“Baby Driver”: Ansel Elgort plays the good kid caught in a life with the mob

Edgar Wright, the young British curator of the Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (remember the 2013 pub crawl to “The World’s End”), has put himself into the action black comedy about exploitation of youth, “Baby Driver”.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby, the good kid chased into a life with the mob after a family tragedy, who puts his teenage reflexes into driving fast cars into chases and escapes.  Even carjacks an old lady but gives her the purse back, and shoots out of a situation at the end only when he has to.

Yes, a 22-year-old has better reflexes when driving than a 73-year-old.  Maybe not the best judgment on risk. But Baby has no choice but to take risks to protect others, like a real man.

Kevin Spacey plays the boss Doc, looking more decrepit and withered than ever.  After Baby is willing go to back to delivering Pizzas while taking care of a crippled and deaf stepfather, Doc threatens Baby back into the life of crime.

Baby will rescue a waitress girl friend and turn himself in when he has to, and it’s not too much of a spoiler to admit he will be a model prisoner for five years.

The film presents plans of some pretty brutal stuff, including very personalized hostage taking in a post office heist (remember the bank robbery in “Heat”), which I would not survive if it happened to me.  The film makes pretty effective use of the Atlanta backdrop.  I wonder if I-85 is back open.

As I walked into the AMC Shirlington last night, my smartphone beeped that Nationals player Trea Turner had a fractured wrist, on a day the Nats bullpen had blown a lead.  I thought, Ansel Elgort certainly is built like a baseball player, especially a pitcher.  How many young actors are capable of playing professional sports? And, no, I can’t wake up tomorrow morning in his 23-year-old body.  That violates the laws of physics.  Thou shalt not covet.

I think I vaguely remember seeing the 1956 classic film “Baby Doll” on television in the 1990s, Elia Kazan’s tale of a virgin in the south fought over by two men,, with Carroll Baker.

Name:  “Baby Driver”
Director, writer:  Edgar Wright
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  AMC Shirlington, 2017/6/29, fair crowd, late
Length:  113
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Tri-Star
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, June 30, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

Edward Luce’s “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”: a warning to individual elitists (like me): you have everything to lose, by force

Edward Luce’s “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” comes across as a moral lecture about the perils of individual elitism. That’s my gut reaction The book is indeed a warning about how liberal democracy and the world order of the West can die. A lot of the time, the author is talking about whole countries and issues like state formation (the Peace of Westphalia in 1648), which Nicholas Wade also covers (causing some outrage) in “A Troublesome Inheritance” (June 24)– but this time, more from the Left He speculates about the dangerous future Donald Trump can bring, like a war with mainland China in 2018. (We scraped on this with Bill Clinton in 1996 and again with George W. Bush in early 2001.)  I wondered, what about North Korea right now?

But Luce is at his most powerful when he warns that the kind of globalist liberal fundamentalism that has become fashionable since the 90s can produce a dangerous backlash against individual globalists (me), not just countries. The basic problem is clear enough. Destructive technology has hollowed out the middle class. Superbly gifted young adults do spectacularly well (whether Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook or Jack Andraka and his worldwide book tour based on his science fair medical invention, or perhaps Taylor Wilson if he gets his fusion reactor going). But for the rest of “us”, it is harder to keep up. You have the student loans, the uncontrollable health insurance premiums (and the current debate over “replacing” Obamacare). Eventually this leads to a world where too many people have nothing to lose and everything blows up in revolution. We’ve seen it before. I warn about the same things in my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (2014), especially in my “non-fiction Epilogue” chapter.

Luce casts his argument in four extended chapters, like movements of a symphony: “Fusion”, “Reaction” (the slow movement), “Fallout” (the Chinese-sounding scherzo), and “Half Life” (a rather inconclusive finale than ends quietly – I’m reminded of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Symphony #5 in D “L’allegro ed il Pensieroso”). Of course, the title of the finale is rather telling: society will wind down to a whimper.

I have gotten used to thinking of myself as a “global” citizen, and I’ve seen Facebook friends (especially the childless) brag about the same. There is a dangerous insularity, to say the least, about this. It says, “I am better than (you)” because I am “smarter”, more “independent”, more “self-directed”, and I don’t make the bad choices that make “you” dependent on generosity. Oh, think how that plays out in the health care debate. But in recent year, social media has reversed this attitude somewhat, with the “GoFundMe” culture, where people expect personal interventions from strangers in what used to be a “mind your own business” individualist society (say, pre 9/11). And “disruptive technology” (exacerbated by the financial creativity of the Bush era, pre-2008 which he calls an “Atlantic” phenomenon) is leading the job market into the same place:   a higher percentage of jobs today involve tending to (or selling to) individual consumers or customers than in the past. I lived my I.T. career until after 9/11 sheltered in the world of the “individual contributor”, only to find, after age 58, how pimpy (or pimpled) the job market had become.

Be wary, Luce warns the elitists (like me), you have everything to lose (when others have nothing).

Revolution comes from populism, whether the far left or the alt-right. Populism tends not to care about the truth; it wants things to be better for average Joe’s now. You attract the strong man. You wind up with communism from the Left (like Venezuela right now), or extra-judicial vigilantism on the right (like Duterte in the Philippines). Oh, yes, you get Brexit (Oops? England?) and now Donald Trump, who “talks that way” and constantly threatens to bully the elitist, know-it-all media.

Luce makes some interesting meta-arguments over LGBTQ rights. He notes that progressives today assume marriage equality is an unchallengable postulate, but it’s only been a few years that this has been so. Societies often have differing perspectives about the “moral” place of diversities in their culture because of evolving (or devolving) external influences. Then people forget the past very quickly, or don’t want to be reminded of the past because it could fuel ideology for potential enemies. My own perspective, when I wrote my first DADT book in the 1990s, was centered around libertarian ideas of consent and privacy (especially when there is tension with ideas about cohesion, as in the military). I wanted the freedom to live in my own world of fantasy and upward affiliation, if that worked for me. Yet, I can see how this can lead to a dangerous, “elitist” endgame (like in chess); hence today I have to resist social pressures to actually sell the idea that gender fluidity is good.

The book was available only from third-party resellers and on Kindle when I bought it. That is unusual for new books.

Author: Edward Luce
Title, Subtitle: The Retreat of Western Liberalism
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0802127396
Publication: Atlantic Monthly Press, 226 pages, 4 chapters, indexed, endnotes
Link: Nation review

(Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“Dalya’s Other Country”: a Syrian refugee family assimilates well in Los Angeles

On Monday, June 26, 2017, PBS POV aired the documentary “Dalya’s Other Country” (74 min), directed by Julia Meltzer (Journeyman Pictures).

In 2012, Dalya, as a teenage girl, came to Los Angeles from Aleppo with an older brother and mother Rudayna.

The family assimilates rather well, and the director afterward says that is one of the main points of the film, to show a family that makes it.

Dalya struggles to get into college.  Her older brother adapts as a technology person, speaking perfect English and assimilating as a westernized young man while practicing prayers and diet a home. Rydayna resents her husband’s polygamy.  Her husband comes to visit and live in LA for a while, before going back to Turkey.  At one point, the husband gives an interesting account of the Muslim account of the afterlife (which happens at the end of time).

There is discussion of the wearing of the hijab, and the increasing hostility being stirred up by Donald Trump’s populist campaign.  Dayla turns 18 on Nov. 7, 2017 and votes on Nov. 8 (I guess having become a citizen).

The feature was followed by the short film “From Damascus to Chicago” (12 min), by Colleen Cassingham and Alex Lederman.   A Syrian refugee family, with DHS supervision and a faith-based group assisting, accommodates to life in Chicago.  The daughters learn ballet.  But the father develops a lymphoma and has total-body radiation but goes into remission and seems to be doing well at the end.

Name:  “Dayla’s Other Country
Director, writer:  Julia Meltzer
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/6/26
Length:  74
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV, Journeyman Pictures
Link:  PBS

 

(Posted: Monday, June 26, 2017 at 11:15 PM EDT)

“Beatriz at Dinner”: a vicious moral satire, and a caricature of The Donald, maybe; and some alternate reality in the end

Beatriz at Dinner”, directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White, may come across as a satire about a Donald Trump kind of person, and a very personal political and social conflict that develops with a person who indirectly works for him.

Beatriz (Salma Hayak) lives humbly with a lot of animals (“my pet goat”), works as a new age practitioner on nursing homes, and as a domestic in a real estate broker’s (David Warhofsky) home on the California coast. When her car breaks down as she is leaving, the family invites her to stay for dinner while waiting for the tow truck.

But when the “green boss” (that’s by childhood term) Doug Strutt, played by a creepy John Lithgow, arrives for dinner, the comedy becomes dire quickly. Strutt brags about his hunting exploits, where he killed a rhinoceros (remember Cecil the Lion).  Beatriz becomes unhinged, and goes to another room and looks up Strutt’s “online reputation” on the Internet, and finds loads of articles of how he has exploited workers all over the world.  When she comes back, she confronts him further, causing the party to break up.

The other guests release lanterns (like they do in Spain at the end of “The Way”) and the tow truck finally comes, but after a conversation where Strutts disavows liberal-do-goodism and climate change because the world will end in a few decades anyway (like FitzGerald’s Rubyiat).

The film then presents (by my count) three alternative endings.  With a couple of them, Strutts would not get a funeral in my world, because his end was for a political crime.  The we do see Beatriz’s own view of the afterlife.

I like the tagline, “She’s invited, but she’s not welcome”.

This movie is indeed a vicious moral and political satire, putting Jonathan Swift to shame.

Name: Beatriz at Dinner
Director, writer:  Miguel Arteta and Mike White
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85 :1
When and how viewed:  Shirlington AMC, 2017/6/24, small auditorium, full audience
Length:  87
Rating:  R
Companies:  Roadside Attractions, FilmNation
Link:  RA

(Posted: Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

“A Troublesome Inheritance” still provokes controversy, but over eons environment does affect the genetics of different peoples

Nicholas Wade (science reporter for the New York Times) created controversy and anger with his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”.  Right away, I wonder if this is the conservative-to-libertarian answer to Al Gore’s idea of “An Inconvenient Truth” as a book and movie title.

Let’s go over his basic argument.  Mankind originated in Africa (we are all “black”), and a mass migration north split off into two groups:  one group, gradually becoming Caucasian, settled Europe, the Middle East, and India. Another, becoming “oriental” settled East Asia, centered on China.  More recently further splits led to separate groups in Australia (aborigine), and the Americas (across the Bering Strait).

Mankind started out living in tribal groups with very close association with biological kin, as is common among other primates and many social animals.  First in Asia, and later in Europe, as populations increased and faced a “Malthusian trap”, populations had to organize into larger social and political groups (sometimes mediated by religion) to feed themselves.  Gradually, as social structures became more complex, society started to reward deferred gratification and individual problem solving. Families who were good at these skills, compared to using short term use of force and tribal violence, tended to prosper, especially as commerce developed. They had more children.  So in some parts of the world people are better adapted to modern civilized living than in others.

Africa, by comparison, did not have the population growth and geography that favored the growth of modern states, and colonialism intervened before it had time to catch up.  Likewise, smaller populations in the Americas and Australia did not have as much population mass to build modern states, although it seems to me that the Incas and Maya indeed built impressive civilizations.

For other reasons having to do with geography and the relative safety from invaders, Europe went through a second wave of innovation and developed openness to modern science (and balancing the power of the centralized state with other institutions) that led to technological superiority.  This is not always connected to “white people”.  Muslim populations in the Middle East often maintained tribal ways for geographical reasons, and tended support religious fundamentalism in a tribal context.  In China, innovation did not continue as quickly because the state became too centralized and conformist.

Wade has a lot of discussion of genes, alleles, and the statistical nature of how these are distributed.  At an individual level race may mean nothing as to innate capacity.  But in the aggregate, aggregate small differences in some psychological traits associated with genetics can wind up having profound political consequences.

Some reviewers have criticized Wade’s analysis of genetics (like on a final exam in Biology 101).  He gets into the issue of IQ, and notes that by some measures East Asians measure the highest, then Europeans, and then Africans.  But the work of others “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kirstoff, would claim that the relative intelligence of groups in different parts of the world has a lot to do with child medical care and the availability of early learning. But Wade maintains that it is not easy to teach “western values” to tribal populations.

Wade also goes into detail on the relative success of Jewish populations in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and hints why western classical music sounds richer and more nuances than tribal or folk music of many parts of the world.

I think that Wade’s comments on the values of tribal societies are very interesting. Tribal groups (most of all, hunter-gatherer) are both egalitarian within and authoritarian. The values behind some kinds of religious social conservatism (like “The Natural Family” by Carlson and Mero) reflect extended familial or tribal values.  In tribal culture the nuclear and extended families develop slowly as social constructs, with many rigid rules about gender.  It takes many generations for nuclear families to develop and it may venture toward polygamy, favoring more powerful alpha males; in the beginning, most men interact with women and protect them from rival tribes collectively.  Sexual intercourse is strictly about procreation and, when in marriage, is connected to local privilege over the lives of others in the family.  Family values evolve from a system where most men had to be good at warrior behavior to protect the women and children in the tribe.  The refusal for a man to sacrifice himself when required to do so for the tribe is considered cowardly, and Wade bluntly points this out.  That relates to the practice of military conscription of men by more advanced states. It also helps explain “homophobia” (and now “transphobia”) and why modern gay rights seems so recent and so dependent on modern civilization.  But the practices of some native tribes would refute that claim.  In any case, personal morality is about a lot more than just making wise choices according to consequentialism.

Modern neuroscience does support the idea that various personality traits are influenced by genetics (and for sexual orientation and sometimes gender identity, epigenetics — I won’t get into how traits that seem to hinder procreation remain persistent here).  Sometimes these can become pathological or destructive, as in various recent violent events related to mental illness and probably somewhat to genetics.   Indeed, the existential “combativeness” of young men in tribal cultures seems hard-wired to a degree shocking to people who have grown used to openness.  So it seems reasonable that over time, characteristics that promote individual competiveness in an open society, rather than just following the group, could be favored and become more common in an advanced culture.

There’s one other thing to say “in favor” of tribalism, as it occurs in nature.  I think there are reasons that it may connect to “the afterlife” (through genetics) better than a self-directed individual’s own “soul”.  I’ve covered this recently on my News Commentary blog. Ponder again, the big cats: lions are social, tigers are not, and in a pride the alpha male lion guards his own lineage first.

Author: Nicholas Wade
Title, Subtitle: “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”
publication date 2014, 2015
ISBN 978-0-14-312716-1
Publication: Penguin, 278 page, paper, indexed, 10 chapters
Link: Charles Murray review

(Posted: Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 3:45 PM EDT)

“Heli”: a young factory worker in Mexico protects his sister after she accidentally draw him into a drug ring

Heli” is a gut-punching dramatic film about involuntary family responsibility in the third world, specifically rural Mexico in an area overrun by drug cartels. The film (in Spanish with subtitles) is directed and written by Amat Escalante, with other writers Gabriel Reyes, Zumurt Cavusgolu, and Ayhan Ergusel. The film was shot in 2013 and has shown in Cannes and Sundance and is now becoming available on DVD from Strand Releasing (June 27).

Heli (Armando Espitia) is a an slender, appealing young man, about 20 with wife Sabrina (like the 1955 film name, Linda Gonzalez), 12 year old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara), and father (Ramon Alvarez). Dad works at the local auto assembly plant, which looks very modern (and perhaps tried to take American jobs – to Donald Trump’s consternation) and Heli has been working the night shift for some time. Estetla has a boy friend Belo (Juan Eduardo Palacios) who seems to be going through paramilitary training (maybe from a drug cartel) where he is forced to roll in his own chunky vomit.

Belo stores drugs in the family’s house, and when Heli finds them, he destroys them by throwing them into a well. But soon the house is raided, we think by police but they may be drug dealers disguised as troops. Dad is shot, and the rest of the family, as well as Belo, are captured.

The film’s middle section has one of the most graphic torture scenes ever filmed I’m recalling New Line’s “Rendition”, where Jake Gyllenhaal’s character witnesses “my first torture”) in which Belo’s private parts are set on fire, as if to imply permanent castration and epilation, and affront to “the virtue of maleness”. But soon Belo dies and his corpse is hung from a bridge in a public lynching.

The film had opened with a shot of Belo and Estela in the back of a pickup truck, leading to the lynching, as a prologue before the opening titles, a story preview familiar from the films of Jorge Ameer.

Heli is spared with worst but still injured. He eventually talks to police and is in the position of being the sole protector of his younger sister as well as wife and baby. The sister has become pregnant. Heli’s injuries cause him to be inefficient working on the factory assembly line, and soon he gets fired. But, as in typical screenwriting, he must prevail.

A reasonable comparison could be made to Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film “Traffic“.

Guanajuato archeological site, near where film was shot (Wiki).

Name:  “Heli
Director, writer:  Amat Escanante
Released:  2013, 2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Strand private screener on Vimeo, 2017/6/22, DVD BluRay available 2017/6/27
Length:  105
Rating:  R
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  BluRay

Picture: Big Bend, mine (Thanksgiving 1979 Sierra Club camping trip, looking into Mexico).

(Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 10:300 AM EDT)

“The Book of Henry”: the legacy of a gifted child who was grown at 12

The Book of Henry”, directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Gregg Hurwitz, is layered, in the sense that the plot is partially driven by the contents of a handwritten notebook authored by the charismatic Henry (think “Nocturnal Animals”) and it is also Biblical, in that the 12 year old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is almost like a Christ figure (think Danny in “Judas Kiss”) who really could save us, so his book is like a Gospel.

Unfortunately, Henry has an unusual, opportunistic brain tumor.  It starts with headaches, and a seizure, and he dies in his mother’s arms, looking at the sky. It’s a horrific tragedy. It is sudden, like Lee Atwater’s in 1989. Why would this happen.  Was he born with HIV?  His single mom (Naomi Watts) also has a younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay, from “Room”) whom we also hope will grow up to be a genius.

Henry and Peter have built a tree house with all kinds of perpetual motion gadgets. Mom likes to play video games on TV, but the movie has the look of the early 90s (in upstate New York).  Mom (Susan) works in a diner as a waitress even though it’s not clear  she has to. (The source of the money is not quite clear.)  She often covers for goofball comedian Sheila (Sarah Silverman).

There are twelve year old’s who understand the adult world.  I’ve met a few in my life, as a substitute teacher, and at local churches.  It’s gratifying to see the same 12 year old a decade ago at 22 today out of college.  (Maybe the Washington Nationals could use him as a closer, but I’ll stop there.)  But Henry won’t go to M.I.T., Stanford, or UNC.  His days are numbered, and he knows it, and he has to take care of his family.

Henry talks fast, often in rich metaphors (“our legacy is not how many commas we have after our name”).

Henry has Jesus’s moral sense.  Before his illness, he gets after his mom not intervening in an abusive situation in a supermarket.  He says that if everybody minded just their own business, people who can’t take care of themselves would be left to die.  Remember the parable of the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose?

Henry, playing “Rear Window”, has spotted the possible abuse of a female classmate by her stepfather, a politically powerful police chief, through the window, in the next door house.  He wants mom to intervene but he figures out that politically Child Protective Services won’t help.  So his authored book provides the blueprint for what mom must do to stop the stepdad once Henry is gone.

Susan (the mom) puts her comic plan into action to trap the police chief while Sheila leads a talent show at the school.  At the end, she burns the Book and the 80s-style minitapes.  But the DVD for this movie will need to include a PDF of the Book, with all of Henry’s Da Vinci-like drawings.  The Book itself needs ti be published.

The style of the movie is almost that of comedy, despite its tragic middle. The look of it reminds me of “Moonrise Kingdom”.

There is a NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas” (2006).

Name: “The Book of Henry”
Director, writer:  Colin Trevorrow, Gregg Hurwitz
Released:  2017
Format: 2.00:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts, Fairfax, 2017/6/20
Length:  106
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sidney Kimmel, Focus Features
Link:  official

(Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Real Boy”: documentary about a California female-to-male transgender teen

PBS Independent Lens aired “Real Boy”, by Shaleen Haas, a documentary about a female-to-male teen, Bennett (born as Rachel) being raised in southern California.  The 72 minute runtime was compressed to about 56 minutes on PBS on June 19.

Early in the film, the younger Bennett explains to his mother how he was born in the wrong body. His mother is willing to approach his claim with some objectivity.

Bennett becomes best friends with a kind of mentor, Joe. The visuals in the film present a contrast. It would seem very improbable that a female-to-male transgender person would “look” come to look as fully cis-male as Joe, who is real hairy and fits the social stereotype for a Caucasian male. (OK, you can get into genetics, and how having ancestors in a colder climate affects the gradual evolution of physical appearance and what cultures view as desirable.)

The film traces Bennett to age 22. At one point he moves into his own apartment and takes a retail job on his own. He plays his guitar. He talks a bit about workplace ethics. To get an oven going, he has to figure out how to operate a pilot light. He says he doesn’t know older technology. In fact, my own mother’s house had an old stove requiring a pilot light, which I have had to light only one. But I had an electrically ignited stove installed because I think it’s safer. The same is true of the water heater, when it was replaced. There was a chance here for the film to venture into “This Old House” (a famous PBS series centered in Boston) territory.

Eventually Bennett does have plastic surgery for his chest in Florida. The film does not seem to cover whether all possible surgeries are done, but they are obviously challenging when going from female to male.

Personally, I would lose the tattoos, which to me seem disfiguring.

I would expect to see a film about Gavin Grimm one of these days on PBS.

Name:  “Real Boy”
Director, writer:  Shaleen Haas
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS, 2017/6/19
Length:  72 (56 on PBS)
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Independent Lens
Link:  PBS    FB

(Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT)

Organist Raul Prieto Ramirez gives concert in Washington DC: Basque composer Guridi’s massive “Triptico” is the main event

Sunday, June 18, 2017 I attended the free organ concert at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC given by Raul Prieto Ramirez. The concert was performed on the new Austin organ.

The organist, at about age 28, apparently grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and teaches master classes around the world, including Indiana and Texas in the U.S. and in Russia.

The program started with the Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, by J. S. Bach.  The piece reminds me of my days if brief organ lessons about the time I was entering graduate school atKU in 1966 (I had the book of little preludes apparently by Krebs).

He then followed with what I think was the featured work of the concert, the “Triptico del Buen Pastor” (“Triptych of the Good Shepherd”), composed in 1953 by Spanish-Basque composer Jesus Guridi.

The work sounds like a three-movement organ symphony (running about 20 minutes) with a mixture of impressionistic (modal, especially the interval of the fourth) and post-romantic elements.  Were the work played on the piano, it might sound like a late Scriabin sonata (“Black Mass” comes to mind).  The palette, however dissonant and hyper-chromatic,  sounds “French” rather than Wagnerian, but it would be influenced by Basque folk dancing, especially in the area from Bilbao to San Sebastian. The work introduces a heroic big tune theme in the finale, which is a kind of majestic slow movement.  Despite passages that sound essentially atonal, the work is centered around the tonality of E-flat, and introduces a heroic theme near the end.  It ends crashing on one fortissimo final chord in E-flat. Rameriz’s performance adds other notes from the chromatic scale to the chord (is this the Scriabin mystic chord?) but some performances just play the tonic. .

Rameriz followed with the humble Bach Chorale “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier”, BWV 731.

He followed with the first movement from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony #6 in G Minor.  I posted a video of the complete work. I love the G Major ending.

After the intermission. Ramirez played his own organ transcription of Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz #1, which plays its own games with tonality (with all the fifths) at the beginning.

He continued with two compositions by Baroque composer Joan Bautista Cabanilles:  the Pasacalles #2, and “Tiento in terzio al estilo Italiano”.

He concluded with his own transcription of the expansive sonata-like Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” by Richard Wagner.  I saw the complete opera (long!) at the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center back in 1977 when I was living in Manhattan. The music that concludes the prelude ends the entire opera triumphantly, in C Major.

As an encore, he played a pedal piece (unknown, published as Bach) and the first two sections of Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564.

I had an old Columbia with Biggs of this work given to me by a friend right after my lost semester at William and Mary in the late fall of 1961.  On the other side were the Schubler Chorales.

Wikipedia photo of San Sebastian, Spain, which I visited in 2001.

(Posted: Monday, June 19, 2017 at 8 PM EDT)

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”: AFIDocs shows film about secret efforts to silence the established press; what about amateurs?

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”, by Brian Knappenberger, confronts us with the problem that the wealthiest classes may try to silence the established press by secretly bankrolling litigation, and by secret hostile takeovers of media outlets.

The film does focus on the Fourth Estate, the credentialed press, as such.  The viability of the Fifth (the amateur base) would make a subject for another documentary, I think, one that could focus on open access, for example.

The film focuses on two big events.

The first of these is the lawsuit Bollea vs. Gawker, by “Hulk Hogan” against Gawker media, and personally against several employees, for posting some of a private sex tape online.  Some employees were bankrupted personally and had assets frozen by judgment.  There is a scene where one younger male employee testifies (in Florida) flippantly about the idea of fictitious sex involving minors, an idea that helped bring down Milo Yiannopoulos this year, and affected a serious incident in 2005 when I worked as a substitute teacher, the details of which I have written about elsewhere.  It also had an indirect effect on the 2016 elections, which the film gets into in its second half.  A visit to today’s Gawker shell is well worth a visit and rather sobering.  I do wonder about situations where individual speakers could be effectively silenced by aggressive litigation and bargaining, but that is another topic.

An important concept in the suit was whether Bollea’s conduct, as a WWE public figure, was newsworthy and generated a higher standard of proof from the plaintiff.  This was technically a privacy case;  similar ideas occur with defamation.

About 40 minutes into the film, the documentary introduces the clandestine role of gay Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel in bankrolling the suit, as revenge for his being outed in 2007 by Gawker. In one humorous scene Thiel stumbles as he calls Gawker “sociopathic”.  Thiel’s speech in Cleveland at the RNC is quoted, but I recall Thiel’s saying that the country (including LGBTQ people) has more pressing problems than bathroom bills. Indeed, Thiel has offered scholarships to young inventors to start businesses instead of finishing college.  One of these went to nuclear fusion power inventor Taylor Wilson, now 23, very much in the clean energy business (which Trump has sidestepped) but also new levels of port security.  (Sorry, some “inventors” do need to finish college:  Jack Andraka will have to finish medical school to become a cancer researcher;  both Wilson and Andraka would deserve their own documentary feature films, as Andraka especially fits into the open access debate). The film shows Thiel with a chessboard, and indeed he is an accomplished tournament competitor, preferring direct attacking openings starting with 1 e4 (as did Bobby Fischer); he could probably be a real challenge for Magnus Carlsen to beat.

But the film focuses on the fact that Thiel’s backing of the litigation occurred in secret for a while.  So we have powerful business people (even in the LGBTQ community) silencing forces that oppose them.  Trump is not the only one.  This happens on the Left as well as the Right.

For its last third, the film shifts its narrative to Las Vegas, and the clandestine purchase of the Las Vegas Review Journal by the family of self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson who then reportedly influenced what would be published about high-roller developers.

The film covers Donald Trump’s particular vilification of the established media as an enemy.  His speech about opening up libel laws (to resemble those in England where the defendant has to prove truth) is quoted. Presumably Trump sees journalists as “watchers” or “spectators” who don’t put their own skin in the game;  but curiously, despite his reported disdain for computers, he loves Twitters and doesn’t seem to show the same disdain for journalists from smaller companies (like OAN) or independent bloggers.

The Journal Review I believe is the same paper that was involved with “copyright troll” Righhaven starting in 2010.  The law firm bought rights to articles from various smaller client newspapers (“champerty”) and then sued even low-level bloggers who allegedly violated copyright in various trivial ways.  At the time, there was a theory that bloggers were destroying small newspapers.  I’ve covered the development with a Blogger label here.  Note the coverage in the Journal Review and in Arstechnica.

Director QA (some technical problems with feedback):

Fact Sheet:

Name:  “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”
Director, writer:  Brian Knappenberger
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017 AFI-Docs, Landmark E St, Washington, 2017/6/16, sold out
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13 (?)
Companies:  Luminant, Submarine, Netflix
Link:  Luminant

(Picture: Mine, 2012 trip in Las Vegas;  2015, Tampa Bay, near the litigation site; 2016, NYC midtown)