Skip navigation

DSC00844.JPGDublin, Trinity College

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.

DSC00847cc

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.

DSC02039SMMaeve ForemanDSC02106SMThe Long Room, library at Trinity College, where Maeve taughtDSC02094SM

DSC02218CCRPSM

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.

DSC02262sm

DSC02265jonbuddhasmcrpBuddha and meDSC02248ccrpsm

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.

DSC02525sm

DSC02529sm

DSC02353SM

DSC02334CCRPSMBrussels

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.

DSC02575CRPSM

DSC02582CRPSM.jpg

DSC02563CCSM - CopyGhent

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.

DSC02290CRPSM

DSC02887sm

DSC02716sm

DSC02794.JPG

DSC02615.JPG

DSC02799CRPSMOne of the many effects of neo-liberal globalismDSC02894CCRPSM.jpg

DSC02907.JPGParis

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.

DSC03001CRPsm

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.

DSC03008sm

DSC03034CCBW.jpgDam near Locarno

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.

Casa natale Via Reali 18- 080House in Cassina Amata, 1963p7Tilde in my first film, Portrait

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.

DSC03113sm

DSC03159ccrp

DSC03166smChristian RavaglioliDSC03060sm

tentative cover SM

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.

MORGI0018-Natura-Morta-Still-Life-1962

DSC03350Pina SiottoDSC03530SM

DSC03411CCSM

DSC03143sm

DSC03510sm

DSC03560SMBologna

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.

DSC03581CRPSM

DSC03587.JPG

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.”

 

DSC04141Baroque Palermo – there’s a lot of itDSC04683

DSC04371

DSC04675

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 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.

stragi-sicilia003-1000x600

strage-di-capaci-1-680x365

giornata-vittime-mafia

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.

DSC04126

DSC04118

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.

 

DSC04564 CRPSMThe Oratorio of Santa Cita, by Giacomo SerpottaDSC04396SM - Copy

DSC04389SM

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.

 

DSC01059SM
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.

DSC01061SM

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.

DSC01036SM

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.

DSC00957 - MCopy

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.

pearblossom-highway-2.jpg

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.

DSC00901SM

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.

DSC00911Mirrored mosque interior located beside the Tehran bazaar

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.

DSC00966SMCopy

DSC00977SMRoof of bath complex in Kashan

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.

DSC00920SM.jpgTina, on the right

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.

DSC00863SMcc

DSC00887SM

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!

DSC00897ccrp

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.

DSC00932CRPSM

DSC00943CRPSMRabeahe, Hori, Uday and Ira

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.

DSC01017SMSMCopy

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.

DSC01252SM

DSC01249SM

DSC01244CCSM

DSC01237SM

DSC01286SM

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.

DSC01050SM.jpg

DSC01039CCSM.jpg

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.

DSC01042SM.jpgThe young man who sang HafezDSC01080CCRPSM.jpgReflecting pool in Meidan Emam, a UNESCO World Heritage site.DSC01073CCCRPSMcc.jpg

DSC01103CRPSM.jpg

DSC01040CCRPSM.jpg

 

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.

DSC00958SM

DSC01271CCSM

DSC01220CCSM

DSC01198SM

DSC01060SM

DSC01109 CCSM

DSC01112SM

DSC01116SM

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.

A 1277.jpg

C h5_03.14.5.jpg

F 1433_Jan_van_Eyck_Man_in_a_Red_Turban-wl400Ccrp.jpg

H autumn-rhythm.jpg

I22frankenthaler2_inline-jumbo.jpg

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.

 

DSC01002CC.jpg

1200px-Piacenza_Bronzeleber

Bronze casting of sheep entrails reading

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.”

trio

foxfx

 

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.

harakiri-corte-cabeza

harakiri_420

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.

01Weiner-superJumbo

roman horse black

raf,750x1000,075,t,101010 01c5ca27c6

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.

20017503_10212877909123918_5531480945398571681_o

05cohenWeb-superJumbo

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.

original_e9f594fa3283131543c7f2f91d0b9807

photo-7

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.

fire obamasm

65349d2ae6247bd20b26944f34eb4d71d8534a74

Screen-Shot-2016-09-19-at-9.59.07-AM

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.

 

plastic-jesus-new.jpg

detainment camp map.JPG

3000

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.

 

German Americans Giving Nazi Salute

black-people-lynched7-620x264

 

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.

dsc02913-sm

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.

Police Suspension Hand Symbol

Toyohara-KUNICHIKA-1835-to-1900-actors46

 

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.

l0CbcsT

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.

14dc-trump-1502639727214-master768

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.

4699045455_70165f95e5_b

lotta_continua

RedGuards_1280x720-webedit

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.

TRAPS5

TRAPS14

 

TRAPS19Frame stills from Traps

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?”

ct-tom-hayden-dead-chicago-seven-20161024Tom Hayden

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.

40042033_10217231756324388_8445525439182536704_n.jpgMore Marilyn Chicago 68

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.

1424291920380Mayor Daley in the convention hall4ce7e4e64de9bffaab6d8b4736492c5f

chicago-riot-e1440764407155

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.

5aac12570da78.image

NBC News - 1968 Democratic National Convention

Ball_Of_Confusion_National_Guard_2_tx800

 

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.

1 fhmAP_krTndvVLpua_hXPA

chicago-riot-e1440764407155

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.

David_Dellinger_mug_shot

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.

wp-1477803447212

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/

 

tumblr_myc0628jRl1r79v1io1_1280

abbie-hoffman-9.0.0

Tom-Hayden-Jane-Fonda-1973

68425271

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.

 

TRAPS28FX

TRAPS27FX

TRAPS26FX

TRAPS25FX

TRAPS24FX

Sequence 01FX

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.

jfk-369

1998.28

kennedy assassination

malcolmxmurdered-e1522397522331

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.

barnum02

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.

32780588_10213621588873035_2902306089934520320_n

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.

 

37238845_1694058150703790_7114924259981393920_n

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.

21-lens-race-slide-BRDD-superJumbo

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.

hoodlum_police__custom_

lack ccDrawing by Stephen Lack37291739_10155910619829436_2679336775477886976_o

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.

36c9fa8f55e9fc7d2a5fce630321c093

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

DSC08210

Made an offer I couldn’t refuse, spent two weeks, June 9 to 25th, with Marcella on the US East Coast, hosted by a long time friend, Charles Lyman (since 70’s).  First at an old New England sprawling 15+ bedroom old house outside Wareham, Mass., overlooking Buzzard’s Bay, which separates Cape Cod from Rhode Island.  Had nearly a week there, kicked back, minimal net access, almost relieved from the social mayhem happening out in “the real world.”  Then we packed up to go up north to a small private island located off the coast of Maine, near Bangor.  Got as far as Brunswick before a simmering problem caused a U-turn back to Boston. [Was a matter another person casting a black cloud over things courtesy of a complex relationship with our host and alcoholism.]

02DISEASES-master768

DSC08304

DSC08236

DSC08211

Tucked in a little forest of Lyme’s disease tick-laden foliage we dodged that bullet – none to be found on us for the week.  Enjoyed a laid back time of doing little, chit chat, and trying to absorb something of the old New England vibe of a huge family summer house, and all the things implicit: boats, seashore, old-line connections and sensibilities.  Far from my American roots, and interesting for me to try to fathom.  Our host, invited in part apparently with intentions of shooting some material of me, though we spent way less than an hour doing that (thankfully). Instead we got a casual dose of his family history, old family photos, and a haphazard glance into a once-life. Interesting.

DSC08318

DSC08348

DSC08334

Wareham and the nearby area were classic rural small-town USA, East Coast style, and like its parallels across the nation, a bit run-down unless a hot-shot tourist magnet.  We did a little jaunt to visit friends near Woods Hole, on the Cape, and another to New Bedford and its whaling museum.  Lazy days.

DSC08361

 

DSC08229

Friend Charles shifted plans a touch, and instead of heading up north to Maine on a Thursday, things delayed to Sunday, which began to chop our trip into pieces.  Meantime a close friend of his, a regular in his life, became problematic with alcohol and maybe other psychological things, alienating Marcella.  This prompted a bit of guru Zen Jon, suggesting she just let it fly by and not bother her.  Boomerang properly came the day after we left Wareham, driving up to Brunswick Maine, a one-night stop-over enroute to Sutton Island.  There staying in a lovely New England coastal home, this one of the famed New England Cabot family, from which Charles’ wife comes.  Lovely place and setting, full of art.  There our companion in this setting disrupted things in the morning, blowing my trip-wire, and I talked with my friend saying neither I nor Marcella relished 4 days on an isolated island with this potential negative element ready to intrude at any moment.  He concurred, and we took the next train south to Boston.  Sorry not to have visited this island, and if life permits, hope another chance arises to spend a week or maybe more there, in solitude perhaps.

 

DSC08438

DSC08467Charles LymanDSC08449Kenneth Noland printDSC08444

In Boston, stayed with cousin Holly on Beacon Hill.  Couldn’t ask for a nicer location there, or a nicer host.  Nosed a bit around the city, bumping into a demonstration on the Commons.  A pathetic turn-out of 20 or so, chanting anti-Trump immigration stuff, reminding me of 50 years ago, the summer of 1968, and the chants done then:  “Hey hey, ho ho, LBJ has got to go” and so on.  Way back then in a very serious way “we” – me and my fellow confused socialists or whatever each person thought they were (not very coherent, to be honest) – lost and lost seriously. We were as nothing against the building corporate militarist state that had taken form.  Now it runs the show and verges towards outright State Fascism.   So passing this gaggle of protestors sent a chill through my soul.

DSC08525

DSC08534

Likewise the deluge of Trump Era news seems to have swamped the national psyche, also chilling my soul.  The news repeatedly suggests the nation is headed towards some kind of denouement, whether a blunter police state, yep, Fascism some American-style, or a break down of civil order.  Or given the small crowds my skeptical mind imagines a capitulation along the lines of the good German burghers of the 30’s, heads ducked hoping to stay out of the fray.  There’s already ready-made Brownshirts about, eager for Our Great Leader to just give them (further) nods.  Charlottesville.  The other day in laid back hipster heaven Portland OR. there were street battles, with echos of Weimar where there were fights between Adolf’s forces and communists, leading shortly to… Well,  you should know the history.

DSC08684

While in Boston saw a few friends, among them my old prison buddy Bill Cunningham, who has spent a life as a community organizer, and studied local housing in Cambridge, and is working now on a book about that issue.  We had a great time hanging with him – full of information, a wicked wit, and just a pleasure to spend time with.

DSC08483Bill Cunningham

As a wrap up for our trip Marcella and I had a long day at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art, slowly taking in their collection, a welcome respite from the swirl of political ugliness which has enveloped the country.  Though I know only too well that art is no refuge from reality.

 

jpg000236

jpg000113

jpg000128

jpg000186

jpg000222

DSC08613

jpg000211CRP

And yet, stepping outside, we entered again the toxic atmosphere of America in these times, and frankly I was relieved to be headed far away, even if the bloated importance of my nation necessarily follows where ever one goes.

5d461557-93d3-4975-9088-bfecef68b4a9-large16x9_PolkbillboardoriginalbyRickTyler

2000

18893014_1877659505591527_8513712515481394152_n

20017503_10212877909123918_5531480945398571681_o

Since the last of these ruminations on the state of the American nation too much water has run under the bridge for the bridge to have accommodated it.  It’s inundated now, washed out by the tsunami of the Trump era’s endless bombast and show-biz shit-show. Having reduced our official politicians to the empty-suits they already were, Republican and Democrat, Trump entered the official institutions of government as the bull-in-China-shop, trampling everything in sight.  In doing so he has unmasked the emptiness of those structures as well as he stripped the Republicans naked and then left Hillary Clinton in shock and a majority of the public aghast.  On taking office he has carried out the same wrecking policies, in a blurred shuffle of names, placing a sequence of foxes in the hen house, such that the cabinet is in truth a dismantling organization along the lines of the quickly departed Steve Bannon’s desired “deconstruction of the administrative state.”  In practice this commenced in deleting regulations mostly over corporate behavior, de-funding of numerous social welfare programs, and now, coming to a peak,  direct attacks on the rule of law and the discarding of Constitutional restraints on executive power.  It is, in simple terms, an attempt to institute an American Fascism.

14dc-trump-1502639727214-master768

21-lens-race-slide-BRDD-superJumbo

21-lens-race-slide-1N2D-superJumbo

Trump arrives in West Palm Beach, Florida

I spent the period from mid-October 2017 to March 2018, once again on the road in America, zig-zagging on back roads, visiting small towns and big cities.  It was a dispiriting journey which left me exhausted with America, its foibles and schizophrenia, its beauties and horrors.  The drumbeat of Trump’s malignant personality synchronized daily with the headlines in the news: school shootings, the stock market riding high, then dropping on an utterance or Tweet, the chronic postings of police violence against blacks, the ICE roundups of immigrants, and the scab of America’s built-in racism exposed and open, our psychic maggots swarming the dead corpse, all accompanied to the global warming “weird” new weather.  Through it all it felt the nation was floundering, flummoxed by its new Fuhrer who seemed to emit new offenses every day and yet remain unscathed. His alleged approval rate climbed from 33% to 40.

20525899_10155076204974234_8206406202057838219_n

18920193_10154960927598025_2365073861120338745_n

170125-mexico-us-border-cr_01_c1bb2d068129a7080c68daaed355cf70.nbcnews-ux-1024-900

4213

03Roberts-2-superJumbo

My journey had been, in part, to attempt yet again to make a final essay film about America, PLAIN SONGS.  I’d begun in 2012, failed; attempted again in 2014, and failed again; again in 2016.  Each time the ever more incoherent mess of American society had reared up in my mind, numbing me into wondering what possible purpose would be served in making a critique of this phenomenon when it was clear the place was already drowning in the thunderous noise of its own illnesses, and that no matter what, no voice would ever puncture its schizoid death-rattle.  There was nothing to say as there would be no one to hear.

 

To Elsie

The pure products of America
go crazy–
mountain folk from Kentucky or the ribbed north end of
Jersey
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure–

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
character
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum–
which they cannot express–

Unless it be that marriage
perhaps
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she’ll be rescued by an
agent–
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs–

some doctor’s family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us–
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
jewelry
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
destined
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
somehow
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

William Carlos Williams

rosa parks   Rosa ParksLow res 2

30821615_10215277539865577_4616910243330652458_o

benning buy cc

Some years ago – well actually it was decades – I had publicly spoken and written about this likely prospect, of the break up of the American nation, its culture and society.  I was, of course, deemed crazy, “extreme,” unable to see the unique wonder and beauty of our experiment, our “Exceptionalism.”  Instead I rattled on about the dubious wonders of our mode of American capitalism, about our fraudulent hoist-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps hokey “individualism,” or about our original sins of obliterating the natives of this land and pretending we “discovered” it, and of slavery, or of the infinitude of other things which constitute the real America and its history.  I’d done this since I was 16 or so.  And now, as history is catching up with me I find many voices emerging, seeing this reality, and the horrible political and psychic bill which confronts us.

US WAR SPENDING

us bases


24-lens-ballen12-superJumbo

19intuitive eye C_600

I grew up in a military family and in turn had an early education in how its values work, as a corrosive system of obedience, submission to “higher authorities,” brutalization both physical and mental.  I read the journals my father had, his “professional” magazines, and suffered his military psychoses.  Those journals read to me like a Kafkaesque nightmare in which the totally crazed plotted out, inside the system they lived in, the most depraved of thoughts.  And they not only thought them, but did them with the authority of the government. Gulf of Tonkin. My Lai. Experiments on soldiers.  Hiding the mess of nuclear facilities. And on and on. After all, they were the “muscle” of the government, there to step in when more discreet methods – economic extortion, silent “ops,”  weighted “diplomacy” – failed.  The list of American crimes in this realm is near endless.  Of our whole history, we have not been at war for 22 years.   The US military today cannot account for 21 trillion dollars, which it allegedly received.  It, like the rest of the nation, is utterly corrupted and corrupting.  And of all the institutions of the nation, it is the military which is “most respected”!

23755282_10214976611636771_65057532880619536_n

la-ventura-county-fire1-20171205

21369135_1420394794682973_5184305283881052054_n

While this political cyclone whirls across the country, the superficial life-goes-on goes on. While it seems a dark cloud hangs overhead, a cloud of uncertainty, a cloud of astonishment – our police do this !  –  so many people think that ! – beneath all seems “normal.”  People go to their jobs, to cafes and restaurants and movies; they meet with their friends, make love, live, die and do all the things human animals always do.  But hovering around is something else, “normality” is disrupted.  The ghost of the dysfunction of the Weimar Republic lingers off-screen, and for most Americans is  utterly unseen.  After all, we are “Exceptional” and exempt from the usual forces of history.  And yes, we are indeed exceptionally self-deluded.

21731318_10156511232369688_7814341986674386019_n

 

For myself I had seen this coming for some time, in some form or another, though I could not have figured out just what.  The normalcy of most Americans is that they live in an economic and military empire, which wars endlessly (though it does its best usually to keep it hidden), in order to produce these figures:

The USA is less than 5% of the world’s population.

It occupies 7% of the earths land surface.

It consumes 25% of the earth’s resources.

America is chronically cited as the world’s biggest economy, the lynch-pin of the global economic system, the most powerful and richest nation on earth.   These things are all owing to our imperial economic/military status:  like a good Mafia system, we offer deals one can’t refuse, on pain of “regime change” or flat out obliteration by a military far bigger and more powerful than any other.  Our “normalcy” is built upon this hard, ugly reality, and making a corrective to this would involve such a major change of our lives that most simply cannot comprehend it.  Even nice liberals.

 “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”   –  Upton Sinclair

This needs only a modest bit of tinkering to describe Americans and their place in the world.  In fact it is used often in political talk employed to explain and excuse our frequent foreign policy of blowing up places which decline to roll over and play dead when we extort them for natural resources.  We say something about “our national interests” and threats to “the American way of life” and send in the military.  In the Sinclair quote we need only change the word “salary” to “life-style” or “American way of life.”

addictfacesofmethL.jpg

homeless

 

“American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt: The same thing is true in England and the same in France; but in all these three countries the dominating fact is that whenever the people get ready to change the government, they can change it. The same thing is not true of Germany, and until it was made true in Germany, there could be no free political democracy anywhere else in the world — to say nothing of any free social democracy. My revolutionary friends who will not recognize this fact seem to me like a bunch of musicians sitting down to play a symphony concert in a forest where there is a man-eating tiger loose. For my part, much as I enjoy symphony concerts, I want to put my fiddle away in its case and get a rifle and go out and settle with the tiger.”                                          –  Upton Sinclair

20882070_10155038874106312_2487803710411390035_n

20770042_10212380784487277_4674464962712536065_n
.
.
“The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store. Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill.”  –  Upton Sinclair
.
Today’s newspaper, on the heels of certain balloon’s floated by Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, announced that the Maximum Leader declares that he cannot be indicted, subpoenaed, or anything else that irritates him.  He has declared that he is the law.
.
The murmur of the pundits thus far has been muted; the public carries on.  The Brownshirts march.  (This is not metaphorical: Charlottesville, myriad cellphone shots of police-state behavior coast-to-coast, and Trump’s support of this all testify to this as an institutionalized reality.)
.
“…realized that this country has gone so flabby that any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough, and smart enough not to seem illegal, can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want.”     –  Upton Sinclair
.
Detroit scenes for tap-through on budget restrictions
.
1444943398-albers_009_childsroomknot_1500
.
21641126_10155856325369917_1588106539505527218_o
.
12936731_10207844750491210_5115182746691803293_n
.
22141045_10213362783920776_3207266113598449693_n
.
21150440_10155555398323745_6331347943300396804_n
.
On leaving America a few months ago, I had already concluded that the film that had partly prompted my journey was useless.  Perhaps that was a function of my age, now 75, or perhaps of an over-due “artistic burnout”.  Or perhaps simply an exhaustion with a life-long hard look at the country, society and culture from which I had emerged.
.
While in the face of the affronts which Trump and his administration deliver to whatever it is Americans imagine their country to be, one would normally be a bit sanguine, and think, “Oh, there will be a blue wave” and other such thoughts directed toward finding a “correction.”   Just as many imagined a Hillary Clinton victory would have kept the ship of state sailing pleasantly on – Hillary back in the campaign was eager to assert America’s “exceptionalism” and would surely have carried on with the empire as usual.
.
As a life-long surveyor of American society and culture, as well as being quite acquainted with other societies, I am not so “optimistic” that America will “self-correct” in a manner that would actually be positive.  Instead I think it will shift into – more so than it already is – a form of fascistic state in which police-power intimidates the comfortable to silence, “undesirables” are rounded up or simply erased with power (happens everyday in petty transactions of those people in their dealings with police and other “authorities”) and rather quickly “polite society” joins in.  One of the more remarkable aspects of American “exceptionalism” is that it blathers in inverse proportion about “freedom” while being a desperately conformist society.   When the pressure is on, most will fall in line.
.
Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_Smithsonian
.
Benton, Thomas Hart; SHS#006618, CD#197(art)
.
ItCantHappenHere
.
It seems to be something of the nature of our species, and its behavior, that we collectively have a periodic need to have a major blood-shedding.  This compulsion seems largely related to our tribal instincts, marking off “others” from “our group.”  This is clearly what has overtaken America, and whatever connective tissue had for a while appeared to have bound us together, is now so frayed as to be non-existent.  We go through the motions of “national unity” but there is none.  We are at war with ourselves, a condition normally called a “civil war.”   Of course in wars of any kind, civility is usually one of the first casualties.  In wars people “naturally” do atrocious things.  There is no reason at all to think we’ll be any different.
.
.gettysburgh
.
wasteland-guston-east-coker
.
.
If interested in the thoughts and process of the attempt to make Plain Songs, see this:
To see the essay films which it was to be a continuation of, see these:

 

27stephensWeb-superJumbo

I confess to being a total news-junkie.  I awaken each morning, flip on the Chromebook, and jump headlong into the day’s headlines.  In the last few years this has meant a wallow in the traumas of America’s official political landscape, a zombie horror show in which all the beasts which the system had imagined it had defeated re-emerged with a vengeance.  Glossed over in the alleged post-racial Obama era, though hiding in plain sight in Trump’s birtherism and McConnell’s “one term” obstructionism, liberal America waltzed through 8 years of self-love, thinking that in voting for a Harvard-trained upper- middle-class half-black man, they’d resolved the matter of the nation’s deeply rooted historical and institutionalized racism.  We were woke, or so they imagined.  Instead they awoke on Nov 8, 2016 to pull their heads out of the sand, realizing belatedly that they knew almost nothing of their country.  Zombies crawled out everywhere, undefeated and triumphant.

dncfjjjosu4iyieqytj2.png

5a185090140000c24350f200

13cvilleWEB2-superJumbo

None of this came as a great surprise to me, neither the roiling racism which raised it’s head as Trump pulled back the oozing scab that had politely hidden the cankerous sores on the body politic, nor the shock of the largely urban liberals for whom this came as a nasty revelation.  I’d been charting this for some decades in my work – films and blogs.  It was, after a manner, my self-chosen job to probe about in the American social psyche, albeit I tended towards the more oblique forms of art rather than the blunderbuss snarl of politics.   As early as the mid-60’s I’d done short films on the alienation of young people in the stressed out 60’s when the matter of racism was roiling the nation during the civil rights movement, and Vietnam was eating away at our social fabric.  I addressed those things in Traps, and 13 Fragments & 3 Narratives from Life, promptly after leaving two+ years in prison for the “crime” of draft refusal.  I then made a few other works, couched in counter-cultural terms, likewise pointing to the schisms in our society: Primaries, A Turning Point in China, and 1, 2, 3, Four, in 1969-70.

At the time the country was tearing itself apart with deep political rifts, and with a major temblor in our cultural sensibilities.  The  end result was a major shakeup in our social values, followed with Altamont, Nixon, and then, after the interlude of Carter, Reagan and a long slow shift right in politics and economics, and a harshly contested liberal drift in cultural matters.

SD CORPSESpeaking Directly (some american notes)

Deeply involved in the events at the Chicago Convention in 1968 (arrested early), I withdrew to California, and then in 1971 moved to Oregon and began a long essay work on the State of the Nation:  Speaking Directly.  It addressed in social and personal terms what was going on in the US at the time, and in myself. In what I think now of as slightly stilted leftist terms, it described, somewhat accurately, what was going on in US cultural politics and government foreign policy, and spoke of the fractures existing in the country at the time – cracks which ran through us individually as well as collectively.

Subsequent work delved deeper in fictional narrative terms into various specifically American socio-political realities: our form of capitalism, alienated men, Vietnam vets, and the broader nature of our culture.  The tonality and content was for the most part negative – things were not going so well in our country.

AC SHOT HANDS REXONAngel CityLAST CHANTSNEW46Last Chants for a Slow DanceSM ROX WITHMONEY2Slow MovesBELL 9.jpgBell Diamond

In 1985 I returned to the essay form, making another long work of inquiry on the state of America, Plain Talk & Common Sense (uncommon senses).  In its indirect and artfully oblique manner it all too accurately traced and predicted the trajectory of our present history.   It is as pertinent today as it was when it was made, though it had made a cautionary and desperate plea for us to take a different path.  While securing arts world kudos, such as participation in the Whitney Biennial of 1987, obtaining numerous festival screenings, and being broadcast by Channel Four (which had commissioned it) in the UK, its real-world impact was for all practical purposes zero.

PT and over NM landscape.jpgPlain Talk & Common Sense (uncommon senses)

In the late 80’s, the stock market reached new heights, and the financial world became a locus of fame and glamor, and art prices zipped to ever higher levels.  I recall writing a letter-to-the-editor of the New York Times noting how Souren Melikian’s “art” reviews had morphed from some discussion about the artistic nature of a work to a purely financial one and belonged more on the Economics pages than “culture.”  In 1989 I shot All the Vermeers in New York, a sweetly caustic comedy of manners glancing into the financial and arts worlds of the Big Apple and the havoc they bring to the souls involved in them.

VER86All the Vermeers in New York

A few years later I set out to Oregon to shoot a new film, The Bed You Sleep In, which I confess I told some acquaintances before shooting that I intended it to be a “masterpiece.”  I think around the same time I read that Brian De Palma had said the same of his film of the same time, Bonfire of the Vanities.  In Toledo, a lumber mill town inland a bit from coastal Newport, I nosed around doing some research in my far from academic manner, arrived at some thoughts and clarity, got actors, a free camera from Panavision (thanks Bob Harvey) and in a month came up with the film done in what had become my usual manner of improvising mostly, with a few sections scripted.

It’s not for me to make the call on whether I succumbed to hubris, or whether I managed to get somewhere near my aim.  What I did intend, that this chamber drama of a family be done in a way such that it reflected the broader American society, apparently, with no explicit suggestion at all, seems to have worked.  Below I’ll post a handful of reviews for The Bed You Sleep In, which seem to support this view.

B121Ellen McClaughlin in The Bed You Sleep In

I’ve written the foregoing as in the last year and more, as I’ve indulged my news-junkie habit, I have noticed a sharp shift in the tone and views of both “normal” folks, at least the kinds who respond in various newspapers comment sections (NYTimes, LATimes and other papers, various magazines on and off line), and of the talking-head opinion-makers, columnists, etc., from both right and center/liberal sides of our political spectrum (a real left basically doesn’t exist in the USA).  What I hear/read are words that less than a handful of years ago would have brought down the wrath of the pundits, and most others, with loud assertions that it was too “radical,” “fringe” or just plain nuts. They are views I have espoused now for far more than a few decades, and for which I was naturally kicked around as being ridiculous and absurd.  They are views articulated in my films, in poetic terms, and in my various blogs (see list below) and public discussions in sometimes more direct manners.  Those views were that America was and is corrupt – not a sudden Trump matter, but for decades – and that as a society we are deeply self-deluded and collectively more or less schizophrenic.  We cannot admit what we are and what we do, and in turn we have curdled into a society which is both utterly dishonest and in consequence self-damaging. The arrival of Donald Trump is a natural development in such a society, as is the hypocritical response of liberal opposition – an opposition which imagines that had a Democrat won – (Madam Clinton) – then all would have gone swimmingly well, the “post-racial” America would have remained comfy snug, with nice dollops of domestic policies keeping things in order.  Meanwhile Imperial America, the America that constitutes less than 5% of the world’s population, 7% of the world’s land-mass, but consumes 25% of its resources, would have carried on as usual, and all would be hunky-dory OK.  Our bloated military would receive its usual genuflections and the vast corruption carried on politely in the back-rooms would have remained nicely hidden.  Instead Trump has torn the scab off the festering reality of America and pundits and mere citizens now talk of the collapse of civility, of the approaching end of the United States, with dark hints of a coming period of fascism.

B111D

I don’t pretend to be a Cassandra, but I do wonder what Americans have been seeing and thinking in the last 50 years, as the forces of capitalist commercialism, USA-style, have warped our society into its current state, in which the selling of poisons, literally and metaphorically, has produced an obese citizenry intoxicated with opioids, be they pharmaceutical or 24/7 shrieking talk radio or TV “news,” an out of control gun plague, and a stunted sense of community such that distrust is likely our most dominant shared characteristic. And a thousand other ugly realities, sitting in plain view, which define us. It is not as if these things mystically suddenly appeared with no foreshadowing.  From long before the Kennedy assassination white-wash on to the Gulf of Tonkin to the Nixon/Kissinger secret bombings of Cambodia to Reagan’s backroom Iran deals; on through to the 9/11 white-wash, the Supreme Court one-time only selection of GW Bush, WMD, and a thousand other instances of governmental fraud and public lying, there is little reason why the American public should give any credence to the words of a government official.  This, doubtlessly, accounts for the large disillusionment with government which marks the right-wing of our politics.  It is understandable.

B111FTom Blair in The Bed You Sleep In

On the other hand, the same can be said of our now ubiquitous and immense corporate over-lords, whose commitment is to profits and enriching themselves, whatever the social costs, and which lie in support of those aims as readily as does President Trump. The same corporate powers now own and control almost all the mass media, and it speaks in a voice as controlled and self-serving as did Pravda.  Likewise the internet, while offering an avenue to other voices, is also a system for thought control, as the recent evidence of Russian meddling in our election has indicated, along with the endless barrage of advertising it carries.

Caught in the cross-fire of this tsunami of “information” is it any wonder that the populace is stun-gunned into confusion, and easily led along fraudulent paths, whether by a born con-man like Trump, or by the suits which usually deliver the government’s version of things?  Or by the wizards of Madison Avenue who have made the arts of persuasion into a virtual science, the better to peddle endless needless things the sole value of which is to feed the capitalist necessity of constant growth and profit?  Under decades of such a reality there should be little surprise in seeing our social binds shrivel into pure distrust, and finally collapse into the deeply polarized present of Fox “News” and a President Tweeting inanities in the morning.  Fake !!  Alas it is true, but it has been “fake” all along.

America has lived by lies from the outset; they have grown now into a vast avalanche, such that even the most ordinary and imperceptive of citizens can see it.  The question is, why did it take so long?

You make your bed; you sleep in it.

23douthatWeb-master768

Below I print reviews of The Bed You Sleep In, a film made 27 years ago.

E.Johnson, original source unknown, but from a CalTech blog apparently:

One of the major discoveries I made in 1995 was the work of Jon Jost, whom I am tempted to call “THE great contemporary American filmmaker” (though he has recently departed for Europe). Perhaps I tend to this overstatement to compensate for the virtual non-existence of Jost’s name in any of the discourse on film in this country. What I will say is that Jost is, for my money anyway, “THE great contemporary *independent* American filmmaker” (where here “independent” truly means something, and isn’t just a marketing term; Tarantino et al. be damned). I have no doubt that most people would find Jost’s films like fingernails on a chalkboard, and I have to confess not-so-secretly that this makes me cherish him all the more….

The Bed You Sleep In is very much the work of the same individual but, as mentioned above, is very different in tone.  The narrative revolves around the character of Ray (played by the truly remarkable Tom Blair, whose only prior features to the best of my knowledge are Jost’s Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Sure Fire), owner of a financially distressed lumber mill.  In a scene of astonishing power, Ray’s wife Ellen (played superbly, particularly in this scene, by Ellen McLaughlin) reads out a letter from his daughter who is painfully and emotionally accusing him of sexual molestation.  (The manner in which the letter is read and the way in which the characters’ emotions play out are so vastly different from the ways a similar scene in a Hollywood film would do them that I can’t even begin to describe their effectiveness.)  This event occurs just about halfway through the film, and the narrative threads leading up to and trailing from this scene are slowly, meditatively interwoven with masterful visuals of the landscape in and around the town and lumber mill.  The cumulative power of the film is devastating.

B10.jpg

“This extraordinary film offers a long hard look at the American Dream and what it awakens in Americans.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Truly independent filmmaker Jon Jost has completed his latest trilogy (“Frameup“/”Sure Fire“) about rural America and has since moved on to self-imposed exile in Europe, as reported in a film ‘zine. This extraordinary film offers a long hard look at the American Dream and what it awakens in Americans. The camera is held steadfast not moving for long periods of time, picking up all the appropriate nuances with a deliberate dispassion. It looks at an Oregon lumber mill whose owner Ray Weiss (Tom Blair) is faced with unsettling economic news about the business he has built-up and worked at for the last 50 years. It focuses on this man and tries to find out who he is, using him as a metaphorical symbol for America. It also contrasts Ray’s views on nature with Emerson’s, paraphrasing from his transcendentalist’s essays which are flashed on the screen.

By seeing who this man is through his thoughts, we get to see how Ray adjusts to his carefully scripted life: the fly-fishing he loves, his easy and almost genteel manners, and his very definite American persona. Ray is forced out of economic necessity to deal with the Japanese businessmen he inherently despises, and we get a picture of a rather complicated individual who has difficulty in communicating with himself and others. So the closer we get to him, the more we sense that there are a lot of things that remain unknown. The shocker about Ray’s life that is about to unfold comes after he meets a foreign stranger on the street who is raving about the day of atonement coming soon and of how God knows all, and that he should pray with him for salvation. But the street preacher is told by Ray, that he has no time to listen to his message. Feeling uncomfortable being around this religious zealot, Ray fumbles around with his wad of bills and thrusts a few dollars in the preacher’s pockets. This is not kindly received by the preacher, as he shouts that “he doesn’t want his money.”

Our perceptions of Ray as a Rock of Gibraltor type is squelched, as we see him come unglued in his very comfortable home. Ray slyly interacts with his second wife (Ellen McLaughlin), as she confronts him with a letter from her college-aged daughter, Tracy, who is his step-daughter via his first marriage. Mrs. Weiss insists on reading out loud a letter addressed to her from Tracy, which accuses him of placing his hands on her private places. Ray tries to respond indirectly to his wife’s question as she says: “All that she wants to know, is it true?” But all he can respond is that he wonders why Tracy is doing this to him, indicating that she is probably mixed up. What results is apocalyptic in tone as the film becomes disturbingly mysterious and evasive, never settling for sure who is telling the truth but, nevertheless, this scene destroys the family. It could be deemed as an attack on America’s soul exposing it to questions about truth and character, as one’s principles are put under the microscope but cannot be determined. The story builds from here to its very tragic outcome.

This is one of Jost’s deepest and most penetrating films to date, it could even be argued that he has made a classically great American film — a poor man’s “Citizen Kane.”  It forcefully and subtly tells an American story, replete with unanswered questions about family life that are haunting. It makes you think for a long time afterwards what is it about this country that is so raw and violent in nature — so much so that it becomes a part of the people’s own nature.

One of the most memorable scenes was when the camera panned to Ray dining with some co-workers at a diner and all we could hear, at first, was the muffled conversations of the patrons as the camera meticulously continued to pan the diner. This daily experience of eating out is routine for most Americans but it has rarely been captured so disturbingly exact on film, as we eavesdrop on the banal chatter and come away with a feeling that we heard nothing deeper than a conversation about the weather. But, at the same time, we are learning much about what it is to be an American and living where the frontier used to be. This time consuming shot is not attempted by commercial filmmakers who live in fear of losing their audience in a long non-action shot. That is one of Jost’s strong points, his willingness to explore territory others fear to go.

Jost’s film can probably be criticized for a few lapses in the story line it didn’t clarify more precisely–exploring in greater depth Ray’s relationships with family and friends. But, more importantly, the film should be praised for the poetry it brings to its story when telling about a malaise in the American culture that is difficult to come to grips with. What is clearly seen, is the American landscape that is perceived as so beautiful a sight to behold and the country as so wealthy a place when compared with the rest of the world. Yet, what must finally be asked: What does the American Dream mean…if Americans do not seem to be a happy people without their material comforts?

REVIEWED ON 3/20/99                                 GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED   DENNIS SCHWARTZ

B107.jpg

93. THE BED YOU SLEEP IN (source not known).

Set in Oregon timber country, Jon Jost’s The Bed You Sleep In studies a family within the context of regional economic downturn in the mid-1990s. The opening image, of a lumber mill’s smokestack belching out smoke into the air, conveys both productivity and pollution. Logging cranes in operation, resembling gigantic metal insects, suggest both useful labor and something amiss.

Ray owns and operates the mill. In addition to a timber shortage wrought, in part, by stringent environmental laws, the mill must contend with the housing slump wrought by an overall ailing economy.

Ray and Jean’s marriage is happy and affectionate. However, Jean is Ray’s second wife, and their affair began while he was still married to his first wife. A lingering knowledge of Ray’s capacity to lie convincingly is thus further compounded by Jean’s own guilt for having contributed to this long-ago lie. Overcompensating, Jean has loved Tracy, Ray’s child from his first marriage, as her own. Nevertheless, her repressed guilt has erupted periodically whenever she and Ray quarrel, as accusations against him.

Disaster awaits the two, triggered by freshman Tracy, whose women’s support group at college has convinced her her father sexually abused her as a child. Memories are popping up in her head—not “memories” exactly, but “images,” she writes Jean, explaining she doesn’t know when, if ever, she will be able to return home. Driven to believe Tracy to assuage her own guilt, Jean demands Ray tell her “the truth,” which is impossible for him to establish, and which Jean is incapable of accepting because of its indeterminableness. The marriage unravels; each family member, between a rock and a hard place emotionally, commits suicide.

This film brilliantly charts the intersection of family and socioeconomic stress—a long problematic American history that’s taking its toll.

B112.jpg

The Bed You Sleep In Review:

The final film in an informal trilogy starring the phenomenal Tom Blair (the other two films in the series are Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Sure Fire), The Bed You Sleep In illustrates the deep frustration about America that drove director Jon Jost to relocate to Europe shortly after it was made. As in the first two films, this one tries to get at the roots of America’s social and political ills through the portrayal of one man’s life. On the surface, Blair’s character, Ray Weiss, is much more sympathetic than the ones he played in the previous two films, but his job as the manager of a lumber mill (albeit a nature-loving one) being driven out of business by foreign competition and clear-cutting places him in a can’t-win situation. He either has to destroy the nature he loves or lose his livelihood. His dual nature is reflected in the visual scheme of the film, which includes many landscape shots composed as diptychs. This is one of Jost’s most powerful portraits of the slow pace and underlying sadness of small town life, both of which are beautifully depicted in a remarkable scene in the town’s diner, made of a single, languid tracking shot encompassing the diner’s interior while life simply goes on both within and beyond the camera’s view. When the letter from his daughter arrives accusing Ray of incest, it hints at an even more violent split within his nature, one that, in Jost’s view, is symbolic of the violent divisions threatening to undermine America’s nobler ideals. Tom Vick, All Movie Guide

 

 Jump Cut

” Jost also wanted to represent something quite general that was directly relevant to the contemporary United States. On repeated occasions, Jost has defined the film as a testament to the breakdown of social trust and dialogue within the United States, referring both to the hysteria surrounding issues of childhood sexual abuse and a more widespread deterioration of all areas of public discourse.[8] Shouting and accusation replaced listening and understanding.”

The Bed You Sleep In is available on VOD here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/123248

B121C

 

DSC06556

Wrapping up five months in USA, mostly on road zig-zagging from West to East. Friends seen, new friends made; landscapes, cities. Overall a dispiriting time as the winter clouds were not only meteorological but of the spirit. The Trump era has cast its spell, though in my view it only revealed in crude form what was already there: a nation in disarray – self-deluded, half-naked, half-masked in complacency. From the spindly Manhattan billionaire condo spires to the pop-tent homeless encampments, the schizophrenia of America lay like splattered road-kill on the national psyche. The dull drone of corporate big box mall stores floated by like a nightmare of consumer constipation, an endless loop of faux Italianate facades and blocky corporate logo design, regurgitated from coast to coast. Along the arteries of commerce the toxic sprawl of automobile life – Quick Lube, Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet, Auto Zone, Nissan, GM, Firestone, and a thousand other vehicular notices, from lawyer “accident” billboards, to the myriad gas stations peddling our most addictive juice and toxic habit. And there I was running up my mileage, adding to the lethal load of CO2, oil extraction, global warming death-warrant.

DSC06123

I’d meant to carry on shooting for PLAIN SONGS but shot almost nothing while pondering why the hell? I’d started way back in 2012, and have taken now I think it is three or four stabs at this, but the same thing happened before. For more on that you can see the blog I did for it:

American Plain Songs

As I prepare to leave, the question remains. There seems no breathing space for speaking softly or for thought in this America.  As if we’d run up against a dead end, and in my case, personally, it feels that I have.  As in the old Dylan song, “You go your way and I’ll go mine.”

DSC06136Jim Benning makes a 22 star flag for Alabama DSC06871Native American cemetery outside Espanola NM

I can’t say it was a sudden revelation – frankly I’d seen it coming for decades, this internal fracturing of the national psyche. It was, after all, the subject of most of my film work – essays or documentary or fiction. Once it held a fascination, an interest, and perhaps I had a little hubristic thought that by making works which reflected the State of the Nation, it might have some tiny little positive effect. I long ago gave up on that delusion. So now as this culture I hesitantly call “home” seems to drift to dissolution, and doubtless through many ugly stumbles in so doing, I think it wisest to let it go and turn my attentions elsewhere. Frankly I sincerely feel America will collapse in the next decade or two, splintering much as the USSR did. And this, given our real history, will not be a bad thing at all, for us, or for the world. We have told ourselves lies far too long.

On that note, I’ll go to the airport in a bit, and try to set all these thoughts about America aside and move along to other things.

 

DSC07005smDavid Nelson’s, Shreveport La.DSC06518End of the trail: Tom Mix “monument” outside Tucson AZ

DSC05345SM

A few weeks ago, lured by past visits, and the promise of a certain seasonal quietude and benign weather probabilities, I went from the San Francisco area out to Death Valley.  I passed through the Mojave desert, by derelict towns and Air Force bases, old mining camps and their debris, then through the valley, passing famed Zabriski Point, and on to a town I’d visited before, Tecopa Hot Springs, there to bathe a bit trying to chase the flu or cold I’d picked up in the City.   And to scout and think, as it was my intention to shoot another landscape film in the Valley – envisioned in my mind a wide, vast and brooding image of this foreboding area.   I spent a few days soaking in the hot springs, surrounded mostly with Asians – Koreans mostly.  Nosed around the area taking photos, and then, drove north into Death Valley, taking the Badwater route.  As it happens the Badwater basin is the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level.   Approaching from the south the density of traffic grew, from the occasional 4 wheeler or snazzy van headed south, to a near traffic jam.  Badwater was filled with tourists, folks who came to take selfies or take a walk down into the saline bowl to experience America’s lowest.

DSC05815

My casual observation was that most these tourists were Asian – Korean, Japanese, Chinese.  Most meaning perhaps two-thirds or more.  I assume they were lured by travel agents, pointing out that Death Valley was indeed a spectacular place, and winter was the time to visit to avoid being broiled.   And the world being as it is today, they have the money to be tourists, and America is certainly a prime location for spectacular selfie backgrounds.

DSC05816

Seeing this herd of tourists out in the midst of the aptly named Death Valley also underlined the profound change which we humans have brought to “nature.”  Once a lethally forbidding landscape, this remote and harsh desert has in the last 30 years,  along with much else in our world, been converted into a play-ground, a part of the vast Disneyland into which the globe has been transformed: today we zip through the European Alps on highways which simply flatten them – tunnels or elevated bridges letting us literally fly through them, making them mere spectacle.  No zig-zag tortuous hairpin curve up-down required any more.  And the same is true of almost everywhere. Great and modest suspension bridges leap over chasms, four-wheel drive ORV machines churn up desert sands or swampy marshes; para-gliders swoop over mountain ranges or ocean up-rises; base-jumpers leap from cliffs and buttes and natural arches (as well as man-made towers); skiers are hoisted to the tops of mountains only to zip down once treacherous slopes as entertainment.  Cheap airlines jam the air with tourists who traipse en masse through once near sacred sites – the Parthenon, Machu Picchu, Notre Dame, the Taj Mahal, and any other remarkable piece of architecture or symbolic totem of societies past.  All the world’s a playground, a kind of game.

DSC04761crpsmThe Pacific, off Cape Flattery on the Makah Reservation

It had happened by accident, but looking out over Badwater, it made sense.  A month earlier I’d been to Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, on the north western tip of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State.  It is the furthest western point on mainland USA.  As it happens Neah Bay is an Indian Reservation, the Makah Tribe.  Like most reservations it is a place of drug use, alcoholism, domestic violence, trash and trashed housing – a lamentable if understandable response of a culture which has been simply squashed and destroyed by another culture.   A sad place.  And in a literal and geographic sense, The End of America.   I went to shoot for a film, Plain Songs, thinking I’d begin it with a shot of the Pacific, from there, The End of America, in the metaphoric sense – a desolate community destroyed by America’s ugly history.

DSC04773crp.jpg

DSC04768crp.jpgNeah Bay, on the res

I found it oddly ironic that I’d accidentally come to Badwater, the lowest point in America, to watch tourists gather and gawk, at the same time my country had fallen into the morass of the Trump administration and metaphorically, at least for many of my fellow countrymen, we’re enmeshed in another “lowest point.”   I took another shot for the perhaps swan-song film on America, and wandered on, taking many still photos of the valley.  While the imagined landscape film escaped me, instead another idea came to mind, which, though far more work, might be a nice change of pace.

DSC05480.JPG

DSC05502.JPG

DSC05582.JPG

Wandering from Death Valley I went to Beatty, Nevada, a small town scrapping to stay alive on the coat-tails of tourism, just outside the National Park.  Still chasing my cold, I hunkered down in a few motels, trying to think and perhaps write.  Neither came at the time, rather more diffuse thoughts meandered in mind.  At the same time clangorous “news” rattled the nation’s nerves – Trump Trump Trump, 24/7.  The rush of daily traumas ran into a smear – North Korea, Bannon, bigger buttons, vulgar statements – a non-stop litany of Trump’s obscenity, and his magical revelation of the utter corruption of America’s political and social institutions which appeared powerless in front of this pathetic man, thus showing their own decadence.   Beatty, a dead-end town of desert desolation provided a suitable setting to sour still more my contemplation of America.

DSC06080SM

DSC06097CRP

DSC06103SM

A VFW outfit offered a decent amber beer for $3, and an assortment, depending on the night, of grizzled camo decked vets, or other nights, a swarm of Asian tourists, sent there by the nearby motel – not that there were many options as where to go.  One wondered just what person would willfully choose to settle down in this town, or thousands of others I have traversed in my travels in America in the past decade or two.  The grim signs of failure littered the townscape in ramshackle housing, trailer homes, junked cars, abandoned stores, and the transparent poverty written on the faces and bodies of the people who live there.  The same is replicated with regional touches almost anywhere one goes in the United States.  Behind the hip gentrified facades of liberal America, or the closed gated communities of the well-off, or the distant penthouses or estate mansions of the very rich, there is a pervasive cancer gnawing away at our social accords.  It is a disease fraught with contradictions and confusions, one which breeds a mutual stew of contempt and hatred, and has long since embittered our national “unity.”   I think this largely accounts for our most American habit of flying the flag in the front yard – a kind of desperate wish for union which masks an awareness of our deep disunion.

DSC06175SM.jpgJames Benning’s replica of Ted Kaczynski’s cabinDSC06166ccrpsm.jpg

25394780_10156088431644917_3377314356651848815_o.jpgJames Benning’s 22 star flag for Alabama

With such thoughts I continued my journey, passing derelict towns, juxtaposed to vast tracts of shopping malls flanking the sides of our cities, endless miles of Big Box stores, corporate logos dotting the horizon as far as the eye could see, and the goading shrieks of our media – television, radio, giant bill-boards – all urging us to buy buy buy and run up our credit card bills into the trillions.

fredgraph.png

I await the imminent burst of this bubble as the stock market zooms past Dow Jones 26,000, and the homeless camp beneath freeway overpasses, and the fractured psyche of the nation intensifies its internecine squabble with itself, with precious few any more honest or self-aware than Donald J. Trump, our titular head of State.

The United States of America represents about 5% of the world’s population.  It consumes 25% of the globe’s resources.  There is an explanation for how this occurs, and it is not owing to our supposed brilliance, inventiveness, our “can do” attitude.  It is owing to other things.  Things which America at large is unwilling to acknowledge or address in any meaningful manner except to demand still more funding for our military.

0053_defense-comparison-full.gif

Trailing the dry cough of the flu I and millions of others picked up this winter, I moved along.  Some suggested this disease was metaphorical for the winter’s political and social discontent, and not merely a passing bug.  My own thoughts persisted, like the cough, to meander through the debris of now decades of seeing my own country through the eyes of a harsh critic, and seeing nothing has changed, really, for the better.  Rather it all appears to be coming to a bitter fruition as we collectively fulfill comments made long ago by a French visitor, or by some of our own sages.   In this case, being “right” in my own views, bears no consolation whatsoever.

DSC06322CRPSM.jpg

DSC06325SM.jpgSalton City, California

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” — H. L. Mencken

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
.
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”  Alexis de Tocqueville

And the bitter truth is that America has never been good.

DSC06512.JPG