“Captain Fantastic”: prepper comedy that pays homage to Noam Chomsky

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Name: Captain Fantastic
Director, writer:  Matt Ross
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/23, at The Charles Theater, Baltimore, large audience, evening
Length 118
Rating R (some very explicit nudity and biological language, which is quite funny in context)
Companies: Bleecker St
Link: Official site 

Captain Fantastic”, directed and written by Matt Ross, somewhat resembles the “Wilderpeople” comedy (July 10) but is even more focused on fatherhood, in a domestic American (western) setting.

As the film opens, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) Is leading his six kids in a camouflage deer hunt in Washington state’s Cascade mountains (which are often shown with stunning views). The kids paste their bodies, even more than we did in Army basic.  The movie shows us their campground with its little huts, barracks like sleeping quarters, gardens, and animal husbandry.  Soon the kids are all rappelling, and one of the young kids slips and apparent breaks his wrist.  Daddy and the other kids fix him up.

They go around in a “vancredible” bus.  They’re also home schooled.  Soon we learn that the kids know the great books of literature (George Elliot’s “Middlemarch” and I believe Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” get mentioned or show up in the “library”), can do the science and math, and the oldest boy, Bo(a charismatic and fit George Mackay) has gotten into every Ivy league college. Bo likes to quote political manifestos, and at one point says he is a “Troskyite” but may become a “Maoist”.  That makes sense, because Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) had involved everyone taking his turn as a peasant or “prole”.

Ben is no right wing doomsday prepper (and the film doesn’t get into the area of guns).  His hero is Noam Chomsky, and on Chomsky’s birthday, he fakes a heart attack in a supermarket so the kids can shoplift groceries. That’s after an emergency room scene where one of the kids notices that most patients are fat (and probably diabetic). You don’t say those things in public.  It’s like saying Amish kids are usually much fitter than modern teens.

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We learn that Ben’s wife – the kids’ mom – has committed suicide in a mental hospital, and the conflict over her father’s (the kids’ maternal grandparents) funeral plans generate the rest of the plot. The patriarch is Jack (Frank Langella), who lives in New Mexico in a huge estate.  Although Jack first threatens Ben with arrest if he comes, Ben takes the family down and they attempt a reconciliation (and now the scenery switches to New Mexico deserts and mountains). The main conflict now comes from mom’s will and her funeral wishes, which had expected modest ceremony, cremation, and disposal of the ashes, in comparison to the lavish funeral desired by Jack.  Ben proves disruptive, which provokes the climax of the film.  Maybe in the end, the kids (most of all Bo) all win out.

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The idea of wanting to downplay a funeral, especially if death occurs in certain shameful or violent circumstances, is an idea that has occurred to me.  The idea was even explored on NBC’s “Days of our Lives” with EJ’s murder.

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Wikipedia attribution link for I90 thru Snoqualimie Pass in Washington, p.d., from Byways.org    I had an “ephiphany” there at lunch in 1978 on vacation, which would turn out to be prophetic in a few years.

Wikipedia attribution link for view from Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM), which I visited in 1980 and again in 1984 (“Spring Work Camp”).     The facility sustained a

(Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 11:15 AM)

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“Rebirth”: an appealing young man is enticed to join a “real life” cult

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Name: Rebirth
Director, writer:  Karl Mueller
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/22 Netflix instant play
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: Campfire, Heretic Films, Netflix
Link: Reddit

Rebirth” (2016), directed and written by Karl Mueller, is one of those “road” movies where an appealing young adult man goes on a little trip to get initiated into something maybe dangerous (think “Bugcrush”).  Structurally, it’s a little like the short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is” that closes my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.

In fact, protagonist Kyle  (Fran Kranz) and his former best friend had authored a little paper “Manifesto” years earlier.  If someone associated with the concept of this film knows me, it could be relevant that my 1997 DADT-1 book was called “The Manifesto” before “Manifesto” had become a bad word (although the Unabomber had almost made the word bad in 1995).  But this fictitious manifesto is supposed to be uplifting, about living “real life”.

Kyle works for his dad in a bank, in what looks like modern day LA (although there is a freeway scene with cars going the wrong way – was this film shot in Australia?) One day, that best friend, a rather disheveled and tattooed Zack (Adam Goldberg) shows up at his office (I wouldn’t do that to a friend) and inveigles Kyle to go to a weekend self-help experience with what sounds like an elaborate run cult, “Rebirth”.  I hope I don’t risk litigation by wondering if there is some allusion to scientology.

It needs to be said that Kyle is made to look as close as possible to the desirable, perfect young male, with a tender face and a slender, muscular hairy body, all ready for exploration, at least in fantasy.

The experience starts with innocent steps, like a hotel night, then a bus ride, and then an orientation at what looks like a gay dirty disco dance, for straight men. (Oh, yes, Kyle is married with wife and kids and big house, probably underwater.)  There are some “rules”, like secrecy, but the most important rule is “no spectators”.  After all, “spectators judge and criticize.”  Kyle has to surrender his cell phone for a while, which, you guessed it, opens him up to identity theft and bank account drains.

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All of this reminds me of how things go in discos today.  In fact, if you gawk, people (not your type) wil challenge you to dance with them.  The phone surrender reminds me of the Black Party that used to be held by the Saint in New York;  I think no phones are allowed.  (I wish they would release a DVD indie film of footage from the parties – but I could recommend the 2000 film “Circuit” by Jake Shafer, set in Palm Springs).

What happens, besides all the double talk of sales manipulation in the script (rather cleverly written), is a series of encounters (rather like Rosenfels-ian “gay talk groups” for straight people) in various decrepit rooms.  Finally, there is a sexual encounter (straight), where Kyle “gets it” although the scene could have done more with this.  Kyle’s character then will be tested, and whether he can contain an animal urge for violence is also on the block.

It’s too much of a spoiler to say the ending, but maybe this explains how some commercial cult-like self-help and motivational movements succeed.  I can recall going to an impromptu “feeling good about yourself” session at a hotel in Helena, Montana, of all places in 1981.  I’ve been to sessions like Est, Understanding, Lama, various encounters that the American west has to offer. In 1985, a friend in Dallas was “flown” to Waco for a day to interview for a job selling motivational tapes.  He didn’t quite get it.

Picture: Bar district in San Diego, my visit, 2012; second picture — outdoor disco dancing at Baltimore Pride 2016, while I function only as a “spectator”.

(Posted: Friday, July 22, 2016 at 10:3 PM EDT)

“The Vasectomist”: a Florida surgeon offers male sterilization to poorer peoples

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Name: The Vasectomist
Director, writer:  Jonathan Stack, Sarlena Weinfeld
Released:  2013
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2016/7/20
Length 52:
Rating NA
Companies: Special Broadcasting System, New South Wales, Australia
Link: url

The Vasectomist”, a long short (52 minutes) documentary film funded in Australia but not shot there, and directed by Jonathan Stack and Sarlena Weinfeld, pits rational wisdom not only against religion but instinctual love and biology.

In central Florida, Dr. Doug Stein has perfected his scalpel-free laser operation, to the pleasure of male patients who don’t completely “trust” their girl friends. But then Stein takes his procedure on the road, tyring his crusade for world population control, in poorer countries.  In the film, he visits the Philippines (source of labor for a lot of US manufacturing) and Haiti (post earthquake).  The documentary shows a lot of squalor.

He does meet objection.  A pastor connects homosexuality, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia as one continuum of progressive immorality that devalues some human life for the pleasure of others.  (Does a potential unconceived child, who cannot yet even exist, have rights?) Later, a woman resists his “rationalism” (where he talks about how many more billions of people the planet can support) with “love”.  There is talk about reproduction as nature’s “vector”, and of procreation, while Stein questions the carrying capacity of the planet. The word eugenics doesn’t quite come up.

Stein offers income replacement for the day in poor countries to customers.  The film sometimes shows the procedure explicitly.

I can recall, back in late 1971, a co-worker coming in on a Tuesday morning saying he had his “tubes tied” the day before, and that he felt he had been kicked.  He was on this third marriage, and already had an “instant family” from his second wife, people depending on him, a source of pride.  In those days, there were concerns that vasectomies could have long term demasculinizing effects.

(Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 5 PM).

“I Must Survive”: a sailor caught behind the Vietcong in 1966 Vietnam

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Author: Harry Simpson
Title, Subtitle: I Must Survive
publication date 2014
ISBN 978-1-63268-783-8:
Publication: Tate, 40 chapters, 244 pages, paper
Link: Amazon,  author interview by Michael Slaughnessy

I Must Survive”, by Harry Simpson, arrived as a free sample.  The book tells the story of Brad Howard, a Navy sailor quasi Marine caught behind Vietcong enemy lines in late 1966, somewhere in the Mekong Delta, apparently.  I am not sure if this is really an autobiographical account or if it is fiction (but see the author interview link, it may well be fictive).

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Brad recalls his upbringing in Colorado from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s.  They moved around, and even after television became common place, they lived in an area of the High Plains (away from the Rockies) so remote they got no signal.  So the kids all had to learn real world creativity outdoors.  There was a kind of backyard baseball, of sorts (which we used to play – we even made cardboard stadiums as kids).  They dealt with telephone party lines, which could be listened in.  Brad even got polio, from which he recovered fully.  I can remember the advice for avoiding the dread disease around 1950, like not eating “too much ice cream.”

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The book is layered between “present day” (which is 1966) and the 1940s-1950s (sorry, no mention of Roswell).  In that sense, the book is structurally similar to “Silent Drums” (June 23), except that in the former book, the Vietnam battle scenes are a “past is prologue” with hospital and domestic stuff as “present day”. (The former book is more complicated in other ways, as explained there.)  The book, like “Tribe” (May 31) also shows a concern for why we put men into the military.  Brad says he enlisted in the Navy to avoid the draft, but wound up in a combat situation more dangerous.

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Indeed, the escape and evasion are quite harrowing.  He pastes his skin for camouflage, notes sores disfiguring his legs (as if that mattered), eats snakes and turtle eggs (so do foxes – at least the red fox that comes into my yard and naps after munching on stuff I didn’t know exists).  He calls to my mind the “Committee Group” unit of “Individual Tactical Training” at Fort Jackson SC at the start of Week 3 of my own Army Basic Combat Training in 1968.   (Oh, yes, on a hike-march from that session back to the company area, I said, “The Marines are tougher than the Army.”)

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Lyndon Johnson escalated the War in Vietnam in mid-1965, while I was working on my first summer job (as a computer programmer) for the Navy at David Taylor Model Basin.  I would get a graduate degree in math before having to enter the Army in early 1968.  But a friend, in the college chess club, flunked out and got drafted in the fall of 1966, and spend most of 1967 in Vietnam in the Signal Corps.  He wasn’t exposed to much combat personally, but by 1966 it had already gotten quite dangerous.  I can recall that soldiers headed for Vietnam on the East Coast would report to Fort Dix, even on New Year’s Day, fly to Oakland and then to Nam, often after eight weeks of Basic and ten or so weeks of Infantry AIT, and a month’s leave. Army infantry went on patrol every third night.  Many did not come back.  This was sacrifice.

I’m reminded of the 1995 book by Robert McNamara (with Brian Van Der Mark), “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” (Times Books), most of all Chapter 7. “The Decision to Escalate”.

(Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)

“When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism” by Jonathan Haidt, NYU

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The scholarly conservative periodical “American Interest” has published a book-length article by NYU social psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism”, in four chapters, which deserves a book review.  It’s dated July 10 and comes as the one free article per month in a stiff subscription paywall.  So I went out to a Barnes and Noble store and bought a hard copy for Jlu-August 2016, and did not find the printed article there!  But there were a couple other articles that supplement it, which I will get to.

The four chapters are “The Rise of the Globalists”, “Globalists and Nationalists Grow Further Apart on Immigration”, “Muslim Immigration Triggers the Authoritarian Alarm”, and “What Now?”

Haidt makes the valuable point, in Chapter 1, that as living standards rise  and a sense of “existential” personal security grows enough with ”democratic capitalism” familiar in the west, people tend to place a high moral value on personal expression (even “emancipation”) and on outreach to a whole world, and a sense of equality relative to a whole world, at least as a goal. Old fashioned values regarding religious tradition, and reverence for bloodline and patriotism, tend to be pushed behind, even shunned. However, as living standards for many people rise, patterns of greater efficiency tend to hollow out the jobs of many, and there is a tendency for some parts of lower and middle classes to become poorer.  All of this has been particularly true after the growth of the Internet.

Immigrants sometimes take the manual labor jobs that at first many people don’t want, but in time higher paying jobs may be outsourced overseas or be taken by more talented immigrants.  In time, some groups find that their way of life is threatened, and in some cases their sense of “meaning” is trampled by secularism or permissiveness.  In time, some immigrant groups do not assimilate well in some countries and create conflict, even threats. That is most obvious today with some Muslim communities, especially in Europe.

Haidt disputes the idea that a turn to nationalism and patriotism is necessarily “racist”. He does explain the idea the appeal of strong authoritarian figures as a desire by people to protect their own “group”.  But in some groups, the stricture on behavior or values of individual members of the group can be troubling, even extreme.  In some groups, homosexuals are outcast because in part they represent a possible threat to the group’s ability to maintain strength through procreation and extended family social cohesion.

I learned about this piece from an op-ed in the New York Times by David Brooks, “We Take Care of Our Own”.  I think there is a context that can get quite personal.  If you want individuals to be effective in reaching out to others (whether our own poor or in missions and projects overseas), they have to learn the social cohesion of “taking care of their own” in the family first.  To an extent, it is helpful (maybe even essential) that the “less developed” world (and poor in our own countries) see this process take place, so that others feel that there is some personal hope and some point in behaving peacefully. That may indeed provide a logical backdrop for “family values” the way social conservatives usually argue for them, even though most social conservatives (such as those writing the GOP’s platform this week) seem lost in naïve religious platitudes.

I experience competing tugs in my own journalism and activities.  Groups want me to be “loyal” to them (as if they picked up that wearing a group victimization sign or shouting in a demonstration were “beneath me”), and it’s logically impossible to be simultaneously loyal to more than one.

The “American Interest” issue did contain at least two other essays that seem pertinent. One is “Globalization and Political Instability”, by David W. Brady (p. 33), which seems higher level than Haidt’s piece and less potentially “personal” but makes similar points.  A more disturbing piece is “Pragmatic Engagement” (p. 22), by Stephen D. Krasner and Amy B. Zegart. This essay discusses China and Russia, sandwiching all that around a section called “Unconventional Threats” including cyberterror and possible attacks on the power grids, all as low probability but catastrophic impact events. The authors use the term “Black Swan” for such an event, borrowed from Sarron Aronofsky’s film for Fox of that name based on performing Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”.  But this discussion amplifies the idea that the US should make more of its infrastructure hardware at home (a point that Donald Trump could make constructively without race or religion baiting).  It also potentially can feed right-wing ideas about “doomsday prepperism” or survivalism (another prod toward “take care of your own first) and self-defense and gun ownership.

Along these lines, Newsweek has an issue, dated July 1, 2016, with a yellow scare-cover, “Can ISIS Take Down Washington?” with an article by Jeff Stein on p. 26, “You Can’t Stop ’em All” with reference to an April Washington Post piece on soft targets in bars and restaurants. .

Haidt refers to several other important articles, including a Politco piece on Donald Trump and authoritarianism, another Politico piece on the “future of American politics”, and a Bloomberg piece warning about the losers of globalization.

(Published: Sunday, May 17, 2016 at 5:15 PM EDT)

“Life, Animated”: How Disney films helped a young man grow out of autism

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Name: Life, Animated
Director, writer:  Roger Ross Williams, Ron Suskind (book)
Released:  2016
Format:  HD video film
When and how viewed:  2016/7/16. Landmark Bethesda Row, late show, small audience
Length 91
Rating NA (PG-13)
Companies: The Orchard, A&E
Link: Owen’s own drawings

Life, Animated”, directed by Roger Ross Williams, tells another story of an autistic young person, going into adulthood.

In the end, the young man, Owen Suskind, at 24, seems  communicative enough that you wouldn’t necessarily notice the disability, except for a slight monotone at times in his accent.  He gets a job at a Regal movie theater, and has moved into his own apartment (although there is mention of some kind of regular assistance) at some distance from his family’s home, which appears to be in the Boston (maybe Cape Cod) area if I saw the film right.

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Owen’s father is Ron Suskind, a well-known journalist and author  .  Ron wrote the book “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Austism”.  Owen has a very supportive older brother, Walter, mother.

The early part of the film documents Owen’s sudden decline and loss of speech at about age 3.  But somehow he found a world “to connect to” in Walt Disney animated movies.  There was a particular “aha momenet’ associated with “The Little Mermaid” (1989).  Some of the other films included “Alladin”, “The Lion King”, “Peter Pan”, “Dumbo” (one of the first films I saw, with my parents, as a boy), and “Bambi”.    Oh, remember also Qausimodo in both classic and animated versions of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (which we spent half a year reading in high school senior French class). Animation seemed to show Owen how to differentiate between fantasy and reality.

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Owen gradually took up drawing, “sidekick” cartoon characters rather than the main heroes.  His slogan became “Protect the Sidekicks”.  I wondered if there was any relation to major comic book characters, or if Owen takes any interest in manga (or games with many characters like Danganronpa), or even the Pokemon Go game now

I had some experience with autism when working as a substitute teacher in 2005.  Owen, at the end of the film, functions at a much stronger level than the high school students I encountered.  The film does not cover Asperger’s Syndrome, which is regarded as part of the autism spectrum disorder.

(Pictures: My trip to Cape Cod, Aug. 2015).

Mason Bates: orchestral works

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I picked up, from Amazon, the CD of major orchestral works by young composer Mason Bates, with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Bates likes to intermix the sounds natural to specific locales or situations (sometimes computer-generated), on top of large symphonic canvasses.  There is a sense of blending formal classical music with “popular” idioms, even including disco and hip-hop.  To some extent, the “culture” behind the tone poems of Richard Strauss comes to mind.

There are three large works on the CD.

The first is the five-movement “B-Sides” (2009, with electronics), running slightly under 22 minutes.  The movements are “Broom of the System”, “Aerosol Melody (Hanalei)” , “Gemini in the Solar Wind”, “Remescal Noir” and “Warehouse Medicine”.  The most emotionally intact music occurs in the Gemini movement, where voices of the astronauts can be heard.  The last movement concludes with a lively climax, rondo-like.

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The second work is “Liquid Interface” (2007), 24 minutes, which is described as a somewhat “conventional” four-movement orchestral symphony, however programmatic.  (Somehow, the spoofy sci-fi film “Liquid Sky” (1982) comes to mind.) The first movement is “Glaciers Calving”, building to a climax that dissolves to a limpid “Scherzo Liquido”, and then meaty animated slow movement “Crescent City”, which manages to combine the idiom of New Orleans jazz (however improvised) with post-romaiticism, leading to a slower and quiet “On the Wannsee”, an odd choice given historical significance of the Wannsee Conference.

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The third work is the longest, “Alternative Energy” (2011, 25 minutes, with electronics), which is rather like a suite. “Ford’s Farm” is lively enough, and it gives way to “Chicago”, and then the evocative “Xinjiang Province” and finally “Reykjaviik”, to end quietly.

The CD is on the orchestra’s own label SFS Media (0065-821936-0065-2).

The composer was raised in Richmond, VA.  I’m reminded that the lead character of the movie “Boyhood” (2014, set in Texas) was “Mason”, and also of director Richard Kelly, born in Newport News but using Richmond as the backdrop of some of his sci-fi films, like “The Box” (2009). Of course, with the last name, I have to think of the “Bates Motel” (2013), A&E television series (offering Richard Harmon) inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960).

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(Published: Saturday, July 16, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT)

“The Infiltrator”: Bring back the filmmaking style of the 80s

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Name: The Infiltrator
Director, writer:  Brad Furman, Ellen Brown Furman, Robert Mazur (book)
Released:  2016/07
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, late 2016./7/15, fair audience
Length 127
Rating R
Companies: Broad Green
Link: official site 

The Infiltrator”, directed by Brad Furman, adapted to screen by Ellen Brown Furman and based on the book by the same name by the subject, Robert Mazur (aka Bob Musella), opens in a bar or bowling alley in Tampa FL in 1985, with Mazur’s branding and initiation or “tribunal”, in my parlance, at least.  In a confrontation, his wire shorts out, burning a scar and disfiguring permanently the chakra area of his chest. Yes, some manly hair is gone, for life.  Remember the scene in “Se7en” where Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman shave down before wearing a wire?  I wonder how common this is.

Then we are launched into an 80s-style movie, with slightly overexposed reddish tones in the film stock, and  a sense of old-fashioned tropical heat all the time. The film is not as an intense as Brian de Palma’s “Scarface”, which seems to be a source of homage.

The plot, of course, concerns how Mazur went undercover as Custom’s agent and brought down the US operations of Colombian Medellin drug lord Pablo Escobar.  It’s a little bit conventional and understated, with fewer than the usual number of car chases and crashes.  But the fake wedding at the end (Amy Ryan) makes enough mockery of heterosexual, traditional marriage.

The film has clips of Ronald Reagan’s television moralizing about drugs, and references to Nancy’ “Just Say No”.

The end credits give some history of what would later happen, including a note that the CIA would divert some of this to the Contras under Oliver North.  Is this film a supplement to CNN’s “The Eighties”?

Picture: Tampa, channel, my trip, July 2015

(Posted: Saturday, July 16, 10:15 AM)

“The Syndrome”: documentary on “abusive head trauma”, formerly “shaken baby” deaths and prosecutorial abuse

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Name: The Syndrome
Director, writer:  Meryl Goldsmith, Susan Goldsmith
Released:  2014
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  Cato Institute showing, Washington DC, 2016/7/14
Length 90
Rating NA (PG-13?)
Companies: Freestyle Releasing
Link: official site

The Syndrome”, directed by Meryl Goldsmith, examines the history of the “shaken baby syndrome” prosecutions, which have only recently morphed into “abusive head trauma”  cases.  From the early 1990s, there has developed a wave of cases of ordinary parents, mostly mothers but sometimes babysitters or caregivers, prosecuted for killing children on what appears to be a pattern of opportunistic prosecution and questionable or even junk science.

The syndrome is identified by doctors by three or more specific diagnostic factors.  In most or all states, when doctors find a case, they are required to call law enforcement.  That reality alone could discourage parents from seeking proper medical treatment in situations where parents know they had done nothing wrong. The film traces the work particularly of Dr. John Plunkett, in Minnesota, and George Washington University Hospital surgeon Ayub Ommaya, which maintains that a small baby cannot sustain brain trauma without neck trauma, and that a baby’s neck is not strong enough to transmit the trauma of shaking.

The film covers a number of women and families who were prosecuted with convictions and prison terms, resulting in what seem like wrongful convictions (compare this to the Andrew Jenks film “Dream/Killer” listed in the Index).

The film also covered the “politics” of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome and Abusive Head Trauma. The “politicians” resisted the efforts of Plunkett, to the point of trying to launch a fake prosecution from Oregon. Later the film captures a sing-song session from one of the meetings in Atlanta. The organization refused to be interviewed for the film or to appear at the Cato session where the film was screened tonight.

The film had difficulty getting into film festivals but eventually was picked up commercially.

QA clips:

1:  I had asked a question about whether ordinary parents face an existential danger by even having kids, something that discourages taking the risks of marriage and parenthood

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3   A doctor plays devil’s advocate

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(Published: Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 11:30 PM)

“The Fundamentals of Caring”: making comedy out of dire personal need

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Name: The Fundamentals of Caring
Director, writer:  Rob Burnett
Released:  2016/6/24
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant, 2016/7/13
Length 97
Rating PG-13
Companies: Netflix Red Envelope, Roadside Attractions(?)
Link: Netflix (subscription required to view)

When Ben Benjamin (Paul Rudd, “The Object of My Affection”) completes a six-week caregiving certificate, his teacher (Donna Biscoe) repeats a couple of inevitable epigrams:  You can’t care for someone else until you’ve taken care of yourself, and you have a right to be yourself, too (or something like that).   That’s how the dramedy “The Fundamentals of Caring” (2016) directed by Rob Burnett, a Netflix original film, based on the novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caring” by Jonathan Evison, begins.  Note that the title world is “caring” and not specifically “caregiving”, which is less inclusive.

Ben has lost his son in an unspecified tragedy, and a process server keeps trying to contact him with divorce papers from his wife. He takes his first job caring for a most personable young man, Trevor (Craig Roberts) who remains paralyzed from what seems like a congenital problem, and his life expectancy is low.

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Ben soon comes up with the idea of taking Trevor on a road trip, where he can feel more like a man for once in his life (at least be able to stand up for a piss).  The “object” will be the world’s deepest pit.  Now, the actual pit scene at the end seems to be filmed at a quarry in Cartersville, GA (a city I visited for one day in 1998 to visit with Sharon Harris of Advocates for Self-Government, while on my own road trip, when living in Minneapolis).

The movie script, however, says the boy lives in Seattle, and sometimes shows some far away shots of mountains in Montana or Utah.  So a copper mine pit at Bingham Canyon or in Butte MT (which I visited in 1981) would have been logical destinations.

OK, let’s get back  to the human side.  They go looking for “Roadside Attractions” (a term used in the script, but not named as a distributor of the film), and start staying in some one-floor motels.  Ben, to be a decent human being, gives a ride to another lost young woman (Selena Gomez), who comes along, and that gives a chance for some romance for Trevor (feels good for some viewers, but maybe not that funny for me). Then to really prove his eusociality, empathy and connectedness to other people. Ben goes over the edge when finding a pregnant woman, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) with a disabled car beside the road “.  I had my own situation like this recently (story ),  and it’s rather  uncanny that this happens in a comedy movie right after it “happens to me”.  Trevor insists that the crew take her along for the ride to protect her since she’s pregnant (just getting her car towed won’t cut it morally).  What’s funny about it, the possibility or an “instant family?  Well, Ben will get to prove that he can deliver a baby he didn’t make later.

Frederick Weller (“The Business of Strangers”, and “Stonewall” (1996 film) is rather chilling as an auto dealer who had abandoned Trevor pver Trevor’s disability.

The was a documentary “Care” about caregivers at AFI-Docs but I did not see it, and I’ll try to find the video.

By Kolopreshttp://www.toddtrigsted.com/trigsted_photo.htm, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2237031

(Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 6 PM EDT)