Election Postmortem

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If you’re one of those folks who’s wondering what (s)he could’ve done differently to stop Donald Trump from the White House, let me throw some water on that. This election was a perfect shit-storm, and there is nothing that any individual could’ve done to alter its appropriately shitty outcome. Okay, there are a few high-profile agents you could blame—you know who I’m talking about—but looking back on this, historians are going to view this more as a slow-burning accumulation of multiple small causes than as one massive eruption. Hillary Clinton and her campaign turned complacent and choked. The DNC played favorites and ate crow for it. Some Sanders voters made good on their stupid, nihilistic Bernie or Bust promise and either stayed home or went for a third party. There was voter fraud—by which I mean, voter ID laws and other measures were instituted in key states to prevent “voter fraud,” which is GOP code for non-whites, millennials and poor people voting. There was a severe Obama backlash. There was a sharp backlash to PC culture. Every long-simmering prejudice you can think of resurfaced. The economic alienation of the Rust Belt pushed it rightward. The anti-intellectual conservative propaganda machine flew off the handle. Every major ideological branch of the GOP sold out and convinced enough of their base that Trump was a normal candidate and they should stay loyal to the party. The FBI intervened—with help from, among others, an overgrown fuckboy who once dreamed of being mayor of New York and who now needs to depart the public eye for good. Russia intervened—with help from, among others, a certain tool of theirs in London’s Ecuadorian embassy—for several variously troubling reasons.

(Let’s unpack that last one, since to me, it is the most disturbing of contributions to Trump’s good luck. What did Vladimir Putin want so bad that he was impelled to violate American sovereignty to get it? Does he hope to do to the Baltic states what he’s done to Crimea? Maybe he thought Clinton’s proposed no-fly zone over Syria would lead to WWIII and he sought to deploy some realpolitik to prevent that—which is understandable. More likely, he wants to keep Bashar al-Assad in power—which is disgusting. Maybe he perceives America being the world’s sole superpower as hazardous and wants to take it down a peg and equalize Russia—granted it’s a thin line between that and elevating Russia to the status of world’s sole superpower. Worst-case scenario: Putin is a power-mad Soviet hanger-on who aims to envelop the world into a hard right-wing political paradigm in which might is right and strength is measured by crushing dissent, in which political elites form friendly relations based on their shared belief in demonstrating willpower by keeping their respective subjects leashed, in which Putin can disregard national sovereignty even more wantonly than he is wont to, in which he can influence the lives of Americans such as yours truly for his own pleasure and subject our democratic republic to death by a thousand cuts. If that’s the case, he’s not only winning—he’s penetrating the Iron Curtain and dismantling the West in ways Stalin could never have imagined. And we thought the Cold War was over.)

Our political system has become dominated by spite—no wonder the more spiteful candidate prevailed. Our two major parties have grown so polarized and so internally divided that many think the U.S. is on the verge of Balkanizing—and yes, I am taking the threat of California seceding very seriously, because at this point, anything goes. The shit has hit the fan. Do you really think Trump would have a problem with a Calexit? Politically, it’d be all to his advantage. (Gov. Jerry Brown would and will resist it, and for good reason.) We have grown contemptuous of the other perspective to the point of devolving into narrow cultish mindsets. This goes well beyond standard issue confirmation bias. I am noticing a disturbing trend on the right, among many Trump voters, of taking everything around oneself as confirming their deepest beliefs, tragically mistaken as they are. When Trump speaks to what they feel, they are gratified. But when the opposition—liberal media and such, plus people that had an existential investment in seeing Trump defeated—protests and counter-argues, it gratifies them even more. They hate the opposition so much and are so convinced of their ineptitude, they see the pain of the “other” as further proof that Trump is right. Do they think that our pain is contrived and selfish? Or that their pain is greater? Or is it just that it bothers them to hear about it? Don’t overthink it: this is a defense mechanism meant to discourage and tame the opposition, and it’s present in several GOP superstars, from Mitch McConnell—who relishes his villainous reputation—to Steve Bannon—who is proud to be called an anti-Semite by the New York Times and CNN. These men, with Trump at the helm, have abandoned the idea of politics as a cooperative endeavor, preferring to make it a victors-get-spoils zero-sum game in which the losers’ angst is part of the fun. Trump did not cause this gross authoritarian way of thought; he catalyzed it.

I cannot and will not apply a double standard: the left is equally as mired in this sort of moral one-upmanship. Through the end of this traumatic election season, we assured ourselves that calling Trump supporters bigots for their mere willingness to associate with the guy would, one way or another, shame them into seeing the light and either voting for Clinton or staying home. Boy were we wrong. (And yes: I plead guilty.) The time for partisan demonization is long over. We must be attentive to how another’s unique life experiences have shaped his/her political outlook. We must show our political opponents that perceiving society as divided by severely contrasting demographic identities does not work for society in the long term and is bound to backfire. When a Black man lives in fear of running into a rogue cop who associates his skin color with a criminal disposition; when an undocumented immigrant brought across the Rio Grande as a mere infant lives in fear of deportation to the narco-state of his birth; when a Muslim family lives in fear of incessant NSA surveillance facilitated by a registry; when a woman lives in fear of losing her bodily autonomy to a rapist, or perhaps to the state; when a gay couple lives in fear of losing their marriage and being subject to a new Jim Crow regime; when a bright autism spectrum kid lives in fear of people focusing not on his intellect but on his eccentricities and claiming that we ought to get rid of them by getting rid of vaccines; when a working class family lives in fear of losing benefits and seeing their public sector union dismantled; when an indigenous people lives in fear of seeing their ancestral lands sold out by the government to an oil corporation; when millennials live in fear of facing arrested development in a quagmire of unpaid internships, student debt and mental health issues; when our military lives in fear of the government sending them into combat (maybe to clean up a mess it made) and then taking their service to America for granted; when the poor and homeless live in fear of more and more wealth being redistributed away from them; and when laymen all over live in fear that one day, they’ll fall victim to a gun massacre, or that one day, the effects of manmade climate change will pass the threshold of human adaptability because we prioritized short-term profit over long-term survival—we all neglect and lose something of the spirit of America, and we all suffer. These are legitimate concerns, and I don’t think I’m being a delicate snowflake or a hypersensitive crybaby by elevating them. If you have more of a problem with my expression of pain than my pain, or if you think I should swallow it because my side lost the election, that’s on you, not me.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric is henceforth moot. All I care about now are his actions, and the actions of his VP Mike Pence, a smooth-talking Santorum-level wack job who already seems to be playing Cheney to Trump’s Bush. Some questions remain, and there is still some benefit of the doubt, but most of those actions thus far—cabinet appointments among them—have been unusually irksome. For what it’s worth, I no longer have any use for the pessimism and sensationalism of the left-leaning news sources that I relied on before November 8. (The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg have been helpful, healing replacements in that regard.) There is no need to reiterate and dwell on all the ways the Trump presidency may well feel like a four-year prison sentence not just to liberals, but to the nostalgic Reaganite rural and working classes who are about to learn the hard way that this was not a gamble worth taking. We know the ways. Now is the time for activism—at the local and state level where the federal is bound to fail, because as the cliché goes: all politics is local. A situation in which stagnation is the best-case scenario is intolerable. Let it be said that the resisting grassroots mobilization I have seen take shape in the past month is awe-inspiring and unprecedented in my lifetime. I’d still be in a state of panicky despair without it. It’s what I need, and it’s what this nation needs now more than ever. The First Amendment is what, if anything, makes America great. If you are not capable of listening to, learning from and taking criticism from alternative perspectives—whether from dissenting speech, a gadfly press, or a protesting assembly—you are unfit for the presidency. As an artist, a writer and a principled devil’s advocate who has been and will continue to be vocal against Trumpism on this blog and elsewhere, I have invested in the First Amendment and stand to lose much if it is crippled. I feel on the brink of a unique historic maelstrom; we really are about to find out how strong our Constitution is. In the event that Clinton won, I was planning to write an extravagant über-dark alt-history Trump presidency-themed sci-fi novel. Chances are, if there’s a God, He put Trump in the Oval Office to prove to pessimists such as yours truly that America is more resilient than we think it is—or at least that we American millennials are more resilient than we yet know.

From now on, for every comment I receive from a troll, I donate $10 to a left-wing political activist organization of my choice.

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Election Postmortem

31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Five: “Les Rendezvous d’Anna”, A Sophomore Slump—Yet Also A Deliberate One

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Three excuses for the inexcusable delay:
1) It’s easier to be doing this when unemployed than when employed.
2) The Philadelphia Film Festival.
3) These films are blowing my mind. I am prepared to say that women on average make more consistently good and more provocative films than men. There’s so much I want to put down in these reviews, I can’t do it so quickly. So I will be extending this project into November. Also, while I promise you will hear my thoughts on all 31 films, the order I will publish them in will correspond not with my film schedule but rather with my whims and preferences.

Fame did not change Chantal Akerman. She got the attention of cinephiles everywhere with her radical experiment Jeanne Dielman (1975). She could have stepped up her game, scored a higher budget, made something even more ambitious—a dream project, perhaps. Nope. Her following work of fiction, Les Rendezvous d’Anna (’78), is simpler, not as challenging as, yet somehow more austere than Dielman—notwithstanding the name continental cast, and the themes of what it means to achieve fame as an artist, and what comes after. Anna Silver (Aurore Clément) is a filmmaker touring her latest film across Western Europe. She stays in well-off hotels, gives press interviews, has little trouble bringing men to her bed, and has friends, family and colleagues rather eager to have her as company. There is little doubt she is a thinly veiled Akerman promoting Dielman.

But there is no glitz to Anna’s fame. At 28, Akerman had already developed her signature motifs: immense long takes, voids of silence and of monologue, as few characters as possible, a Spartan narrative thread consumed by quotidian tasks and prolix travelling, a deep and genuine concern with base physical needs (food, shelter, sex, etc.), and an effectively stealthy feminism. We have a few scenes with a few actors to establish the exposition that Anna is an auteur of some esteem. That’s it. There is no ostentation to Anna’s/Akerman’s place in the world of cinema. There are merely tedious sojourns in the posh hotels and restaurants of urban Germany, Belgium and France, punctuated by tedious train and car rides, which it is not uncommon for Anna to spend sitting or lying around, eating, passively listening to whatever the hell the person she’s with is saying, sleeping, staving off sleep, waiting for something—anything—to happen. This is a filmmaker committed to her artistic vision, giving minimal thought to the demands that fame may place on it.

I know of no other filmmaker who depicts waiting—as a process, as a discipline, as an existential state—as well as Akerman. It’s been said and written that she impels her audience to feel time. I half-agree. Dielman clocks in at 3 1/3 hours, yet I can’t say I feel that much time go by as I watch that film (one of my all-time favorites), as time is folded in and made watchable by the domestic chores that set Dielman’s routine, and anyone who’s been through childhood can relate to some degree of necessary domestic duty. In her forty-five-year career, Akerman never made another film even close to that running time. Anna is a standard two hours, yet it is much more languid because of the energy that Anna expends on waiting—waiting to arrive at her destination, waiting for the next errand in her itinerary, waiting for whoever she’s with to shut the fuck up already. As the scope of her filmic projects contracts back to normal, Akerman demands reciprocity and asks her viewers to increase their patience. The shorter the film, the less that happens, of course. Granted, the soliloquies of the peripheral figures that Anna encounters on her travels are not as memorable nor as provocative as those few present in Dielman and in this auteur’s other early masterpiece Je Tu Il Elle. So Anna is a notch down from those efforts—and it is not surprising that critics expecting a match of or an improvement on Dielman’s galvanism (unlikely) were disappointed. The film’s thematic core nonetheless remains valid and poignant. The cult success of one project and the good graces of critics do not, nor should they, assuage Anna/Akerman of the burden of creating more and at-least-as-good art, of staying truthful to one’s aesthetic instincts, and of taking inspiration from real life—even when that may entail listening to someone in your proximity spin a near-insufferable yarn on family troubles and toxic masculinity.

Perhaps I ought to write that I know of no filmmaker who handles time and temporality—and, by extension, space and environment—as well as Akerman, not least for her acute understanding of making and viewing cinema as a time-consuming process, a perpetual self-enhancing feedback loop. That is a more confident statement. Watching her films on Hulu, lights off, snuggled up in my easy chair with laptop and headphones, I find it effortless to plunge into her intimate universe of narrow train corridors squeezed between windows and berths, of familiar hotel rooms and flats providing serene urban views and almost all needed amenities, of train stations and cars cutting modern forms and sharp neon æthers through dusky autobahns of steel and tarmac. (Jean Penzer is the cameraman responsible for this.) The ubiquity of windows and the areas observed beyond them steers us towards a meta-filmic commentary. Anna/Akerman here is the filmmaker as audience, seeing and hearing for ideas and signs of a new story to transmit through her calculated vessel-like self to the cineaste public.

Further, Anna’s/Akerman’s passive, quasi-gendered, ironic silence—comparable to Liv Ullmann’s selectively mute actress in Persona—points to the artist’s struggle to speak through film, or better yet to speak beyond and outside of film. If film is Anna’s/Akerman’s main means of subsistence and communication (which it is), then what does it say about ourselves and our increasingly tech-obsessed and tech-dependent society if we can only live and talk through technological media and membranes? To what extent are they a protective raincoat shielding us from our insecurities? Fame and privilege, travel and sightseeing have not alleviated Anna of her steely interiority—which the film adroitly reflects—and Clément’s enigmatic submission to the top-down wheel-spinning she is subjected to, by people and place alike, is a fitting complement for Akerman, a vulnerable and fearless artist who appears nude and has sex with man and woman in Je Tu Il Elle. The great final scene shows Anna at home, in bed, trying and failing to relax, listening to an answering machine full of friends and colleagues demanding further travel plans. Forever she will face down an audience full of wannabe storytellers who want her to tell the stories they want to be told—perhaps their stories—as opposed to her stories. For her and Akerman, there is no escape from the house of cinema. Ultimately, though, it is Akerman who has decided what stories to tell, and how she will tell them.

(I almost take it as a sign of approval from God—for this 31 Days of Female Cinema project, that is—that without realizing it, I slated myself to watch this—and watched it—on October 5, the first anniversary of Akerman’s death by suicide. She was a great auteur, one of The Greats, and I am only more eager to explore her back catalogue. That said, my advice for Akerman virgins is to start with Dielman, and don’t be intimidated by the running time.)

Grade: B+

31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Five: “Les Rendezvous d’Anna”, A Sophomore Slump—Yet Also A Deliberate One

31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Two: “The Summer of Sangailé”, A Love Letter from Lithuania

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My thoughts on Monsoon Wedding are imminent. I’d like to tell you about this film first.

For most LGBTQ persons today and before, the processes of coming of age and coming out are one and the same. Our current educational paradigm gives disproportionate representation to heterosexuals and straight romances (among other dominating demographics) insofar as to make the very concept of homosexuality an unknown-unknown for most children—so that if a same-sex attraction arises in puberty and post-, it comes as a shock, and seems like a total anomaly. “I thought I was the only one,” is a common refrain in the community. I connect with this because my Asperger’s made me gullible to teachers who associated teenage sex with STDs, pregnancies and general pauperism. I kid you not: I thought I was the only one who masturbated. Literally. The only one. So while most of my peers were either calling bullshit on the system and going their own way (more mature) or rebelling against authority out of spite (less mature), I was only starting to get in touch with myself as a sexual being, just as most homosexuals have to go through an M.O. to get in touch with themselves as homosexual beings. This is why I think I feel particularly strongly about justice and equality for LGBTQ persons. (When I first learned about what homosexuality was, I took for granted that gay men and lesbians could get married anyplace just like straight folks. I did not grasp the revolutionary quality of same-sex marriage until years later.) Yet, it is not enough for us to merely coagulate fictional stories with gay, bi and trans characters. We must give them agency and make them as enigmatic and morally complicated as the best-drawn straight characters—because, of course, they don’t have to be nice for straight audiences—without falling for the stereotypes with which we’ve been conditioned. We must normalize homosexuality so it does not have to be foregrounded, so that it could in some cases be for granted.

Because its two principal characters are lesbian lovers, The Summer of Sangailé has been billed as a primarily lesbian film, and as a weaker Baltic variation on Blue is the Warmest Color. Both labels are unfair. For one, the comparison to Blue is off. Sangailé is half the running time, and where Blue’s camera was handheld and roving, Sangailé is told in the longish, demure, delicately constructed static shots that have become standard in European cinema in the age of Haneke. Sangailé is also the more elliptical film—and, in that way, maybe even the more ambitious and experimental—to the extent that I am not ready to declare that the title character is learning about her lesbianism for the first time during this story. I think the odds are greater that she is settled on being Sapphic, and is merely encountering her first serious adult romance—with a girl selling raffle tickets at an air show. Early on, we see a POV shot of Sangailé (Julija Steponaityte) checking out a girl’s derriere as she strips to swimwear. She later spots said girl humping a guy in the grass, and from her poker face, we get an aura of…well, it’s so nuanced, it’s anyone’s guess. Disappointment at getting interested in yet another girl who turned out straight? Desire for the type of genital pleasure that straight people seem to obtain so much more easily? I’d bet on both. She does have sex with a guy, in the back of a car—but there, a POV shot implies that she derives more rapturous pleasure from the electricity flooding her from the nearby transmission tower than from the penis. (Also, memo to my fellow straights: sexuality is much more protean than you know. I’ve known lesbians who’ve had sex with men, and who are adamantly not bisexual. Because really, what is a penis to a woman but a dildo with a pulse?) The scene of her breakup from him is a smash cut to the same electricity station. She says, “No hard feelings.” He says, “See you,” gets in his car, and drives off bitter, leaving her with her bicycle. It’s so quick, you know it before you register it.

The elisions and caesurae that muddy Sangailé’s sexuality refocus the film on what turns out as its central story. Sangailé has an inclination to become a stunt pilot, but she has two things impeding that: vertigo, and a faint suicidal tendency—she’s self-alienated, estranged from her parents in their own home, and she has a habit of cutting her arms. What makes this film arresting is how those two conflicts play off each other as opposed to how they obstruct her career aspirations. Does she merely want to overcome vertigo so that she can die the epic plane crash death? Can she trust herself to go up into the air without wanting to crash? Is the vertigo a survival instinct that she depends on to live—a contrast to her cutting that brings the life force out from the death force cocoon? Alanté Kavaïte’s direction, Dominique Colin’s camera work, and Joëlle Hache’s editing blend with nary a seam to create startling motifs and counterpoints that reflect Sangailé’s turbulent inner world. Pensive crane shots looking down on urban landscapes from the airplane’s vantage point mirror awestruck angles on high houses, buildings and trees. The former tends towards dizziness, the latter towards stability; Sangailé’s ideal life in the skies remains infected by gnawing acrophobia as the earth remains secure. She must work her way up. Her bedroom is the top loft of her house, her bed perched against the railing over the stairs in an act of Mithridatic defiance. The flat of her art photographer girlfriend Austé (Aisté Dirziüté) is on the top story of her complex. These narrative choices are deliberate; the film’s sense of environment is acute and precise. Where Sangailé is not yet ready to board the plane, cranes and bridges and towers of zigzagging steel beams give her opportunity to practice, while swirls of flower buds and cupcake icing and tulle skirts keep her reminded of the smoke plumes emitted in a barrel roll.

This is an auspicious debut for Kavaité and for all involved, and a criminally underrated one. The critics’ maligning of it as mediocre in the face of the Blue behemoth is mistaken, and I suspect it comes from the notion that if the story were a straight and sterile romance, it wouldn’t receive half the film festival attention it did. (The most grabbing aspect of the film, to me, is that it’s Lithuanian. What do you know about Lithuanian cinema?) A straight story would be a different story. Sangailé and Austé’s romance is organic and invigorating; the sex they have is plausible and filmed purely to convey the rare peace Sangailé gains through it; and where a lesser filmmaker would have tritely paralleled Sangailé’s sexual awakening with her overcoming her vertigo, Kavaité perceives the two as separate if linked. One develops faster than the other. Her falling in love is a stepping stone, if anything, to her being able to fly a plane. This makes for a character with more dimensions. To her, Austé is served as a fascinating foil: a teen-at-heart steeped in fastidious chic, her apartment decked with fabrics, fur, miniatures, mirrors, fashions that she has Sangailé model, and a turntable that acts as a pivot for one of the film’s most evocative shots—where Sangailé’s living space and personality are austere, bare-boned, dry, yet refined and pragmatic. Does Austé help Sangailé realize her potential as a stunt pilot, as the love interest is wont to do in films such as these? Yes, you can count on that—not in the clichéd ways you’d expect to the genre, but rather in unique and uncanny ways that fit Austé’s character, and that don’t always succeed. (Watch her smart, unsentimental reaction to Sangailé’s cutting habit.) This is not a mill-product Sapphic paperback; this is a keen film rich with detail, subtlety and texture. Its best shot—a cloudy sky, which is actually its reflection in a pond—is its most quintessential. Watch this film with care.

Grade: A

31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Two: “The Summer of Sangailé”, A Love Letter from Lithuania

31 Days of Cinema 2.0: Women Filmmakers

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At some point, every living film buff needs to sit down and ask him or herself a question: How many women filmmakers can I name off the top of my head, right now? How many films by those women filmmakers have I seen? Of the films I’ve seen, how many pass the Bechdel test, or the Mako Mori test? Enough films? Replace “women” with some other demographic—people of color, LGBTQIA, neuro-atypical—and the questions become even harder, if still possible, to answer. If you click the white-on-steel-blue “W” below the banner that spells out this blog’s name, you’ll be linked to my bio page. (If someone could get in touch and tell me how to turn that “W” into “About [Me]”, which I know is doable, that’d be great. Bio pages shouldn’t have to be goddamn Easter eggs.) I’ve included on that page, for your interest, my current twenty all-time favorite films. A whopping two of them are directed by women. Two. I need to do something about that. So I’m going to.

Last year July, my 31 Days of Cinema challenge got this blog its highest readership yet. This January, I did the same thing with 31 other films in private, without publicizing it online, to see if lightning could strike twice. It did, and I discovered another slew of masterpieces. This October, I’m doing it again, but this time with a theme. Whereas in the previous challenges I made sure I watched one female auteur a week, this month, all of the films will be female-directed. (I’m permitting two co-directed by men.) It’s a curious time to be embarking on something like this. Chances are, this month will build up to America electing its first female president—either that, or we’re giving the nuclear codes to one of the most craven misogynistic bastards in all of American politics. (And a likely amphetamine abuser.) The feminism in the air is propulsive. I polled my Facebook friends to see which project they’d be more interested in: 31 Days of Female-Directed Cinema, or 31 Days of Horror, of course leading up to Halloween. I guessed the wantonness of watching thirty-one horror films consecutively would gain much morbid curiosity. I was wrong: Women received twice as many votes. Democracy in action. So be it.

I compiled my list with rules similar to my prior 31 Days effort: all major continental regions of the world must be represented; all decades since the ’60s must be represented; no country gets more than one film, exceptions allowed for international co-productions; and I must be on my first full viewing of every film. The difficulty I encountered in curating these films was massive, not least because it was twofold. First, I had to do an inordinate amount of research to learn about enough female filmmakers to give me the breadth and diversity that I wanted; and second, I had to narrow down the wealth of discoveries I’d made to a digestible collection of two and a half dozen plus one. And I had to double-check that they were all handily available—read: online. Even now when I’m committing to this, I’m doing so with some trepidation, as any day now, all films being streamed online by the Criterion Collection (without whom such a project would be incomprehensible) will be leaving Hulu and heading to their own domain, a site called Filmstruck that remains shrouded in secrecy. So sometime during what is sure to be a curious and volatile month in more ways than one, this frugal film critic might have to get a new premium subscription. Okay, time to shut up. On with the films:

Oct. 1: Monsoon Wedding (2001, dir. Mira Nair, India)
In with a bang!

Oct. 2: Summer of Sangailé (2015, dir. Alanté Kavaïté, Lithuania)
The Lithuanian Blue is the Warmest Color, or so I’ve read. The critical consensus is that it’s weaker, but right now, I’m very much impelled to curve the critics’ ratings, given the implicit bias against women. Also, this is the first film I’ve heard of to come out of freaking Lithuania!

Oct. 3: An Angel at My Table (1990, dir. Jane Campion, New Zealand)
Campion, best known for The Piano, is probably the most famous filmmaker to emerge from the first nation to give women the right to vote. (There’s also Niki Caro.) This is an epic biopic of Kiwi literary titan Janet Frame, and boasts a pre-Shallow Grave Kerry Fox.

Oct. 4: The Night of Truth (2004, dir. Fanta Régina Nacro, Burkina Faso)
I wrote last year that African cinema is underdeveloped. I was gravely mistaken: turns out, Nigeria’s Lollywood produces enough artistic output to rival the two major film industries that rhyme with it; and Egypt, Senegal and South Africa possess some of the world’s most vibrant filmic voices. The channels by which African cinema may reach the West—surely, those are underdeveloped. And African women’s cinema? Grossly underdeveloped. You can imagine my joy when I found this film online—not to mention, when I found a second African women’s film just as readily watchable.

Oct. 5: Les Rendezvous d’Anna (1978, dir. Chantal Akerman, Belgium)
No way in hell this list is complete without an Akerman. No way.

Oct. 6: The Lesson (2014, dir. Kristina Grozeva [with Petar Valcharov], Bulgaria)
Freaking BULGARIA!

Oct. 7: Ascent (1977, dir. Larisa Shepitko, Russia)
Classic. Shepitko was the wife of Elem Klimov, whose Come and See I currently rank as the greatest war film. If women make better filmmakers, will this outstrip even that? (Maybe you can tell by now I’m trying to get all the Hulu/Criterion picks out of the way early.)

Oct. 8: Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989, dir. Ulrike Ottinger, Germany/France)
Ottinger’s dialogue-less Ticket of No Return (’79) comes championed by none other than Richard Linklater, and would have made this list were it not for another German film I’m dying to see. This film, an epic feminist-fantasy-comedy-history mishmash, looks intriguingly batshit. Notably, this was Delphine Seyrig’s final film.

Oct. 9: Boys Don’t Cry (1999, dir. Kimberly Peirce, U.S.)
Hilary Swank. ‘Nuff said.

Oct. 10: Sepet (2004, dir. Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysia)
MALAYSIA!

Oct. 11: Vagabond (1984, dir. Agnès Varda, France)
I consider Varda as mandatory for this list as Akerman. How fortunate that as I write this, Reverse Shot—one of my go-to film websites—is doing a retrospective on her work.

Oct. 12: Zero Motivation (2014, dir. Talya Lavie, Israel)
By most accounts, the Israeli woman’s answer to Zero for Conduct. Huge box office success in its homeland. Seriously looking forward to this one.

Oct. 13: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975, Margarethe von Trotta [with Volker Schlöndorff], Germany)
Based on, and filmed in tandem with the writing of, the novel by Heinrich Böll, one of the few novels that I’ve read in one day, and one of the few novels to have become even timelier in the Internet age.

Oct. 14: In Darkness (2011, dir. Agnieszka Holland, Poland)
Holland is another mandatory one. This is a true Holocaust-set story about a band of Polish Jews whose plan to survive involves hiding in the sewer.

Oct. 15: After the Wedding (2006, dir. Susanne Bier, Denmark)
Confession: I have a weakness for weddings. Bier, also known for Brothers and In a Better World (an Oscar-winner, albeit a weak one, from what I’ve heard), is Denmark’s most famous female auteur, her biggest competition being Dogme 95 icon Lone Scherfig.

Oct. 16: The Silences of the Palace (1994, dir. Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia)
The Middle East’s first major female cinematic voice.

Oct. 17: Sugar Cane Alley (1983, dir. Euzhan Palcy, Martinique)
MARTINIQUE!!! Fun fact: Palcy made a killing in Hollywood with her adaptation of Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season, which makes her the only woman to have ever directed Marlon Brando.

Oct. 18: Loving Couples (1964, dir. Mai Zetterling, Sweden)
The earliest film I could find before collapsing down the rabbit hole of Ida Lupino, Dorothy Arzner, Maya Deren, and a certain Nazi asshat named Leni Riefenstahl.

Oct. 19: Innocence (2004, dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic, France/Belgium)
She’s married to Gaspar Noé. So of course, the title is bullshit. Bonus: pre-fame Marion Cotillard.

Oct. 20: XXY (2007, dir. Lucía Puenzo, Argentina)
Puenzo is the leading Argentine woman filmmaker after Lucrecia Martel—whose La Ciénaga was the worst film I watched in last year’s challenge, so there’s no way I’m going back to her just yet. This is the only major film I know of about hermaphroditism. (It must be said that Netflix’s current thumbnail image for this film is triggering, and—as a promotional choice—utterly witless.)

Oct. 21: Faithless (2000, dir. Liv Ullmann, Norway/Sweden)
Liv Ullmann adapting an epic Ingmar Bergman script based on their stormy relationship? Yes, please.

Oct. 22: Adoption (1975, dir. Márta Mészáros, Hungary)
Golden Bear winner of yore.

I am going into this next handful of films just about blind, and have no particularly spiffy commentary to offer on them:

Oct. 23: Ratcatcher (1999, dir. Lynne Ramsay, U.K.)
Oct. 24: Treeless Mountain (2009, dir. So Yong Kim, South Korea)
Oct. 25: Take My Eyes (2003, dir. Icíar Bollaín, Spain)
Oct. 26: Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran)
Oct. 27: Attenberg (2010, dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)
Oct. 28: Dukhtar (2014, dir. Afia Nathaniel, Pakistan)
Oct. 29: Danzón (1991, dir. Maria Novaro, Mexico)
Oct. 30: My Brilliant Career (1979, dir. Gillian Armstrong, Australia)

Oct. 31: Away From Her (2006, dir. Sarah Polley, Canada)
Hard to think of a better way to close the month than with an Alice Munro adaptation.

See you soon with my thoughts on Monsoon Wedding.

31 Days of Cinema 2.0: Women Filmmakers

“Eyes Without a Face”: A Near-Perfect Textbook Exercise in Body Horror

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This review spoils the beginning of the film, but not the end. Granted, this film is best viewed with zero foreknowledge. Go watch it, then come back and read this. Thank me later.

A severe-faced blonde drives through the night, flanked by trees and stonewalls, wary of any traffic joining her on the road. Why so wary? we ask. Then, we see: a figure in fedora and topcoat is in the backseat, head lolling forwards—a corpse disguised as a sleeping passenger, the crime concealed cleverly but not inasmuch as to avoid suspense, a faint possibility of capture. No time for a better idea: the body’s decay calls for haste. The blonde dumps it in a river. A respected surgeon, Dr. Génessier, is giving a lecture on the potential and risks of facial reconstruction when he receives a distressing call. That call leads him to a morgue, where he sees the dead body and identifies it as his daughter, Christiane—which he does in spite of the fact that the face has been cleanly carved off. Tessot, another bereft father of a missing girl, wonders aloud to Dr. Génessier whether he should take a look at the corpse and assure it is not his daughter. The doctor insists that there is still hope for that girl—the dismissal comes off as awkward. At the funeral, the blonde stands in a line with the doctor, and shakes hands as he does with mourners offering condolences. The plot thickens; the culprit is on the inside. Yet, the circumstances are even more sinister than that. After the funeral, Dr. Génessier and the blonde—his assistant, Louise—head to his house, where a young lady lies in bed, hiding her face—or at least what’s left of it. It’s Christiane. She’s very much alive, but far from well. Her face has been disfigured in an accident for which her dad is responsible, and the doctor is trying to make up for it by commissioning Louise to lure girls who resemble Christiane to his palatial estate, where he knocks them out with chloroform, slices off their faces, and attempts to graft them onto Christiane’s face. Results so far have been dire. Tessot’s daughter was one such girl. She died mid-surgery, and it was her body that Louise dumped in the river. Tessot’s fatalist instincts were right, and Dr. Génessier cruelly lied to him, giving him false hope to cover up his crime. This doctor is deranged.

The opening scenes of Eyes Without a Face—a classic of French horror, and the most famous film of Georges Franju—demonstrate a mastery of narrative economy invaluable to students of cinema. Every scene, every take, presents something new that alters and clarifies all that came before. Every detail is essential, nothing is embellished, all the Chekhov’s guns pay off, yet there is enough theme and symbolism to add variety, make the proceedings plausible, and avoid coming off as generic and schematic. To be sure, the disturbing revelations are foreshadowed—mainly through Génessier’s lecture, and postmortem commentary on Tessot’s daughter. Even if you do see what’s coming, though, the confirmation of it is palpable. This is the value of the horror genre: not sadomasochistic jump scares, but the fulfillment of a grave fear, and the catharsis that arrives with looking it in the eye (face?) and confronting it head-on. After the flawless first act, the writers—Franju, novelists Jean Redon and Boileau-Narcejac, and Claude Sautet—show us what they can wax with the opposite: a predictable scenario, in which the horror emerges not from the nasty surprises but from the mounting dread of preordained doom. We see Louise go to Paris and appeal to a Swiss girl, Edna, looking for a place to stay. She has Christiane’s blue eyes. She may as well be Tessot’s girl all over again, just another selfsame rung on the doctor’s downward spiral. This is Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. These damsels have no significance to Génessier other than that they are doppelgängers of Christiane, of whom he is deeply envious. Edna’s end is written—and after Christiane’s attempt to rescue her backfires (in a way you have to see—and feel—for yourself), all we can do is watch, and understand why, as she lies unconscious and powerless while her face is peeled from the rest of her body. There is no fighting back kicking and screaming and losing with dignity, only a chilling indulgence in defeat.

A traditionally structured film made and premiered when the New Wave was greasing its wheels, Eyes Without a Face stuck to the tropes of gothic horror while innovating within them. This is the earliest film I know of to create horror out of a group of bumbling, well-meaning good guys playing right into the villain’s hand. The ironic confusion the writers create between the murderer’s victim and the murderer’s daughter in the first act is a stroke of genius, prepping the audience for the film’s theme of physical collusion, and the counterpoint that Tessot’s presence provides is icing. The police’s incompetence plays into Génessier’s hand one more time, towards the film’s end, and though the impact of that second helping is blunted, the suspense is far from totally diminished. The body horror was also groundbreaking for its day, and the psychological factor makes it even queasier. Génessier is not a quack. He reconstructed Louise’s face successfully, for which she rewards him with loyalty and trust. He can perform a skin graft. But can he make lightning strike twice? Apparently not. He has ruined Christiane’s face, and in trying to rectify it, he ruins other faces and other lives and digs deeper into his moral grave. (One scene late in the film indicates, with appropriate irony, that Génessier has more medical talent on the subject of eyes than on skin.) What exactly is his plan with the girls whose faces he robs? This isn’t made clear. He decorates their heads with gauze (last year’s Austrian horror workout Goodnight Mommy goes out of its way to reference this), imprisons them in a cellar, and…that’s it. Does he expect them to be pushovers, to be open to something in return for their visages? Maybe he hopes he’ll find a cadaver resembling Christiane and then be able to give Edna—and Tessot’s girl before her—a facial transplant. But shouldn’t that have been his original plan for Christiane? Wouldn’t the cadaver’s skin already be decaying? No matter. To Génessier, these girls’ lives are expendable for their faces, and beauty is a zero-sum game. The film’s most horrifying theme is that the body is indispensable to our identity; many have been disfigured enough that they have euthanized themselves. Génessier’s devotion to body over soul makes a mockery of the Hippocratic oath.

Fitting to its title, Eyes Without a Face views superficially disgusting events with clear, even perspective—like wizened gothic pupils gazing onto new storytelling frontiers that grow more insidious and challenging with each innovation. Pierre Brasseur brings a contemporary clinical take to Dr. Génessier, smearing his delusions with stentorian professionalism, and underhandedly reminding the audience that the strongest of intellects is always vulnerable to ethical corruption. Alida Valli, as Louise, is what you’d expect from a dark, serious titan among Italian actors; between this and The Third Man, she has grown on me since I cringed at her awful late-career misstep as an über-camp dance school administrator in the overrated Suspiria. Rounding out the lead trio is Edith Scob in the role of a lifetime as Christiane. Performing all but a few minutes behind a porcelain white mask with nose, lips and eyeholes, robbed of facial expression, she is tasked with creating a character and evoking her through movement and voice alone—not a role fit for an acting novice. You try doing it and pulling it off as well as Scob does. Avoiding overt despair in favor of grace, Scob charts Christiane’s progression from weakness to rebellion with perfect fluidity, and her ultimate acceptance of her disfigurement is conveyed with a brutal karmic vendetta and a stunning closing shot. It is not easy to make acceptance of a tragedy a satisfying resolution—much less so in this genre—but this film succeeds at it with aplomb. It’s her body; it’s her choice. This tale could’ve been set centuries before, so when the camera strays onto a passing airplane or a Picasso poster in a chic bachelor pad, the realization that this is the ‘60s is startling—but in hindsight, this really is a modernist film, a keen warning on the burdens of expanding medical technology with a dash of feminism. The only glaring flaw is the mismatched carnivalesque frill of the young Maurice Jarre’s musical score. This is a bracing cinematic textbook, and I am glad that I was able to overcome my distaste for horror enough to see it.

Grade: A

“Eyes Without a Face”: A Near-Perfect Textbook Exercise in Body Horror

Why I Am Suspending “52 Weeks of Literature” (For Now)

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If you’ve been following this blog loyally (not likely), you’ve realized by now that of the fifty books I pledged to read at the beginning of this year, at a point when I should be over halfway done, I’ve only reviewed ten. I’ve read sixteen. Clearly, this isn’t working. One of my motivations in crafting this project—besides getting through some books that I’d been interested in but were hesitant to commit the time to, for some reason—was to see how it would feel to trace a year through literature. Turns out, life is tracing my year for me; I’ve relocated to Philadelphia for a two-year job, and that in itself is an ambitious undertaking. Not to mention, this presidential election is driving me off the wall; nothing short of American democracy and progressivism is at stake. Am I letting politics and current events discourage me from one of my favorite pastimes? I don’t think so. There may well be more important things to write about on this blog over the next hundred days than literature and cinema for their own sakes. So I’ve fallen behind, and let’s face it, it’s not very possible to trace a year in your life through novels if you’re taking an extended hiatus from novels at any point during it, even if you’re impelled to make up for it by reading two novels a week (!) in the year’s back half.

The biggest reason I think my fifty-books endeavor has not succeeded, really, is that it just isn’t compatible with the way I ingest art. The best works of art to me aren’t the ones I fall in love with instantly; those peak early and pale in hindsight. The best art to me is the Stravinsky shit. When you first experience it, your reaction is “WTF?!” and it sticks in your mind, and you think about it more and realize that there might be something in there you missed the first time, so you give it a second chance, then a third…and that’s when the magic happens. Such was my experience with Portishead’s Dummy, The Cocteau Twins’ Heaven Or Las Vegas, and Slint’s Spiderland, albums that I am today never not in the mood to listen to. A good virgin learns to adapt, and a worthy underdog will always gain respect. The way that extends to literature is, the first time I pick up a classic novel, it is not uncommon for me to read a few chapters, fail to see what the fuss is, put it down, and maybe return to it X years later and finish it with a fresh perspective. Indeed, I’ve had some measured success this year with novels I’d previously started without finishing. The real difficulty came with the novels I hadn’t started and couldn’t sustain interest in after breaking the ice and seeing the fish beneath.

There’s a caveat to all this. Maybe my first impressions are right. Balzac? I was ten pages into Père Goriot and not feeling it, when I read Nabokov—in a footnote to his translation of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, no less—slamming the French titan as “overrated” and “vulgar,” and confirming my suspicions. Adichie? One chapter into Americanah, I read an amateur online critique of the novel as (to paraphrase) an overlong Ph.D. essay, and I was inclined to agree, and regretted that I hadn’t gone with Half of a Yellow Sun. Jostein Gaarder and Väinö Linna? Either they’re simple to a fault or they suffer in translation. There’s a difference between a novel that has merit and a novel that people say has merit. The more you become a bookworm and a film buff, the more you realize that the Great Western Canon is infected by political interests, radical zeitgeists, academic egos, inscrutable media obsessions, and insidious prejudices—especially against women, people of color, LGBTQIA persons, neuro-atypical persons, and anyone else “othered” at some point. The Canon can’t be trusted; one has to look beyond it, and trust his/her instincts as to whether the back blurb promises a good yarn. No work of art, no matter how canonical, is above critical reevaluation, for better or worse. I pray that no work of art I may create and disseminate in the future will be an exception to this rule.

As a result of this, the novels I was interested in in late December form a list very distinct from the novels I’m interested in seven months later. I’ve dived headlong into the New York Review Books Classics and Pushkin Press imprints and could well read everything therein. I’ve discovered Larry Woiwode, the Poet Laureate of North Dakota; Tahmima Anam, a new bearer of Bangladesh’s great literary tradition; and some of the lesser-known yet still provocative works of Yukio Mishima. I am spoiled rotten when it comes to all manners of the arts, and if I’m going to commit to a fixed list of books for a year, clearly, I ought to be more innovative. My approach to literature itself—by which I mean, my methods of curating literature—needs some serious reevaluation, something independent from the interference of critics and pedants. Thus, for the time being, I’m discontinuing my fifty-books project. Maybe I’ll try again next year, with a theme—all female authors, for instance. Maybe I’ll do another 30 or 31 Days of Cinema soon to add some more pep to this blog. (Of course that’s an easier project—bear in mind, I haven’t done that with a theme, yet.) If there is a particular demand from my readers for me to read and review a book on the original list, I’ll oblige, but I doubt that’ll happen. Right now, this blog is very much a public diary, a place for me to brood and muse. Here’s what I’ll tell you in regards to my old list: you owe it to yourself to find a copy of Halldór Laxness’ The Atom Station. Man, that book kicked my ass.

Why I Am Suspending “52 Weeks of Literature” (For Now)

Brexit, Skinheads, Clinton v. Trump, and the Crappiest Ongoing News Cycle in a Long Time

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Prejudice is not a bogeyman. It is not an indicator of innate evil and sadism, tucked safely into less developed times and places that won’t return because lessons have been learned. It is not something you are invulnerable to because you have a brain and you’re your own person. It’s not a novelty. Prejudice is a Venus flytrap that catches you when you’re not paying attention. It’s an attitude that shows itself in fleeting spurts, in average people you don’t expect to see it in. It’s present in family, friends, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, passersby, me, you, everyone. It’s the easy, simple, convenient associations you make between physical makeup and moral behavior to relieve stress, put your mind at ease, make decisions faster, and do the job better. It’s what you feel when you encounter the unfamiliar, when someone argues a viewpoint that you think is watertight. It’s what you shrug off with pathetic excuses, clichéd justifications, kneejerk defense mechanisms, urgent downplaying. It’s a cover for weakness, ambivalence, cowardice, and pain. It’s mostly another way in which humans err.

Last month, the United Kingdom—goaded and brainwashed by far-right, anti-immigration sentiment—voted, in a referendum, to leave the European Union, and in the media, I noticed a slight but significant semantic change accompanying that paradigm shift. Before the vote, it was referred to as “Brexit,” a portmanteau for “Britain’s [then hypothetical] exit”—a savvy new word, a peculiar code, a disyllabic soundbyte that grew more ambiguous and rolled off the tongue easier when the X in exit was altered from [gz] to [ks], a decision that belonged uniquely to Britain and that was Britain’s to make, almost a hip get-out-the-vote command (“Brex it, baby!”) Now, more and more, it is “the Brexit,” as in something that could well be short for “the [voter-approved] British exit”—official, political, dead serious, no longer a potential but a concrete reality, a force to be reckoned with, a choice made and settled, with repercussions far out of Britain’s or anyone else’s control. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the [gz] sound coming back a little in that phrasing, leaving little doubt as to what it is and represents. Even the men behind the Leave campaign—UKIP head Nigel Farage and London ex-mayor Boris Johnson—were so intimidated by the fact of their success, they chickened out of responsibility for it and have now retreated from the Prime Minister-ship. Meaning: they are con men, and their campaign was a shameless ploy, done for money, publicity and provocation, damn the consequences that their nation has to face because of it. Here in the United States, there’s an obvious parallel—more on that in a New York minute.

The Brexit vote seems to have been merely the inception of a long, hot, traumatic summer in what is already one of the ugliest years in recent memory for the world at large, let alone for the West. I can’t name the last day that hasn’t gone by without the news reporting a death toll of some scale. In the time I have been drafting this essay, I have read about a fit of road rage-cum-terrorist attack in Nice—on Bastille Day!—that has killed over eighty; a half-assed coup attempt in Istanbul that has claimed hundreds and that might have produced a military junta far more repressive than Erdogan; and the assassination of three cops in Baton Rouge, likely a retaliation for the murder of Alton Sterling, and an echo of a sniper shooting that downed five cops in Dallas. Battle lines are falling between civilian and state, left and right, centrist and extremist, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, racism and color, Islamism and “infidel”. Those interested in peace are confined to venting their rage on social media, too raw to know how to react otherwise, too numb and unsurprised to figure out a solution. Those interested in prolonging, intensifying and profiting from all the conflict are winning, and the media—maybe unwittingly, maybe deliberately—are fanning their flames for all the sensation they can report.

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Since Brexit, through this summer, I’ve been thinking much about a British indie film called This Is England, made a decade ago, set during the Thatcher years, and only growing more relevant. It’s about a disaffected adolescent from Sheffield, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), who lost his father in the Falklands War, and who falls in by chance with a crew of skinheads. Fact, little known to Americans: the skinheads, at least in the British sense, were originally punks who—besides being bald—bonded based on a mutual interest in Caribbean music and New Wave fashion, and whose time was spent apolitically goofing off. Not kidding. Look it up. Shaun comes of age, finds his niche in the crew, and rebels against his frazzled mother in doing so. Then, one Combo (Stephen Graham) is released from prison, reunites with the gang, and uses them as a captive audience to his homilies on England belonging to the English, the welfare state fucking everything up, and the “Paki bastards” hoarding the place. Combo’s rival, Woody (Joseph Gilgun), is a sweet, caring guy, and his charms are what initially draws Shaun in and returns peace and joy into his life—but like too many sweet, caring guys, he lacks Combo’s charisma and psychological acuity and can only watch as Combo exploits the Falklands War to manipulate Shaun and a few others into siding with him. This of course is a microcosm of how the skinheads transitioned into what we think of them as today—namely, fascist-populist goons.

Combo takes Shaun and his protégés to a lodge in a clearing, where a nationalist politico running for office is speaking. He acknowledges that he and his fellow skinheads have been accused of racism. “We’re not racist!” he insists. Ah, but they are racist. Language is ultimately objective; otherwise, it would be too easy for people to excuse themselves for their racial insensitivity by contriving the definition of racism so that it doesn’t include and implicate their actions. On the contrary, too often and too easily, that is exactly what people try to do and what we let people do—because of course, most of us would not like to be labeled racist. (Look at how George W. Bush and his neocon cronies absolve themselves of war crimes just by narrowing the definition of torture to exclude waterboarding—a totally wrong shaggy-dog semantic corruption.) And that is why racial profiling is depicted as an efficient way to manage and discourage crime, when it is really textbook racism because it assumes certain demographics are disposed to crime and does not account for—nor aim to alleviate—the socioeconomic forces that breed crime as a way of life, some of which are reinforced by the state purposely to maintain a racial hierarchy. That is also why immigrants to the U.K. (and the U.S., etc.) who try to bring along their cultural spheres, often including their native tongues, and who don’t assimilate to the liking of the dominant race—regardless of whether they are citizens or not—face demonization, mostly from the right wing. This is racism, beyond dispute. It insists that there is nothing of value worth learning from foreign cultures.

If This Is England has a flaw—besides the abrupt ending—it’s that there’s no developed alternative perspective from any of the Indian and Pakistani persons who become the targets of Combo’s curry-themed verbal and physical taunts, which Shaun imitates and is thus complicit in. It does, however, throw an ambivalence into the proceedings with the presence of a Black proto-skinhead, Milky (Andrew Shim), who provides a conduit to Woody and company’s appreciation of reggae and ska, and who Combo admires because he claims he is English despite his Jamaican heritage—and because he sells Combo pot. Well, really, Combo’s attitude towards Milky is contingent on what shade of Milky’s cultural identity is showing at a given moment. It is obvious that his multiculturalism makes him more well-rounded than Combo will ever be, and Combo knows this, and his envy leads the film to a devastating, powerful climax. The film thus debunks the idea of “having Black friends” as proof that one is not racist. If your attitude towards minorities is conditional in any way, then you’re being racist. The film’s take on race and immigration is thus very postmodern and makes it essential viewing for anyone wondering how racism and friendly associations with people of color can exist in the same person, and how we are all liable to be wrestling with both. The director, Shane Meadows, has continued to follow these characters in three TV miniseries that span through Thatcher’s odious reign; I aim to watch them.

There are those who seek to make society as great as it can be for everyone given the resources, and there are those who are more impelled to compete against one another for a bigger slice. William James’ immortal essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” is instructive in this regard. Man is inclined towards competition; when not offered the diversions of sport, meritocracy and debate, he is more prone to getting suckered into going to war for the petty whims of the ruling class and the military-industrial complex. For the most loathsome of poor sportsmen, it isn’t enough that they win—their opponents must lose, lose badly, and suffer in the process. This entails the lowest among us picking fights with others based on race, sex, sexuality, gender, class, religion, ability, you name it. And so civilization is structured into suffocating hierarchies, and every time those below jostle for a fair share, those on top grow disturbed—spoiled as they are, their equilibrium is thrown off by any notion of societal equality and equity—and they suppress those below to restore homeostasis to themselves. Let it thus be said for the record that if you’re a white, elderly/middle-aged, cisgender, heterosexual, upper/middle-class, neurotypical man who feels the most discriminated-against because of the various social movements struggling for the rights of women, Blacks, Latin@s, indigenous tribes, LGBTQIA persons, youths, autists and Aspies—you’re being a bigot. Sorry, but you are. The protestors you see on media are fighting to survive in ways you’ve never had to do because you’re lucky. One argument in favor of keeping Blacks enslaved before the Civil War was an insane phobia of White enslavement by Blacks. So you see, pro-slavery Whites were aware of the trauma of the system they were perpetrating, but they kept perpetrating it because capitalist doctrine convinced them that they and the Blacks were locked in a zero-sum game, and racial coexistence was a myth.

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That’s the horn that Donald Trump is tooting. If This Is England and Brexit show a trend of English nativists fighting for a monopoly over what England is and what it ought to be—a monopoly in which foreign points-of-view mean less than jackshit—then Trump and his lemmings have thrived on a fantasy of an ideal America defined and bleached to their uncompromising preferences. “Make America Great Again,” they say, meaning that there was a time when America was great, after which we lost our way—but when? The Reagan years? The postwar era? The Roaring Twenties? The Gilded Age? No one’s bothered to specify. All I know is that Trump is looking to the past, going backwards, and reversing progress to the point where straight old wealthy white Protestant men reign supreme once again. Mexican immigrants? Trump wants them to become not just American citizens but Americans, just as Milky is only any good in Combo’s eyes when he’s English. Whoever doesn’t abide gets deported. The same will go for Muslim immigrants, whenever Trump plans to allow them in (as if). This is racism, objectively. I didn’t think such racism had any appeal anymore. I thought Trump’s campaign would crash and burn in record time. Alas—Trump has developed a terrifying ethos. Everything said about him, good and bad, seems to benefit him. Every iota of media attention gratifies him. Those who have voted and plan to vote for him show a streak of nihilism and hedonism. They don’t care about building a better nation. They care about winning, about beating the folks they hate—the more destruction, the better. It’s all a reality TV contest to them. They’d just as soon vote Kim Kardashian’s callypgous body into the Oval Office.

Maybe you, reader, are a Trump supporter and would like to insist you’re different. Maybe you lucked out of a job because of cheap labor. Maybe you’re genuinely anti-establishment, anti-incumbent, and think that the media at large want to uphold a status quo and rail against Trump out of panic. Maybe you just don’t like being “politically correct”. I understand. And because I’m committed to bettering society and promoting equality and equal opportunity—and not to competition for its own sake—I’ll reach out to you. I voted for Bernie Sanders. I used to detest Hillary Clinton because I believed Juanita Broaddrick when she said that Bill Clinton raped her and Hillary tried to threaten her into silence. I have written as much on this blog. I believe rape survivors as a matter of principle. As it turns out, Broaddrick has endorsed Trump—never mind his track record of gross misogyny, and the fact that he himself has faced down his own sexual misconduct accusations (which I believe). She has also allied herself with Kathleen Willey, a fellow Bill accuser and discredited conspiracy theorist who has implied that Bill arranged for her husband to be murdered on the same day of her alleged assault, and that Vince Foster was murdered. Not to mention, her Twitter feed has become a scroll of recurring, glib anti-Clinton potshots—trivial memes and such.

Individually, these might be lapses of poor judgment; together—along with the multiple issues of Broaddrick’s account (she doesn’t remember the date, she’s been inconsistent on whether Hillary or anyone threatened her, her witnesses have a conflict of interest, et al.)—they add up. One thought I’ve had is that maybe she consented after Bill gave her the old line about how mumps made him sterile, and then heard about Chelsea’s birth a couple years later and felt deceived—but why wouldn’t she clarify that? Where are her standards? Even if I never know what really happened (I won’t), this is something I feel I need to get right. If I say Bill Clinton is a rapist and I’m wrong, I falsely accuse an innocent and insult genuine rape survivors. If I say Juanita Broaddrick was not raped and she was, I deepen her trauma. I’m fucked either way. Right now, I’m going to trust my instincts. It is worth repeating the cliché that the medium is the message. Broaddrick isn’t airing her message through a feminist-activist lens; she’s doing so through the media of puerile right-wing Clinton-bashing, which toys with the truth to get Republicans voted into office where they can push a bluntly anti-feminist agenda. The case for Bill Clinton being a rapist and Hillary being an enabler is very doubtful, to say the least. Anything I have stated in the past to the effect of otherwise, I hereby rescind.

Hillary Clinton Campigns In Iowa, Meeting With Small Business Owners

What I’m trying to say is: I’ve changed. In an election cycle dominated by proud voters who claim their minds are made up, who grow more stubborn with each reasonable rebuttal to their positions, I—a fervent pseudo-socialist Sandernista—have warmed up to someone I once sneered at for being a pro-fracking, pro-TPP Wall Street sympathizer with ties to Henry Kissinger and Jeffrey Epstein. So just maybe, you could change, too. Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. Pick pragmatism over tenacity. Listen to all the viewpoints. Be humble, realize where you might be and have been wrong, and admit it. Be willing to ask questions and have reservations, but don’t expect the politicians you vote for to be perfect and align with you on everything. That said, the question remains: would a vote for Hillary make me complicit in the missteps of her presidential term, or would it make me a stakeholder in her presidency who is more entitled to criticize her for stuff such as her reaction to the 2009 coup in Honduras than someone who sat out the vote? It’s up for debate. Here’s the bottom line, though: I want the Supreme Court to go left. I want Citizens United overturned, and I want to keep abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action, the right to privacy and public unions safe for the next generation. I want to see legislation on climate change and gun control passed, I want college to be affordable, and I want a leader who doesn’t rely on the superficial appeal of charisma to win over constituents—in that way, Hillary Clinton’s lack of charisma turns out to be arguably her best asset.

Face it, ‘Merica: most of the attacks on Clinton are either misogynistic boilerplate or hypocritical. Benghazi? She showed clear contrition for her negligence when that happened, and the late Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’ family (not unlike Vince Foster’s family) has stated that they do not want his death politicized. And yet, she can’t catch a break from the fear-mongering party that exploited the trauma of 9/11—which happened on their watch, after some very clear warnings—to create phantom WMDs and get national support for a half-assed vigilante coup in Iraq that destabilized the Middle East, worsened anti-American sentiment everywhere, and led directly to the rise of the Islamic State. Her emails? FBI director James Comey has admitted that his strong words against her were politically incentivized (read: dishonest). Bill’s infidelities? Folks, I am fairly certain that Hillary and Chelsea have taken him to task for that behind closed doors. The way things stand now, I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. If anything goes wrong, I reserve my right to tell my fellow Democrats that they should’ve voted for Sanders. (I don’t mean to perpetrate the thought that this election is a two-party either-or decision. Jill Stein is great, and I actually agree with Gary Johnson on quite a few things. In a two-party system, the success of third parties depends on the classic game theory debacle of whether enough people plan to vote for a third party to make it worth risking your vote on said third party. Polarized as the nation is right now, I myself am not counting on it. If the Libertarian Party takes away enough votes from Trump, I’ll applaud them for it.) I no longer think that four years of Hillary Clinton would be unlivable; her staffers have given her universal praise and are baffled by the negative media perception of her. I will never not think that a Trump presidency would cause unmitigated global catastrophe. Alas, I’m confident Clinton will prevail. That doesn’t mean we as voters should be complacent, though. The threat of Trump is concrete, and he has already badly damaged the nation’s fabric and reputation.

I condemn Donald Trump entirely. I condemn his blatant disregard for the First Amendment guarantees of free speech, a free press, and freedom of religion that are what truly make America great, if anything. I condemn his stated intent to commit war crimes such as killing the families of terrorists, regardless of their innocence. I condemn his propagation of conspiracy theories such as “Obama was born in Kenya” and “vaccines cause autism.” I condemn his intelligence-insulting lies, his incessant positional flip-flopping, his constant dodging of valid inquiries, and his evasion of personal responsibility. I condemn his emboldening of anti-Semites, the Ku Klux Klan, and other figures in the insidious alt-right, whom he has refused to disavow likely because he perceives them as a valuable voter bloc. I condemn his misogyny, his bigotry, his glibness, his incompetence, his confidence schemes, his abusive business and legal practices, his narcissism, and his cult of personality. I condemn that he has singlehandedly brought to the U.S. the same dangers the far-right has presented to the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Scandinavia, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Israel, and the Philippines. I condemn his call for a clash of civilizations, and for greater arms in anticipation of them. I condemn his noncommittal attitude and the implications he’s given off that it’s all a long con and he’s planning to forfeit his presidency and leave us stranded with lousy Hoosier Mike Pence should he win. More than anything, I condemn the culture of anti-intellectualism that he promotes and thrives on.

Trump supporters: how do you dare take pride in gaslighting and not caring about facts as a way of defending yourselves from being proven wrong? Please just take one minute to ask yourselves: do you really think that undocumented immigrants are the one thing preventing you from getting hired? If a minority becomes your coworker, what is it going to take for you to believe that (s)he got to your level on merit and not on affirmative action? Are you voting anti-establishment for its own sake? How does “Black Lives Matter” translate into “Only Black Lives Matter”? How can you say that Trump isn’t talking about all Mexicans and Muslims—or even Mexicans and Muslims in general—and that Quentin Tarantino is talking about all cops when he says, “I must call a murderer a murderer”? When you say the ends justify the means, have you failed to acknowledge those who have been traumatized by the means? And do you really think that political correctness is a magic wand that licenses you to say racist things while excusing yourself from accusations of racism, or to support racist policies under the conviction that what’s easy is what’s right and the-ends-justify-the-means? Freedom of speech, like all freedoms, comes with responsibility. Language is powerful, it can harm, and you are responsible for your use of it, not least because language can become law—what is law but language?—and law has severe impact. When people grieve over a family getting slaughtered because a relative of theirs joined the Islamic State, through no fault of their own, will you dare blame them for being too politically correct?

If this essay convinces merely one person to not vote for Trump, I will consider it a success.

Brexit, Skinheads, Clinton v. Trump, and the Crappiest Ongoing News Cycle in a Long Time