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In a few days, if all goes according to present schedules, Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the United States of America’s 45th President. After more than 18 months of the ugliest election in modern American history (way back when there were some equally nasty), the national mood is as soured as I have ever known it, right up there with the crackling late 1960’s to early Vietnam war/Watergate 1970’s. I can’t say I think the mood would be much different had Hilary Clinton’s political technocrats not blinded themselves and lost from their own stupidity. It reminds of those brilliant Harvard souls of the 60’s, the Brightest and the Best, who mired the country in Vietnam. Just as in his utterly vulgar manner does Mr Trump, who is convinced he is the brightest and the best, and the proof is how he blew away the pathetic hollow men of the Republican Party, and then out-smarted smarty-pants Clinton, perhaps with a little help of yet-to-be-fully-confirmed skullduggery from afar, and much closer – as in the FBI.

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In the past month, Trump has assembled his troops – appointing billionaire oligarch’s to fill out his cabinet, ex-soldiers to doubtless enforce the rulings soon to come – and surrounding himself with the subservient souls of his family, a shrill Harvard-trained neo-nazi as his chief of Staff, in company with GOP supplicant Reince Priebus providing a facade of respectability in the front office. Tweeting away in his past manner, Trump takes credit for re-directing corporate America to made-in-USA policies, all while aiming zingers at anyone who happens to offend him. And he is easily offended. The tweets largely re-direct press and public attention from the uglier steps being taken behind the smoke-screen of allegedly outrageous 140 character comments.  Donald Trump is a show-biz TV star, con-man extraordinaire.  Watch as he distracts with one hand, and acts with the other.

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Taken at face-value, thus far Mr. Trump’s behavior is by-the-book fascism. Win an election “legally.” Develop a cult-of-personality. Use whatever “legal” powers one has obtained to change the norms and rules. (See this.) And, as is Trump’s instinct, bully. The next steps are to simply break the laws and render them meaningless, sending out armed parties to enforce the new norms. Such things can only happen in cultures which are already hollowed out, the values of which have distilled to mere rhetoric. Like the old Soviet Union, in which the embalmed living of the CCCP stumbled forward, their chests heavy with ribbons and hammer and sickle pins, red flags behind them, and when pressed by reality, crumbled in a near instant.

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Such is America today, which now for some decades has lived a similar farce, with stiff well-coiffed politicians, spouting empty slogans, and ditto-head wearing their damn American flag pins, flanked with a backdrop of the good old Red White and Blue in Warholian repeats. Meanwhile, just like the old USSR, wealth is funneled up to a select few, and infrastructure is left to ruin, the wide social body is dismissed to fend for itself, and new platitudes and drugs are brought out to mollify the discontented mob. Following dead-man Brezhnev, came Gorbachev’s glasnost, and then the collapse of the Empire for a time run by a drunk Yeltzin, to be followed by bare-chested strong-man Putin, who looks to be there until he croaks.

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Obama was our feeble attempt at glasnost, a Harvard-trained company man trying to soften the hard edges of the system, and failing. Descending in his golden escalator, Mr Trump stepped into the political vacuum of the GOP, and the self-satisfied cloud of the Democratic party’s self-delusions, and while a teetotaler himself, doubtless will play a variant of the role of Yeltzin. The real strong-man in this scenario will enter in the chaos of Trump’s regime. Trump is, as long ago predicted by the Sage of Baltimore, the quintessence of our culture, a living character right out of the Simpsons, hair-do and all.

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The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

                                                                                                                                                              H.L. Mencken

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America is corrupt – morally, socially.  This reality is reflected throughout the culture:  in politics – high and low.  In our skewed economics.  In the halls of academy, high and low, where grade inflation is a norm and buying a high-end education is an accepted reality (as in the cases of Donald Trump and George Bush).

We have been corrupted a long time, and we have accepted that corruption as a given.  Look at our mass media and “entertainment.”  Look at our bread and circuses “sports” as billion-dollar businesses, and the absurdist  skew of extreme wealth for the .01% and the considerable wealth for the top 20% and the crumbs left for the rest, all accepted for decades as part of our capitalist ethos, and hence proper and OK.  Look at the obscene hypocrisy of our loud-mouthed “Christian” fundamentalists (e.g. Pence, Cruz et al) and how they supported Donald Trump, who is a clear liar, serial trophy-wife multiple divorcee, a sexist pussy-grabber and all out hedonist, a Midas who coats all he touches with gold, and is empty of any heart.  Look at the “family values” espousing Republicans who all fell supine before Trump once he won.  Look at the Democrats who bowed before the Golden Calf of corporate money, and embodied it in themselves, abandoning their interest in the diminishing working-class.  Across the board, our society is deeply corrupted, and even more so in that large swathes of the country – nice good liberals included – are unable to admit it.  Trump is the result, and we fully deserve it.

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Rubio: “Are you aware that people who oppose Vladimir Putin wind up dead all over the world, poisoned, shot in the back of the head…?”
Tillerson: “People who speak up for freedom in regimes that are repressive…these things happen to them.”

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It is easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.

Mark Twain

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It is the end of the year according to old Papa Gregory, whose astrologists jiggled the anomalies of the existing calendar and came up with a special one just for him, with which we’ve been shackled the last 400+ years.  So another New Year is here, and in turn the promptings to summarize the one past.  Here’s anecdotal evidence of mine, mixed in with other items of personal note.

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The above were mostly done while recuperating from this, a disk extracted in April, requiring some horizontal time and afterwards some physical therapy, done in Matera, and then Ginosa, in the south of Italy.  Thanks to their medical system this did not bankrupt me, indeed hardly costing a thing.  Grazie, Italia.

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And then endless photography, of which here’s a very tiny sample:

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And being of that age, some friends slipped off the planet, at a distance, and discreetly, so saying, “So long, it’s been good to know you” wasn’t an offer circumstances gave.  Wish I could have.

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On a happier frequency this year saw some nice things for people I know.  Friend Edoardo Albinati won the Premio Strega here in Italy, the highest literary award Italy has to offer, so in the company of Cesare Pavese, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco, Elsa Morante, Alberto Moravia, et al.  Not bad company.   The book has a mere 1,250 pages, of which with my limited Italian I have so far read 250, which is more pages of a novel than I have read in the last 20 or 30 years.  I will finish it in the coming months, as my Italian is taking great leaps forward for taking the effort.  And as the book is quite interesting, it isn’t hard work, but a pleasure.

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The other oblique pleasure is that Nathanial Dorsky in the last year and more has been trotting around the globe for screenings of his work.  In Spain, Portugal, France, the USA and elsewhere.  As Nick’s films are remote from the commercial world, and he has never done the film-biz hustle and promotional stuff, it has been a joy to see the world, as it were, come to his door.  His work is as deep as his modesty.

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Finally closed in on finishing one film, Muri Romani II, an HD new version of the 2000 film of same title, minus the “II”.  And shot and am working on another film, Manahatta, hoping perhaps to wrap it up in the coming year.  Also editing Piccoli Miracoli, shot way back in 1996-2001, of my daughter Clara when I was raising her; hoping to finish by May.  And Marcella is editing Again and Again, a long documentary shot 5 years ago, which should end up as two films, one 80 minutes or so long, the other perhaps 3 or more hours. It’s about Korean choreographer Eun mee Ahn, as she develops a new work.  Aiming for a March finish for the shorter version, longer one by summer.

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Along with these things, did a lot of writing, mostly for my blogs, listed at the end of this, which also have many photos, and other things, if interested.

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Moved to Italy in late February, we were in Matera and Ginosa until October, and then moved to Caucana, Sicily – near Ragusa – living a 3 minute stroll from a nice beach.  I went walking on it most days, where it offered up quiet little philosophic pages for me to contemplate.

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For the coming year we’ll move back to Ragusa, a small but very nice apartment in the center of the city. We think to stay 6 months – Marcella to work on Bojagi and other sewing projects, and finishing the editing on Again and Again.  She’s also shooting a film on several musicians she met, perhaps a documentary portrait.  I hope to finish editing on the films mentioned, and if the spirit strikes, perhaps shoot some kind of long film there, with local people.  Also to paint/draw and lay out a book of poetry and several photo books – maybe to have on-line.  If the plot works out, we hope to head to a festival in Korea at the end of summer, and then on to Japan for one there. Then to the USA to travel 6 months seeing friends, doing screenings, and shooting more for a film essay.   Perhaps a swan song.

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Best for 2017 !!

Blogs:

www.acinemafornone.wordpress.com
www.cinemaelectronica2.wordpress.com
www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com
www.jonjost.wordpress.com
www.americanplainsongs.wordpress.com
www.paginasparaclarinha.wordpress.com
www.paginasparaclarinhavol2.wordpress.com
www.jonjostcomingtoterms.wordpress.com

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The long season of America’s electoral process has finally finished, and having dispatched at first the comical “best” of the Grand Old Party in an embarrassing sequence of primary “debates,” Donald Trump, regarded as the least likely candidate, and the easiest to beat by the Democratic National Committee, has emerged from the cultural rubble as victor.  Much of the nation appears to be in shock, having been told by most of the national media that Trump’s chances were nil.  The vast realm of what bi-coastals call “fly-over country” – the swathe from Eastern Pennsylvania on to the Rockies, and as well, all the West until you get to the sliver which hugs the Pacific Coast beyond the Sierras and Cascades – usually dismissively derided as uncultured and beneath contempt, all rose up to vote for Trump.  And given the oddity of the old slave-holder derived Electoral College, a minority of voters were able to secure a majority of the votes in this institution and hand the Presidency to Trump.  While geographically rather amiss, it appears indeed the South did rise again.  The irony that it did so through the hands of a Queens NYC crony capitalist is perhaps a bitter pill better left unmarked.

 

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From Upton Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935): “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”

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Having known back-road America – that fly-over turf – now for 5 decades, living there or passing through on one-laner’s or dirt roads, with many friends living “out there,” I am well acquainted with the slow degradation of life that has happened in rural America.  Railroad services stopped, Main Streets gone dilapidated and empty, family farms absorbed into giant corporations, dwindling wild life, pollution from big-ag run-off, the blossoming of WalMarts and Dollar Stores, trailer parks, a plague of meth and alcohol, and all the signifiers of genuine social collapse.   In the hinterlands of the country this is what globalization wrought – devastation.  And at the same time an ever increasing political and social marginalization of those areas which did not partake of the economic benefits of this process.   Or in the rust-belt as factories closed, either shipped abroad to cheaper labor markets, or robotized, those whose livelihoods were lost were simply ignored, racked up in the statistics as un- or under-employed.  The coastal pundits suggested more education (or re-education?) while they turned college into another profit generator while running up a gigantic student-debt tally.  In the last few years, as the meth and then opioid epidemics hit this mostly white sector of the country, along with the suburbs, there was a sudden bit of attention directed to this population, as the nation’s pundits tried to figure out just what was going wrong.  If they ever left their cocoons of upper-middle class comfort and pulled their noses out of the academic studies and books du jour, and stayed in a low-class motel while slumming in the sticks, they might just begin to get a glimpse of what Donald Trump so expertly manipulated into his electoral win.  As Michael Moore, and others who actually know this world, knew and predicted, Trump played right into the zeitgeist of the national discontent that has been building for decades.

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Having willfully stirred the hornet’s nest of the nation’s traditional bass-line of racism, Trump has brought to the foreground a social poison which remains broadly with us – however much the previous years attempted to gloss it over, and despite the purely racist behavior of the GOP when confronted with Obama.  Dance as they would around “policy” it was clear from day one that McConnell and company were driven by hard-core racism to oppose anything Obama proposed.   And now, with the genie let loose from a decade and more of political correctness suppression, we are seeing a rising wave of racist acts across the country.  I am not surprised.  On my back road trips I saw graffiti such as “Obama” with a rifle cross-hair in the “O”, and other such outward signs that we were not at all in a “post-racial” time.  Trump has played on this repeatedly, and will surely continue to do so as he consolidates his power.  While he meekly disavows such things, he simultaneously goads them on with scarcely an effort to mask his real intent and views.    His cabinet choices underline this quite clearly.

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America is at a crossroads.  Its decaying infrastructure is emblematic of a crumbling social contract, one that has frayed beyond recognition.  Were we a small country, like Italy under Berlusconi, it would be bad for many people, but manageable and to some degree even amusing.  But the USA is not a small country, and what happens in it impacts not only Americans, but the world.  As indicated by the last decade and more, as we oscillated from GW Bush, pressed under the sway of 9/11 (probably avoidable if it had not been desired by certain parties within the government) into a mindless war in the Middle-East, and then an economic collapse propelled by mindless consumerism and dirty banking, and then to Barack Obama, where for 8 years the tensions of the nation simmered under a cover of benign shoe shuffles from the White House while the GOP Tea Partied its way to a fundamentalist polka of racism, the Nixonian “Southern Strategy” on steroids, blanketed in a phony Christianity and “conservatism” dictated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.  I might note that in cross-country jaunts the only occupants of the radio airwaves are right-wing talkers like Rush, and sleazy Christian preachers, interspersed with today’s awful rock and roll and C&W.  TV is Fox and Fox only.  The great swath of fly-over country has been truly brainwashed, almost without opposition, and their embrace of the Republican Party – whomever it coughs up – is virtually religious, an act of unquestioning and thoughtless belief.   That’s what’s wrong with Kansas (and NE MO IND WYO etc.).

With the theatrics of the 2016 Presidential Election the dead rot of our political culture was laid naked – the vacuity of the Republican candidates, including Trump, was unfathomable in its shallowness, and while Clinton and Sanders sparred with some intelligence, it was still carefully within the range of the old era polit-speak, though Sanders sometimes stepped slightly outside the parameters of conventional Democratic Party parsing.   Trump’s vulgarism and crudeness swept all this aside, his yahoo base as sexist and crude for the most part as he himself.  And as he sold the snake oil, they bought, without reservation, taken in by a carnival barker from precisely the same elite, East Coast, moneyed people of whom they complained so loudly.  Trump would, so he said, be their spokesman, he’d take care of them, bring back the factories, put those people in their places, build a wall.  He loved the uneducated.

If his pick of cabinet members and other advisors is remotely indicative of the policies of the coming years, those fly-over folks have been taken to the cleaners like the rawest country rubes by a real New York city-slicker, as archetypal an American story as ever.  Mr Country, meet Rev. Gantry….

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Seasonal ho ho time is about upon us, and normally this would provide a respite in political news. However, this time around it is difficult to know if our Impressario-in-Chief will be willing to relinquish the limelight in favor of Rudolph, the elves in the melting North, or Santa himself. I imagine The Donald perceives himself as Santa, bequeathing his greatness to our blessed country.

Now a month and more after our national election, Mr Trump has revealed more of his show-biz moxie, making of his cabinet and other high officers of government selection process a non-stop reality TV show, riveting the press with his spectacle. Traipsing to the gold-tinged lobby of the mighty Trump Tower, his supplicants pass the gauntlet of the press, moving upward on the magical golden escalator, for a hearing with his royalness, the President-elect.   Almost each day a new name is anointed, nominated by Mr Trump for this or that office on the Cabinet or some other role. They descend the escalator, chosen or emasculated, to say their two-bits. Mr Romney supplicated several times, once for a 20 minute talk session, then for a classy dinner out. According to Roger Stone, Trump’s sometime advisor, the point was to torture Romney for having characterized Trump during the primaries as a fraud and a phony. His reward was to be played with like a nearly dead mouse by a cat. Speaking of classy….

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Of those selected for cabinet posts or other positions, the list reads like the worst possible nightmare of a liberal. Most of those selected are billionaires or millionaires, chosen in part because Mr Trump feels he should pick those “who have made a fortune.” Perhaps he is well acquainted with the saying that “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime” (Balzac), a concept which fits well for someone busy establishing a kleptocracy. While The Donald may be a compulsive liar, he also seems unable to hide his real self for very long. The Pussy Grabber in Chief is simply too proud of his accomplishments to be discreet – it shows glaringly in his nouveau riche garishness, verily in the Trump Lobby where gold-plating announces loud and clear the 80’s ethos of “he who has the most stuff when he dies wins.”  His Louis IX interior decor for his sprawling 56th floor apartment is more of the same.   The Donald has it and wants to make very sure you know. The Queens kid’s chip on the shoulder is gargantuan.

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Beneath the show-biz glitz and Trump’s knowing use of lowest-common-denominator TV smarts, there is something far more disturbing in his choices: the “alt-right” Chief Strategist Mr Bannon, who has run a website supportive of neo-nazi’s, the sequence of military generals, one in particular noted (and fired) for his strident extremism, the Secretary of Education choice whose aim is to destroy public education in favor of evangelical vouchers, the Secretary of Labor who thinks the minimum wage is too high at $10 (of course the President-elect thinks workers should work harder – the old Stalinist Stakhanovite view, work yourself to death for an ideology – in this case that of rapacious Crony Capitalism). Yes, Mr Trump, is making a grand stew of his and his fellow oligarch’s corporatist fantasy, the uber alle’ism of capital over labor, the union of the powers of the government and …   Hmmm, this, for those of us old enough, or learned enough in not-so-distant history, all has a familiar ring.

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As demonstrated by events in North Carolina, where a Republican just lost the governorship, and the GOP controlled House there had a sudden meeting to write draconian new laws to restrict the powers of the governor, like the good old fascists of old, the GOP of our present USA is playing quick and fast hard-ball. The GOP has on a State level done the same with extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression, and anti-union laws, all with an aggressive air of vengeance. There is little reason to think Trump’s group will not do likewise with its near complete control of the Presidency, House and Senate, and likely quick control of the Supreme Court. The coming months and year will let us know, and if my hunch is correct, quickly, if this is the direction Trump will take – to consolidate power, suppress dissent, attempt to silence what has thus far been an all-too supine press, and carry on with what certainly has the appearance of a kind of coup. Given Trump’s current “victory tour” where he still feeds his fans “lock her up” red-meat, we can await the emergence of a ready and willing grouping of well-armed brown-shirt militias to begin to enforce the new “political correctness” terms. Being highly realistic we’d have to note that most of those who have been busy arming themselves while stridently asserting their Second Amendment patriotism lean decidedly to the right-wing side of the political spectrum. (And I bet if black men and perhaps Latinos began to stream into the local WalMart or hardware store to buy assault weapons and such, they would suddenly find that somehow they couldn’t get them with the same facility of a good old country-boy.)

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As a long experienced left/anarcho sort, I have had a deep aversion to the knee-jerk tendency of many I know to whip out the “fascist/Nazi” rhetorical card, when ever the State oversteps, or ill- or mal-trained cops get power/gun happy. However at the same time I try to keep my political antennae well-tuned to the frequencies of the day, and, a bit reluctantly, I myself would have to say the sound I am hearing certainly carries the background thump of 20th century fascism. Trump clearly has an authoritarian streak to match the chip on his shoulder, and his supporters – a clear minority of Americans – appear to like this. Not unlike a little Austrian corporal in the echt civilized world of Germanic kultur not-so-long-ago.

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No, history does not repeat itself verbatim, but over a deeper historical time, responding to profound shifts in economic and social realities, it takes on a clear cyclical rhythm. These shifts occur from technological changes – say the Guttenberg press, or the Industrial Revolution – which in turn are provoked by or provoke major changes in the organization of societies – say the shift in the European world from feudalism to capitalism, which signaled the collapse of religion’s grip leading towards a secular-scientific view. Or from a dominantly rural food-producing based society to a dense urban mechanized one.

We are in the midst of such a profound change, instigated by rapid technological leaps (global communications systems, computer controls, robots) all of which have served to destroy old patterns across the world, while not really providing any time-tested alternative. The mantra of the time is change change change, at such a rapidity that we scarcely know the real consequences of what we are doing. At another pace, the period from early industrialization – circa 1850 or so – through to the present, did much the same. The consequence was several industrial-scale wars that leveled much of the world, at the same time prompting many of the great technological changes which are, more rapidly, doing the same to our societies now.

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Given the seeming lessons of history, great convulsions in the social order – caused by technological shifts, by “natural” catastrophes (droughts provoked by human activities for example), by cultural one-off events (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) – in general bring great waves of disorder, violence, and in an imagined effort to control these things, frequently authoritarian regimes arise. We are only at the early edge of even greater tectonic shifts in humanity’s global presence, shifts caused by human actions of myriad kinds, and we should anticipate, as is already occurring, that the social response will reflect itself in a desperate attempt to bring “order” to the increasingly difficult changes incurred by mass migrations, wars, inundation of low-lands by rising oceans, radically changed weather patterns, all of which will drastically change our collective sense of “normality.”

Human individuals, in general, don’t really like to be responsible for themselves, and prefer to defer to institutions which “know better” and let them take care of things. Hence group behavior, tribalism, and the broad tendency to acquiesce to those more powerful.  So we shall see in the coming period if the American public behaves as did the German one in the Weimar Republic, and rapidly submits to the new disruptors’ actions, taking the promises offered at face value, and so lead us into an American fascist period, or whether it resists with actions which will be risky and dangerous to many, and well outside their “comfort zone.”

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We are long past the time for worrying about “safe zones” when our political system has established cordoned-off “free speech zones.”  It’s been a long time coming, and it appears it’s actually arrived.  Wrapped in an American flag and thumping, as hypocritically as possible, a Bible.

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Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

HL Mencken

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As the dust settles from the electoral frenzy of the last 18 months, and the victor, Donald John Trump, begins to form the government of his choice, what had been made clear for the last decade in his behavior, spoken words, and actions, is being underlined in the exact same gilt packaging in which he has always shown his inclinations. His choice for his own Chief of Staff is Steve Bannon, the captain of a far-right website, Breitbart – where racism is the norm, and who himself has stated his intention is to destroy the government. (He was once a Leninist, so he’s said.) Thus for his choice for Attorney General is a good old boy of the South, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a man whose racism was so evident he could not be confirmed as a Federal Judge in 1996. His choice for Defense Secretary is an aggressive narrow-minded ex-general who has made his view of Islam blatantly clear.  For Secretary of the Treasury, and other financial positions, he’s chosen gilded Wall Streeters intent on dismantling the modest restraints imposed after 2008’s collapse.  And so on down the list, as DJ Trump spins us up a full-tilt oligarch’s government.

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Or…

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Oh, happy days. Or perhaps once the edifice is fully constructed and in place, and it begins its work, perhaps it will be:  Oh, unhappy daze. We’ll see.

static2-politico-comSteve Bannon, alt-right Chief of Staff (and apparent alcoholic)

Meantime the Republican party is showing itself, even more than in the primaries, to be composed of a collection of obsequious frauds whose only evident principles are to hold on to any straw, however obscene, to grasp at a shred of governmental power. Those who once preached of “family values” now suck up to a twice divorced self-confessed pussy grabber, whose track record in business is to have constructed a real estate and media empire out of serial bankruptcies, and who has, by his words, been “smart” to avoid Federal Taxes for 18 years while living the life of a prince. The trail of those come to his court in Trump Tower or at one of his golf courses is fouled with those who only months ago loudly declared Trump to be unworthy as a human or as a politician to occupy the office he will soon take. The hypocrisy is beyond measure, though it seems no one in the Republican party bats an eyelash at it: the party stands as naked as the King.

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Out in the heartland, those abandoned citizens of the the Rust Belt, of the million collapsed rural towns done in by agribiz, of the small factories wiped out with globalization and robots, all gaze towards the despised mecca of New York, and imagine (still) that this showman who has so fully conned them, will overturn the hated guvmint, and all its regulations and rules, and bless them with “freedom” along with jobs and good old all-American happiness wrapped in the red white and blue, as he “drains the swamp.” As they dream he’s stocked the swamp with all manner of class-A alligators hailing from Wall Street to the hallowed halls of corporate boards, with a good dose of military enforcers added to the mix. And, of course, the alt-right.

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These same denizens of the vast interior of America, who by and large are the major recipients of Federal largesse in the form of subsidies for agriculture, oil and gas, Medicare and Medicaid, military bases littered strategically about “out there,” siphoning off far more from Washington than they send in taxes, are likely in for an ugly surprise from their leader. Rather than jobs, their Social Security and Medicaid will be stripped away, replaced with vouchers which will line the pockets of still more for-profit services. Obamacare will be dismantled and replaced with more dubious and costly schemes. Meantime taxes will be cut not for them, but for the wealthiest among us, who will gorge themselves on yet more. This will all be done while the President twitters deep into the night, his own distraction-shill dazzling the victims of his charade as they are left ever further behind.

Out in the heartland for a considerable slice of the folks the real reward will be the general social OK to say “nigger” or “wetback” or “slant eyes,” and congratulate themselves that the White House once again is white, like it was meant to be. Yes, racism and myriad other prejudices, submerged in the coastal elite’s program of PCism, will roar back unfettered, though, as usual, wrapped in Biblical rectitude and patriotic gore.

article-kingsims-11253 White Supremacists wanted for murder this week of black man in California

Once the shock for the coastals and islands of inland urbanity to this election result has shaken off and a clearer eyed view is taken, some things stand out bluntly enough:

+ Of the electorate, of those eligible, barely half voted. Of those who voted, several million more chose Clinton over Trump nationally, but owing to the peculiar institution of the Electoral College (originally established to protect the interests of those founders who employed the peculiar institution of slavery), Trump won courtesy of the “winner take all” system, such that winning Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio by margins of 10,000 votes or less, he was able to pick up all the Electors. The bottom line is that a “loser” won, by gaining the approval of less than 25% of eligible voters.

+ The simple reality is that approximately half of the eligible electorate decided, for whatever their reasons, to sit out this process, pointing directly to the systemic rot of our political system and its two permitted parties. Each is so corrupt in its own way that half the could-be voters can’t be bothered with engaging them, and another third of the country – not eligible owing to age, to former felony convictions (a great percentage based on race matters), or being unable owing to dubious “legal” machinations designed to cut down voting rights, to being too old to function – are simply cut out of the deal, their views discounted 100%. The bottom line is that not quite 60 million Americans out of 360 million citizens voted for Donald Trump, and our corrupted political system bequeathed him the Presidency. Something is very wrong in this picture, and it is not just Donald J. Trump.

+ In the past decades the Republican party has done as much as it could, legally, to restrict voter eligibility in areas where it had the political power, or by gerrymandering, to control voting outcomes on a local level. It clearly intends to pursue this practice more fully now that it has control over all the elements of the national government. While mouthing platitudes about the virtues of “democracy” the GOP does whatever it can to restrict voting to their kind of people (white – suburban and rural, the very wealthy), and where unable to do so with “legal” rules, it has carefully gerrymandered many states so that “librul” votes are compacted into a few districts, and reliable GOP ones are spread “liberally” about. On top of this present matter is the old one of the Electoral College which tilts heavily to thinly populated rural places, like Wyoming or Montana, where each voters’ weight is proportionally far greater than those of voters in places like California, New York or Connecticut, etc. The GOP has no interest in altering this original scam.

+ Since Reagan’s deregulation of the airwaves and deleting of the requirement of equal time for differing political views, the right – financed by major economic powers – has constructed a vast communications system in talk radio, cable TV and Fox News. This system, used as a blunt propaganda instrument for 3 decades now, with no obligation to be even vaguely truthful, has, along with a willfully dumbed down educational system, produced a brainwashed public sold the Republican ideology as a near religion. It operates almost unopposed throughout the middle of the nation, being the primary “news” source for citizens from Pennsylvania though the mid-west and into eastern Washington, Oregon and inland California. It has worked wonderfully for those interests, if not really for the public to which it has been administered.

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Cumulatively these factors have allowed the right-wing of American politics to carry out a slow-motion putsch, or coup – culminating in Trump’s victory in which less than 20% of the population chose, through the warped mechanism of the Electoral College, to impose Trump upon the Nation.

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As The Donald assembles his cabinet and fills other governmental offices with a mix of strident Right-wing ideologues, Wall Streeters, and a few alt-right (aka neo-Nazi) sorts, we can figure we’re in for some very rough sailing. Rather than making any effort at unifying the country, Trump appears dead-set to do all he can to fracture it, the better for he and his cronies to, as it were, “make a killing.”

And so on January 20th, in the pundit speak of cliches, “No Drama” Obama will turn over the office of President of the United States to Trumpolini, the ultimate Drama Queen, who seems to need a daily fix of shock and awe to keep himself interested in himself. Thanks to a totally corrupted political system, which is emblematic of the society it is sourced in, the Nation and the world will be subject to a sequence of on-going shocks, the consequences of which could collapse the global economy, will be highly damaging to the fragile ecological state of the world, and even lead to a world war with nuclear weapons. Not so distant history has seen the catastrophic results of having sociopaths elevated to being the leaders of powerful nations. The 20th century is an object lesson in precisely that, though it appears most Americans now have a dim regard for history if it cannot be compacted into 140 characters.

Screen-Shot-2012-01-30-at-11.46.39-PMH L Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore

“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

— H.L. Mencken, “Notes on Journalism” in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept 19, 1926.

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Rummaging the computer in the interests of organizing its digital chaos, I came across this, from around 1995.  It is a Q&A done long distance, by email.  I don’t recall for whom, what publication, or if it was ever made public or not.  But scanning it led to reading, and as much of it seems pertinent to today’s world, I thought it might be nice to put it out here.

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A question as to why so many of my films have a death in them, and why?

1: Death: Hmmmm…. Is there a constant reference to death in my work? I guess from some view the answer would have to be “yes” since more or less most of them either have a death (or two or three), or talk about death in one way or another (even Bell Diamond touches on it), or… Actually one shot in Berlin, Liebesfall(e) (1), doesn’t, but… Why? Because I try to make work about life, and the thing that is significant about life is that it is finite – it lasts a while and then stops. For humans, who are conscious of this, it is probably one of the most fundamental building blocks of consciousness, which is usually socially suppressed, manipulated in various ways, or denied (as in religions that promise more life later), and taken altogether usually leads to the making of socially imposed death: wars, executions, murders, etc. So for something to be about our lives, if it is to be meaningful, it has to include this fundamental matter. That’s one way to look at it. Another could be that I have some kind of problem with it, that it is a pathology. Certainly in my daily life I seem to make many more comments, jokes, reflections and so on, on its presence and reality in our lives than the people around me do. So maybe it is my sickness. Or, maybe, it is a “healthy” way to perceive things.

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bd-heroineBell Diamond

And what do I think about “death?” The same way I guess I think about life: we are here, so it seems, as a kind of statistically unlikely accident — a planet circling a star (recently our astronomers finally came up with a kind of proof, the tentative discovery of at least one other star – a pulsar – encircled by some planets, though it seems rather obvious that this physical phenomenon would be commonplace in the universe) of a certain kind, at a certain distance, under certain conditions, times, which allowed (a reasonable speculation) some silicon and carbon atoms in the form of a clay (so the Bible says, no?), to rub against itself in a manner that gave rise to very very simple animate organisms which then reproduced in a myriad of ways, following more or less Darwin’s observations, leading to, among others, we humans, who in turn speculated on it, on our placement in the universe, and at the same time, clever as we are, learned similarly to manipulate physical matter in such a way that we have machines, hydrogen bombs, laser discs, and so on. So life got here. And life – yours, mine, everyone’s – will go away with an equal arbitrariness: we will poison ourselves off the planet with over-consumption, the sun will fizzle and die, a big meteor will impact, some yet unknown celestial burst will send out a cascade of high-energy rays and… And who knows, except that for certain this little planetary petri dish will surely evaporate, and we will go with it, whatever our efforts to migrate to some other place. And the universe will care less. As it cares less about the doubtless hundreds or thousands or millions of similar “life” experiments happening elsewhere in the universe. By this measure, what we think of as “life” and “death” doesn’t really mean much, and such is what I think. On the other measure, the here/now one which we each live, it matters emotionally, it matters biologically (we are designed to survive as best we can, and if we weren’t we would have disappeared long ago), it matters “personally.” I, like most of us, have a built in revulsion of a kind at the presence and vision of death: it’s a deeply programmed kind of survival response. On the other hand I have an intellectual indifference, a kind of detached, well-this-is-what-life-is, this temporary organic set-up which is very very complex, resilient, but finite, quite limited, wears out, and finally drops dead. Naturally or not; by accident or design. And I guess, in various ways, I implant this sensibility in my work, the impact of this primal instinctive flight from death in the name of survival conjunct with this consciousness that in a way it matters not at all, it all being a kind of grand joke, an accident, which it is our fate to confront. I suppose it is this quality which some critics refer to as the sense of detachment, or coldness, in my work. Which I find vaguely amusing since I’d say that most of my films are quite emotional in their impact, they provoke you to feel, and to feel as deeply as flickering shadows on a wall can. I am an ironist.

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A question about what being on the road means to me, and how it materializes in my films.

2. The Road. Well, I guess, yes, I am on-the-road, maybe, except for truckers and sailors and airline pilots, etc., rather more than most. I have been all my life as my father was in the military and as a child I was uprooted once every 1 – 5 years, moving from Chicago to Georgia to Japan to Georgia to Kansas to Italy to Germany to Virginia, in the space of 12 years. Moving got bred into me. And I have been moving ever since, like a bad habit. Or maybe a good one. Or maybe it is not so simple as that.

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Europeans have the idea that Americans “don’t belong” at least not in their terms. We Americans have the history of moving, from this house or this city to that, and around this is built a kind of theory of alienation, which probably has some truth to it. My trouble is not that I feel that I don’t belong, but that I belong too much – not just to America, but to anywhere I go. Culturally I’m “American as apple pie” in many respects, but in others I’m totally not. I don’t believe in any kind of nationalism or anything like it, nor about romanticizing “other” places. And I suppose this shows up in my work, wherever it is set. Ironically, it is very important to me to set my work in real places – to find a way to show in filmic terms some aspects of what a place is like. Not just how it looks, but how it feels, what it does to its inhabitants and what they do to it. I’m a regionalist of a sort, just that as it were I don’t really come from anywhere. Instead I go to “wheres” and camp in them, become a part of them, do my work, and leave.

A question about painting and painters, as I reference them sometimes in my work.

3. Painters. Yes, well I am very interested in certain painters, and learning about more and more. Good painters teach you to see – not just visually, but spiritually, beyond the surface of things on into things. In Angel City there’s Frank Goya, yes, a reference to Francisco. The narrative analogy is that Goya was a court painter, a kind of aesthetic prostitute, doing portraits for money. He was good at it. And he also hated it, and finally withdrew from that. And he had a dispassionate clear-eyed view of the world he did not flinch from, even if maybe finally it made him a bit mad. So one can see sensuous, passionate nudes, and stiff court portraiture, and Los Caprichos and the Disasters of War, and finally the black paintings, all from the same artist. He was amazing. In the film Goya is also a whore, a hired “dick,” working as usual for the powers that run things. But he’s also clear-eyed and goes to the truth. Another aspect of the name is that if you shift one letter, it becomes A Frank Goy.  Goy is Yiddish for a non-Jew. Goya is investigating Hollywood, which, whatever one thinks of it, was founded by and is pretty much run by Jewish men. Goya’s view is, uh, critical about the nature of Hollywood. Mine too, if not for that reason.

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Rembrandt Laughing was a kind of posthumous gift to Rembrandt, who, so his self-portraits (the only paintings of his I really like excepting some other portraits) suggest, was far from happy as time went on. The film is a respectful suggestion to lighten up. But otherwise the film scarcely draws on Rembrandt.  With All the Vermeers in New York, I had begun to really look at painting, with Vermeer being my hook. He is a fantastic painter – a colorist of sensuous depth, an observer of the keenest eye, a psychologist and portraitist of the highest order. I look at his paintings again and again, learning anew with each viewing. Something only the best painters can offer. For the film, it was not only the sensibility for light which I learned from, and used in shooting, but also the way in which Vermeer (like Edward Hopper) takes “reality” and then clearly strips it of extraneous elements so only the essential remains, convincingly “real” though carefully orchestrated, organized, and unreal thereby. Vermeer goes for the essence of things, be it a room, a city-scape, or a woman’s face, and almost always with a subtlety which hides the origins of his effects. It was this which I tried in All the Vermeers (and continued to pursue, with very different visual qualities, in The Bed You Sleep In.)   Other painters of current special interest to me are Monet, Manet, Uccello, Lautrec and Degas, Whistler, Eakins, Corot, the sketches of Constable, Emil Nolde, and many others. And my next film will be called Albrecht’s Flugel (2) (Albrecht’s Wing – Albrecht being Durer). I am in fact not so interested in his oil painting, but in his water-color work of nature.  And The Bed You Sleep In was visually rooted in – along with the mentioned Vermeer/Hopper reference – also the American painter Richard Diebenkorn (Ocean Park series) and the photographer Joel Sternfeld. This is not to say there is any effort to copy, but rather they were things studied for a certain visual intelligence.

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A question about music in my work, and working with composers.

4. Music: I have worked closely now with two composers – Jon A. English (Bell Diamond, Uncommon Senses, Rembrandt Laughing, All the Vermeers in New York, Frameup, and Uno a te…) (3) and Erling Wold (Sure Fire and The Bed You Sleep In) (4). While Jon and Erling are quite distinctively different in musical terms, our working processes together are quite similar. Within the filmic frame I usually have quite clear thoughts as to musical qualities, needs, sometimes instrumentation for the music, and take an active part in forming the musical framework. On the other hand, respecting them as artists, I like to leave as much freedom as possible for them to write, and indeed I shoot the films, from the outset, in a manner that leaves large open spaces ready to receive or participate with the musical element. Examples range from the abstract blue footage in Rembrandt Laughing, to the columns in Vermeers, to the early yellow-stripe road shot in Sure Fire, to the cafe shot in The Bed You Sleep In. From the outset, in filmic terms, I begin, not thinking of a specific music, but rather knowing that music will be an essential element in a cinematic sense, and thus I think and direct and shoot with this in my consciousness. In terms of relationships – both Jon and Erling are friends, and work with them is casual, comfortable. I am unschooled in music and hardly speak a musician’s language but on the other hand I have an overall sense of various arts, and can discuss in general terms, enough to convey my ideas. And I am totally open to changing things around, putting in music where I hadn’t thought it was needed, shifting things a bit; and both Jon and Erling have been willing to let the editing knife slice, re-arrange, shift or delete things they’ve done. Jon is unfortunately quite ill these days. And Erling will be collaborating on the Wien film, working with a large symphonic scale group of musicians.

rembrandtjonsupertext1Jon A. English in Rembrandt Laughing

A question about my use of texts used on screen, on their own or over the images.

5. Texts on screen: In general it is my interest to make things with multiple layers of content, of meaning. I like to have things within my work run counter-point to each other, to establish spaces which suggest, but do not articulate, this in the hope of provoking the viewer to think, feel, to fill in those spaces with something active within themselves. So sometimes I find the use of texts, of various kinds, whether in voice-over, or in on-screen writing, to be useful for this: you are watching an image, maybe with music, and with it arrives some words, usually rather detached from any immediate significance. I think usually this prompts the viewer to look again, within themselves, to seek something more than they had been looking for earlier. The use of literary or philosophical quotes is, I suppose, to anchor the films in a historical context – as the quotes in Rembrandt Laughing refer to Kierkegaard, Vermeers to Proust, and elsewhere to others. Or maybe it is just a conceit…

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A question about working with writers, when I do so.

6. Italy/co-writer: Actually I have in various ways worked with co-writers previously – whether through the actors, who sometimes have “written” (literally, on paper) parts of their roles, or through improvising with acting. And in Last Chants for a Slow Dance there was a co-writer (Peter Trias, died 2006) who did a bit of the writing. But usually it is the actors. With Uno a te, Edoardo Albinati (5) collaborated with me in part because my Italian would scarcely let me “write” anything much more than “ciao” and in part because I felt it would be good to have someone intelligent, aware, Italian, to work with in checking my ideas and thoughts about Italy. We worked very comfortably together – I might write something which he’d translate, and check with me if there were things he simply thought wouldn’t work in Italian cultural terms. And I would say, well here’s an idea for a scene, write something up. And then we’d go through it, and I might change it a bit, do some editing, or soften the writerly tendency to clarify things I’d rather leave unclear. Edoardo was quite understanding of the process of jettisoning things for cinematic reasons, and sat in on some of the editing, helping to pare things down, move things, and so on. I fully expect and hope to work with him again, hopefully on an ambitious 3-film Roma project.

A question about the political situation at the time.

7. 80’s/90’s: I suppose I am a pessimist. Or perhaps a realist. The 80’s, in my view, were a kind of catastrophe. They represent the victory, however momentary it proves to be, of market capitalism, to which it seems all else has surrendered. Market capitalism is a disaster in almost every way except, for the moment, in providing “goods,” though it is a profound embarrassment to discuss at whose cost. The 80’s are arriving just a little later in Europe, in the form of Berlusconi victorious in Italy, and so on. Everyone wants a free ride, and so it is offered. I imagine though that the vast excesses of American-prompted “free trade” will beget its due backlash, whether in the form of deeper, more profound modes of religious fundamentalism as in the Islamic world, or recoils into primal regional groupings based on language, cultural roots, and so on. I feel like the world is headed into a new kind of feudalism, with small armed cities, with quasi-private police forces, people banded in small defensive groups, trying to hold off others. The economic inequities of American-style market-capitalism seem likely only to provoke different kinds of active opposition, be it violent, sabotage, or…. Well, history is a cyclical matter it seems, so now as the disruptions of so-called stable, familiar patterns get harsher, it seems we are in for a time of the “hard man,” the desire for a “strong leader” who will whip the unruly world into order. We only too recently saw what this all leads to and I won’t in the least be surprised to see it happen again, as it already appears to be happening in Italy, in Germany, in ….   So what do I see of the 90’s? More of the same, with the explosion in population, subsequent depletion of world resources (we all want to live in high-tech, consumer-fetishist fashion, so it seems), which very quickly will only heighten the clashes of economic divisions, as it comes down to a more primal matter of simply who-gets-to-eat, who-gets-to-breath. I am not optimistic, and as I travel the world, I get less and less so: there are too many of us, mostly wanting the same environmentally costly things – we have about depleted the oceans of fish, and are on the way to getting down to the end of forests, of killing off this or that species per day. We will pay the bill. But that I think is the ironic fate of the species – we are so damn clever, and we are so primitive, all at the same time: so while we can sit and not know what we are doing, we can’t stop ourselves from doing it. I’m 51 now, and likely I will die before the really heavy plagues, famines, wars come along to reduce our numbers and issue a Biblical-level lesson in humility. If I am lucky.

About future projects in mind.

8. Future projects: If the financing holds up, Albrechts Flugel, in Wien, in the fall. More than double my last biggest budget, a whole $600,000. And maybe finishing up some old films left sitting. And perhaps, if I can get the funding in line, a 3-year/3-film project in Rome. (6) And meantime I am shifting, seriously, to take up painting, and, if my life allows, just a little bit of architecture. I am, quite seriously, very very tempted to quit making films as the climate in these days has reduced it to an exercise in futility. It is sad – as a medium it is so rich in possibilities for learning, for seeing, for broadening the social capacity to understand our predicament; and (ironically) precisely those rich qualities make it perfect for a vehicle for the most mindless of drugs. And money/power runs the show, so indeed it is the mindless drug peddlers who win the game. It is tragic, but so. And in human history it has always been like that.

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Footnotes:

(1) Shot, never finished.

(2) Partially shot, abandoned owing to utterly crooked producers (defunct Prisma Films, Wien).

(3) Jon A. English died in 1997.

(4) Since writing this, Erling also did the music for London Brief, Homecoming, and La Lunga Ombra.

(5) I note Edoardo received this year the Strega Premio, Italy’s highest award for literature, for his book La Scuola Cattolico.

(6) None of these projects came to fruition, and in 1996 when digital video arrived, I left the film world of money-hustling, narrative films, glamor, etc., and went to work in digital media.  I have been far more productive, creative, and happy since, though in turn the film world largely abandoned any interest in my work.

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In a profound miscalculation, the myriad powers-that-be in the USA have inadvertently ushered in a new era, definitively abolishing the general framework that governed America and the globe since World War Two.  Those powers – often masked from public view – had constructed a complex social/economic/political edifice composed of corporate business interests, the military-industrial complex (which naturally includes corporate interests), and media (corporately owned), all bound together with an ideological glue of American nationalism embodied in a kind of mindless patriotism of flag, (and for some Bible, guns and grits), and capitalism.  As famously stated, “The business of America is business.”

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It was the ideology of American Exceptionalism, which Hillary Clinton recently extolled, and as the heaving crowds of Trump’s fans echoed as they chanted USA USA USA!  This ideology is seen expressed in the countless VFW halls in small-town America, in the national genuflection to our military – “the finest and best” – and in the blind and usually totally provincial insistence that the United States is the greatest country on earth, goddammit!   Most insistently this is said by those who never set foot in another place, unless in the military.

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Since 1945, at the conclusion of the WW2, America stood as the singular industrial power still standing, with marginal losses, and wielding nuclear weapons to boot.  It had put the 30’s Depression era aside and largely unchallenged it proceeded to install itself as an unstated empire, taking most of Britain’s holdings and those of others.  The emergence of the cold war with the Soviet Union, and then the Chinese, propelled this process, which had moved rapidly in the 1950’s, such that the former general and Republican President, Eisenhower, cautioned us against the dangers of our emerging military-industrial complex.  We paid no heed, and in the following decades the linkage of the military, corporate interests and the media were bound ever tighter, as we expanded our military force beyond all reason aside from maintaining a stranglehold on global natural resources – especially oil.  And we sought to maintain political control with the installation of puppet governments game to kow-tow to Uncle Sam.  While we intervened in South East Asia, in the Middle East, in Central and South America, and Africa, our corporate controlled media largely dismissed what we were doing by simply not reporting it.  America was too busy imagining itself as Ozzie and Harriet while it stitched together its far-flung “business holdings” backed with its military might.   In the aftermath of the American loss in Vietnam, the collusion between the military-industrial complex and the media became such that for the most part our adventures abroad were simply not reported, as the body-counts in Vietnam had proved toxic to our imperial ambitions.  Instead the American public was led into a fog of permanent propaganda, whether officially, from the mouths of government speakers, or unofficially in the onslaught of 24/7 television, Hollywood films, and talk radio.  We were “exceptional” so we told ourselves, somehow exempt from judgement and from history, or from the consequences of our actions on the world stage.

Americans were constantly told theirs was the richest, best country on earth.  They were not told that they were but 5% of the world’s population while they consumed 25% of the globe’s resources.  They were not told that in order to acquire this imbalanced share of the world’s wealth that it required robbery, rape, mayhem and political knavery of the worst kinds.  Nope, instead they were told that America was “good,” a shining city on a hill, and that whenever we were forced to intervene out in the big bad world it was to be the White Hat bringing the blessings of democracy or freedom or something “good” to those we were bombing and robbing blind.

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When 9/11 came our slumbering public was blind-sided, completely unaware of American meddling since the early 50’s (and far earlier) in the middle-east.  In turn the vast majority were easy marks for Bush’s imaginary WMD and Rumsfeld’s it’ll-pay-for-itself easy war.  From the fraud of Bush’s failed Presidency, Americans leaped at the do-good chance to erase the stain of our slave state origins and deep racism, and elected a good Harvard trained establishment man, Barack Obama.  Nice as his outward appearances were, Barack was a company man, and did his duty while liberals swooned and ignored the brass knuckle business being quietly conducted – drone assassinations, more military meddling, economic strong arming, and, well, America as usual.  We were “defending our national interests,” however far from our own shores.  “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” is how the marine hymn has it, since forever.

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In 2016, still limping from the 2008 economic collapse with which the Bush administration departed, with many still seething at the failure of Obama to pursue those responsible (bankers, big corporate execs), and others likewise angered at the failure to bring Bush and company to account, the US political atmosphere was transparently smoldering with anti-establishment resentment.  The success of Trump in the Republican primaries, as well as of Sanders with the Democrats, was evidence enough for even the thickest minded.  And yet the Democrats, enmeshed in their narrow horizon Beltway vision, did backroom dirt to shove Sanders aside, and plowed on with their anointed one, HRC.  Backed with a phalanx of political pros, pollsters, billionaire funds, pundits, and their own arrogant presumptions, they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into advertisements, a slick convention, and endless polls – all for naught.  Like the CIA with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all the professional wisdom in the world failed to perceive the obvious, and Clinton came up short in the Electoral College on November 7th.

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The shock waves still reverberate as Donald John Trump prepares to take on the Presidency, surrounded with sleaze in the form of Rudolph Giuliani, Chris Christie, and a cluster-fuck of others, including the editor of a strident right-wing website, Breitbart, and a Vice-Presidential side-kick ready to attempt to impose mid-western fundamentalist Christianism on the nation.   I would not pretend to predict what Trump will or won’t do, or what it will do to our polity.  During the campaign (and well before) he did open a can of very ugly worms, and in doing so legitimized them as OK for public discourse.  I doubt he can, as President, make a U-turn, and stuff all the vile things he has said and done back into that can.  Welcome to Pandora’s not-nice box.  Of course the truth is that this can of worms was sitting there under the pressure cooker of the nice world of PCism.  Naturally it stewed and festered, and now we will have its off-spring running the White House – Mr Bannon looks to be Chief of Staff for President Trump, which promises a very rough ride.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce in North Charleston, South Carolina, September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Who to blame?  Most obviously, first in line is the Democratic National Committee which was as corrupt as Trump suggested.  Hillary Clinton was their girl, and despite the obvious evidence of Sanders’ primary successes, and those of Trump, they stuck to their insiders game plan, awash with money, all those experienced “professionals” and drove themselves and the country, and perhaps the world, into a ditch.  They did it in plain sight, and carried on despite numerous warnings that it was not the season for more “Change You Can Believe In” nor for “Stronger Together” sloganeering, but for up-ending the Establishment.  Ah, but if you are the Establishment, what do you do?  As demonstrated in this election, you stick your head up your butt and pretend it ain’t happening.

But it was, and rather than taking the path offered by Sanders, the DNC persisted, and handed us Trump on a silver plate.

Some of the rest of the blame belongs to the American right-wing which, since Reagan, has flooded the national psyche with hysterical radio, Fox, et al, with 24/7 propaganda, and, aided and abetted by the Clinton gang, let corporate interests run roughshod over the public interest in the form of trade agreements, privatizing education and prisons and whatever else they could grab, producing a dumbed-down populace in thrall to celebrity and money and the miracle of capitalism.  Trump is the natural result.

That Trump, a Queen’s kid with a massive chip on his shoulder and a chronic loser himself, should pick up the chips may seem surprising but in the warped landscape of America circa 2016, it is perfectly logical even if his syntax and vocabulary aren’t.  Frankly half of America cannot speak English decently and I am not talking about the ones who happen to have Spanish or some Asian language as their first tongue.  Nor am I talking only about the uneducated whom Mr Trump asserts he loves, but rather the millions of dubiously “educated” college kids who are gifted with grade inflation while being unable to construct a coherent paragraph in our corrupted universities, many of which are more interested in football income than in the “liberal arts.”  Reading, writing and arithmetic hardly covers the bases.   These folks want “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” in which to obscure their helicopter parented ignorance.   In this America Trump is a natural.  His vulgarity, sexism, racism all slides nicely in with a large portion of the population who in fact think and feel just like that, especially when put into the pressure cooker of the new gig economy.   Trump has given them their voice, and promises they they too will enter the Valhalla of a glittery gold-plated coal mine or factory, and a future in the New Again Great America.

Well, good luck with that.  Though, frankly, while there likely would have been some softening of the rougher edges for some had Clinton won, those who voted for Trump in anticipation of working in the West Virginia or Kentucky mines, are more likely to find out they’ve been mystically turned into canaries.   In fact it appears that all Americans have been so morphed, as we move into the post-WW2 “American Century” of the last 75 years, and enter a new era, with all the volatility which radical changes always bring.   Whether Americans will take kindly to being weaned from their imperially enforced quarter of the global goodies for their 20th of the globe’s population is doubtful.  Or for giving most of that “stuff” to a tiny minority of people – like their new President – while in time honored fashion, they feast on the crumbs falling from the table.

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Mr Trump’s first wife, Ivana, tells us that her ex-husband’s bed time reading when they shared their lives, was Mein Kampf,  the story of an aggrieved failed artist and corporal who went on to leave a significant imprint on history.  Mr Schicklegruber reinvented himself in a highly theatrical manner, in a period of extreme economic and political stress in his time and culture.  The sophisticated world of Beethoven, Hegel, etc. succumbed to his wiles and his prejudices.  And paid a price.

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Donald Trump was a kid from the Queens who got a nice head-start from his hustling father.  Bedazzled by the classier folks across the East River, he moved to Manhattan, out to impress those people, with his string of sexy babes, his golden towers, his beauty contests and casinos.  His nouveau-riche garishness failed to win their favor, and while happy to play with his money, Donald was never really accepted by the toney East Siders and Wall Street honchos. The chip on his shoulder grew bigger and bigger, and he had more and more to prove, revenge to take, scores to settle.  He ran for President, and despite being reviled by almost everyone – the Republican establishment, the pundits, the intellectuals, the security experts, Wall Street, the hipwasie, the Democrats, and the Hollywood clans and monster pop stars, not to mention the minorities whom he joyfully slandered – he won.

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My crystal ball is occluded, though history provides some clues where things might go.  That well thumbed book at his bedside might be a place to look.

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Item pertinent to this, worth the read:

http://forsetti.tumblr.com/post/153181757500/on-rural-america-understanding-isnt-the-problem

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In the frantic last days of our national election mania, in this year of 2016, each day awaits some new internet routed disclosure, private beans spilled into public view of the (alleged) perfidies of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In the last weeks we’ve been treated to Trump’s sleaze on the Hwd Access tapes, to the coming forward of 12 ladies to accuse his highness of doing what he says he likes to do and can do courtesy of his wealth and fame, to Wikileaks revelations of inside dope on the Democratic National Committee’s machinations, and most recently to the Comey/FBI innuendos extracted from the dubious Anthony Weiner’s laptop lapdance. Each day seemingly offers yet another exposure of the sordid underbelly of America’s Id, as if we’d morphed into a TV noir in which Sgt Friday’s mantra is inverted, and it’s “the rumors, just the rumors” which are in demand. Facts, truth – WTF are those?

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In the hyper-acceleration of “information” thanks to the nano-second nervous system of our new digital world, ADDS shunts our attention around in loopy contortions: fact-free and factful merge into the same realm with no time to think. It is the political equivalent of high-speed trading in which a millisecond’s advantage can be leveraged into vast winnings. Never mind those winnings might evaporate in the next minute as ever new revelations sour the public consciousness. Such is the miswired collective neural system we have constructed for ourselves, like an elephant wired to regard a mosquito as a major threat instead of an almost unnoticeable irritant.

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Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s trek to the polls, what is sure is that the coming years will be a season in hell for the US, and sadly, as we are far too powerful on a global scale, a hell for the rest of the world. Should Trump win (not seemingly likely, but….) all bets on anything are off – he is simply too wild a card to predict anything except in Silicon Valley-speak, we can be sure he’d be a major disruptor, if only from an out of control ego and transparent incompetence at anything aside from conning. He has successfully so far proved a handful of American dicta: “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” If, as the polls thus far suggest, 42% or so of the American voting public are hot for Trump, the proof is staring us in the face. We’ll know on Nov 8 whether another dictum holds: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.”

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Should Hillary Clinton emerge victorious, we will enter a presidential term utterly lacking the positive energy which attended Obama’s start. Instead the atmosphere will be instantly curdled, with a sizable contingent of the liberal/left having voted only to keep Trump away and not “for” Clinton, and with a Republican party in disarray with the apparently single unifying element to be as hostile towards Clinton’s term in office as it was towards Obama’s. Or more so. Already talk of impeachment, endless Benghazi, email server and other matters to be “investigated”, and a refusal to accept any Supreme Court (or other lesser ones) appointments. The Republicans have in effect said if they cannot govern, then no one will. This will make for yet another four years of governmental dys- and malfunction, in which certainly the House, and perhaps the Senate, simply decline to “do the work of the nation” with the intention of making Clinton yet another “failed President.”

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As America, and indeed the world, faces unprecedented pressures and emergencies in the form of population growth, immigration, resource depletion, and the ever increasing real life consequences of global warming and all its complex effects, we will have a government paralyzed for idiotic parochial reasons. Internally we are divided along geographic lines, along urban/rural, along regional matters of genuine import: water, economic disparities, then, perhaps most importantly, deep cultural rifts (including plain old all-American racism). The United States simply are not united. The fracture lines run deep, and seem unbridgeable. For some decades now my hunch has been we will fall apart much as the USSR did – owing to excess investment in militarism, collapsing infrastructure, vast economic divides between a ruling political/economic elite, and the rest of the populace. And, as in the USSR, wide cultural divisions among the members of “Union.” A prescription for dissolution.

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Of course Americans have been raised on the myth of our “exceptionalism”, and so they too perceive themselves as monolithic, powerful, special, “exceptional.” As do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – on this I am sure they will agree big league, or bigly. Neither of them will level with the American populace, which itself is broadly not inclined to do so either, and acknowledge the ugly truth that the USA which constitutes 5% of the world’s population, and occupies 7% of the earth’s land, consumes 25% of the world’s resources. It manages this feat by operating a global empire backed by overwhelmingly the world’s largest and most powerful military, which enforces US economic policies, which are often extortionary and constitute theft in a suit, along with political and cultural leverages which gift America with one quarter of the world’s “wealth” while being only one twentieth of the world’s population. And, of course, within the USA the dispersal of this wealth is heavily skewed such that 1% own and control 80% of the wealth. A wealth which they use to distort domestic politics, and to dictate foreign policy. So yes, we are “exceptional” – in our voracious greed and the evils necessary to feed that greed, and in our communal self-delusion that denies this disproportionate wealth, and how we obtain it.

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Hillary Clinton is a firm believer in the concept of American exceptionalism, as well as in using our vast military power to enforce our economic empire across the world.  Should, as is expected, she win the office of President, she will surely pursue American foreign policy as in the past.  Having Kissinger as a friend and advisor, as well a other members of the neo-con and neo-liberal camps who have guided US policy in the last half century, suggests more of the same on tap.  The anger of both the left/Sanders people, as well as that of the right/Trump people seems unlikely to be assuaged by a Clinton administration, though surely she will try to soften the anger with domestic programs intended to help those on the lower rungs of our warped economic pyramid.  Whichever way the vote falls on Tuesday the immediate future appears fraught with the bitter tastes of the long electoral process now coming to a close.  The cleavages in the nation look to deepen with – as already demonstrated in the Oregon Malheur case – armed rebellions a clear possibility.  The crystal ball is looking rather opaque.

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A little item I found after writing this, pertinent:

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In the gray sky days of impending winter, I decided to begin the process of disentangling the chaos of my computer’s contents:  digital organization merely mirrors one’s own.  Chaos in/chaos out.  So I slowly fumble through my files, and find odds and ends which are often surprises, and for which, being realistic, I am sure there is no “use” in some imagined life of a published writer.  So I guess I’ve decided to put them out here.  Some stories, essays, fragments of once-upon-a-time scripts, snippets of ideas, and poems.  Some seem worthy of sharing, so I’ll do so here.  Maybe for a title it should be “Nothing to Say.”  I didn’t have one in the papers.

There was nothing to say, really.  Sure, it was usual to render up some mawkish sentiment, to burble with some high-sounding thought while choking back the tears.  It was sad.  It was supposed to be sad.  Though it seemed to me that sadness was usually misdirected, sent charging off bullheaded in exactly the wrong direction.  They’d say all the wrong things, showing right there, in their imagined most solemn of moments, how badly backward they’d got the whole thing.  It was pretty much the same at the other end of the event, when to get the whole damn thing started it took a vacillating swarm of fantasy images, and maybe a jolt of some inside drug, to kick the body into its shudders and sighs, and finally shoot the cream in.  Like this, it was something you really weren’t supposed to talk about, but just do the right handful of ritual gestures, mumble a few awful clunkers, stick the stamp on the Hallmark card, and move along.  Don’t make waves, don’t go against the grain, it ain’t the time to ruffle feathers.  Though it set you to wondering, if this wasn’t time to shake things up, when was?  So with them all hang-headed, with their hands clasped together, decked out in their darkest, I said it.  First I set it up, clearing my throat, like it was something serious and hard to say.

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“Dad was really a rotten son-of-a-bitch, and you all know it.  He never listened to anybody but himself, and bossed everybody around and everybody hated him really, but didn’t know what to do. And now he’s dead, and his mouth is finally shut, and you all wanna stand around telling lies about what a good guy he was, like he’d jump right up outta his coffin there and smack you if you didn’t say something nice.  Well, dead is dead, and he ain’t popping up, and the truth is he was a son-of-a-bitch, and you know it and I know it, except he probably did things a whole lot worse than what we know about, and that was bad enough.  Fuck him.”

 

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You could hear the whine of trucks working up over 101, headed north up the pass.  The sky was the usual blue.  Nobody said a thing.  Not a “shhhhh,” not a sound.  They just stood around a few more minutes looking sad.  Then Mom made a little move, and everybody shifted on their feet a little, nervous-like, making some sniffles, and then like they all knew, they turned and walked back to the cars.  Nobody said a word.  I stayed and watched as they pulled away, and then watched the workers – they were from Mexico or El Salvador, somewhere – take the little lawn tractor and shove the pile of dirt back down into the ground, tamping it with shovels.  Soon as the family was gone they started talking and laughing, and when they were done filling in the hole, they drove over it a few times with a roller ’til there was just a little mound of yellow-red dirt.  They came by with a little wagon and after they’d sprinkled the dirt and made it a dark color they laid turf on it.  Then they drank a beer and left.  I stayed, and I suppose they thought I must have been all ripped up, staying there until the sun had dropped and jet trails heading down to LA made orange streaks against the sky and the first stars started to come out.  I walked back into town, past the 7-11 and the gas stations by the Interstate, and went to the El Cajon and had a beer.  Al said he’d heard, and said he was sorry, and I said, “What for?”

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586Edoardo Albinati

Sept 30 2016

Not long ago, in May, my wife Marcella showed me a notice she’d seen in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, a little polemic about all the five finalists for the Strega prize  (Italy’s most prestigious literary award) being from Rome in this year’s round.  Among those listed was my friend Edoardo Albinati.  This naturally perked up my interests, and I sent him a brief note, and not much later was prompted to send him congratulations for having come out the winner.  As a finalist he’d already been subjected to the literary press mill, and as winner he was due to be buried under an avalanche of journalists, critics, in paper and on TV.

And then, this month, came another round-about notice – he would be appearing in an event in Matera, Marcella’s hometown, where we’d been staying in or near since February. Last week we went to Matera to see him in company of a psychoanalyst and writer, Luigi Zoia, and field researcher and blogger, Luca Mori, along with, as it turned out, a somewhat too talkative moderator, Marino Sinibaldi who has a radio program on literature, Fahrenheit.  The event was called Materadio, and was a broadcast.

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Marcella saw Edo as he and his wife Francesca entered, and I went to briefly greet him as he worked his way to the front area in the cave-like space of the Casa Cave. We had a few words, and he advanced to the stage set and found his seat, looking rather, to my eyes, uncomfortable. After a while he came back out to talk with me a bit, and remarked how he wasn’t sure he could talk in the cave-setting there, as if the weight of the place would suffocate him. Old Matera – the Sassi – is composed of such places, houses and such carved into the soft tufo, formerly essentially caves, later decked out with facades, some ornately Baroque, but most very simple. Edo returned to his place on stage and had his 15 minutes of the 50 allotted. Afterwards he was hustled off for another hour of photos and short interviews with the press. I kept a discreet distance, and then joined by Marcella, we talked with Francesca while waiting for the press press to cease. Finally Edo emerged and we went to have a drink and some words before they returned to their hotel.

I met Edoardo in 1990, in San Francisco. A friend of his, writer Sandro Veronesi, (a Strega Premio winner back in 2004), had suggested he meet my friend Jim Nisbet – also a writer, of detective novels – who lives in San Francisco.  Jim had done a little part in my Rembrandt Laughing, and tried to work with me on Sure Fire.    And so fortuitously I met Edoardo there through Jim.  And – so Edo told me over our drinks – back then he piled into my VW van of the time, and we drove to the famed City Lights bookstore in North Beach, and, he said, I had an accident on arrival. I do not recall this at all, and am certain I had no accident as I never had any in San Francisco, but maybe I bumped a curb or something.  At all events, I met him and he me.  Such are the odd ways in which I seem to meet my friends, living out of a van, a nomad on the earth.

Some years later, in 1994, having decided to live in Roma, we met again, and on lining up a film production, quite surprisingly to me, I asked Edoardo if he could help in scripting. It wasn’t really a script in the usual sense, since I don’t seem to work that way. Rather, as we went along, I’d have a scene in mind, and I’d ask – sometimes – either that he loosely translate a text I’d written and adjust it to be Italian, or I’d give him a vague generalized idea of what I wanted to convey, and he’d write out a long monologue or whatever. It was very much a collaboration, with me setting brackets, and Edoardo bringing his vastly greater knowledge of Italy – its cultural and political realities – into play, and writing what was needed.

 

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Interestingly, when I took the film – along with Edoardo and a few of the actresses in it – to the Venice Festival in 1995 – the Italian critics, who had rather rapturously greeted my earlier films, harshly critical of America, mostly recoiled at Uno a Me, a somewhat serio-comic critique of things a la Italia. They accused me of not knowing enough about Italy, about having a superficial view, and, well, of failing to make a variant of Roman Holiday, celebrating all things Italian, but instead of having made a critique of Italy after the Years of Lead, and in the midst of the corruptions of Berlusconi and the Mani Puliti era. The critique had been my idea, and in truth I thought I knew enough about Italy to make such a critique. But the more subtle, inside, critique, had been Edoardo’s – he wrote the dialogues and monologues that carried the argument I had framed. Italy is a tribal society, and while it is perfectly OK for a Florentine to harshly speak of, say, Siennese, or any other city-state/culture combo, should a goddam foreigner make a critique of la bella Italia, then the tribal antagonisms dissolve, and a national tribalism congeals in defense of the often indefensible.   Venice taught me that.  My cultural stock in Italy never recovered from this assault – I went from “the most important American independent filmmaker” in the Italian critic’s press opinion to Mr Nada. In hindsight I’d have to say my critique has held up well over the years, and back a bit Rai Tre, which funded it, apparently re-broadcast it a good number of times, so I was told, owing to viewer requests.

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uno-72Stills from Uno a Me, Uno a Te, et Uno a Raffaele

In the years since Venice, when in Italy, I’d see Edo when I could. While living in Roma (1993-5, and then 1997-2001) I walked not a few times from my place in Trastevere to his writing offices just north of Piazza del Popolo, to his home in the north side of the city , and visited him a few times outside Roma, once in Sperlonga.

In 2006, shooting a quick, no money one-week or so feature with the actress from Uno a me, Eliana Miglio, and Simonetta Gianfelici, and Agnese Nano, whom I’d worked with in a workshop in Sicily the year before, Edoardo played a role drawn from his recent stay of 6 months in Afghanistan. The film, La Lunga Ombra, was about the undertow effects of 9/11 on Italian and European “intelligentsia.” Edoardo’s role was essentially as himself, a person who’d spent time in Afghanistan, being interviewed by a television journalist. The film came out quite well, but I couldn’t get anyone in Italy (or the US) to screen it – turned down by every festival. My view is that the politics of it were simply too severe for kiss-ass, corporatized festivals to accept while the Iraq war was in full flow.  And probably a film made, however well, for $100 just couldn’t compete in the increasingly commercialized world of art.

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After I left Italy in 2002 and returned to the USA, I saw Edoardo far less – circumstances of life. Though whenever passing through Rome in the following years, I tried. Once a meal in his home with Francesca, and the last time we met at a metro station and had a quick pizza nearby in the north of Rome. And now again, finally, in Matera.

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I bought his book in the only bookstore in Matera likely to carry serious literature, and have promised myself to read it, in Italian, all 1,292 pages of it.  It might take me quite some time, but when it is over my Italian will be a hell of a lot better than it is now.  The book, so I’ve read, is about a famed and ugly case in Roma, the Delitto del Circeo, in the mid ’70’s, and is also a touch autobiographical.

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