“The Square”: vicious satire that starts out as a sermon on radical hospitality

This Sunday, I thought that a local church had a special service showing “13th”. a film I’ve already watched twice (Nov. 14, 2016 review — then I later saw the showing is Nov. 19). So I went to the one daily remaining showing of “The Square”, the new “morality play” and vicious (conservative) satire by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund; and, expecting an exploration of Christian personal values about other people, expected that to become my sermon and church, on a lively Sunday morning at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA (there is a church service there in a rented theater).

The title refers to an exhibit in a Stockholm museum, the “X-Royal” (for a reason), a bordered white space you could step onto as a safe space, a “sanctuary of trust and caring”.

The lead is Christian (Claes Bang), an attractive slender married heterosexual man in his 40s with two young daughters, who espouses a Leftist philosophy of ultimate charity for the needy, particularly for street panhandlers.  But like many on the Left, he is not above wielding power for its own sake, especially sexually over women, as shown in one confrontation where one of his partners challenges him about the time he went inside her. The movie starts precariously enough (after an initial anti-establishing shot of a homeless man on the streets of the perfect EU welfare state), as he is about to speak publicly, and another woman toys with his chest hair to attach a microphone.  In this movie, you notice these things.

As far as the space, I’m reminded of a huge maze exhibit at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain in late April, 2001, when I visited.  A young man from Brazil stood behind me in line and said that the whole point of this “sculptor” was to make you wait in line so you can “feel like shit.”

Very early in the film, Christian is robbed of his cell phone, wallet and cufflinks, in what seems like a setup confrontation in the streets.  (As I wrote this an fumbled my own iPhone its flashlight came on for the first time ever.)  Soon Christian is challenged to practice what he preaches. He inveigles his tag team hhsidekick Michael (Christopher Laesso) to support him, ultimately in a bizarre effort to hand deliver a letter to every family in a walkup apartment accusing them of the theft.

The film turns into a 140-minute sequence of skits, often with bizarre rhythmic sound effects, exploring the whole issue of how we personally treat people whom we perceive as weaker than ourselves. There is an experiment where museum visitors are challenged to prove they “trust people” by leaving their phones and wallets out in the open on the Square.

Whatever plot structure there is, gets driven by two attractive young male journalists (Daniel Hallberg and Martin Soder) who, in an early presentation, explain how you make content go viral, not only with original perspective but with some shock effect to get a visitor’s attention. So they come up with a video of a blond little girl holding a cat who gets blown up, with some Arabic warnings at the end. It seems that maybe this was hacked. But I was reminded of LBJ’s 1964 ad challenging Barry Goldwater with a mushroom cloud. That may cost Christian his job, which seems especially timely now.

But near the end there is a skit at a dinner, where attendees are challenged to do with “survival mom” type threats.  A man, his body completely waxed smooth (“thmooth”, he’s in the movie posters), comes into the dinner acting threatening, walking on all fours like a pre-human ape, with props. The guests are challenged to remain calm and inconspicuous so they can let somebody else take the threat (think about Las Vegas and Paddock Oct. 1)   But the scene winds up with attempted rape.

Somewhere in the middle there is a skit about the ALS ice bucket challenge. They have no monopoly on this “chain letter” which doesn’t even need a refrigerator’s ice maker.

Wiki picture of the actual museum in Stockholm.  I visited the city in Aug. 1972,

Picture: Occupy DC, December 2011 (mine).

Name:  “The Square
Director, writer:  Ruben Ostlund
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1  in Swedish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/11/12, Sunday morning
Length:  142
Rating:  R
Companies:  Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“Presenting Princess Shaw”: how a mashup artist helps an amateur YouTube singer become a star

Presenting Princess Shaw”, directed by Ido Haar, starts with a text tagline to the effect that user-generated content on the Internet gives potential voices to all so that ordinary people don’t have to bow down to the powerful.

Yet, we are left to wonder, what makes some artists popular and viral and eventually powerful.

The film presents a nurse, Samantha Montgomery, who built her art entertaining residents at assisted living centers in New Orleans where she works.  She writes her own songs and does a reasonable job of recording them and putting them up on her YouTube channel.  The film shows us plenty of everyday life in the Ninth Ward, years after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Negev region of Israel, Ophir Kutiel builds mixages and mashups of the works of many artists, often unbeknownst to them.  This practice, creating what is called derivative works in copyright law, is sometimes legally controversial and unclear, but very much supported by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The end result is that “Princecess Shaw” very much earns her “right of publicity”.

The film shows a lot of the tech work behind mixing, which I ought to learn in order to edit my own YouTube videos on my own autobiographical material (with Final Cut Pro).  So I guess this documentary gives me a kick in the pants.  Music is recorded and mixed in different ways, including being entered directly onto a tablet rather than through a Midi.

There is an interesting soliloquy (vertical cell phone video) where Samantha talks about being alone after a visit to distant family.  It sounds like personal growth, Rosenfels community stuff.

There’s a video with a telltale title, “Give It Up”.  Lose it.

Finally, Samantha goes to Tel Aviv and meets Ophir to put on a major show. She sings while Ophir does keyboard.

PBS did a brief director interview after the film. The director talked about passive self-promotion on the web and being found.

The POV short film was “Driven” from “Story Corps”, by Wendell Scott, in animation, about an African-American amateur race driver in the segregated South.

Negev scene.

Name:  “Presenting Princess Shaw
Director, writer:  Ido Haar
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/7/17
Length:  90 (81 on PBS)
Rating:  PG-13
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media, PBS POV
Link:  official PBS

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017, at 11:45 PM EDT

“Whose Streets” presents the Ferguson, MO protests from the view of the people

A month after the death of Michael Brown when shot by Darren Wilson in Ferguson MO around noon on  Saturday, August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO,  filmmaker Sabaah Folayan left her medical studies in New York to work with the people and document their unrest, along with Damon Davis and photography director Lucas Alvarado-Farrar.  The result is the docudrama “Whose Streets?”  In fact, Farrar hosted the QA at a showing at the Maryland Film Festival today in Baltimore, which is ironic given Baltimore’s own police-related unrest in April 2015.

The film focuses particularly on seven individuals: Brittany Ferrell, a nurse; David Whitt, who recruits for Cop Watch, Tory Russell, founded of Hands Up United, which would synch with the founding of Black Lives Matter (which had actually started with the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida).

The film, using a lot of raw cell phone video in early sections and later more professionally shot, chronicles the unrest for the rest of the year, giving the spectator-viewer a front row seat to the anger. “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”

Indeed, this is a film about activism, and it does not go out of its way to analyze the fact pattern.  One police officer is quoted as saying that Wilson stopped Brown just because he was walking in the center of the street.  That contradicts accounts as below which maintain Wilson had been radioed about theft at a convenience store.  The film shows a little of the interview of Wilson by George Stephanopoulos, a part that would sound prejudicial.  The film shows the prosecutor’s reporting that the grand jury did not return an indictment against Wilson, who would wind up living in hiding against vigilantism, according to many reports.

There is also some investigation as to whether Brown had been doing barter in the convenience store, not covered in the film. This refers to Jason Pollock, whose film “Stranger Fruit” I have not seen yet (CNN).

The audience, during the QA,seemed quite tuned in to the activism, with one woman questioning whether the government would treat Black Lives Matters the way it had the Black Panthers.  The audience liked the presentation of the children, including one child who makes an activist statement at the end.

The film also shows the blockage of I-70 near St. Louis by protestors, and the arrest of a woman for trying to run over some.   The film also maintains that police in the St. Louis area use police profiling as an excuse to collect fines to enrich themselves.  Activists note that the tear gas or riot gas (which I got to know in Army Basic with the gas chamber in 1968 at Fort Jackson) causes skin burning after the fact, even when water is poured on it.

The world of activism tends to move toward resistance, coercion, and sometimes combativeness, insisting that others who are privileged by the system, even if they didn’t directly cause oppression, are going to have their lives knocked to make things right – call it expropriation.  This is not about questioning every little fact to rationalize someone’s actions.  Call it revolution if you will.  The extra intrusions made by the special demands of “Black Lives Matter”  (relative to “all lives matter”) are supposed to make you uncomfortable.

Journalists seemed welcome to make this film, but sometimes journalists are resented as “spectators” without their own skin in the game, above demonstrating and carrying pickets like “the people”.  But then try combat journalism.

In the fall of 2014, actor-musician Reid Ewing (“Modern Family” and numerous films), going to college in Salt Lake City, wrote some tweets about police treatment of Darrien Hunt (story).

Wikipedia fact page for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

Picture: Mine, Washington DC demonstrations, Nov. 2014.

Full George Stephanopoulos interview with Darren Wilson

QA 1

QA 2 – answer to my question about fact finding

QA 3 – comment that police control where media can film

Extra photo from Baltimore (Trey Yingst, 2015).

On Sunday, May 7 W. Kamau Bell covered Chicago’s segregation, police bias, gang violence, and “reparations”, and “Black Lives Matter” on an episode of “United Shades of America: We (are all) The People” on CNN. They talked about “cyberbanging” and Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” (2015).

He also aired a basic episode about immigration in the second hour.

PBS Independent Lens has aired “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” (abdridged) by Brett Story on 2017/5/8; one of the landscapes is St. Louis County, surrounding Ferguson. The film covered the “garbage jail” problem where low-income residents are ticketed by small police departments and then threatened.  The film also covered a judge’s wall against the media.  See index for location on my legacy blogs.

Name: “Whose Streets?”
Director, writer:  Sabaah Foyolan, Damon Davis
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Baltimore Film Festival, MICA Brown auditorium, full, 2017/5/7
Length:  104
Rating:  NA
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Chicken and Egg  (Theatrical release in 2017/8)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, May 7, 2017, 11 PM EDT)

“I Am Not Your Negro”: sneak preview at a Washington DC high school this evening

I Am Not Your Negro” was previewed tonight at Ballou High School (sponsored by AFI Docs) in Washington DC before a full auditorium, three levels.  The film is based on the unfinished book “Remember This House” by James Baldwin, based on Badlwin’s account of his interaction with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

The film is directed by Haitian born Raoul Peck, who was present for the QA with an assistant principal of the high school.  The evening felt like a reprise of my own days as a substitute teacher ten years ago.  The principal said that 92% of the senior class, mostly African-American, has been accepted to college.

The film is narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, with the script entirely taken from the writings of Baldwin.  Peck said that he had to produce the film himself and control it, and making it took ten years.  He did raise some money from European sources, especially in Belgium.

The film takes on the mantra, “white is a metaphor for power”, and shows how, from the late 1940s until the 60s, white people really had benefited from the sacrifices of blacks – with the lingering segregation and combative attitudes – without taking moral responsibility.  During the QA, the need for personal involvement and then trend toward personal apathy by most “successful” whites was mentioned.  The film is viewed as timey given Trump and Bannon, but their names weren’t mentioned.

The film shows a great deal of the civil rights activism, especially revolving around desegregation orders and then the Selma march, leading to the deaths of the civil rights leaders. There were many scenes of riots and police activity, with some modern scenes of the Ferguson, MO riots.  The deaths of young black men (such as Treyvon Martin) gets covered.  There was one metaphorical scene shot with images from the surface of Mars.

The film also covered Baldwin’s time in Paris, and mentioned (showing typing of memos) J. Edgar Hoover’s view of him as a security risk and a “homosexual” (as Hoover was covering up for himself).  Baldwin says he came back to the US “to pay my dues”, a favorite moral catch phrase of mine.

The film has excerpts of many other films, including “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night“, as well as “The Pajama Game” (white values), and even Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” (2003, a school shooting by disenchanted, perhaps bullied white boys, somewhat similar to Columbine.)

Name: I Am Not Your Negro
Director, writer:  Raoul Peck, James Baldwin (book manuscript “Remember This House“)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1   sometimes black and white
When and how viewed:  Ballou High School Washington DC AFI Screening, opens at Landmark E St. Feb. 3
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Velvet Film, Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

QA video

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During the QA I mentioned Gode Davis’s unfinished “American Lynching“.  This new film seems to have at least one image in common.

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On the way on the Green Line in rush hour, I was the only white person on a crowded Metro car toward SE Washington and the Congress Heights station on Alabama Ave (one mile from the school).  Residual de facto segregation by economics is all too real.  There were a number of white college students at the reception before.

(Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

“Occupy Unmasked”: documentary work of Stephen K. Bannon, White House strategist and campaign manager for Donald Trump

Stephen K. Bannon is now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s appointed Chief Strategist for the White House (as of Jan. 20), and was the CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and has been an executive at Breitbart News.  His activities and associations are described by others as “alt-right” or “far-right”. And he has been described as a filmmaker.  So I wondered what his films look like.  Ii checked, and found I had seen “The Steam Experiment”, which he had produced (see Index).

So I looked for a film he had directed, too, and there’s not a lot available.  But Amazon offered his 2012 76-minute documentary “Occupy Unmasked” for $3.99.

The film does come across as a bit of a rant in its non-stop chatter castigating the Occupy movement. But a lot of what it says is probably true.  And there was nothing in the film hateful or phobic of individual people over race, gender or sexuality issues.

The film maintains that the series of camp-outs that would morph into Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC got started in the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  I had never heard that “rumor” myself (is it “fake”?)  I drove through or near the area in a rented car in February 2006.  A church group sent volunteers down to help the residents, and the volunteers were not allowed to do much because of mold.

The film also talks about Anonymous, and claims it targets individual capitalists and marks them for attack by hacking their work.  I’m really not aware that this happens to people just because they are “rich” or able to make a good living or are even visible in a reasonable manner.

The film turns into an indictment of the radical Left.  It traces some history back to the New Deal, and to Mafia involvement with labor unions after Prohibition ended.  It does mention some of the more vigorous (sometimes violent) organizations of the far Left in the 1960s and 1970s, like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen.  The film was made before Black Lives Matter came into being (after Ferguson in 2014), so I wonder if Bannon imagines updating the film to cover that.

The attitude of the radical Left is depicted as saying something like “Capitalism is slavery” and as nihilistic, trying to destroy the idea of “unearned wealth” with no plan of anything to replace it with other than authoritarianism – that is, extreme Communism.  That goes beyond what happened in the Soviet Union to the more radical Communist China and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, Maoism, where every intellectual took his turn becoming a peasant. It also led to groups like the Khmer Rouge and now to North Korea (although that history has some other factors related to Japan).  The far Left is depicted as hating rich white people – yet it shows Michael Moore’s vacation home.

My own experience with the radical Left settled out in December 1972, when I “spied” on an activist meeting of The People’s Party of New Jersey in a drafty rowhouse in Newark, NJ, and listened to their proposals:  limit incomes to $50000 a year (no Trumps), mass expropriation by force, abolish all inheritances, use revolution and violence if it becomes necessary.  I never had contact with them again.

The film opens with some of the summer 2011 debate over the debt ceiling, which it never connects well to the rest of the movie.  Republicans are shown as claiming we don’t have the money to pay the country’s bills, and Democrats claim seniors will go without social security.  It is true, the debt ceiling is about authorization to pay bills the US has already ratcheted up, not new spending (see this ).

Andrew Breitbart does appear in the film, but he died at age 43 suddenly in early 2012 of cardiomyopathy.

The film is in three parts, with titles like “The issue is not the issue” and “structured chaos” (or “organized chaos”, which is how a somewhat conservative local pastor describes a monthly community assistance program in Arlington VA — with “mental illness” thrown in as a major explanation of systemic poverty).

Name:  “Occupy Unmasked
Director, writer:  Stephen K. Bannon
Released:  2012
Format:  1.85;1
When and how viewed:  Amazon instant, 2017/1/8
Length:  76
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Citizens United; Magnolia Pictures, Magnet, Amazon
Link:  official

Wikipedia lower ninth ward destruction picture.

Posted Monday, January 9, 2017 at 11 AM EST

Picture of tent is in December 2011 in Washington DC near McPherson Square, taken by me.  One time when I took a picture of the camp, a man called out to me and chased me down K Street, saying, “I’m speaking to you.”  Is this the “No spectators” idea?

“The Lovers and the Despot”: How North Korea kidnapped a filmmaker and his actress wife to bolster its own propaganda machine

800px-pyongyang_western_view_april_2010

Name: The Lovers and the Despot
Director, writer:  Ross Adam and Robert Cannan
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1, much archival footage
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2016/9/26. afternoon, small audience
Length 98
Rating PG-13
Companies: Magnolia
Link: link


First, the threat of North Korea is dead serious.  The DPRK does seem to have built a nuclear weapon that can be put on a missile.  It probably could nuke South Korea now, and maybe Japan.  In a few years, it might reach the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US.  Great circle maps have the longest missiles capable of reaching northern Michigan. Hopefully NORAD (“War Games”) would be ready.

And Km Song-Un has made plenty of blustery threats. At worst, he could be capable of making the moral pronouncements of the doomsday prepper crowd relevant. An attack against “just” to South could have enormous ramifications for the markets and could happen at any time.

In fact, during the 1990s, when I wrote my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, it seemed that Korea was the most serious military issue we had.  I wasn’t aware of the gravity of asymmetric terrorism yet,

So, yes, “The Lovers and the Despot”, by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan, is “another” documentary about the DPRK, a dicey thing ever since the country’s brazen bullying of Sony Pictures over “The Interview” at the end of 2014.

And the movie sets up an intriguing “story”, even if it is the politics that seems to matter now.  In early 1978 – while I was living my last year in NYC and a most interesting time for me personally – Hong Kong was still under British rule (until 1997) and did not have the glitz of today (with the Mira Hotel where Snowden stayed).   Filmmaker Shin and actress Choi have divorced, and during a stay in Hong Kong, Choi is lured to a “party” and kidnapped and taken to the DPTK.  Shin follows to Hong Kong and gets kidnapped himself, and both wind up imprisoned in North Korea   The kidnapping of Shin is not covered in as much detail.

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Soon they learn that Kim Song Il (who has taken over from his father) wants the filmmakers to buff up the film industry of North Korea, which Shin would do.  Under supervision, the couple, reunited, would be allowed to travel.

The film then moves to 1986, where, with a caper-like sequence worthy of Hitchcock, the couple, visiting Vienna, escapes to the US embassy and asks for asylum, which the Reagan administration quickly grants.

As for North Korea’s propaganda film industry, I recall seeing a horrible film “Flower Girl” at the Washington Square Methodist Church in New York City in the fall of 1974, shortly after moving into the City.  A story about a girl getting medications for her mother, it was sing-song-y and boring, preachy, and endless.

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Adam’s film mentions North Korea’s attempt to make a successor to “Titanic” long after Shin’s escape.  But DPRK’s films have never gotten distribution outside the country

Adam also shows some of the cruelty of the regime (as have many other films).  People are forced to weep in public at the passing of both leaders, in a parody of what I call “upward affiliation” (but then, again, Donald Trump provides another such parody).

But the most shocking idea is the kidnappings in a foreign, western-controlled country.  We’ve heard about China kidnapping booksellers and writers today in Hong Kong and even Thailand.  The couple in the film is from South Korea.  But could something like that happen to am “ordinary” American journalist or even blogger?  The conventional wisdom, is don’t visit authoritarian countries as a tourist unless you really know what you’re doing (the topic came up at a travel expo recently, writeup ).  But could you really be “taken” anyway?

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Pyongyang by John Pavelka under CCSA 2.0

Second picture:  about 15 homeless people camped out at McPherson Square Metro in downtown DC last night.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 11 AM EDT)