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A year and some ago, I received a note on Facebook from a young man from Kolkata, India. He asked me to look at a film he had made, a request which happens to me now and then. I assumed he had taken a workshop I’d done there some years ago, but as it turned out, he’d never heard of me. A friend of his who’d been in one of those workshops had suggested to him I was open, liked non-conventional films, and he should ask.

Most of the time when I get this kind of thing, I’ll say yes, and take a look – most often giving up after a few minutes of either truly inept and uninteresting work, or something utterly conventional which the maker thinks is somehow special. I admit I am not very tolerant in this respect, which I tell people at the outset when they ask.

If anyone reading this has a good connection to a major festival or showcase/event and could help secure a good screening situation, please contact me here.

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In this case I hit the play button and was greeted right off with gorgeous very wide-screen black and white imagery, and a sharp cinematic sensibility to go with it – the editing, choices of camera movement, shifts from very close to distant, pacing. It was slow, and as some narrative began to emerge I was introduced to the main character: a grown man, seemingly mentally damaged, filthy, mute, wearing something like a badly soiled diaper. He squatted, his head swiveling this way, then that, his face showing curiosity and fear. He was not “attractive” nor in such terms someone with whom to “identify” sympathetically – a usual prime demand of most cinema viewers. The camera and film dwells on him, relentlessly.

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Initially it was slightly off-putting despite the cinematic intelligence at work. But then, gradually drawn in to the cinematic qualities, and the near obsessive nature of the “story,” I watched to the end.  At the conclusion I was highly impressed and wrote the filmmaker, Riddhi Majumder.

I then found out that he’d not known of me, and on fleshing things out, was told he’d shot the film when he was 23, and this was his first film. It set me back on my heels to think such a mature work was made by someone so young, with such a serious subject and such an astute cinematic sensibility. In turn this begot an exchange of messages, and he told me how he’d submitted the film to many festivals and received no response, just the negative one of being minus the entry fees. The festivals were mostly marginal ones, ones of no utility, and in some cases just scams. I told him to stop, that he was wasting his money, and that I would try to help him get it into a meaningful festival. Which I did attempt, though my evidently totally diminished “clout” proved useless.

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The film was turned down by Cannes, Locarno, Venice, and Pesaro, despite my acquaintance with people connected to those festivals and my firm words on the film’s behalf. I was surprised, since I felt the film was really very very good and should have been accepted by one of these on its own merits. Thus far the film has not been invited to any major or minor festival. In my view this is far more a testament to the dubious nature of festivals these days than about Riddhi’s film.

Pariah is a one-thread film: a pilgrim’s progress in the world, in which its main character, the unnamed pariah, moves from basic survival to humiliation followed with further humiliation, a prisoner of the world around him. Initially in a forest, we find him foraging for food – bird eggs taken from nests. Nearing a village he encounters a child, a little girl. He chases her and enters her village. There is something ambiguous in this chase, an almost childlike innocence, but with undertones of possible other meanings: might he rape her?

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Entering the “civilized” world we hear a loudspeaker intoning in a cult-like manner a kind of mantra, and are introduced to an obnoxious satrap, a man full of himself receiving massages and showers from his minions who cower at his feet like whipped dogs. He lives in a palatial house, receiving visits from the villagers who beseech him for favors, and whom he treats with haughty disdain. We see men working in a well while the public announcement system speaks of an magic elixir, which binds the community together, a holy liquid.

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The pariah, found sleeping in a hutch is captured and brought to the village, and tormented by the people there. He is brought to the satrap, who has him chained to a wall, and then, seemingly influenced by a young sympathetic woman, shows mercy and releases him. The pariah then joins the satrap on a hunting party, where he causes a problem and is duly punished in consequence.

 

Hung on the wall again, he manages to escape while the satrap is abusing a young woman. Later, found in the night in the woods, he is brutally twice raped by the satrap and a partner, and left, semen soiled, on the forest floor. In the morning he rises, like a wounded animal, and stumbles on, finally coming to a pond where he washes himself. Absolution. Moving on he comes across an old wise man who plays music and dances, and he himself dances, seemingly now free and delirious in joy.

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The villagers, though, return and round him up, and in a frenzy go by torch light, leading him to a pyre.

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As a story this is simple – the innocent and the evil juxtaposed, the herd behavior of the people bowing to suspect authority, the sway of cult beliefs governing society. But, as in music, in which the lyric is often simple and near useless on the sheet, but soars when made music, Riddhi’s poetry emerges in the cinematic qualities of the film in concert with its grim content. The rich images, beautifully conceived and shot; the sharp cinematic sense of when to move the camera and how, where to place it. And then the non-professional actors carrying their roles in a strangely Bressonian sense but the opposite, often in near iconic imagery. They stand as “models” but emote as actors, shifting the terms of this film from a seeming “realism” to a parable, a Bengali variant of Catholicisms’ Stations of the Cross, except in this case there is no redemption, there is no resurrection, there is no hope.

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Pariah, aesthetically stunning, and thematically grim, offers little solace outside its artistry. Which, I suppose is why thus far it has been bypassed in favor of less demanding works and “audience pleasers”, even in so-called “serious” festival settings – which is a tragedy.

I have been at many festivals, and seen many truly bad films at them.  Especially ones by “name” directors who seem to get a pass, no matter what crap they do. (One I particularly recall is Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, a true piece of junk that I hope Korine coughed up to show how inane festival selection can be: big name, big shit = invitation.)

It would be for me a sad matter if Riddhi Majumder’s film were to be simply swept by in the vast river of cinematic junk which rushes by everyday, and that the failure of our cultural system were to put any kind of brake upon him.  He is a person of transparently natural sensibilities for this medium, a born filmmaker.  And from the evidence of this work he is someone taking life and our place in the world seriously, and making work to address that.  Perhaps this makes him a pariah in the sad corrupt world which much of the cinema circus represents.

If anyone reading these words can help Riddhi secure the kind of screenings this work deserves, either contact me here, or Riddhi directly:

email: riddhimajumder.93@gmail.com

or

Facebook ID, http://facebook.com/radym

 

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DSC09397SMSteven Holl’s St Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University.

For a year, in 1960-61, I studied architecture at IIT, the transposed Bauhaus of Weimar Germany. Just a few years before I had arrived Mies van der Rohe had run the school, and it was in effect a monastery of modernist values, with Mies standing at the fore, like St Ignatius before the Jesuits.  Mies was a virtual religion, and his austere bare-bones internationalist style was the catechism, and students were inculcated in his values and style, and cranked out veritable clones of his architecture of the “International Style” which the corporate world had quickly found its own, and blighted cities around the globe with its severe boxes with ineptly done gridded curtain walls.  This straight-jacket naturally gave birth far later to the Baroque flamboyance of, say, Frank Gehry.

 

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I spent a year in school in this building, Crown Hall, on the Chicago IIT campus.  It was elegant, with terrazzo floors, glass top to bottom, and open space broken only with low partitions and a central utility shaft.  I could wander the entire school, seeing the models made by later classes and the graduate students: clones of Mies every one.  In less than a year I determined that architecture was a business and that I was not going to fit into it; nor did I wish to become a Mies stamp.

[I note that while Crown Hall is elegant, during the winters it was impossible to stand within 10 feet of the uninsulated glass walls, in the summer it was a natural oven (at the time lacking air conditioning); the sun would glare off the terrazzo floors, and, well, Mies’ aesthetic classicism had little to do with living human matters – he did not himself chose to live in one of his glass box Chicago high-rises, but instead in a fusty brownstone abode.]

One of Mies’ dictums, paralleling that of other religions, was that “god is in the details.” While I dismissed the strictures of Miesienism almost immediately, attracted more to the flourishes of the heretic Corbusier, I did learn much at the Miesien altar. And one was surely, just where god resided.

metalocus_iit_robert_f_carr_memorial_chapel_01_1280_0The chapel at IIT, in which all things are reduced to open space boxes

In 1961, during a summer in Europe, I made a hitch-hiking visit to Corbusier’s Chapel in Ronchamp.  I’d seen pictures and was drawn moth-to-flame to it.  Arriving I was immediately disappointed in that it was surrounded by a scrim of tourist trap peddlers, religious and architectural, something none of the photos seem ever to show.  Even so the building itself was a marvel, an architectural sculpture sitting on a large hill-top meadow, pristine and quiet.

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It was, like Mies’ work, fully modernist, but infused with emotion, respectful of, if not believing in, the religious impulse which it was asked to express.

 

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Since then my eyes have cast a harsh eye on other architects, almost pathologically honing in on them-damned-details. Today, Oct 4 22019, I sit in Steven Holls’ much lauded little St. Ignatius chapel here at the University of Seattle, a structure cited for its allegedly glowing color schemata, with veils of color-coordinated light gracing the walls, to presumably spiritual effect. To be utterly cynical I think I have seen big store hype machines deploy these things better, and certainly Holls’ deployment of color pales next to James Turrell, this place being at very best a very pallid matter.

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Structurally this chapel apes Romanic architecture with arching vaults overhead, and baffles blocking direct light in favor of reflected light, done in flat hues of blue and pink and soft oranges and green. Alleged to harmonize, instead they simply fall flat, like super-lame modernist would-be stained-glass windows, the old originals of which surely these dollops of color were meant to echo. In keeping with the architectural failure here, likewise are the pieces of “religious art” similarly deadening. And why not: the makers simply don’t really believe this stuff – not Holls, not the sculptor or painter. At best they attempt to ape and genuflect to long dead beliefs, this arch, this wanna-dazzle touch of light; this wants-to-be solemn space which if anything celebrates the spiritual vacuum of the times.

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Living in Europe quite a fair time, I became a self-described church-junkie – because, like Willy Sutton said regarding money, that is where the art (mostly) was. I do not and never did for a second share the beliefs which animated the raising of the innumerable cathedrals, churches, bishop’s palaces, convents and monasteries, and such, that I visited.  But while finding the background beliefs dubious at best, and abhorrent in the actual human behaviors they produced, I had to admit that whoever made these things really believed what they were meant to convey. One can see it in the most sophisticated of sculpture and architectural structure and adornment, or in the most primitive. The finger prints of belief, however misguided, are unmistakable, tucked into Mies’ “details.”

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Whereas here, they are utterly absent, and instead a belief in doing as little as necessary to produce the effect, so we get ridiculous scraped stucco wall coverings, kitschy lights hanging overhead, piss-poor door frames and all the other signs of don’t-really-give-a-fuck’ism under the guise of a smattering of religious seriousness.  After all, the Holls’ firm knew well what climate Seattle has and yet….. The religion here is bottom-line capitalism and it was willing to invest just enough to give the illusion of caring about this spiritual crap.   Well, not really quite enough.

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For his secular religiousity, Turrell tends towards pomposity, as if to ape the grandeur of a great cathedral, while not bowing to its symbols; Holls bows unconvincingly and fails to catch himself before landing on his face.  Not that this seems to have disturbed the handful of architectural tourists who passed through, one a cluster of Asian folks accompanied by a serious looking, gesticulating professor.  Though it seemed these people were less than overwhelmed as they wandered in, glanced around and departed in a matter of minutes, their opinion expressed by their feet. However, the perfunctory modernism of Holls’ chapel does fit in perfectly with the mundane urban landscape around it at the University of Seattle – unremarkable, ugly, utilitarian, a training ground for students to learn to not care about anything.

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Each day the headlines shout a new story: Hong Kong, Epstein, Trade War, El Paso…

The stock market leaps or plunges, a heat wave wilts half of Europe or the US. Our attentions are yanked this way and that, each event instantly transmitted across the globe and magnified in importance.   At the same time each event is instantly diminished, dwarfed by the next super-duper life-changing event.

And life goes on in its mundane manner, people talk and shop, they eat and make love and die.

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We all live, not in a Yellow Submarine, but rather in a vast collective schizophrenia factory, in which each of us, in more or less everything we do, make our offering to the god of Thanatos, though most of us are blissfully unaware of it.  We flick on our computer and go on-line.  It seems effortless, and some make the argument that it is so much more efficient, more “ecological” as we don’t need to chop down trees to make paper to stick in an envelope to put in a box to go in a truck to go in a plane back to a truck to your front door.  Nope, more or less at the speed of light you can have the world’s best library at your finger tips.  And indeed you can, and like most human bookkeeping the real bill is kept well out of sight.

The real bill for our convenience is that we are – well, probably it is already past tense, but we can’t see or admit that – that we have already destroyed the little planet on which we live.

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The above map indicates places in the world under severe water supply stress, places which in a few years will either have to magically find some other water source, or be abandoned.  There will be no magic.  One will note that many of these areas are among the most densely populated in the world (India, parts of China, the US southwest, parts of Europe.)  Lack of water also equals lack of food.  Great migrations will occur as those living there are forced to leave, or die from famine. This has already birthed serious political forces, giving rise to authoritarian regimes to fend off immigrants.  In the coming decade this will become far more severe, and there will be a mass human die-off (to join the other mass extinction of other living creatures already well in process), of billions of people.

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What we humans do, everyday, is what is responsible for this drastic change in the world.  It is our mix of religions, born in other times, which prompts us to reproduce, adding to the biological base-line which does so anyway, but religion socially sanctions it, even in the face of the obvious evidence of our over-populating the globe.  There are, plain and simple, way too many of us.

It is our intellectual wizardry which birthed science and its technological off-shoots, which has given us powers far in excess of our ethical capacities.  We are profoundly clever, but not wise.

And then our more recent religion of mercantilism and capitalism, which requires a belief in endless growth, and to which most humans these days subscribe.  It is as irrational as other belief systems, requiring a cinematic suspension of disbelief.  A virgin birth?  People with wings?  Sacred cows?

While powered by science which produces technological wonders, capitalism is as irrational as the metaphysical beliefs which governed humans earlier (and in many parts of the world, still do).  Detached from an intimate connection with the real world – the one of the earth and the biological processes of life and death in its cycles – our modern world has ravaged its own soil; it digs, extracts, and destroys the given world, taking its raw materials and making of them new elements, spewing these heedlessly about, poisoning the vast oceans and skies with toxins.  A great extinction, this one provoked by human actions, is already well under way.  We are drowning the world in the poisons of our cleverness. Along with most mammalian species and many others biological organisms, we will also be among its victims.

Uniquely, we can say we are responsible, for it is what we have done, collectively, over our long history (but a blip in deep geological time or even biological time), that has brought this upon us.  In the west the Greeks long ago gave this a name: hubris.

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Of course, humans being what they are, we always look for a scapegoat, someone else to blame.  It is those people who over-produce, it is those people who are different, who are to blame.  It is those people who look different, speak a different language, have different beliefs – they are to blame.

America is 4.4 % of the world’s human population; it occupies 7% of the world’s landmass.  And its society consumes 25% of the world’s resources.  It doesn’t do this out of some mystical capacity for innovation and invention and such: it does it by having, since the end of World War Two, a monopoly control over the global economy through economic extortion and blackmail in having a strangle-hold on trade through mechanisms which have made the US dollar the de facto means of exchange.  It has used this to force others to follow its dictates, and where the raw economic force does not produce submission, the USA maintains the largest, by far, military, with which it enforces America’s political diktats with violence.

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The truth is we are all to blame – some surely more than others, with Americans and Europeans especially, owing to their history, but finally it is all of us.  I suspect it was evolutionarily fated, and that in many other places in our universe the same experiment has been replicated and arrived at the same conclusion.

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Consciousness coupled to the basic requisites of evolutionary survival would always arrive in the same place.  We live, today, in a world which we are told is normal, the only possible world, and yet which is, with more or less every act we do – eating food brought from far away, receiving our convenient Amazon delivery, putting the garbage out in a plastic bag, driving here or there, turning on the light, or reading this – committing collective suicide.

 

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A year and some has passed since my last Pastoral, and in some sense it seems as if nothing has changed, though in truth much has changed.  For the worse. The Trump administration, dogged with endless scandal and corruption, simply doubles down. Mired in a cesspool of moral and ethical offenses and plain old crimes, the nation seems stunned, our political parties paralyzed.  Offense on offense is dumped in the public lap, a myriad of impeachable acts are done and while the air is sour with alarm, almost nothing has happened to confront the new reality.  Yet there is a reason for this stasis, one which curiously is what provokes it.

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The ascendancy of Trump, seen by many as an aberration,  a slap in the face to our sense of civil decorum, was in reality simply an unveiling of ourselves.  For decades America has been corrupt and rotted to the core – not just the hard-right business oriented sorts, but our nice soft liberals as well.  On the right the military industrial complex and its endless wars, was encouraged to expand since there was much profit to be made from it, and few raised a complaint.  Now President Eisenhower’s Farewell speech warning has come to full flower, and both Republicans and Democrats genuflect to the military, while civilians pay their taxes and utter “Thank you for your service” while veterans, utterly abandoned after that “service”, commit suicide at such rate that far more have died that way than in combat.

 

On the liberal side the corruption can be seen in universities which have become secondary to their football and basketball teams, where grade inflation and cozy “legacy” admissions warp the fabric of education.  It can be seen in the empty gestures toward “green” behavior, with recycling and hybrid cars and endless feel-good symbolic acts which utterly fail to address the reality that America is a vicious militarist/capitalist system which seizes 25% of the globe’s resources to serve 4.4 % of the world’s population.   To effect any real change requires a drastic down-sizing of American consumption, something which even the most liberal of Americans will not consider. They will say instead that the 25% must simply be more equitably distributed, not that we need to cut back 80% to properly fit our population.  It is a moral corruption no less damning than the rude billionaire’s club of the Republican’s.

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While many “good” Americans abhor Trump, and many others celebrate him, the brutal truth is that he is a symptom, an ugly scab which reveals the broad, deep decadence which has been building in American society for decades, and which while transparently evident for all that time, was discreetly ignored or minimized, as being something which a minority of other people did, and never oneself. Corruption was a flaw of 3rd world places, or Italy or Turkey. It was the kind of lie familiar in totalitarian states in which the official truth is known by all be be false, but has to be accepted for survival.  Americans imagined themselves mystically different but they were not. While the nation built a vast military empire, visible and obvious, everyone paid their taxes, and few protested. The unacknowledged benefits were simply too enticing, and besides, resisting would just be too much bother and risk.

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Since the end of World War Two, Americans have lived in a fantasy bubble, perceiving themselves ever as the good guys, the white-hat cowboy come to save the damsel in distress.  After all we’d gone to Europe’s and Asia’s defense, beating the Krauts and the Japs, sacrificing our youth for others.  Our story.  Never mind it was the Soviet Union which sacrificed endlessly more and did the job in Europe, and never mind it was Japanese over-reach which cost them their war.  But for we Americans, nope, it was our glorious GI’s that turned the tide, and won the day. Westerns.  We, in our own minds, come what may, were always the good guys.

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As the world slowly pieced itself back together after the conclusion of the war, America was essentially a back-door socialist society, recovered from the Depression-era ravages of capitalism run amok thanks to the WPA, Social Security and myriad other government props deliberately devised to save capitalism from itself.  Coupled with the steroid boost of vast government spending (debt) to conduct the war – factories for building ships, tanks, planes, all constructed on the government dime – the USA emerged as an industrial power-house with virtually no competition. It had all been leveled by the war, save for what was left in the USSR. Entering the ’50’s America propagated its myths to the globe, and to itself.

USA USA USA  #1 #1 #1.

And America, and much of the rest of the world, fell for it.  We were the shining beacon, the city on the hill, the biggest economy, the champion of democracy, the general all-around do-good guys of the 50’s.  Everybody loved us and we loved us. Or at least so we told ourselves.

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The fifties cemented America’s self-image as the benign biggest bestest country ever, the melting pot, the energetic inventive nation that had thrown off the shackles of old-world corruptions, tossed the aristocracy on the dung heap of history, and was innocent and pure.  We gave generously to others, developed the Marshall Plan for Europe, and turned Japan into a nation of Peaceniks.

We were a Norman Rockwell painting.

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We were, of course, utterly self-deluded, mired in the propaganda we had issued about ourselves to others.  We were the knights riding in on white horses saving the world from the scourge of Nazism and the Yellow Peril.  We wore the white hats, dammit.

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I recall in high-school having a final “civics” test which had 100 questions, two of which were the same question phrased differently – it asked why is/was/will be American foreign policy always be formed for the good of the other countries.  I replied it isn’t/wasn’t and wouldn’t be, citing some of the warped history they had taught me – for example, the Spanish-American war, which among other things was the first Gulf of Tonkin trick, to be deployed but a few years later.  I “missed” this question twice, and one other about who wrote the Virginia Bill of Rights.  3 questions of 100.  I was flunked.  As I recall I took the matter to the administration but I don’t remember the result.  The old lady teacher was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

 

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In the 50’s, creeping through the back-door of French colonialism, we took over their role in Indo-China, largely in secret. At the same time we overthrew the elected government of Iran, installing an erstwhile Shah who did our bidding and was duly celebrated as modernizing ancient Persia.  Our fingers were in Africa and Central and South America, propping up useful dictators.  This however did not show up much in the American mind until the 60’s.  Pieces occasionally slipped by the censors, but most of America’s dirty work was kept well from view, and what was not was always justified by the Cold War, in which the USSR, our former ally, was demonized. Anything was justified to stop “communism.”  And stopping communism was a good excuse to construct a global empire, all in the name of doing good.

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The 60’s brought an abrupt ending to America’s introverted dream of itself as the perfect Ozzie and Harriet-land of white-bread harmony.  Instead the fixed verities of the 50’s were up-ended as kids grew their hair long, disdained Mad Ave proprieties, and the civil rights movement flared into open warfare against the deep long racist reality of the nation.  The “cultural” war was on, challenging the status-quo assumptions of the country regarding race, sex, money, and myriad other “givens” of our society.  The seeds for a decades long tectonic shift in what America really is, and how it perceives itself, were planted.

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Even more frightening for those who found the 50’s a nirvana of normalcy, the actual demographics of the nation were changing colors: the country was slowly becoming non-white.  Women were demanding equal status.  The old verities of a patriarchal, racist culture were collapsing and anger was in the air.   It still is.

The Vietnam war coupled with the civil rights movement, rapidly joined by feminists and gays and other deprived elements of our society quickly ripped the veneer of 1950’s propriety to shreds and laid bare the hypocrisies of the nation.  It continues to this day, now shrieked out in headlines quoting the erstwhile President with racist diatribes and misogynist vomit.  The 1970’s roiled the nation in the wake of the 60’s and in rode a familiar figure, the cowboy in the white had, to the rescue. This particular cowboy was about as authentic as Wild Bill Cody, hailing from Illinois and Hollywood, a showbiz shill for General Electric and other corporate interests. Sporting an aw-shucks demeanor and an All-American down-home fake accent, Ronald Reagan offered respite from nearly two decades of turmoil.  He promised a Shining City on the Hill and trickle-down economics, though except for his own kind – the rich – he actually took a piss on the rest.  All the promised showers were golden.

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In America’s seeming zig-zag politics – Reagan begot a one-term Bush which led to led to “good old (liberal) boy” Clinton, a sorta two-term “left” wobble that boomeranged to a two-term “right” Bush, Cheney’s inside-job 9/11, briefly stunning the nation into a seeming unity until the real Bolton intent was made clear with a fraudulent WMD-claim war, the catastrophic invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the deep fractures in our social comity stepped up into the glare of the spotlight. Soured on Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” liberals united behind the unheard silver-tongued black candidate, and Obama, at best a center-Republican of yore inside, was readily voted in, the Establishment’s Harvard-trained Manchurian Candidate, who deftly pulled the wool over the fawning liberals so pleased with themselves for showing their I-am-not-a-racist credentials for having voted for him.  Of course he could move in next door, though a guy from the hood with a boom box playing rap at the BBQ might not be so welcome.

Obama policies, liberal on the identity politics side, pro-Wall Street and hard-core military-industrial complex War War War on the foreign policy side, (but for Obama discreetly, with drones, off-the-books, black-ops, not spoken of lest the liberals notice) managed to flummox the nation.  We were, said he and others, now “post-racial.”  For eight years it became socially unPC to murmur anything that could be interpreted as racist or sexist or any violation of someone’s norms.  While ample signs pointed to the volcano just beneath the surface of our shared politics, the elite of the Beltway chose not to see it. In private they spoke of “deplorables” and simply missed what had been going on for 40 years behind their backs, off in the backwaters of “fly-over” land, that “globalization” had decimated and left behind. (Read William Kittredge’s 1998 book Who Owns the West for a prescient early view of this.)

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The flim-flam snake-oil salesman is embedded into our culture as deeply as anything: American as apple-pie.  Right down to our bedrock myths of ourselves, the scrappy pilgrims who built up New World from scratch.  Forget about the millions of indigenous people who were already here; forget about the millions of slaves.  And so on – it is a tired myth woven of lies and self-delusion.  Presently we are experiencing its death throes, the shudder of a centuries old society as it faces the mirror and cannot face the image which returns its stare.  We are brutal. We are ugly.  We are evil.

We are 4.4% of the world’s human population sitting on 7% of its landmass and gorging on 25% of the world’s resources.  We do this by having had the economic weight and military force to seize these resources by blackmail, extortion, military threats and when those fail, pure military force.  We have done it for some centuries now.  We are an empire, and as usual, an evil one.  Like all empires we pretend we’re the guys in white hats.

An honest history of ourselves tells us this was always so, and that the heroic stories we concocted for ourselves were false.  But before we bow out, we have a last show-biz con-man to survive and his millions of followers, many of them allegedly devout Christians who wallow in resentment and hatred, while clutching the Cross. Hypocrisy, if one reads our history well, is as American as apple pie, too.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

                                                                                                    Walt Whitman

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Our poet laureate sang his songs, enticing, beautiful.  And they offered one of the many threads which make up the tapestry of our communal delusion.  These days his self-celebration has curdled, as it has now many times, into a narcissism of feel-good gestures – yoga and recycling and solar panels and panels of Norman Vincent Peale emulators speaking the newest hip phrases of the same old balm.  Atop the curdled pop culture of our time sits a vulgarian impressario, a narcissist of the first rank, ready to lead his base of last-gasp old white racists over the buffalo cliff, taking everyone with him.

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America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candy store.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious.
Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable
private literature that jetplanes 1400 miles an hour and twentyfive-thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they’re all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother Bloor the Silk-strikers’ Ewig-Weibliche made me cry I once saw the Yiddish orator Israel Amter plain.

Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don’t really want to go to war.
America its them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia.
Him big bureaucracy running our filling stations.
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

                                                Allen Ginsburg, Berkeley, January 17, 1956

 

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Since last posting here, time seems to have zipped along with my geographic coordinates. From Belfast to Dublin to Amsterdam and Brussels, a jaunt to Ghent, Paris, Locarno, Cassina Amata near Milano, Piangipane near Ravenna, Bologna and now in Mondello, on the flanks of Palermo.  Each not only a physical place, unique to itself, but a node of personal acquaintances, people known decades and brand new, each in the midst of their own jangled worlds. I soak it in, inquisitive as ever, in the moment and then on leaving one place and entering another, into a new world.  It’s been ever so for me.

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In Dublin, generously hosted by Maeve Foreman, I was lucky to have a little inside edge. Maeve is well-connected with her neighborhood and her city, and that opened doors that otherwise would surely have remained closed.  Lucky me, I got a better glimpse of the place than I would have otherwise.  Thanks Maeve.

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The museums in Dublin are all free, so I wasn’t economically locked out as I am in many places asking 20 or 25 Euro to enter, so I had a nice look at what was available to see.  A pleasure.  For more on Dublin see this.

[Maeve is the mother of Donal Foreman, whose film The Image You Missed has been getting extensive and well-deserved exposure on the global festival circuit.  Once I again get settled down it’s my intention to write a long piece on it.  If you haven’t seen, try to – it is a wonderful, highly watchable, complex film and personal film which manages to expand itself into the universal.]

Next was Amsterdam where I was able to see long-term friend Errol Sawyer, since 1964, and stay a week thanks to Mathilde.  While there I got to see the people at Eyefilm, the Netherlands archive, which holds all my originals and is in process of making 4K prints of some of them.  Had a talk about what more needs to be done.  Slow going but going.

Museums… well, I was priced out.  And even in this way-out-of-season time, Amsterdam was crawling with too many tourists, warping the ambience of the city into a playground of a kind that is becoming all too familiar around the globe.

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And then it was on to Brussels, to visit with Peter and Karolina, now in a new place.  And where I had screenings at the old Nova-Cinema, where I’d done screenings some ages ago.  They went well, with nice audiences and good Q&A’s.  Thanks to Katia, who was running the place way back when and still does.  As well had a screening at the film school there, thanks to Justin McKenzie Peers, who, despite his name, is French, studying for now in Brussels.  He also helped organize the Nova-Cinema showings and is doing some translations for some of my films.  And also appears to be writing perhaps a grad thesis or something on my work.

A surprise for me was that in one of the screenings a 16mm print of Angel City was shown, which seemed pristine and clean.  I at first thought that Eyefilm had made a new copy and not told me, but it turned out it was one that I had sent them.  I urgently wish to get a 4K print of it, along with one of Last Chants for a Slow Dance, an archival print of which Eyefilm has made before either gets dinged up.  Things to do or get done.

Managed some museums in Brussels, including the Magritte one, which was a bit of a revelation, as it covered his early work, and his Warhol-like self-promotion.   He is, in my view, like Warhol in that he is less an artist than a graphics person – someone who illustrates ideas rather than actually “paints.”  A curious distinction perhaps, but one I think is valid.

The classical arts museum in Brussels has a wonderful collection of Breughels and other painters of that time and that snared me some hours.

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While in Brussels managed a day-trip to Ghent, not so far away – one of many places I’ve missed over the years, along with Antwerp and, oh hell, a lot of other places.

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And then it was on to Paris to visit Mark Rappaport, and get in just little bit of a city I’d lived in for nearly a year and a half back in 1997-98.  Mark was doing fine, busy making new video essays, of which I saw a handful I’d not seen before.  Mark is a wizard, making things about topics I don’t much give a damn about (arcane film lore and history) come alive and branch out far from cinemania into fascinating and engaging social essays. One of them had me in tears at the end, another busting my gut laughing!  The ones I saw were America’s Grandpa, about Walter Brennan, and soon to be available on Kanopy and I, Dalio.   He’s busy working on a new one now.

Also stayed a few days with Peter Friedman who was finishing a long documentary, a cinéma vérité portrait of a big time opera director, Robert Carsen, filmed working on an adaption Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. I got to see this film and liked it quite a lot. It covered both the technical and preparatory stuff of putting on a really big piece of theater, and then on working with the singers, the “directing.”  Fascinating stuff and well done cinema-wise.  A pleasure.

Like Amsterdam, Paris crawled with tourists in the no longer existent off-season, and seemed much the worse for it.  Mass tourism is a pox of globalism.  I wonder what will happen to all these places that now rely on tourism as a major cash-crutch when the economy goes poof, and the tourists disappear?  I know all too many places which put a lot of eggs in the tourism basket and are utterly vulnerable to this most certain collapse.

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Also managed to see Emmanuelle Chaulet, who played a lead role in 1999 in All the Vermeers in New York.  I hadn’t seen her in nearly three decades !  A nice talkative lunch with a lot to catch up on.

And I tried to rendezvous with the Gilets Jaunes, just to get a look, and went to where they were supposed to be, but did not see them.  I think they are being wily and saying they’ll be in place X to draw the police there, and then they materialize somewhere else. Here a month now since I was there they are still around though the media seems to do its best to ignore them – a little corporate commentary in that?  Especially the American press.  And Macron has enlisted the military to attempt to impose control.

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I took a train on to Milano for a quick stop to leave things with the Grassi/Rebosio’s before heading on to Locarno to do something for Lech Kowalski – I didn’t really know what he wanted, but was game for whatever.  On the ride through Grenoble, in the French Alps, I noticed there was only snow, and not so much, at the highest elevations of the surrounding mountains.  Normally there would be a lot of snow on the ground in the city at this time of year.

In Locarno Lech did a multiple camera thing of me talking, not being interviewed, on subjects he guided me towards, with his students manning the cameras and sound. Await word from him on just how it worked for him and am ready to do more on request. Along the way part of my job was to go with eager students enamored of the wonders of real film (celluloid) and shoot a bit – me, the grizzled old dinosaur of “real film.”  I have zero romance for celluloid, so it was a curious exercise.   I think the experience may have disabused them of any fantasies about it.

While in Locarno I noticed, there too, the mid-winter mountains empty of snow.  A dammed reservoir we went to see was maybe 1/3rd full.  The river below it was a not even a trickle.

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Back outside of Milano, in Cassina Amata, I stayed a week with Tilde and Luciano.  When Tilde was 10, in 1962, her family had picked my up hitch-hiking outside of Como, and taken me home and in a curious turn of events I returned and spent 2 months with them in 1963, shooting my first film as a portrait of Tilde.  A year later I returned another month and they (the Rebosio’s) somehow became “family.”   I tried to find them for some decades afterwards and failed, but courtesy of FaceBook, about 8 years or was it 7 or 6, we reconnected and I’ve visited a handful of times since.  To “family.”  Life is very weird.

The last evening there, Luciano and Tilde took me out to Monza, site of the famed Formula 1 racetrack, to a fish place were we had a wonderful and vast serving of fried (lightly) sea things, most delicious.  As we walked there we went by the river, the Lambro, which flows down from the mountains into the Po.   Except it wasn’t there, rather a concrete trench with a few puddles.  Luciano said he had never seen it like that.

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Then took a train on down to little Piangipane, a village not far from Ravenna, there to re-record music we’d done in autumn of 2017.  I’d not been happy with my voice or my guitar playing and asked Christian Ravaglioli if I could take another stab at it, having practiced in the intervening year and more, and feeling much more at ease and confident in both voice and playing.  We ended re-recording most of the songs and he agreed it was much better.  Albums are due out in June or so.   One solo and one a mix of my work and Christian’s.  When they do come out I’ll post word here.

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From Piangipane it was to nearby Bologna, to visit my friend Pina, who was just quitting her job after 15 years as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant in the middle of the city, to strike out on her own.  She has one book, Vegetaliana, a vegetarian cookbook rooted in Italian cuisine, and just collaborated on another project centered on Bologna’s most famous artist of late, Giorgio Morandi.

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And then it was on to Palermo, where I’d originally planned to spend the time looking around for a place to live for the coming year or more, before returning to the USA for retrospectives planned for autumn-winter 2020.  But in the interim a proposal came in from the US West Coast, which altered my plans.  So following a stop in London to see friends it will be on to Seattle and a new adventure.  See how it all works out.

In Palermo its been a mix of take-it-easy in Mondello, the next door beach town of Palermo, where off-season the weekdays have been quiet, though nice weather has pulled in hordes on the week-ends.

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And when the weather has been nice I’ve been going into Palermo, a city I really like, and nosing around.  And finding out my 75 year old creaking body ain’t like it was and finds a day of walking around, looking, taking a ton of photos, is rather taxing and am inclined to take a break the next day, whatever the weather.  Learning to be “old.”

 

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DSC04129And quotidian pedestrian Palermo

Palermo has passed through many hands over time, like all of Sicily.  Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, and on up to American GI’s not so long ago.  All those who seized it or just passed through left their marks, and the result is a rich intaglio of cultures, in contemporary lingo, a real culture-mashup, a mix-down.  But this one has passed through millennia, and is all the richer for the ripe patina of time.  Often this can result in an oppressive sensibility, that history weighs heavy on the present and acts as a psychic/creative block.  But I don’t sense this in Palermo, which, perhaps thanks to the many immigrants present – from North Africa, and black Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and many other places – seems alive and vivid.  It is a city once opulently rich, with a vast array of monumental buildings to show it, and then battered by poverty, the Mafia, and left in the wayside of history.   Not long ago it had been written off as a hopeless wreck, as destroyed as the cars of Falcone and Borsellino were by Mafia assassination bombs.

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Since then the city has recovered, in part thanks to a new mayor, Leoluco Orlando, who has largely been credited with the turn-around.    He was originally elected in 1993 and stayed to 2000; in 2012 he was again elected and is the current sindaco.  And surely also instrumental were large student demonstrations against the Mafia in the wake of the murders of the jurists.

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In the last 10 years there has been, as elsewhere in the world, a process of gentrification here, though frankly it seems not to have done much damage so far, and some perhaps has been good for the city, like two major streets in the center of town, Emmanuelle Vittorio, and Via Maqueda being turned into pedestrian areas for a bit, along with a few smaller adjacent streets here and there.

Palermo, Palermo, Palermo.  A riotous dream.

 

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And so much more, but for the moment I am out the door for a last go around in Palermo before heading off to London tomorrow.  Tickets in hand.  Moving.

 

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It happened as much of life does, rather by accident. My friend Jonathan Rosenbaum was in Tehran for some film conference, posting on Facebook, and I saw it and popped him a note asking he stick a foot in the door for me there. I’d for decades wanted to see Persian architecture, having once studied architecture and seeing many photos of the wonderful mosques and such in that part of the world. As it happened he’d already returned to Chicago, but the day of his arrival home he’d received a note from his hosts in Iran, inquiring who might be good to invite for a conference on digital filmmaking. Bingo. He in turn suggested me, and not inclined to wait, I wrote the party and made my case. I was invited.

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This all occurred in the midst of other changes in my life. My wife Marcella and I are going separate ways, amicably – though that is a dubious word here. There is nothing “wrong” about our relationship, except that I am 75 and she is 42, and she needs and deserves things I cannot offer. A younger companion, and not to be be caught at 45 or 55 suddenly single because I have properly slipped the planet. With my encouragement and prompt to keep her eyes open for someone, and, also by accident she did:  Ryan Air put us in separate seats on a flight from Berlin to Belfast and her seat mate was a nice fellow she talked to and… .  One thing led to the next, all with my nod, and she’s now with a nice man of her age, things are going well for them, and it is time for me to leave go. I do so with a touch of anxiety but with love for Marcella. It is mutual. Though at 75, and a kind of blank canvas lies ahead, a little of a challenge – though my life has been like this all along. Used to it.  So I jumped into this journey, clearly but the first step in a longer one.

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Sorted out the visa, which I had to pick up in the Iranian Embassy in Dublin, and on the first leg got snagged by travel snafus. Out on the tarmac in a Turkish Airline plane we wheeled to take off point, waited as usual, hit the accelerator. Whoosh, pushed back in the seat and then, not normal, the plane suddenly decelerated, braked and trundled off to some other area of the tarmac. Take-off aborted said the captain a bit later, with no explanation why. We sat a few hours with no further word until he announced the reason for the non-take-off was “operational problems”. I saw no vehicles come to do some fix, and surely along with the other passengers, pondered “wassup?” About an hour later, with no explication, we taxied and took off, the air slightly weighted with unexplained nervousness. I assume a computer programming glitch or perhaps air traffic control something.

Needless to say the long delay resulted in missing the next connection and a near sleepless night during the long early a.m. layover in Istanbul.  Airport slumbers not the best.   The wages of the present state of jet-setting. No party.

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Arriving in Iran it was straight to my hotel through a bedraggled landscape leading into Tehran from airport: empty rusting billboards looming over desiccated sands, occasional cars wheezed out, intermittently parked their last time on the roadside, a few hitchhikers looking for a lift into the urban vortex. A weirdly placed golden domed mosque, for a not long ago immam, former head of the government, like a flying saucer dumped on the far edges of town, not much around it. And then into the southern flank of the city, reminding of the desolate zones east of LA, Hockney’s Pear Blossom Highway world.

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The highway choked with dinged up cars, denser and denser as one approached the city center, the driving style Italianate in ignoring the marked traffic lanes, un-Italian in the lack of honking and cursing from the windows – a sign of resignation to the daily jam-up?

Checked into hotel, and a brief hello from Amir, my host from the National Film School. Shortly abandoned, I took an instant nap to try to make up for lost in-transit sleep. Outside rain blocked any view, which in the next days would prove to be a vast “modern city” array of vertical towers, here in uniform sand color, residences and office blocks receding endlessly into the distance, reminding me a touch of Seoul with its mountainous backdrops.

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The conference for which I’d come, titled International Conference on Cinema in the Digital Age, under the wing of the Iranian National School of Cinema, commenced the next morning. A grab bag of figures, “international,” populated the list of speakers – myself (on the opening page as if I were “someone”), another American, Nicholas Rombes – an academic with a handful of books to his credit including one on the Ramones, along with “Cinema in the Digital Age,” several French game and virtual reality experts, Romain Bonnin and Bruno Massi; Ira Bhaskar, a woman from India, dean of a School of Arts & Aesthetics in Delhi; and Monica Manganelli, a woman from Italy – an art director whose credits include Cloud Atlas, and finally a Iranian American academic, Mehdi Semati, from Illinois rounded out the foreigner list. The balance of the participants were Iranians, both academics and film makers, producers and technicians from the media world.

As usual for such affairs the opening words were formalities, thanks and welcome and a string of speakers saying so. And then, in a rather crammed fashion, a few talks were given, simultaneously translated into English for those in need, and shortly it was my turn. I’d had a slight glimpse at what the other speakers were going to say, and tried to direct my talk towards the kind of aesthetics which Leighton Pierce and Scott Barley, myself and a few others took with digital tools.  Curiously the fellow who’d written the book on digital cinema had never heard of these, or, I suspect, of me.  (See my talk at the bottom).

I opened with a kind of apology for America’s dubious politics relative to Iran – since forever it seems, from 1952 overthrowing an elected socialist govt and installing “our Shah” and on to the current newly imposed sanctions and Trump’s abandonment of the nuclear treaty. I made clear I have not supported the US government in any of this and noted many other Americans share my view. This begot the loudest applause I heard during the conference.

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During my talk I screened a handful of clips from my own work, little pieces which showed some of the variety of things possible in digital which are not “film-like”. One of these clips was a split- screen bit from 6 Easy Pieces, with a woman on the right shooting with a high-tech rifle, an Olympic competitive sport thing; and on the left a Portuguese dancer and performance artist, Vera Mantero, doing a piece in a body stocking, slightly see-through, but obscured by multiple out-of-phase layers. On the next clip, a painterly abstract thing of water the projection stopped, and I went to computer desk to see what had gone wrong. The clip was running on the computer, so it wasn’t that and I figured some projector problem. As a technician came up to me to check or something, he inquired if there were any nudity coming in next clips. Ah, I got it. I answered nope, no more neked girls, and learned a bit about current Iranian social realities.

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I attended some of the talks, but being academic or about things I am not much interested in, I skipped out on a good bit of it – perhaps bad form, but I don’t feel obliged out of courtesy to pretend I am interested when I am not.  Instead I asked to be taken to some museums and to see the city a bit.

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My stay in Tehran was accompanied by a young woman of 21, Tina, whose English was virtually flawless. She was studying film and volunteering for the conference, and had read up on me. She said she was anxious about meeting me, that I’d be, oh…, some kind of demanding prima donna sort, and she’d practiced her introductory talk for meeting me. I think that got dispelled in a matter of minutes and we hit it off very nicely. She asked if I found her accent in English off, and I said she didn’t seem to have one, and except for the occasional word with maybe a misplaced accent I would figure she was American from the mid-west. She was very surprised at that and I asked how she learned the language and was her teacher an American native speaker.  She said she never studied and learned it all from watching movies since she was 14 ! Mostly American movies. I was amazed to hear this. We had some nice long talks, about personal things, which gave me a nice insight into Iranian culture. Tina had some visible tats, and was by the standards there, rather the rebel. A kindred spirit.

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One of the museums Tina took me to was the calligraphy museum.  I had long been interested and curious about Arabic and Persian calligraphy as I had noted the varying styles and qualities, but knew nothing about it at all except that I found it beautiful.  So being curious I asked the person who was there about it – and found that, no, my assumption that the long lines in some did not tell you how to pronounce it or change the meaning, as, for example, in some Asian languages a dot, or squiggle will change the intonation and meaning.  I learned that it is read right to left, and that all the stylistic changes – in my Western sense of it, varying fonts – had to do with a kind of artistic boredom.  Islam prohibiting “graven images” artists were confined to writing texts of the Koran or prayers, or, for other work, concocting beautiful geometries and somewhat organic patterns.  With the texts, different regions would come up with differing modes of writing, and then the local governmental heads would act as curators and request that the text be written in this or that mode.   I suspect there is more to it than I was told, and imagine that as the society became more decadent, the calligraphy fell further and further into abstraction, with the Islamic text becoming more or less unreadable.  In some other life-time perhaps I will research this and write a thesis!

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Towards the end of the conference, when I had skipped out, apparently all the guests were asked (if they would like) to go to the Holy War Museum, and a few balked, and being absent I had dodged it by absentia. However Tina was there and at some juncture asked whoever was prodding the visitors to go just why he had to inject (Islamist) ideology into everything. This begot an apparently heated discussion in which Tina accused the man of being a fascist, and she was summarily fired. I talked to her after this, and got the story and said I’d try to talk to whomever, but she demurred, though later, without my intervention, she was reinstated.  More lessons on the culture.

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Wrapping up in Tehran, of which I saw little owing to rain each day, and the conference taking most the time, I and the Indian couple were taken first to Kashan for a short tourist stop at a famed garden, and then an old bath complex, and then on to Isfahan. This part of the trip was accompanied by another young woman, Rebeahe, whose English was not as good as Tina’s, but quite workable.  She though had relatives who lived in Isfahan, and so knew the city well.  This proved a nice virtue.

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Put up in a rather luxurious once-upon-a-time palatial residence, gutted and converted into some kind of non-hotel, there were a few days to explore the city.  And what a gorgeous city at its center it was, well justifying its reputation.  And as well the famed “friendliness” of its citizens was similarly warranted, as we were stopped on the street for photos, for small and not so small talks.  It was wonderful.  As was the architecture, which had cast its spell on me 50 years ago.

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With Rebeahe I was taken to the old part of the city, with its many stunning bridges (though these days they are not over troubled water, but no water), and a huge central plaza in which one could stick five Piazza Navona’s!  It was flanked with an endless bazaar and several huge and stunning mosques.

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From one of these mosques, in process of being restored, I was drawn by wonderful singing which echoed off the domed ceiling.  Entering I saw a young man standing in the center of the dome, his voice beautiful, and enchanting.  He finished and a small cluster of people applauded, though shortly afterwards an official-looking man approached and seemed to berate him, and from that ensued a 20 minute or more argument.  I later asked what the story was and was told that one of the songs was from the Persian poet Hafez, and the other was from the Koran.  Apparently the official had found the secular song offensive, despite the reality that at least for now the place was not being used as a mosque with the religious aspects involved.   More cultural lessons.

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Ubiquitous, these images everywhere.

Under the press of the United States sanctions, the Iranian rial is in terms of international currencies, extremely weak.  Which, for an American with a few dollars, makes it very cheap.  I went to a pharmacy to get an over-the-counter antibiotic for an infection in my eye and for a tube that would have been $7 or so in the USA, the price was…… ten cents.  While not so exaggerated as that, food and most things in Iran, were, using the exchange rate (which changed hourly) absurdly cheap.  Nice for a tourist; not so wonderful for Iranians.

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DSC01298SMOne of the 500 year old bridges, a kind of minimalist Persian architecture.

My time in Iran only whetted my appetite, and on leaving I offered up the thought of returning to teach at the National Film School, or to do some workshops.  Back in Belfast I reiterated that in an email, and the response was positive.  Hoping it will all work out and I can return in the late winter/spring of 2019, and stay for some months.

 

Talk given at conference, Tehran.

Hello and thank you for the invitation to be here. I know it is a time of heightened tension thanks to the belligerent but utterly customary behavior of the government of my country – the usual American practice of economic blackmail backed up with military threats. I do not and haven’t supported the American government for more or less my whole life. I hope you will accept my regrets for my society’s deep illnesses which tend to be inflicted on others – including you, ever since the early 1950’s (and actually before then). I don’t ask you to forgive, but understand there are many in America who do not approve the government and its policies at all. I am one of those.

And so to place my talk in perspective I’d like to offer a bit of biographical information so you can understand the context.

I have been a filmmaker since 1963 – 55 years. I’m self-taught, and have always worked far from the “industry” – I make films that make no money, either in the process of making them or afterwards. What I do covers a broad range which gets described variously as “new narrative” “avant garde” “experimental” “documentary essay” “indie” and many other such labels.

To me they are just “films” or “videos” – the way I happen to make them. Here and there I’ve been told what I do is worthwhile in some form or another – I regularly am invited to festivals, have received grants and honorary awards. In 1991 I had a full retrospective at MoMA in NYC, with 12 celluloid films; other institutions in America and Europe replicated this as well. After those I made a few more celluloid films – 35mm Panavision – but then in 1996, rather by accident, I got a DV camera and instantly decided I would never work in celluloid film again. And I haven’t. Since then I’ve made 25 long form films and many many shorts, and a few installations, all in digital video.

My reasons for shifting were mixed. It meant I could almost completely leave the film world behind – never have to talk to anyone about money, or have the pressure to make my work fit a formula that would make money once done. This was all because DV once one had access to a camera and computer was almost cost-free. And thus very liberating. The other major reason was because, even in the early phases, when critics described digital films as “gritty” or “ugly” and other such negative things, I found the beauty and aesthetic potential of digital media to be entirely enticing, and in my very first digital films I aggressively used the media for what it could do. At the same time the digital world was swamped with efforts to make it “film-like” with software and technical adaptations attempting to make DV and HD “look like film.”

Personally I was tired to death of the limitations which film imposed, which I think was very visible in my last celluloid works. I was though very excited and happy with the elasticity which digital media offered – in the camera, and on the editing time-line. The two aspects together opened a broad new field of aesthetic possibilities simply not possible in film. I jumped on it like a child. Few others shared this view – most sought that holy “film-look”. To me that was a fool’s errand – as if to make water colors look like oil paintings, as if the characteristics of each media was not itself of interest.

Technological changes – not only in media, but in any realm – always incur changes in society, and in how society expresses itself. To take an example in Europe: much of early visual two dimensional imagery was done either in frescoes, or if desiring something more permanent, mosaics. Mosaics, by their nature are somewhat rigid, we might even say a bit digital. The imagery derived from them tends to express the reality of what it is made of – little bits of colored stone or ceramics. Fresco is a bit clumsy, but still more fluid than mosaic, and this technological difference expresses itself with another mode of imagery. And then, as oil painting was developed, imagery shifted still more, giving birth to the Baroque era, and flamboyantly curved and shaded imagery which simply was not possible in mosaics. Later painting exploited this fluid nature such that the medium itself became the “content” of the painting.

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I cite these examples from one of the arts, to point to the technological shift which digital image making brought to “cinema.”

While celluloid cinema offers a very broad range of possible aesthetics which we can see in normal commercial/theatrical productions from Hollywood to Bollywood, and then in so-called “art house” films and on through experimental filmmaking, it remains bound to the limits of celluloid. Digital introduces other elements, rooted in technological aspects of the medium. So I’d like to go through these, and make the connections of those basic elements to what they have provoked in the media.

Economics. The first, and perhaps most drastic shift which digital technology has brought – as it has to many other realms – is a very radical change in the economics of making a film/video. These days an iPhone or Samsung will secure you imagery and sound that not long ago would have cost a fair amount of money. Just for the price of a phone and a simple cheap computer for editing. As well most any digital still camera or consumer level video camera will produce excellent imagery and sound for the cost of what, say, a 10 minute roll of 35mm film and processing would have cost 15 years ago. In sum, digital media has driven the costs so low that it is almost negligible. This in turn has impacted what is made. Now frankly most of what is made is of little aesthetic value, and literal mountains of shots, films, long and short, have been made which are only of interest from a sociological standpoint. One could write a long essay discussing why so many people spend their time making such vast amounts of pure garbage – survey YouTube and Vimeo, or just your Facebook feed to see what I am talking about. It is a plague of mental trash which unfortunately has real world consequences: it covers up and hides the occasional gems which are also made. The beautiful and wonderful things which are possible are buried in the volumes of junk.

So from this basic factor – the minimal costs of digital work – the production of material has exploded beyond real comprehension, for better and worse. Mountains of garbage, and then the infrequent magical work that otherwise might not have been made at all had the earlier celluloid financial hurdles remained.

Inside this bracket of low costs, some aesthetic matters have shifted.

One is that as shooting has minimal fiscal costs, new cinematic “movements” have emerged. In the USA one early one was so-called “mumble-core” which by and large involves rather conventional cinematic language and forms, and content, but in which improvisation plays a large part since it costs nothing to shoot and shoot and shoot. For me these films are mostly unwatchable. In Europe something similar occurred with the Dogme movement triggered by Lars von Trier and friends – again the works involved much improvisation and bare-bones technique, and though willfully a bit more provocative in intent, and more skillfully done, they still were basically conventional-theatrical works in filmic terms. Aside from the costs being shrunk to virtually nothing, the balance of these were traditional old-fashioned low-budget film-making, perhaps a bit looser owing to the low costs and the inexperience of many of the filmmakers involved.

Linked to this came another movement, also built on the low-costs, but harnessed to an aesthetic that embraced a specific technological change which digital brought with it. In celluloid, as a rule of thumb, one could do shots of a maximum of ten minutes before the film runs out. Digital has no such constraint – one can do a shot of 20 minutes or if you really want, 20 hours. Or even more.

A little tale: a good friend of mine, James Benning, when working in 16mm, had made a number of films in which the 10 minute limit on shots became part of his aesthetic: a static shot would last 10 minutes, and then the next and so on. For a decade I urged James to switch to digital for cost reasons but he resisted – he had more or less good reason as DV is a bit low resolution for landscapes and wide-shots, which were dominant in his work. On the arrival of reasonably priced HD however, he shifted to it. On his switch I found myself wondering what changes this would bring in his style and approach. On seeing his first digital film, a formalist kind of documentary on the German industrial area of the Ruhr – also the title of his film – the first hour of the film had maybe 8 or so static shots of various urban landscapes and things, the lengths of the shots not being rigidly fixed. The second hour of the film consisted of one static camera shot of a steel making industrial structure, one used to make coke. The structure is a 10 story block under which industrial sized train cars loaded with red-hot coal are pulled and then tons of water are then dropped on it, producing a massive steam cloud. On a cycle of once every ten minutes. I was transfixed by this shot (others left or fell asleep), and when the film was over I was rather irritated with myself in not having guessed that one of the changes digital media would bring to his style was that he would do even longer shots than 10 minutes – much longer shots. Since that film he has made many other films using really long shots.

So this long-take capacity of digital in turn gave birth to a movement called “slow film” in which long takes are one of the aesthetics given. Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark might be cited as the first of such films, it being a single moving take inside the Hermitage in St Peterburg – though I would argue it isn’t really a slow film in its sense of tempo. Just as the Oscar winning Birdman, a seeming single take film, also doesn’t really fit into the “slow film” category.

Lav Diaz of the Philippines is a better example of this – he makes films 8 or more hours in length, and inside them are many extremely long shots and indeed, the sense of pacing is glacial. He calls it Malay time. It can be argued that this kind of film existed before in Bela Tarr’s work, but digital media has allowed it to flourish and develop its own strategies and qualities. Though once again, most of these are still well-encased in more or less traditional cinematic forms, and remain essentially theatrical. Like most of cinema.

What I have touched on thus far – the economic shift and its consequences, and on one of the changes technologically – shot duration – and how it has altered film styles in the hands of some makers (including a handful of Iranian filmmakers I am aware of), for myself these remain somewhat marginal matters, and are but modest alterations on traditional cinema – just variations on the historical record, nothing genuinely radical.

So I would like now to shift and discuss what can be done, cinematically, with digital technology, something which is not just a modest extension of what was, but is potentially a genuinely radical change.

As noted earlier, when relatively low cost consumer digital video cameras came out in the mid-1990’s, there seemed an urgent insistence in the filmmaking community to figure out how to make the images look more like film. Algorithms, and filters and such were devised in this attempt. In short order video cameras were produced that shot at 24 fps as if there were some sacrosanct cinematic holy grail to be found in that number. At the same time many of the early cameras had an array of settings which were purely electronic – one could shift the shutter speed to 1/3rd or 1/4 of a second, or conversely a 10,000th of a second. Or use an electronic solarizing setting, or break the image into clearly discreet digital clumps by shooting in “mosaic”. Or one could do an in-camera setting, usually called strobe, that functioned as a real-time live-shooting optical printer. There were many settings, and frankly used directly they were rather stupid, and clearly the idea of an electronics guy as camera designer and not a filmmaker. But they were there, and in fact, in the hands of a curious artist, beautiful things could be done with them, and by a handful of people they were. I was one of those people. Unfortunately in my view, 10 years later, in the name of “professionalization” those choices no longer exist, and one must fight with the camera to get anything but a very clean slick “professional” digital TV image. The charms of earlier DV have been stripped away in the name of a kind of conformity.
So I’d like to show a few clips of some of those early films of mine shot in older lower resolution digital video, as well of a few recent ones done in HD format.

(Clips of various DV and HDV films.)

If we can I will let Muri Romani carry on as I continue and finish:

I hope those give a hint of some of the qualities which I was speaking of. At the conclusion of this I’d like to show a few clips of works I think carry this much further.

The remaining aspect which digital media has radically altered is that of distribution and exhibition, which again, can change the nature of cinema. I have with me a hard-disk, a small portable one, and on it are files of  almost my entire life’s work: 40 long films, many of my shorts, a few installation works. 20 years ago to have brought all this would have required a small truck. In the form on this disk – digital files – this work can be sent across the globe in a handful of minutes, or, as I already have it all uploaded onto my Vimeo VOD site, they can be streamed or downloaded now. Those 2 decades ago one would have had to seek out some esoteric festival or exhibitor, to have a one-time chance to see them.

To say courtesy of digital media in all its facets, works such as mine are now readily accessible rather than hidden far away. Of course the same problem still exists as does on the production side: one must compete with the tsunami of junk equally available. But at least there is a space for work to be seen. And that is a radical change from the past. And again, that does impact the possibilities of what cinema can and will be.

 

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Back in the good old days – to say the days of the Roman Empire – they practiced haruspicina, in which a person trained and practiced in haruspex examined the entrails of sheep or chickens and were said to divine the future therein.  Today we might say our endless list of bloviating pundits and columnists do much the same, from the “liberal” side of the spectrum to the rabid right: Christiane Amanpour, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Charles Blow and a host of others, and then mincing to the middle perhaps Thomas Friedman or David Brooks (both formerly of the murmuring Right) and finally over to the farther Right, the shrieking of Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck and all the rest to be found on radio and TV talk shows, and regulars on Fox “News” – the official propaganda go-to broadcaster for America’s livid “conservatism.”

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Since Donald John Trump secured the Republican nomination for President, the Republican Party has, in a grand, slightly slo-mo, display, disemboweled itself in full public view.  The Grand Old Party, once the home of the stodgy keepers of the flames of moral and political rectitude, where “character” mattered, and “family values” reigned supreme, and fiscal tight-fistedness was closely clutched to the breast and deficits were anathema, has done a U-turn on nearly all this.  Pundits and politicians, who previously foreswore Trump as unthinkable, uncouth, unfit, and otherwise utterly beyond the pale, now extol his wonders.  Newt Gingrich debases himself before the new Caesar; Chinless of Tenn, smarmily embraces him, and myriad others who pontificated loudly against the garish real estate criminal from New York now – as in the early cabinet meeting when each of the supplicants offered their absurdist praises – suck the slurry of his absent mind.  Others, having twisted themselves into pretzels to accommodate the inversion of all they believed, finally snapped and departed or were sent packing for failure to genuflect in sufficient depth.

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This past week, in a demonstration of how yesterday were the old shibboleths of Republican propriety, the Senate rammed through the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, a privileged son of modest wealth, party animal, Yalie, and accused sorta rapist and self-convicted perjurer.  Once, in apparently some other life, he had complained forcefully of the disgusting behavior of Bill Clinton, while working with the Starr investigation for impeachment purposes.  In his papers from that other life he delved into what in hindsight seems a perverse delight into the very specific sexual nature of the former President’s actions:

Taken from a New York Times article on Kavanaugh’s notes for the Starr inquest:

“The president has disgraced his office, the legal system and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles — callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle,” Mr. Kavanaugh wrote.

“He has committed perjury (at least) in the Jones case. He has lied to his aides, he has lied to the American people.

“It may not be our job to impose sanctions on him, but it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear — piece by painful piece  Aren’t we failing to fulfill our duty to the American people if we willingly ‘conspire’ with the president in an effort to conceal the true nature of his acts?”

To that end, Mr. Kavanaugh wrote, Mr. Clinton should be asked extremely detailed questions unless he first either resigned or admitted to perjury and publicly apologized to Mr. Starr.

Mr. Kavanaugh listed 10 possible questions based on Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony, saying that he would “leave the best phrasing to others.” Among them were these:

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you had phone sex with her on approximately 15 occasions, would she be lying?”

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trash can in your secretary’s office, would she be lying?”

During his confirmation hearings, in his new life, Judge Kavanaugh showed a remarkable imagination in giving new meanings to old words:

“Boofing,” which amongst his peers meant “anal sex” in his mind became “flatulence;” “The Devils Triangle,” among the peers meaning a sexual threesome of 2 guys, 1 girl, became a card game; and the Renate Club, known to his pals as confirmation you’d had Renate, became an honorific compliment to said Renate.

Mr Kavanaugh also lied to the Congress about numerous other things in his testimony, including rather serious matters. And yet, when the time came for a vote, 50 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted to confirm him for a seat on the highest court in the land, shortly after he’d committed a handful of crimes before their very eyes and ears.  It is rumored that President Trump is considering the appointment of a horse for candidate for the next Senate seat open.

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In a harsh political calculation the Republicans clearly thought that having having a toady on the Supreme Court, as Kavanaugh has given his bonafides for such a role over his long public service, was worth burning bridges with half the nation’s population, or at least the part of that half that doesn’t take kindly to undesired sexual manhandling or other such symptoms of misogyny.  Senator Flake’s feint towards the women with his call for an FBI investigation added a small ripple of hope to the matter for those against the confirmation, while providing a few senators, including himself, for whom the vote was politically dicey a transparent fig leaf with which to vote “yes.”  Whether this calculation will prove wise remains to be seen in the coming election and beyond.  The Grand Old Party, always a stalwart gathering of men, has defiantly secured its position as a club for sexist white men (and house “niggers”) only, aside from those women who seem to beg for maltreatment, of which there seems an ample blonde supply.  The Trumpian change-over is complete, and the rank hypocrisy – formerly visible only to the moderately discerning – is now blatant and overt.  Family values and all the rest be damned:  grab that pussy.  And the Fundamentalist “Christians,” the most strident shouters of moral rectitude in the land, have shown their true colors, with a twisted “moral logic” which even the Catholic Church, a secret conclave of pederasts, would have difficulty accepting: hate the sin, love the sinner.  And boy do they love Donald Trump.  Of course there is a long and still present history of grifter ministers, from the fictional Elmer Gantry, to Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker on to our current “prosperity” televangelists flying in private jets, like Joel Osteen, and living the lives of millionaires, tax-free.  (Hmm, just like the President).  The religion of PT Barnum is alive and well in the Trump era.

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And so, peering into the entrails of the now gutless Republican Party, what can we find?  First perhaps the vivid signs of racism, announced by Trump in his initial forays into politics when he took out a full page ad regarding the “Central Park Five” – a story ripe in American stereotyping, in which 5 young black men were accused of raping a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park, supposedly confessed and spent a long period in prison before the case was dismantled and they were proven innocent, their confessions coerced, etc.  Trump was instrumental in building up the hysteria around them, and when it was found he was in error, he never apologized.

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As Barack Obama headed towards the Presidency, Mr Trump became a “birther” – someone who questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s Presidency on the grounds that he had not been born in the USA and was hence not eligible for this office.  The claim was completely fictitious – a lie, something which comes as naturally to Donald as breathing. Again, the grounds were pure racism.  But Trump kept hammering away and behind him a growing mob quietly mutated into a viable political mass.  It was his calling card for his future political intentions, built on the thick veins of deep racism running through America’s social DNA.  Trump was hitting the mother lode.

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Where earlier Republican candidates had deployed myriad forms of “dog whistles” to signal their racism, Trump was upfront and blatant about it – with regard to Mexicans, blacks or anyone else not as white as he is.  After the “politically correct” suppression of the Obama era, in which it was said we were in a “post-racial” time and the use of “bad” words was chastised, this new-found “honesty” burst like a major oil hit, opening the sluice gates of raw unadulterated All-American racism wide.  We are now drowning in a deluge of cellphone videos of racist harangues and attacks in public, harassment on up to the stream of murdered-while-living-black cop killings.  ICE is rounding up mostly south-of-the-border “POCs” and impounding 14,000 (seeming count of late) “illegal” children in internment camps.

 

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Mucking around further in the slurry of this Republican display one finds a remarkable unity of purpose, a submission to authority such that members are able to invert their supposed beliefs in an instant.  They can pontificate on the sanctity of the family in the same moment they kow-tow to a thrice married man whose vulgarity is unchained.  They can mouth platitudes about patriotism while dodging service with bone-spurs or class-born deferments.  They can rail about Jesus while lining their pockets with silver, and thread the needle slicker than a camel.   One can list a thousand things of this kind which all distill into a common ground: pure and utter hypocrisy, most appropriately summarized in their leader, who is the literal embodiment of falsity while bellowing loudly about the Fake News of all else.

 

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While I do not purport to be a Cassandra, nor do I believe in the reading of entrails to discern the future, I do foresee a few things – drawn not from such mystical sources, but rather a hard-nosed reading of history.  It has been said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.  I don’t really concur with this, rather I see history as sequences of patterns which rise and fall, like waves coming in at the beach.  Each wave follows the same law of physics as the next, and is modulated by whatever disturbances enter into the equation.  Each deposits a line of sand, looking much like the prior and much like the following, but each unique and different.  And so does history.  The rise and fall of empires follows a pattern.  And while the United States has never openly declared itself an empire, is has been and is one.  And it is following a similar process of all the empires which rose before and collapsed, only in these times accelerated by the technological means which mark our epoch.  Time does not go faster, rather we ourselves move through time more quickly.

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The United States of America is already in the last stages of its undeclared empire.  It is internally corrupt, it is vastly over-extended militarily, it is bankrupt from the expenditures on that military at the cost of domestic infrastructure.   It is collapsing and as is customary in such imperial end-games, it is taken over by the most zealous, the fanatics, and will doubtless suffer a period of police-state modern Fascism as it crumbles. It is already doing so.   Fascism is not so farcical.

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The tragedy is that while it is preoccupied with its internal turmoil, the wider world, deeply impacted by America’s dominant role in the last 100 or more years – the world’s biggest polluter over time (now matched by China in the contemporary period), the greatest consumer of the world’s resources (25% for 4.4% of the globe’s population) – is facing a vast terminal threat largely instigated by western technology and its political handmaiden, capitalism, uniquely embodied by the USA.  So while the United States is distracted with its political stresses, it carries on inflicting damage on the the globe, and with the current administration even doing so with gleeful intent.   The consequence will be globally fatal, at least for most species, including us, on the planet.  All for the god almighty buck, America’s true religion and bottom line.

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For further reading on some of the things mention here see

thisthisthis, and this and this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHICAGO-68-11Grant Park, August 1968

Nineteen-sixty-eight. The words slip off the tongue of those of my generation as a talismanic exclamation point, a vortex of nostalgia. Later generations have heard of it, and waxed romantic, and become latter-day hippies, or tattooed urban primitives. The year reverberates through our culture and politics to this day and beyond. It is celebrated by many as a great turning point, either seen positively or negatively, usually depending on one’s political inclinations. Among my friends it is often the locus of a deep sentimentality, the seeming high point of their lives. Among others it is seen a nadir, the opening volley of a deep culture war still being waged, and with Trump in the White House, seemingly finally being won, despite same-sex marriage, and the myriad other “civil rights” victories of the last decades. Retrenchment is back with a vengeance.

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A Prelude

Americans, being provincial and self-centered, tend to see the world with blinders. What is seen and known is all about America’s involvement somewhere far away. In 1968 that meant Vietnam, though most knew little of the place, only that we were at war there. The Tet offensive in Vietnam muscled the war front and center in the US.  Later on we’d learn a bit about Laos and Cambodia, which, of course, we bombed. Most of the rest of the world was invisible unless something about the US was involved in a way that brought it to the front pages of the newspapers and the nightly news leads.

In 1968 the world it seemed was in ferment, from China, deep into the “Cultural Revolution” begun by Mao Tse Tung in 1966, to Japan where student unrest spilled into the streets, from Argentina to France, from Germany to Mexico.  The stasis of the post-WW2 era and all its institutional structures were under stress and challenge.  Around the world people took to the streets demanding change.  In Eastern Europe discontent under the yoke of the Soviet Union burbled just beneath the surface and broke out in the open in Prague.   Across the Western world the same strains seemed to spread contagiously from country to country, bringing uprisings in Paris, Rome, Berlin, Poznan, Prague, Buenos Aires and elsewhere.  It seemed a great cultural and political uprising had commenced, bringing for many a great sense of both danger and hopefulness.  It occurred not simply in the political realm, but culturally – in music, theater, cinema, literature:  seemingly a kind of great awakening.

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In summer of 1968 I was just 25 years old, a touch more than a year out of Federal Prison, where I’d resided 27 months, having refused to comply with the Selective Service system. On getting out in ’67 I’d immediately jumped into the political fray, figuring I’d earned the right to do so having done time. I worked with the nascent draft resistance movement, and was deployed to talk about the prison experience and to encourage people to refuse induction into the military. Though as the clouds darkened I began to say that maybe it would be a good idea to join the military, perhaps learn how to use weapons and then go AWOL with this newly learned skill. I recall the draft resistance people, mostly pacifists, nudging me off the stage, dumping me as a speaker for their cause. Mine was not the view they wanted said on their behalf. At another time I recall giving a fiery talk at the Chicago Art Institute, when I suggested that perhaps the time for assassins had arrived. I remember a young female student coming forward after I’d spoken and asking if I had a copy of my speech and giving her the one I’d just read.

And I shot my own 16mm films – Traps and Leah, my first sound films.

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Photo to right: Linn Ehrlich 1967

In the same period, autumn to winter of 1967, I helped organize and set up the Chicago Filmmakers Coop, along with Kurt Heyl and Peter Kuttner and a few others. The three of us later set up what would turn into the Chicago branch of the left-wing Newsreel group. In early 1968 “The Mobe” was setting up in Chicago.  “The Mobe” was short for “National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam” which was a coalition of various anti-war groups, including the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which set out in early 1968 to prepare for organized protests at the Chicago Democrat Convention, primarily focused against the Vietnam war, but as well around civil rights and other leftist matters of interest.  They had rented office space, and gave our yet unnamed Newsreel group a room to work in.  In turn I became involved in the Mobe, meeting most of its organizers – Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and several others whom I do not recall – Lee Weiner and John Froines.  I recall talking with Hayden, telling him of my recent prison experience and having him say to me that he didn’t think he could do 2 year stint in the joint.  I recall thinking, “And so why are you one of the leaders?”

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While there I met Marilyn Katz, of the SDS and involved in the Uptown project, in which activists moved into a neighborhood of poor Appalachians and attempted to organize them.  I moved in with Marilyn and lived there, with a Chicago “Red Squad” police car often parked at the porch-steps.  In April a demonstration which I consciously did not attend was attacked by police, though Peter was there and made still photos, and there was some film footage.  I organized and edited a short film, April 27, out of the materialwhich turned out to be the only film made by Chicago Newsreel.  The police behavior on that date foreshadowed  what would happen in August.

Anecdote 1:  Sometime in spring of 68, I went with a group to stage some anti-war guerilla theater on the plaza of the Federal Building in the Loop.  My role was as an American soldier, pulling out a plastic machine gun to mow down the Vietnamese civilians, a la My Lai.  After the theater was done a cop came to arrest me for having a gun, however obviously fake it was.  Since leaving prison I’d had a pathological relationship to cops, leaving me quivering at their sight.  Marilyn and a friend of hers, an old time Pinko, Sylvia Kushner, came charging and in effect scared the cop away with legal threats, rescuing me from the arrest.

marilyn-august-68.jpgMarilyn at the barricades

The Mobe’s intention was to get at least ten thousand people to come to Chicago, and have a major visible presence during the Convention, and hopefully to influence the nomination process.  Hubert Humphrey, stalwart Minnesota liberal, was tipped to be the Democrat choice, though he’d fully signed on to Johnson’s Vietnam war policies.

Two weeks before the convention began, Kurt and I, having read that the Democrats were having a mini-White House portico built onto the entrance of the Stock Yard Convention site, decided it might be a useful image for the film we, and the recently arrived New York contingent of Newsreel, were making about the convention.  So we drove on down to the South Side in his banged up VW Beetle, and parked near the site, and went in the August heat, in shorts and long hair and beards, and set up our tripod and got the shot.  Returning to the car, as we arrived 6 or 7 police cars swooped in, surrounding us.  Arrested, we were taken to the nearest Precinct office, and interrogated, initially by the local cops; then the Chicago Red Squad.  Then the FBI, and finally by the Secret Service.  As we escalated up the hierarchy the interest lessened – it appeared two wild haired hippies weren’t exactly the would-be assassins scoping out some upcoming killing ground.  We called the Mobe office to inform them and as I recall they got a lawyer on it.   I was released, but Kurt spent the night in jail as the papers on his Beetle had some problem.

On getting out I went promptly to the Mobe office to report in full what had happened – the first arrests of the Mobilization.  My recollection is none of us made a big deal out of it, though it should properly have been a cue as to what the coming weeks would bring.  None of us seem to have picked up on it though.

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As the time of the convention rushed closer, the people at the Mobe were busy and concerned:  it was clear that 10,000 people were not headed to Chicago as hoped, and we’d be lucky if 1000 showed up.  It appeared the whole plan was headed towards a dramatic failure, a fizzle.  In light of the events of the previous 6 months – the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the riots which came in the wake of that event, including large swathes of the west side of Chicago which went up in flames and resulted in the National Guard being called in, and then the assassination of Robert F Kennedy, along with the massive protests in Paris in May and elsewhere around the globe – it appeared the Mobe’s efforts would look pathetic in contrast.

Anecdote 2:  Marilyn and cohorts went to the Federal Building to paint “CIA” on their unmarked door, having asked me to go to film it.  I declined, still very nervous about police.  I had been in the building 2 and a half years earlier, in a court room being sentenced to 3 years in prison.  Marilyn also sprinkled “guerilla mines” in the form of large nails to flatten cop vehicles, and others liberally sprinkled stink bombs in the Hilton Hotel, HQ for the Democrats at the convention.

A night before the convention was scheduled to begin (Aug 26-29) a small band, perhaps 500 to 1000 or so people who had come to Chicago, along with some locals, commenced a march on the Near North Side, where the Yippies, centered around Abbie Hoffman, had set up a camp in Lincoln Park.  Hoffman and the Yippies were having a Festival of Life, juxtaposed to what they said the convention was, a The Festival of Death.  The police – nervous and touchy, as Kurt and I had experienced – attacked with billy clubs and tear gas, chasing demonstrators and by-standers down the streets and alleyways and making arrests.  This was reported locally at first, on the TV news and papers.  The result was an instant swelling of the demonstrators to more in the realm of thousands – many of them young people from Chicago and the suburbs, drawn probably as much for the excitement as for any substantive political reason.  In the next days the news went national, and in short order there were the Mobe’s wished for thousands.

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Inside the convention center Mayor Daley fulminated against the demonstrators and the press, his beloved city shamed before the world.  His police attacked national press figures like Dan Rather, Mike Wallace and Edwin Neuman both inside and outside the convention hall, resulting in terrible international press.  During Senator Abe Ribicoff’s nomination speech for George McGovern, in which he commented on the action happening outside, Daley was caught on camera yelling, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch.”  All in all a far from auspicious commencement for the presidential campaign around the corner.

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NBC News - 1968 Democratic National Convention

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Had the cops laid low the counter-protest to the convention might well have fizzled, a foot-note in history.  Instead, by August 28, as Hubert Humphrey was being nominated – defeating Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, the crowd had swollen to 10,000, including lime-light seeking luminaries including Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs and all the way from France, Jean Genet.  Grant Park resembled a quasi-war zone, surrounded with National Guard troops with rifles at the ready, bayonets, and jeeps and trucks with barbed wire grates, hemming in the demonstrators.  The Mobe’s leaders and other addressed a vast chanting crowd picking up Rennie Davis’ comment that “The Whole World Is Watching.”   And it was.

Anecdote 3:  Watching at night-time some of the police actions around Grant Park, I thought of going to an auto supply store and buying a handful of emergency flares and driving to the west side and heaving them into lumber yards, a diversionary distraction for the police.  Didn’t do it, but I did think it.

I was among those in Grant Park, there with Bolex in hand to shoot, though I recall a strong sense of distaste for the behavior of this mass of people, all taking their cues from the podium, chanting as told, and given the actual mix of people – mostly young, many from the region, I had the nagging suspicion that had someone begun a chant saying “Let’s go to the South Side and kill n…..s” a good part of them might well have done so.  Since that time I have always avoided anything with mass crowds.

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The other thing I felt while in the park was fear.  The part of Grant Park we were in on one side was sliced by railroad tracks, maybe 30 feet down, sided by a vertical concrete wall and fence – no escape.  The other side, facing Michigan Avenue, was lined with National Guardsmen, literally fencing in the crowd with portable barbed wire mounted on the fronts of their jeeps and trucks.  The Guard was armed with rifles, and in my mind, fresh from my experience in prison, I could imagine the rules of the game being shifted, and those guns being fired.  While it did not happen then, only a few years later, in May 1970, at Kent State in Ohio and at Jackson State University, Mississippi, the Guard did open up and fire, killing students.

At the conclusion of the convention the delegates dispersed, having nominated the favored Humphrey who limped off, ham-strung, to campaign and lose to Richard Nixon. And likewise did the folks at the Mobe.  They’d done their job, and most assuredly had impacted the nation’s politics, in a manner still being debated among the survivors and participants.  Back in the office word came that a farmer out west of the city had seen it all on television, and invited us out to his place for a bit of R&R, a picnic in the quiet of the Illinois prairie.  Marilyn and I along with 3 others road out for this welcome break.  She and I, and Rennie Davis, were sitting in the back-seat, Rennie with a large visible blood-marked bandage swathed around his head.  He’d been clubbed by cops during the convention.  As we were driving out of the city, he turned to Marilyn and me, and said, “I guess I don’t need this anymore” and he lifted the bandage off his head like a hat and set it aside.

My soul curdled, and inwardly I thought to myself, “This is my side?”

Jon Jost_fog`69_©Linn Ehrlich_2018Foto by Linn Ehrlich, on a visit back to Chicago, 1969

In early September Marilyn and I drove her VW to California where for a while she joined up with Bruce Franklin’s radical group in Stanford and bought a Beretta.  I hung around the edges of the The Movement, visiting a tear-gassed Berkeley and slowly edged away from the organized left.  Nixon won the election ushering in a continuation of the Vietnam war and a long period of America’s recoil from the 60’s and a drift into conservatism, and finally a terminal corruption and corporatism, culminating in Donald Trump.  Marilyn went back to Chicago to continue a life-time of work as a social and political organizer and I retreated into a seven year hiatus in the woods in California, Oregon and Montana.  Today Marilyn runs a political consultancy in Chicago, and I carry on as a quiet anarchist.

Of the figures who led the Mobe their life paths were wildly diverse:

Tom Hayden married Jane Fonda (and divorced after 17 years), and became a Democrat assemblyman in California and died in 2016.

Rennie Davis became a follower of Guru Maharaji Ji, and later a venture capitalist and advisor on meditation.

Abbie Hoffman carried on as a social critic and theatrically minded activist, writing books and committing political pranks.  Wanted for cocaine dealing he went into hiding for some years, and in 1989 apparently committed suicide by drug over-dose.

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David Dellinger, a life-time pacifist born in 1919 carried on in his work and died in 2004.

Jerry Rubin, founder of the Yippie party,  and carrying on as a political prankster into the mid-70’s Rubin morphed into a businessman, became a millionaire and advocated for Yuppies.  He died in 1994 following an accident while jaywalking in Los Angeles.

John Froines, an anti-war activist and scientist (chemistry) went on to a long academic career, retiring from UCLA in 2011.

Lee Weiner, continues to work for social causes, largely around Jewish issues.

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Bobby Seale, somewhat dragooned into the event very late while visiting Chicago on behalf of the Black Panthers, of which he was a founder, was bound and gagged during the trial and then severed from the trial to be tried alone.  He carried on with the Black Panthers until its demise and since has carried on in various social actions.

For Marilyn Katz’s take on the Chicago Convention see this:

https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/1968-democratic-convention-male-white-voter-chicago/

For a highly personal view, from a friend, Bob Boldt see this:

https://moristotle.blogspot.com/2015/08/third-monday-with-bob-boldt.html#more

For a good over-view with excellent layout and photos see this:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/aug/19/the-whole-world-is-watching-chicago-police-riot-vietnam-war-regan

For various other views see these:

https://newrepublic.com/article/136364/cops-kids

https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/1968-democratic-national-convention-chicago-protests-riots-50th-anniversary/

https://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/465036.html

https://greatcities.uic.edu/event/the-whole-world-is-still-watching/

For a good Magnum photo-essay on the times see this:

https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/politics/1968-power-protest-politics/

 

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And here is a summary of some of the major events which happened in 1968 prior to the Chicago Convention.

January 21

Around the world, 1968 took on a symbolic weight for millions of people, whether for cultural or political or other reasons.  I am sure many of those who were in Grant Park back then changed from Yippies to Yuppies, and some voted for Trump.  Some were permanently scarred, for better or worse.   I am a person not given to nostalgia or similar such sentiments.  When, on the death of this or that famous figure, I read the out-pouring of sentimental twaddle, the sending of “thoughts and prayers,” how that figure took such a place in others lives, I feel I live in another universe.  And so it is when friends wax on about sixty-eight.  Yes, it was a year in which many things rose to the surface and exposed themselves.  It was a year in which around the world many made valiant efforts to change the direction in which humanity was going.  It was a time for many of great hope.  And, in my jaded view, it was a time when we lost, and lost badly.  Not merely in the more or less superficial matter of politics, but on a far more profound and deeper level.  While the warning signs had already been made, we lunged headlong into a vast materialistic consumer insanity which utterly disregarded what we were doing to ourselves and the small blue planet on which we live.  Today we live in an opulent lop-sided world of fantastic wealth and poverty, we are surrounded with technological wonders that bedazzle us into a mindless tizzy of endless distractions. Today the world is on fire, fires lit by arsonists – by ourselves and our bottomless gluttony for things and the wonders of modern life, the imperatives of our religion of capitalism which demands and requires constant growth on a finite planet.  The skirmishes on the streets of Chicago (and Paris and Belgrade and Prague and Tokyo and Buenos Aires) all fade into nothing as we face the mirror and see the world we have produced in the last 50 years.  It is nothing other than a catastrophe, of which only the first edges have begun to show themselves.  The ancient four horsemen are riding headlong towards us – in truth they are already here, though for the most part well-masked, and deliberately so.  For what I am speaking of, as an example, see this.

 

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Last images of Traps

Traps, and other early short films can be found here:

Jost Short Films

Following the conspiracy lead of Steve Bannon and Breitbart, Donald Trump has grumbled and tweeted often about the Deep State, the purported nefarious grouping of hidden government persons lurking in the depths of the massive Federal apparatus of myriad acronymic masks.  ICE NSA FBI CIA and on through to lesser known but equally evil entities.  These are alleged to be conclaves, variously, of members of the Harvard elite, Yale’s Skull and Bones, Jewish cabalists, covens of Christian Fundamentalists, or whichever cluster-fuck you wish to designate, surely there will be a website or more devoted to reading the tea-leaves of the signals emitted from these organizational black holes and their swirling galaxies.  Right and Left wing chatterboxes selectively cherry-pick whatever political tid-bits they wish and construct fabulist narratives around them, from the assassination of JFK to that of MLK to 9/11 and on to the Boston Marathon bombing.  The existence of the internet gives wide berth for these to spawn, however false or true they might be.

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Extracted from these events come tomes from scholars, Hollywood movies, novels and the rantings of Limbaugh, Hannity, Alex Jones and a host of lesser names. There’s millions to be made from these, and those mentioned have made theirs and more.  Like America’s religious hucksters, there’s a lot of money to be made preying on the gullible and fearful, with which it seems our country is plentifully supplied.  Welcome to the world of QAnon.   It’s American as Apple Pie.

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uploads1504017121881-OleHeadThe Lakewood Mega-church, Dallas TX

For decades – well actually far longer than that, for centuries  – America has been awash with conspiracy theories, reaching back to its founding.  There were always traitors loose in the land, lluminati, the anti-christ, double-agents for foreign powers, the entire gamut of customary political war-horses, broad-brushes with which to paint your enemy. Today’s landscape is nothing new, just that for brief periods we like to pretend it ain’t so.

But, myths aside, it’s all the same old same old.  As is governance itself.

Current CIA Director Mike Pompeo And Five Former CIA Directors Speak At National Security ConferenceTwo deep-state members, John Brennan and General Michael Hayden, former chiefs of the CIA

Conspiracy theories, to take root, need soil, and the United States government has been rich tilling land for as long as its been around.  Within long-term living memory those range from major matters, such as the concept that FDR and the government knew Pearl Harbor was coming, and let it happen.  Jump ahead half a century, and the same it true of 9/11.  In both cases there is ample evidence to suggest they are true, though the makers of American mythology adamantly insist that only a tin-foil hatter would believe such malarkey.  After all, who could believe that our own government would allow such events to occur when their job is to protect us?  Only a true nutter could believe such a thing, regardless of the massive evidence and logical reasons for such a thing to fit properly into a narrative.

And the same goes for lesser items from the assassination of JFK requiring magic bullets, and on down to such trivial things as using members of the military as guinea pigs for “scientific” experiments, or, well, hell, using whole cities like San Francisco to experiment with some new biological dispersal weapon.  Or letting St. George, Utah, knowingly be a nice down-wind recipient of nuclear bomb test radiation and then spending decades denying the cancerous downside.  In fact, the more one knows about Uncle Sam the more fertile the soil one finds for tin-foil hat thoughts.

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Enter Donald, the wanna-be Queen’s tough guy sporting a giant borough-wide chip on his shoulder.  A self-made man, so he insists (that million buck starter kit from Dad don’t count), he broke into the hard-as-nails world of Manhattan real-estate and built a solid gold (well, at least gold-plated) reputation as a party-animal, womanizer, builder of garish towers, possessor of serial-wives and of serial bankruptcies.  And despite all that he wasn’t welcomed into the fold of the Manhattan elite, and here, decades later, bearing a grudge that deforms his face and body, and weighs on him like a WWF wrestler, he’s out to let them have it. Descending his golden escalator but 3 years ago, met by his adoring rent-a-crowd, he tossed his hat in the Presidential circus ring, and to wide amazement and laughter promptly vanquished the supposedly serious Republican candidates with school-yard taunts, and thereafter sent the world into shock when Hillary Clinton lost to him as well, if not in the general vote, then in the dubious Electoral College. The world has been aghast since, as The Donald charges like a raging bull, upsetting one institutionally rooted apple-cart after another, shredding the polite decorum and language of our traditional politics, and causing serious harm to the status quo.  Just like he said he would.

Well, almost.

 

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Having promised to “drain the swamp” The Don instead stocked the beltway with more alligator sleaze than anyone thought conceivable, stacking his Cabinet with grifters ready to dismantle their respective departments, and to feed at the Federal trough as quickly and mercilessly as possible.  Having reduced his GOP Congressional majorities to the quivering sycophants they always were, our gangster godfather trashed protocols, ripped up treaties and obsessively uprooted anything having to do with Barack Hussein Obama while loudly bellowing his utterly unmasked racism.  Supposedly serious Republicans held their silence while the Tea Party wing cheered lustily and the Don’s racist base went bananas.  Doubtless never having actually read it, the man sworn to uphold the US Constitution, as G W Bush had suggested earlier, treated it as “just a goddam piece of paper.”   Toilet paper in this instance.

All of this behavior has transpired with little more than murmurs from the official opposition, the Democrats, who hide behind their minority status in the House and Senate whimpering there’s nothing they can do, their hands are tied until November, the mystical season of voting when the Great American Public is allowed to choose between corporately approved specimen A or B. And besides, they are as beholden to their corporate masters as the GOP, and should they speak too loudly the full depths of both-sides-of-the-aisle corruption would be fully exposed.   Until then the pages of YouTube and Facebook are awash with videos of virulent racists yelling and screaming on camera, police killing blacks for being black, ICE round-ups of alleged illegal aliens, children stored in ex-Walmart boxes converted to instant prisons, and other pleasantries of the present American mental landscape, the ugly id of the nation having been exposed by Trump’s tearing off of the band-aid of PC politeness imposed by the prior administration.

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Faced with this rupture of politics-as-normal, the nation has contorted itself into the unimaginable:  the liberal-left now looks upon the FBI, the CIA and NSA as potential saviors, while the right, formerly the supposed champions of fiscal and moral rectitude, law & order, balanced budgets, goody-two-shoes ethics and virulent anti-Commie/Russiaphobes morphed instantaneously into Russiaphiles, haters of the deep-state combine of the FBICIANSA, and rabid pigs at the trough of corruption and racism.  And not only trickle down economics, but also trickle down ethics, in this case in the form of terminal corruption.  Hence the plague of YouTube racism and cop-killer videos.

170803104354-01-comey-file-0608-super-teaseYou’re Fired!  Former FBI Chief Comey

Enter the deep rumblings of the Deep State.  Famed for having intervened in an attempted Richard Cheney machination during a breathless hospital visit to then Attorney General Ashcroft who lay seriously ill, while Cheney-Bush henchmen sought to secure his signature for a program of dubious legality, wearing his cloak as Ashcroft’s chief assistant, James Comey, life-long Republican, became a belated liberal hero, as did fellow Republican, Robert Mueller, then head of the FBI.  See this for the full story.    And now, a decade and some later, these two emerge from the deep bowels of the government yet again in tandem.  As FBI chief, appointed by Obama and retained by Donald Trump, Comey was pressed by his new boss to swear a certain kind of loyalty, mob-style. Declining, he was summarily fired, though in a manner in which in the arcane convolutions of government he was able to secure the naming of a special counsel to investigate Russian skullduggery during the 2016 election. The Special Counsel named was none other than Robert Mueller.  And not only that, but Comey also also did so in a manner which required Trump lackey Richard Sessions, Director of the Justice Department, to recuse himself from the investigation.    All this served well for Trump to loudly complain that he was being undercut and back-stabbed by the Deep State, of which Trump cohort Steven Bannon and his program Breitbart had long complained.

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The news of the day of late swirls with the constant word of criminality in high places – the current Manafort trial pealing the skin off the fancy-suited world of business and politics, with fantastical numbers, a litany of off-shore banking havens, and enough moral sleaze to last forever.  Or until the next, around-the-corner, trial to reveal still deeper depravity.   Or Avenatti’s latest lurid spill of The Don’s hushed-up sex-capades.

GTY-james-clapper-jef-170308_16x9_992James Clapper, former head of the NSA

Legally, lying to a Congressional committee is a crime, whether under oath or not, punishable by up to five years in prison, or in some instances more.  James Clapper was head of the NSA,  (whom it turns out went to Annandale HS, Fairfax VA, 1956-60, same time I did, though I do not recall knowing him then, but my sister does); in testimony to Congress he lied.  Caught at it, he recanted in a Clintonesque manner, parsing the exact meaning of “spying” etc.

brennanJohn Brennan, Ex-Director of CIA

Mr Brennan, former director of the CIA, outspoken of late regarding Donald Trump -saying his comportment in Helsinki was “treasonous” – is himself in a problematic position, having also lied to Congress, just as did Clapper.  In his case regarding torture and such nice things.

And of course Mr Comey, fired director of the FBI, is also accused by some of lying, or at least fudging regarding leaks from his office.  All in all, a charming cluster of characters, all deeply enmeshed in governmental agencies which traffic in secrecy as a part of their function. Naturally a good setting for conspiratorial actions.  All lied to Congress, but skated.  So small wonder that thoughts of a Deep State tend to focus on this area, along with the military.

That this nexus of fellows engaged in the sordid arts of secrecy and executors of the dirty deeds of the US government should all re-emerge in unison, though this time wearing super-hero cloaks for some liberals, indeed raises a peculiar stench, the smell of something rotten deep in the bowels of America’s government: Yes, Virginia, there is a secret Deep State.

 

And yes, it seeks to defend its institutional status and powers, just as do almost all bureaucratic institutional organizations.  In this case, these institutions (and 14 other “security” organizations under the umbrella of the Unites States Government), all seek to carry out their jobs as protectors of the corporate/business powers for which and on behalf of which that government exists.  And when by some quirk of circumstance, something or someone inimical to those interests occurs, it is their function to work together to challenge and defeat that intruding force.  And such, in the instance of Donald John Trump, is the case.

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Were the Republican Party a healthy political party in American terms, it would have never allowed Trump to emerge as its nominee for President.  In a “healthy” state it would have vetted him, researched his background, and done whatever was necessary to assure he did not become their candidate.  But the Republican Party, like the rest of the society it is rooted in, is, exactly as is the Democrat Party, utterly corrupt, and has been so for some decades, steadily rotting away until it became a steaming fetid swamp of oligarchism marinated in All-American racism. The Democrats were equally corrupt, utterly owned by corporate powers, and utterly out-of-touch with what neo-liberal policies – their policies – had done to broad areas of the American public.

And as were and are the political parties of the USA, so too all its institutions are corrupt:  the Congress, the Courts, the Executive Branch, the 5th Estate, the corporate world, Wall Street.  Every. Damn. One. Of. Them.

So it is little wonder that along with all these pillars of American society that the Deep State is likewise corrupt.  Any decent working Deep State would have some time ago arranged a plausibly deniable accident, be it on the ground, Air Force One, or a berserk White House Guard, and Trump would already be fodder for further conspiracy theorists to figure out who done it.   But thus far, confronted with the Keystone Kops of the inept, obvious, utterly corrupted government of the most comical Don imaginable, the hard-men of the Deep State have thus far fumbled the ball, and the Trump gang, though snookered by their own glaring stupidity, is still standing.

So yes, Don, yes there is a Deep State, and it is certainly out to get you.  But it is just like you, and is inept and as flaccid as your butt is, unable to shift from the SOP of the Cold War to a world in which Tweets shift the market up and down and idiocy rules the White House, and few care if the President consorts with prostitutes and stuffs his government full with nepotism and cronyism.  After all, most of them are doing exactly the same things.

Meantime America burns.

38612308_1896541237072837_546552833437073408_n.jpgTrump supporters, Florida37349381_10157676792769691_6852735318517350400_n.jpgPainting by Stephen Lack38412092_10157698753329465_1046501303162765312_n.jpgAlleged image of California forest fires seen from above the clouds