norfolk right in front of Tracey Thorne.)

Later in his life, Rustin became anti-communist and supported US involvement in Vietnam but criticized many of the specific actions taken by the military. The film does cover the issue of identity politics and intersectionality as Rustin experienced it in earlier generations.  He created controversy as to whether is involvement with labor issues and later Vietnam represented the best interest of “his own people”, African-Americans.  He believed that African-Americans (called “negroes” in the 1960s when I was coming of age) needed to accept that technology would affect the labor market for everyone.  Heliked to use the phrase “angelic troublemakers”.

Name:  “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
Director, writer:  Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer
Released:  2003
Format:  1.85:1  (often 1:37:1), often BW
When and how viewed:  DVD giveaway from HRC, 2017/12/27
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Question Why, PBS POV
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 at

“Hurry Sundown”, Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama, examined race relations and even draft dodging

Having been reminded of this film by yesterday’s movie with an accidentally similar title, I did rent Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama “Hurry Sundown” on Amazon today.

There is something about these older big expansive films in historical settings (the biggest of all is “Giant” in 1954 by George Stevens, which I saw in Dallas in the 1980s at the Inwood) that I miss today.

The film was released in February 1967 when I as starting my third semester of graduate school at the University of Kansas.  I sometimes made it to the Varsity or Granada in downtown Lawrence (Mike Nichols’s and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” in black and white) but I don’t remember seeing this one.

The specific issue that got my attention is that a lead character, Henry Warren (Michael Caine, looking out of his usual character) is described as a draft dodger, as he tries to swing a land deal in post World War II Georgia (the film is said to have been shot near Baton Rouge, LA). His rival is a cousin Rad McDowell (John Phillip Law) who has returned unharmed from WWII combat in Europe.  The script (the movie runs 2-1/2 hours) doesn’t tell us exactly how he got out of the draft (like CO, or a fake medical excuse).  There is an early conversation in a car where Rad says that how one experiences European capital cities (like Paris) depends on one’s point of view.  Later Rad tells his own kids that cousin Henry has no conscience.

Henry has a story marriage with Julie (Jane Fonda), who is more protective of her autistic son. Henry blames the mother’s side of the family for his “defective” kid.  But it was common in earlier generations to look at autism or mental disabilities through a moral lens.

Rad has his sons (who figure in the climax) and wife played by Faye Dunaway. Burgess Meredith plays the bigoted judge, and George Kennedy the corrupt sheriff.

People in this generation indeed had different moral postulates, especially about race.  Rad wants to partner with a black sharecropper family  (Reve and Rose Scott, played by Robert Hooks and Beah Richards) to develop his land and refuses to sell.  Rad would have learned better racial attitudes being in the Army. True, Truman would integrate the military in 1948 (as in the HBO film), but there had been proposals when the war began, in 1941.  All of this is prelude to the debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” to erupt a half century later.  Times do change, and so do moral postulates.

The film foreshadows its tragic conclusion by showing blasting on the land to clear irrigation ditches.

Name: “Hurry Sundown”
Director, writer:  Otto Preminger
Released:  1967/2
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Instant 3.99
Length:  144
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017 at 8:45 PM EDT)

“The Promise”: World War I epic about Armenian genocide is also a personal moral fable

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.

Wikipedia article on Armenian Genocide.

This is a good place to note Comey’s comments on journalists and classified information.

Name:  “The Promise”
Director, writer:  Terry Georgr
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, very late, 2017/5/2, I was the only person in audience!  Showing just for me!
Length:  133
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Open Road
Link:  FB

(Posted: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman”: this turns out to be more about social conservatism than Bannon’s other docs

Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman” is another Citizens United Production directed by Stephen K. Bannon in 2010, to years into the Obama presidency.

The list of prominent female speakers is long.  Michele Bachmann (MN) leads the pack, along with Ann Coulter (who, like Milo Yiannopoulos, has been banned from Berkeley), Michelle Malkin, S. E. Cupp, Dana Lesch, Michelle Easton, Sonnie Johnson, Jenny Beth Martin, Michelle Moore, Jamie Radtke, Deneen Borelli, and  Jamie Turner.  And besides (former) GOP representative Bachmann, the film presents congresswomen Cynthia Lummis and Jean Schmidt.

The speech in the film, as in all of Bannon’s CU films, seems rushed (to fit into 84 minutes), but this film lays out the philosophy of social conservatism more explicitly than any of the other Bannon films.

The film, like Bannon’s others, is divided into progressive segments.  “Salt of the Earth” comprises “The Personal”, :The Constitution”, and “The Pioneers” (like a 5th grade diorama project). “The American Crisis” breaks into “The Political”, “The Financial”, and “The Fire”, which becomes the Tea Party. Then “The Fire” itself becomes “Mama Grizzlies”, like in Yellowstone Park (you don’t approach grizzly bears protecting their cubs).

The basic message, of course, is that If government gets out of the way (particularly the federal government), people are free to build and innovate better lives for themselves and their families and immediate communities.  That leads to Ayn Rand like material about self-reliance and hard work.  But that also presumes a personal moral compass.  The problem is that others, particularly immediate family (starting with parents) need to implement this moral system.  So people do have to grow up learning behavior and obedience, first, and leaning to carry their own weight and do their chores, and sometimes share in common risks.  Someone in a position of local authority still needs to be in control.  Indeed, it’s apparent that “rules” may be necessary for a community to sustain itself indefinitely, especially in a world that can be hostile.  But the rules can become self-reinforcing, a source of gratification on its own.  All of this is well known in the Gospels (“Man for the Sabbath”, etc).

The women do give plenty of testimonies of their own hard work.  Bachman talks about doing babysitting when there was no other money around.  (I am reminded of the 2001 Minnesota-produced comedy film “I Hate Babysitting” by Tara Spartz, which I doubt Bachmann has seen.) That leads to a  corollary observation, that everyone needs to learn to take care of children (even the childless for now, because you never know when you have to step into a situation).  She gives an example of an immigrant farmer who arrived with nothing and built up a major food company in Winona, MN.  Another speaker talks about going door-to-door to offer lawn work and home repairs.  But that presumes a world in which people are willing to answer knocks on the door from strangers.  In the security-conscious world of today (with home invasions), people are much less hospitable to solicitation.

Later the film gets into gender matters, as if performing according to birth gender were a self-evident moral responsibility (contradicting a message of personal freedom and individualism).  The film shoots down the attempt to pass an Equal Rights Amendment during the 80s, and one speaker speaks against requiring women to register for the draft.  That implies that conscription of males and demanding their sacrifice is OK.  You may believe that men have an intrinsic duty to protect women and children, but that is somewhat counter to libertarian ideas of freedom, and is even contradictory to an absolute pro-life position.  Bachman also mentions a duty to get married and start a family, as if the single life is childish and prolongs dependence (she says this after criticizing Obama’s including adult children to age 26 on parents’ health insurance.  But of course that presumes that initiatory sexual performance, from men, always occurs naturally and is itself a moral duty. Even George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986) has admitted this.

There are other statements, like “women transmit morality” and “women feel” while “men see” presume a loyalty to a very binary gender world. There is also the morsel, “Liberty is not for pansies”.

One is left with wondering, in a world where people will not be of equal circumstance or even biological endowment, how do we treat those who “can’t”?  (I really started processing this after a scene where a boy who can’t hit a pitched baseball gets to user a T-ball, and then I thought about kickball.) After all, we are to treasure all human life.  Carlson and Mero, in their 2009 book “The Natural Family: A Manifesto”, claimed that this is what “the natural family” does:  it allocates based on needs and takes based on a ability, but only on a very local level.  This seems to be a matter of faith and heart, and belonging.  Otherwise, the self-replicating cycle favoring political authoritarianism builds up quickly.

Bachmann’s family, by the way, is reported to have been involved in gay “conversion therapy” in the past (link).   She also spoke out against raising the debt ceiling in 2011, which could have led the federal government’s defaulting on obligations it had already incurred.

(Posted: Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

“The Great War” airs on PBS American Experience in 6 hour film

PBS American Experience is airing a three-night six hour film “The Great War”, giving a chronicle of the history of World War I. It is directed by Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley. It is produced by Mark Samuels. Oliver Platt narrates.  It should not be confused with Ken Burns’s “The War” about World War II.   Writer Alan Axelrod often speaks. The series airs April 10-12, 2017 on PBS stations.

The documentary opens with a portrayal of Woodrow Wilson, as a somewhat frail and pious man who would be devastated by the loss of his wife. But sometimes his judgment, even early, seemed dated by today’s standards, as he reimplemented segregation among federal employees.  He was the only Democrat born in a Confederate state (in Staunton, VA) and knew what it was like to “lose a war”.

In the early days of WWI, American companies made money selling ammunition and supplies to Britain.  It would gradually become more difficult for America to remain neutral.

The war quickly became horrible, with the destruction in Belgium and France, leading to civilian refugees.

Some young men in upper classes felt obligated to volunteer to fight for France, to prove they could become ballsy and prove themselves by taking risks for the causes of others.  Eventually, there were summer military camps.

The documentary covers the sinking of the Lusitania. In early 1917, more American ships were sunk, and intelligence showed possible German plots to get Mexico and Japan to go to war with the US, and a German “terrorist” tried a home invasion at the estate of J.P. Morgan.

Wilson entered the War on the basis of an ideology, to “make the world safe for democracy”.

People got their news from songs composed in a Chelsea mill of composers, whose songs giving ews from Europe got published the same day.  “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” There was irony that classical music was based on German composers, and it gradually became shunned.

The draft would be sold as a kind of volunteerism, “Selective Service”, from which the government would cull who would actually serve.  (Technically I “volunteered” for the draft in 1968.)   The Army remained segregated by race.  Native Americans were regarded as “white”.  But the authorities feared that blacks with weapons could turn on them.

There were conscientious objectors and “slackers”.  But 680,000 men were finally drafted on the first day of official conscription in July 1917.

To sell the war, “Chief of Public Information” (propaganda) George Creel recruited the “four minute men” and “gave them the words” to sell patriotic messages at projectionist breaks in movie theaters, at circuses and other public venues.

Basic training in those days comprised 14 hour days of training.

Wilson wanted the men to fight in separate forces from the French, who were waiting for the Americans to rescue them.  The Germans transferred more men to the West after Russia pulled out, as Bolshevism and Lenin gained attention for a new socialist world order.

Alice Paul led the American “Suffragettes” and eventually Wilson agreed surreptitiously to support female suffrage.

J. Edgar Hoover led the effort to mobilize the food effort, and Americans started watching each other on the home front, over loyalty, even the informal rationing of food, and the quasi-compulsory purchase of war bonds.  Conformity was enforced by groups like “The American Protective League”.  The vigilantism sounds shocking. But it helps explain the authoritarian attitudes of the generation I grew up in.

In a major incident, an African American soldier achieved great valor sacrificing himself on the battlefield.

The earlier Espionage Act was followed by Sedition Act in 1918, which wounds today like a shocking and unbelievable encroachment of the First Amendment, as people could be jailed for the most innocuous complaints against personal hardships, let alone the draft.

The last part continued to show the enormous carnage and sacrifice of American “doughboys” who overcame the Germans in the fall of 1918.  The Germans agreed to Armistice because they feared more Americans and believed Wilson.

The film only briefly covers the catastrophic Spanish flu pandemic in 1918; but young soldiers found that their robust immune systems did them in, as their lungs filled up quickly and could die within hours.

The documentary continued to portray the aggressive attempts to find civilian “slackers” (draft dodgers). After the Armistice, conscientious objectors could be brutally treated at Leavenworth.  A labor leader, Eugene Debs, stayed in jail over sedition. The government appeared determined to punish those who had refused to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My own view is to see sacrifice as just that, not always honorable.

Wilson (who crafted “The 14 Points”) once noted that statesmen would have to start thinking about people as people rather than as components of countries or nation-states. Yet Wilson was willing to compel a whole generation of young men to sacrifice themselves for what seemed like an ideological and abstract goal set by others, for the future.  He would not tolerate others criticizing his zeal, even after his sudden change to get into the War. Wilson’s story probably helps us understand authoritarian intolerance of free speech today.

Returning black soldiers were feared and treated badly, and Wilson would do little about it.

The best PBS link is here.

Another descriptive link is here.

(First posted on April 11 at 11 PM EDT)

“Indignation”: 50s period drama about campus life and the military draft, with ironic parallels to my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book narrative


Name: Indignation
Director, writer:  James Schamus, Philip Roth (novel)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2016/8/7, afternoon, Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax Va, fair audience
Length 110
Rating R
Companies: Summit, Roadside Attractions, Likely Story
Link: RA official site

Indignation”, directed by James Schamus (his directing debut, but well known as a screenwriter, like for “The Ice Storm” (1997)) is an early 50s period drama based on a socially depictive novel written by Philip Roth, from 2008.

The plot concept, described for its own sake, would sound bizarre at first, but the film reiterates the atmosphere and attending issues of college life (and family life) of post WWII America, and creates an atmosphere similar to what I had imagined for the first chapter of my first (1997) book, “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”.  I guess this was the movie for me to see one day after exhibiting my own books at OutWrite DC (yesterday’s review).

Stop, for a moment, and consider what the word means.  which Google shows as “anger or annoyance from what is perceived as unfair treatment’.  Yup, put the word on a high school English vocabulary test. Put it in the SAT’s; the idea is important.  When enough people get mad, they can join together an lash out, even threatening social stability and expropriation, even sometimes revolution.

That’s not quite what happens here.  The lead character is college freshman Marcus (Logan Lerman) who, at about 18, has the same kind of verbal charisma as someone like Jack Andraka or Taylor Wilson (it’s all too easy for me to imagine casting either one of those two scientists if they wanted to be movie actors instead).  The setup is that he is the only son of a Jewish family, whose parents run a (“kosher”) butcher shop.  Graduating with perfect grades and baseball ability, he gets the chance for a college scholarship in Ohio at “Winesburg” (just east of Columbus), after the family has lost other men to the Korean War.  The script has an early line mention that “they keep men who go to college from the draft.”

That idea will in turn become important to the “penultimate” end of the film (spoiler risk), but here I’d say that the film explores the moral universe of the draft deferment issue the same way I do in my first book (where it later fits in to a dialectic about gays in the military) except that it’s transposed to the earlier Korean period, whereas I “do it” with Vietnam. The idea of being a potential sole surviving son still plays here (although it did not in Vietnam).

Jewishness here means minority status, and the college puts him with two Jewish roommates (Ben Rosenfeld and Bryan Burton).  He gets pressured to rush for a Jewish fraternity, where there is only a  hint of potential hazing (which I cover in my book – the “tribunals”)   He starts getting annoyed by his roomies, one of whom plays classical records loud (the Tchaikovsky Symphony #4 finale, and the Liszt Piano Concerto #1) when he wants to study.

Here the parallels for my own freshman semester (to end in my November 1961 expulsion of “admitting” latent homosexuality) appear.  I had a roommate who dreaded classical music, even encountering it by accident on his clock radio dial – particularly the opening of Brahms’s Symphony #2.  But the other parallel is antonymic:  the sexual problems here stay in the hetero world, but are quirky enough.  A wealthy girl Olivia (Sarah Gadon), cock-teases him on a date and then later in the hospital.

To skip ahead a moment, there’s a scene near the end where Marcus predicts Bill Clinton, “I did not have sex with that woman”, that is, no actual intercourse, so he couldn’t be responsible for a pregnancy and for raising a kid he did not sire.  But sex is about a lot more than intercourse, which is part of “the problem”.

Another angle is that Olivia, it turns out, is a mental patient who eventually heads for a permanent nervous breakdown (a fake disorder for the times).  Maybe a relic of the days of electroshock, she was a bit like the female patients I encountered myself while an inpatient at NIH in 1962 (I personally referred to one of them as a “god damn MP” but I also used the word “shim” in those days).  This all creates an atmosphere of near horror, but that’s the early 50s.


But the pivotal character is the Dean of Men Caudwell (Tracy Letts).  Marcus gets called in to see the Dean after he requests a move out from his roommates – and winds up alone in the “least desirable” dorm sleeping alone.  The twenty minute confrontation is the center of the film (a screenwriter’s “middle”), and Marcus here depends his newly found atheism (or maybe just agnosticism or scientific spiritualism) like a lawyer, especially as the topic of Bertrand Russell comes up (a topic a friend mentioned to me in 1971, lending me one of Russell’s books).  Here an odd and perhaps overly coincidental plot twist occurs – Marcus is coming down with appendicitis (“iv critic”? “need mom”?  Twitter code words today)  and, as does a “Carnage” (Roman Polanski,s’ dramedy) to end the scene.  Now the scene looks a lot like my own confrontation with Dean Carson Barnes at William and Mary om Wren Hall, as I describe it in my book (I was called into the office suddenly late Friday after Thanksgiving) – except that mine ended “quietly”, only to blow up with expulsion when my parents came the following Tuesday. Then, there is another confrontation which will, in a sense, lead to Marcus’s own final undoing and exposure to combat.  Marcus’s story diverges from mine in that he does not get pampered and protected from combat, whereas I would “serve without serving.”  This is good material for Oliver Stone (like “Full Metal Jacket”).  There’s another clever “business” idea behind Marcus’s undoing, where his usual impeccable honesty (like that of Alan Turing) fails him just once, and that’s all it took.

Logan Lerman is listed in the credits as an executive producer of the film. Lerman had played the precocious kid in the WB series “Jack and Bobby“. Remember that line in a campground scene where Bobby says, don’t think I don’t see things just because I’m a kid.

We could compare the film to some others about the period, like Kazan’s “Splendor in the Grass” (1961), which I and my roommate saw separately on the same day in October 1961.

(First picture: Mt. Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip; second, inside Wren Building, William and Mary, near where Dean’s office was in 1961)

“De Palma”: famous director of “New Wave” suspense runs through his own narrative in his films



Name: De Palma
Director, writer:  Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Released:  2016/6/17
Format:  standard
When and how viewed: Landmark E Street, 2016/6/20, 7 PM, light audience
Length 104
Rating PG-13?
Companies:  A24  (New York Film Festival)
Link: site

De Palma: One of America’s Greatest Storytellers”, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, consists of the 75-year old director sitting an talking about his life and his movies, with many clips.  There are no interview questions, just an auto-narrative. He also says filmmakers need to prove themselves in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

He says at the end that his entire life narrative is out there for everyone to see, including any mistakes.  That is how it is for me!  He says his entire concept for film comes from visual imagery.

He grew up in an upper income family in northern New Jersey and then near Philadelphia, and went to Columbia intending math and science, in a day people needed draft deferments.  But he describes how he got into short film, and then into the business for real.

For most of the documentary he runs through his films, and many are interesting.

I remember seeing “Greetings” (1968), rated X, in Newport News VA when I was stationed at Fort Eustis, VA, between rounds of a chess tournament.  De Palma explains how he got out of the draft, including falsely claiming homosexual tendencies.

Obsession” (1976) plays on the doppelganger idea.

He moves on to “Carrie” (1976), based on Stephen King’s famous novel about a bullied girl who gets revenge through telekinetic powers at a senior prom, and he explains how he did the effects.  None of the remakes are as good.

Dressed to Kill” (1980) is one of his most Hitchcock-inspired films.  I remember the elevator slasher scene with a notorious transvestite who then goes after a witness.  I don’t recall that “she” was genuinely transgender.  I saw the film in Dallas.  I remember the “museum” (like in “Vertigo”) and the teen and the brownstone psychiatrist.  This film is one of my favorites.

Blow Out” (1981) is another favorite, where a technician records an accident and discovers on his own that it is murder.

Body Double” (1984) is another mystery about person duplication.

Scarface” (1983) was intended to show the Miami drug underworld and wound up being filmed in LA because of objections from the Cuban and Latino communities, and is one of the most graphic crime films ever made, practically NC-17.

Wise Guys” (1986) is a mob comedy, no connection to the Christian youth play that I have seen stage-produced and as far as I know still awaits being made into a film (maybe by Sony Affirm, perhaps?)

The Untouchables” (1987) is the famous mob drama partly written by Elliot Ness.

Casualties of War” (1989) is inspired by Vietnam, and tells the story of a soldier in a unit that has kidnapped a Vietnamese girl.  Note the word “victims” isn’t in the title.  This film made an “anti-war” statement as I remember.

Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) shows life on Wall Street, a controversial adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel.

Carlito’s Way” (1998) is a famous crime drama with Sean Penn and Al Pacino and a famous scene in Grand Central with a baby carriage.

Mission to Mars” (2000) was directed for Disney, provides a mysterious artificial mountain on Mars with female aliens, who claim to be the mothers of all of us.

Redacted” (2007) brings back the topic of war crimes by American soldiers, this time in Iraq.

(Published: Monday, June 20, 2016 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“Oriented”: young gay men cross the Israel-Palestinian conflict in their relationships, questioning the moral hold of religious-based culture

Tel Aviv LGBT pride parade 2015
Tel Aviv LGBT pride parade 2015


Name: Oriented
Director, writer:  Jake Witzenfeld
Released:  2016
Format:  digital film, 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Vimeo screener from distributor (private)
Companies: Quiver Digital, Conch
Link: official site 

The film “Oriented”, directed by Jake Witzenfeld, goes to the root of the tension between personal sexual identity and loyalty to cultural, tribal or religious affiliation, by presenting gay love relationships that cross the war lines between Israel and Palestinians.  It’s a film that takes no prisoners, figuratively speaking.

The 79-minute film traces three men in particular.  Khafer Abu Seif, the son of a Palestinian “mafia” boss, lives with Jewish boyfriend, David Pearl, in Tel Aviv, which looks spectacular at night in a few scenes (as does Amman, the “gateway to the Arab world”). Fadi Daeem also has a Jewish love, but the most pointed story concerns the handsome, rather virile Naeem Jiyrles, who confronts his Palestinian family when he comes out to them at about age 25.

Naeem insists he is not the same person now he was as a boy, but is 100% happy with his identity living on his own.  His family keeps asking why being 90% happy isn’t good enough with the world his wealthy family (which seems to be sheltered from the settlement-taking and violence in many West Bank towns). He is asked bluntly, don’t you want children to carry on the family name, and he says, no one should have to answer a question like that. Naeem is criticized for his egotism and asked something like, can you change things for the good of the outside (e.g., your family).

Indeed, one is already responsible for one’s own family even without having one’s own children. In much of the world, belonging to your culture is much more important than individual choice, and marriage and family values are seen in a collective context, which gives marriage and religion a certain sense of meaning that becomes very addictive to a lot of people in authoritarian cultures. Being “better than others” as an individual is not seen as a virtue, but as a way of driving down one’s brethren (like the lesson of Joseph in Genesis).


The film progresses with a backdrop of war, and of kidnappings and murders of teens on both sides being covered in the news.  The Israeli draft is mentioned (Israel has accepted gays in the military since the early 1990s, much sooner than the US did with its “don’t ask don’t tell”).

There is a line about how Jewish gay people treat Palestinian gays, retorted with, “how will they take you in your own homeland”?

The three main characters form a non-violent resistance group called Qambuta, making viral videos.

The film is distributed by Quiver Digital (produced by Conch)l as part of an LGBT Middle Eastern Culture Equality Outreach”.

Films for comparison would include “A Sinner in Mecca” (2015, and “A Jihad for Love”) by Parvez Sharma, and “Out in the Dark” (2012) by Michael Mayer.

Wikipedia attribution link for Tel Aviv Pride in 2015 (US Embassy, CCSA 2.0.)   Second picture is mine (mosque in Washington DC).

(Posted: Monday, May 16, 2016, at 11 PM EDT)

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” parallels some of my own narrative issues


Name: The Man Who Knew Infinity
Director, writer:  Matt Brown, Robert Kanigel
Released: 2016
Format: film, 2.35:1
When and how viewed: AMC Shirlington, Arlington VA, light audience, late 2016/5/14
Companies: IFC
Link: website

The Man Who Knew Infinity”, directed and screen-written by Matt Brown (adapted from the book of that name by Robert Kanigel) is an engaging British biographical drama about Indian-born mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel, star of “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)).

Ramanujan (1887-1920)  is known for his work on number theory and infinite series.  He developed many identities (the bane of trigonometry students) my “intuition” before he could prove them.  Generally, this is uncommon in academic mathematics, although it happens with cosmology and physics;  some of his work now relates to black holes.  His life was tragically shorted by aggressive tuberculosis (the “white plague”), which could not be well treated when he lived.

The film tells a story with some striking parallels with my own personal narrative, and deals with some issues on which I have focuses a lot.  As a young adult, he is nudged into an arranged marriage (in India), after which he goes begging for an accounting job to support his wife despite having no formal degrees.  He tries to be attentive as a husband, but is not very physical, and his wife even says he is more interested in his numbers than people (or was my father once said, in “seeing people as people”).  He contacts Cambridge University Hardy (Jeremy Irons) at first with a desire just for assistance in getting published (another issue of mine)!  It’s determined that he needs to pursue a degree and attend classes like everybody else.  But his outspoken and perhaps boorish behavior in a lecture (the professor asks why he doesn’t take notes, when he responds by putting his infinite series expansion converging to “2/pi” (or 2/π ).

Then World War I starts (with some foreshadowing newspaper headlines).  Unbelievably, wounded soldiers are treated in tents right on campus.  A white soldier bullies Ramanujan as a privileged freeloader, living a shelter life in academia while his peers go out and fight – very much anticipating our own student deferment controversy during our own Vietnam War. But Ramanujan starts getting sick during the hardships from the rationing (the students cook in fireplaces with coal their own rooms).  Later he survives a zeppelin bomb attack on the campus. He would be denied his fellowship but eventually regain it and get his degrees.

He finally returns to India, partially recovered but soon deteriorates and passes away, almost like someone with AIDS. His illness may have also been related so some poorly done surgery mentioned in Wikipedia.

The screenwriting makes a lot of the personality crises (following the tenets of keeping audience rooting interest) and is sometimes a little “over the top” compared to what probably really happened.  The discussions about the need to do mathematical proofs, though, are interesting to me.  Hardy is atheist, by Ramanujan  was religious, saying every equation comes from God, and is shown praying in his room with incense.  Dev Patel makes his character personally appealing despite churlishness, and except in the illness scenes, seems more vigorous physically than he probably really was.  A comparison could be made with the early scenes of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” (2014).  A more distant comparison (psychologically) would be Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” (2014).

My own background includes an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Kansas (1968), right before going into the Army as a draftee.  In the movie, a cohort, Littlewood (Toby Jones) gets “drafted” and serves doing ballistics calculations, but actually lives in tents in combat.  In my Army tour, I had an MOS “Mathematician” (“01E20”) and spent the two years at the Pentagon and Fort Eustis, sheltered from combat.   Most of the course work involves proving theorems, as are most of the exam questions. I remember very few of the problems, except proving Liouville’s Theorem on the master’s orals (and stumbling)  with implies the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra.  My Master’s Thesis (“Minimax Rational Function Approximation“) has already been described online.

But compared to any genius mathematician, I was spread too thin, across too many areas, to have the kind of intensity to do this kind of math.  In 1971, I did help a colleague in a civilian job in the Navy Department get a paper on matrices in military computing published.


Wikipedia attribution link for Trinity College Picture, by Stanley Howe, under CCSA 2.0.