May a word be spoken on behalf of Kevin Spacey?

By David Walsh
1 November 2017

American actor Kevin Spacey is one of the most gifted and significant performers of his generation. He has been nominated more than 80 times for awards for acting in film, television and theater. Spacey has won over 50 awards, including two Academy Awards, a Tony Award and a Golden Globe Award. He has also been nominated for a Grammy Award, as well as eleven Primetime Emmy Awards.

Kevin Spacey

Born in 1959 into a lower middle-class family in South Orange, New Jersey and having grown up in southern California, Spacey attended the Julliard School from 1979-81. His first professional acting work was with the New York Shakespeare Festival, in a small part in Henry VI, Part 1, in 1981. His initial Broadway appearance came in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, featuring Liv Ullmann, in 1982. He made his film debut in Mike Nichols’ Heartburn in 1986.

In one of his first substantial acting efforts, Spacey performed in director Jonathan Miller’s version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1986, which starred Jack Lemmon. Spacey was to appear with Lemmon, whom he considered a mentor and to whom he became close, on a number of occasions. They both featured in The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988), a television miniseries about the infamous 1913 Leo Frank case, and the film version of David Mamet’s caustic play about the real estate trade, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). In 1991, Spacey played famed lawyer and civil libertarian Clarence Darrow in a television movie (Darrow).

Spacey came to national and international prominence in the mid-1990s, in such films as Swimming with Sharks (1994), The Usual Suspects (1995) and Se7en (1995). By the time he received an Academy Award for Sam Mendes’s American Beauty (1999), the versatile Spacey had become one of the most recognizable American movie actors. He continued his film work into the new century, co-writing, co-producing, directing and starring in Beyond the Sea(2004), about singer Bobby Darin.

Spacey had meanwhile become involved in the theater in London. In 2003, he announced his plan to become the artistic director of the Old Vic, one of the city’s oldest theaters. He undertook to remain in the position for 10 years and to attract performers to the theater and appear in various productions.

True to his word, in 2005, for example, Spacey played the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard II, directed by Trevor Nunn. The following year he appeared at the Old Vic in O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. Other plays in which he performed there included Inherit the Wind (Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee), Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, Maria Goos’ Cloaca, Shakespeare’s Richard III and a single-character play by David Rintels, Clarence Darrow. A new artistic director took over from Spacey in 2015.

In recent years, Spacey has made a new name for himself as Frank Underwood, the conniving and conspiratorial South Carolina politician, in the Netflix series, House of Cards (2013-17). Whatever Spacey’s own political illusions (he considers himself a friend of former president Bill Clinton), the Underwood character has done a good deal to undermine illusions in the corrupt, murderous world of Washington politics.

Spacey brings considerable intelligence and depth, combined often with irony and slyness, to both classical and popular genres. Is there any question but that film, television and theater would have been tangibly poorer without his presence over the past quarter-century?

Now, at least for the time being, Spacey’s career lies in ruins. On Sunday, actor Anthony Rapp, for reasons best known to himself, accused Spacey in an interview of making sexual advances to him some thirty years ago when he was 14 and Spacey was 26.

The accusation comes in the midst of escalating charges of sexual harassment and abuse set off by the allegations by numerous women against Harvey Weinstein and various others, including writer-director James Toback.

In his statement, Spacey said, “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”

He continued, “As those closest to me know, in my life, I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic relationships with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man.”

Not only is Spacey being denounced for his actions several decades ago, he is also being criticized for the decision to acknowledge his sexual orientation at the same time he apologized for the alleged offense.

With characteristic bravery, Netflix first announced that the sixth season of House of Cards, currently under production, would be its last, claiming that the cancellation had nothing to do with Spacey’s difficulties. On Tuesday Netflix and Media Rights Capital, the series’ production company, announced that filming on the sixth season itself had been suspended. Their press announcement explained that the suspension would last “until further notice” and that the two companies needed “time to review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew.” They are no longer pretending that the allegation about Spacey is not causing the series’ hold-up.

The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that it was withdrawing the special International Emmy Founders Award it was planning to bestow on Spacey at a ceremony November 20 “in light of recent events.” And more is undoubtedly to come.

The Old Vic was quick to throw Spacey to the wolves, issuing a statement indicating that “we are deeply dismayed to hear the allegations levied against Kevin Spacey… Inappropriate behaviour by anyone working at The Old Vic is completely unacceptable.”

The current public flogging of Spacey is as shameful as it is disgusting. The incident that allegedly occurred more than three decades ago should not have happened. Even if he is culpable of improper behavior, however, that in no way justifies the current vindictive, gleeful effort to rub him out, a campaign that a Frank Underwood might well have mapped out.

The universal piling on, sanctimonious commentary and hypocritical tweets (“Twitter slams Kevin Spacey,” according to Salon) are difficult to bear. In terms of the media, there is not much to choose from between fascistic Breitbart News, warming its hands over the allegations against gay or liberal and often Jewish Hollywood, and the New York Times, with its salacious and degenerate editors.

The Times writes approvingly of “those who might have supported him [but] were instead incensed by the implication that his sexuality was relevant to” Rapp’s accusations. “They saw his coming out story as an intentional distraction from the accusation and a damaging conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia.”

We live once again in an era of denunciations, which have the power to wreck lives overnight. And everyone is expected to chime in. Those who do not do so become suspect themselves and are liable to be denounced. Careers, status and wealth are on the line. The threat of being out of the limelight terrifies actors, directors and producers in the US perhaps more than anything.

In the official narrative, there is an almost complete absence of understanding and elementary sympathy. The accused is a criminal, a monster, who must be destroyed.

Hollywood is a competitive hothouse, where at the best of times a deeply subjective atmosphere prevails that is ripe for this sort of scandal. Now it’s payback time. Frankly, career disappointments, relationships that failed and a host of other frustrations and jealousies fuel the frenzy. Old scores of various sorts, including financial ones, are being settled, and new business arrangements formed in the midst of all this. The canny are sizing up how money is to be made under conditions of the “new morality.”

Sex scandals have invariably been the province of the far right. Nothing remotely progressive will come out of this. A revived Production Code, a clampdown on “licentiousness” in films and filmmaking (which is always accompanied by the suppression of oppositional views), more powers to the censors, appointed and self-appointed—this is what’s likely to emerge at the other end of this miserable process. The dominance of power and wealth, the source of the real abuses and crimes, goes untouched.

Once again it’s “scoundrel time.” The film world, it is clear now, has learned nothing from the McCarthyite period. The same essential modus operandi is at work: the naming of names, the guilt by association, witnesses who can’t be questioned, the right-wing forces who weigh in, the studios that instantly blacklist those accused.

This is already another shameful episode in Hollywood’s history. Later on, perhaps years from now, there will be expressions of regret (“Oh, yes, mistakes were made. There were unfortunate excesses”); Spacey may even be forgiven. Perhaps at a future Academy Awards ceremony he can come before an audience of the same people who drove him out, and exclaim through gritted teeth, like Charlie Chaplin at the 1972 Oscars, after his exile of twenty years, “You’re wonderful, sweet people.”

We argued when the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted that this was not simply about Weinstein, that something else was going on, that something else was moving through this affair. Weinstein’s piggishness and wrongdoing were merely a pretext for the flourishing of all sorts of unhealthy, reactionary issues and pressures. The assault on Spacey is confirmation of that view.

We don’t make any bones about our sympathy with Kevin Spacey and our contempt for those inciting denunciations and urging on the witch-hunting hysteria.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/01/spac-n01.html

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Newly released documents point to state cover-up and complicity in assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Barry Grey
28 October 2017

Information contained in nearly 2,900 previously classified documents released Thursday concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy further undermines the official narrative of a lone killer and points to a cover-up and complicity on the part of forces within the US intelligence agencies.

What are generally deemed the most sensitive—and potentially incriminating—documents were withheld, as President Donald Trump acceded to extraordinary pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and delayed their release.

These 300 documents, consisting of thousands of pages of material, include an extensive file on the head of the CIA office in Dallas at the time of the November 22, 1963 killing; a dossier on a prominent Dallas businessman who conferred with nightclub owner Jack Ruby just before Ruby shot and killed the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; files on two anti-Castro Cuban terrorists involved in mass murder; documents concerning Oswald’s six-day trip to Mexico City and meetings with Russian and Cuban officials seven weeks before the Kennedy assassination; and information on Watergate burglars and longtime CIA operatives E. Howard Hunt and James McCord.

From the moment the 35th president was killed by a volley of shots as his caravan drove past Dealey Plaza in Dallas up to the present time, there has been a systematic effort to keep from public view critical facts pointing to political motives underlying the murder and to dismiss all questioning of the 1964 Warren Commission Report as “conspiracy theories.”

The commission, announced by Lyndon Johnson a week after Kennedy’s assassination and headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, concluded that Oswald, acting alone and using a mail order rifle, killed Kennedy by firing three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, which overlooks Dealey Plaza. The commission said Oswald had no connection to US intelligence agencies or other parties.

The American public, with good reason, has never accepted this narrative. A recent poll by FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey found that only 33 percent of Americans believe the assassination was the work of only one person, while 61 percent believe others were involved. A 1979 report issued by the House Select Committee on Assassinations seconded this view, concluding that Kennedy “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

Kennedy’s assassination had a traumatic effect on the American public and continues to haunt the popular imagination. It came at a time of mounting crisis for US imperialism both at home and abroad, signaling the beginning of the end of the United States’ post-World War II global economic and geopolitical hegemony. Only weeks before his death, Kennedy sanctioned the coup that overthrew South Vietnamese President Diem, leading to his murder, an event that marked a nodal point in the escalation of the US intervention in Vietnam.

Washington’s mounting economic contradictions were reflected in a worsening balance of payments crisis and gold drain, which would lead eight years later to the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system and the ending of dollar-gold convertibility.

Domestically, the ruling class faced a growing civil rights insurgency and a militant working class determined to defend and extend its postwar economic gains. The elimination of Kennedy was an inflection point in the transition of US ruling class domestic policy from social reform and relative class compromise to class war and political reaction.

The documents released on Thursday make clear that both the FBI and the CIA were well aware of Oswald’s activities and were closely tracking him in the period leading up to the assassination. Yet they failed to warn the Secret Service, tasked with protecting the president, about the former Marine, turned expatriate living in the Soviet Union, turned active member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

One of the more spectacular documents concerns 1975 testimony by Richard Helms, the CIA director under presidents Johnson and Nixon, to the President’s Commission on CIA Activities, which was headed by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. A lawyer for the commission is quoted asking Helms: “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent…?” At that point the document breaks off, without Helms’ reply.

Other material documents the fact that the intelligence agencies were closely monitoring Oswald’s movements. One document shows that the CIA intercepted Oswald speaking to a Russian KGB agent in Mexico City on September 28, 1963. Another, dated October 25, a month before the assassination, is from the New Orleans office of the FBI. In it, the FBI notes Oswald’s involvement in the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and discusses the agency’s contacts with Cuban sources concerning Oswald.

A number of documents shed light on the systematic nature of the cover-up, which began virtually the moment the shots rang out on Dealey Plaza. One is a memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dictated the evening of November 24, 1963, shortly after Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald, before live TV cameras, as the Dallas police were leading the handcuffed suspect down a corridor in the police headquarters building.

Hoover says, “Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald.” He notes that he informed the Dallas police of the call and insisted that they take precautions to prevent an attack on Oswald. Furious that the accused assassin was killed before a confession had been extracted from him, Hoover writes of the need for “something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.” This was written, of course, before any serious investigation of the killing had begun.

Lyndon Johnson, who told Earl Warren that his commission had a “patriotic mission” to stamp out “dangerous rumors” of state involvement in the assassination, was himself convinced that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. One document in the trove released Thursday shows Richard Helms telling the Rockefeller Commission in 1975 that Johnson “used to go around saying that the reason President Kennedy was assassinated was that he had assassinated President Diem.”

In its account of the released documents, the Washington Post writes: “The CIA publicly acknowledged in 2014 that John McCone, its director at the time of the assassination, participated in a ‘benign cover-up,’ according to a paper by agency historian David Robarge. His article said McCone was ‘complicit in keeping incendiary and diversionary issues off the commission’s agenda.’ He wrote that McCone did not tell the commission about CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro, some of which had been planned at the Mexico City station.”

There is ample material in the newly released papers concerning the criminal activities of the US government in the period leading up to the assassination. A 1975 document from the Rockefeller Commission speaks of Attorney General Robert Kennedy telling the FBI that the CIA considered approaching Chicago mobster Sam Giancana to have the mafia go to Cuba and kill Fidel Castro for $150,000. Schemes to assassinate Castro included the use of gunmen, poison pills, a skin-diving suit contaminated with a disabling fungus and tuberculosis, and a “booby-trap spectacular seashell.”

Behind the public face of the Kennedy administration, marked by soaring rhetoric about the defense of democracy around the world, both John and Robert Kennedy had a particular fascination with assassination plots, particularly against Castro. It was less than three years since the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which President Kennedy signed off on the CIA scheme to use Cuban anti-Castro expatriates to invade the island, murder Castro and install a US puppet regime.

Despite the failure of the plot and Kennedy’s fury over the CIA’s false assurances and incompetence, his administration remained mired in the swamp of anticommunist adventurers and terrorists. Two of the CIA’s anti-Castro allies, Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, were implicated in the blowing up of a Cuban commercial airliner and death of 73 innocent passengers in 1976. Posada escaped from prison in Venezuela with the aid of an anti-Castro group with close ties to the Reagan administration. He was subsequently implicated in terrorist bombings in Cuba in the late 1990s.

Other illegal activities described in the newly released documents include the FBI’s relentless wiretapping of Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Hoover considered to be part of a world communist conspiracy, and FBI spying on Mark Lane, a liberal lawyer and author of a number of books debunking the Warren Commission Report.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/28/kenn-o28.html

Season 4 of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman: Social and individual psychology

By Josh Varlin
25 October 2017

Netflix released season 4 of its original series BoJack Horseman onSeptember 8, continuing the sometimes comic, often tragic saga of eponymous character BoJack Horseman, a washed-up actor struggling with mental illness, the remnants of his receding fame and his self-destructive behavior.

BoJack Horseman takes place in an alternate version of Hollywood (“Hollywoo,” after BoJack stole the D in the sign in season 1), where about half of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. As in prior seasons, the ensemble cast and the voice acting are remarkable, with BoJack (Will Arnett) joined by his former agent and ex-girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his friend Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), his former friend Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) and his friend and current candidate for governor of California, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins).

The show’s animation is colorful and attractive, in some ways contrasting with the often devastating content. The jokes are usually clever, and the numerous sight gags are one of the show’s subtle strengths.

Beatrice, Hollyhock and Bojack in Bojack Horseman

Season 4 picks up where season 3 left off: BoJack, having nearly committed suicide after finding out he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar and being involved in the overdose death of his friend/former co-star, leaves Los Angeles. His friends move on, with Mr. Peanutbutter roped into running for governor against the incumbent Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz (Andre Braugher) and Princess Carolyn in a surprisingly happy relationship with Ralph Stilton (Raúl Esparza), while Todd explores his realization that he is asexual.

Overall, the season is an advance in many ways over season 3. At the end of season 3 this reviewer was concerned that BoJack Horseman ran the risk of establishing a seasonal pattern of BoJack trying but failing to find happiness, his friends trying and failing to help him and then becoming alienated from him, and BoJack reaching new lows near the end of each season.

Season 4 breaks the mold in this regard. While the stories are more disjointed and there is unfortunately very little examination of Hollywoo(d), the emotional developments are much more interesting. (Readers who do not want to have major season 4 plot points spoiled for them are advised to stop here.)

The season begins with Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign for governor, which is stage-managed by his corporate-connected ex-wife and causes tensions with liberal-minded Diane, especially after he mistakenly comes out in favor of fracking and has to put his money where his mouth is by fracking underneath their house.

While there are some healthy criticisms of American politics and its domination by money and celebrity—Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign manager says, “[This election] is about hope and freedom, and powerful lobbyists who pay me to elect a governor I can control, so that we can get legislation passed that builds private prisons on what we now call protected wetlands”—ultimately the population tends to be blamed for the current situation.

This season’s BoJack-related story threads focus more on his family and family history, exploring how and why he is so self-destructive. BoJack is introduced to a teenager, Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), who claims to be his daughter and demands to see her grandmother. Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick, in an outstanding performance), who has developed severe dementia since BoJack last visited her in the nursing home, becomes a major fixture in his life again.

The most effective episodes of the season, including the traditionally heavy penultimate episode, focus on BoJack’s mother, Beatrice, who we know from previous seasons was in a loveless marriage with BoJack’s father and was emotionally neglectful of BoJack when he was a child. As a result, BoJack resents his mother: “Seeing my mom is like a Terence Malick movie. Every 10 years or so is bearable, but more than that and it starts to get annoying.”

Through flashbacks we see Beatrice’s childhood: her brother was killed in World War II, her mother was devastated by this loss and her wealthy father forced her mother to get a lobotomy. Her father, the owner of a major sugar company, tells Beatrice: “Stop making books your friends. Reading does nothing for young women but build their brains, taking valuable resources away from their breasts and hips.”

Skipping ahead, Beatrice is a Barnard College graduate concerned about the state of the world. The rebellious Butterscotch Horseman crashes her debutante ball, and says he’s moving to California for the Beat poets: “Ginsberg, Cassady, Squirrelinghetti [Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti].” Beatrice falls for him and ends up pregnant with Butterscotch’s child, and they elope to California.

Unable to succeed at writing and initially too proud to accept a well-paid job, Butterscotch blames “Squirrelinghetti and his horde of commie, liberal, Jew-loving rejects.” After working at the fish canning factory for six years, he finally declares: “Fine! I’ll take the corner office, with the company car, six-figure salary, and four weeks paid vacation, but if my novel becomes bad because I no longer remember what it’s like to be working class, we’ll know of whom to be blamed.”

Mr. Peanutbutter running for governor

The Horsemans’ transformation from somewhat liberal and socially concerned to right-wing and heartless—a transformation connected, but not in a mechanical way, to wealth—is one of the more interesting and thoughtful aspects of this season of BoJack Horseman, and makes it stand out in today’s media landscape.

Also of note this season, as in previous seasons, is the show’s treatment of mental illness. One episode in particular, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” gives an intense look into BoJack’s mental illness. This episode features his internal monologue, and the opening pre-credits sequence gives an idea of what is dragging BoJack down as he desperately struggles to be a good person.

Other episodes can be more confused, but manage to convey some observations on the entertainment industry. In “Thoughts and Prayers,” for example, movie executives try to find ways of profiting off mass shootings by turning them into a feminist issue—offering only their “thoughts and prayers” but secretly cheering on mass shootings committed by men—only to have it blow up in their face when a woman commits a mass shooting. Overall, however, this is BoJack Horseman’s strongest season yet.

In a few short episodes, BoJack Horseman manages to say a great deal about the way social relations and broader processes are refracted individually. All the backwardness, stupidity, wealth, pain, mental illness and oppression bearing down on society has a devastating and often tragic impact on individuals.

BoJack Horseman’s ability to alternate between the tragic and the comic continues to yield some of the best television on offer today. This season ends on an unusually optimistic note for BoJack, with his attempts to become a better person yielding fruit even as his friends’ relationships collapse. One hopes that season 5, which has already been announced, will continue to break new dramatic ground.

WSWS

An Epic Film on the Vietnam War Stops Short

Fog drifts up from the valleys below the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam as U.S. Marines untangle air-dropped supplies in 1968. (AP)

As the dust settles on the release of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick opus “The Vietnam War,” and as the cacophony of criticism quiets, a major issue remains largely unaddressed—U.S. culpability for war crimes in Vietnam.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Hanoi in 2016 seemed a turning point as he offered his hand in friendship to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, but there were no apologies forthcoming, and no acknowledgement of culpability for a U.S. war of aggression. Nor was there an outcry in the press that something was missing.

There is no statute of limitations on war crimes, as trials of aging German war criminals and of Bosnians and Rwandans attest. But the trying of Americans, especially powerful Americans, is another story entirely. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who still enjoys high status as an adviser to the powerful (his crimes long ago normalized), comes to mind as a potential target of inquiry.

But perhaps more important than the actual indictment of American war criminals is the corrosive effect of old war crimes on the American conscience. Avoidance of the conversation muddles our ability to judge what military ventures are appropriate, and how to prosecute them. The fog of war has become a constant state.

Unfortunately, Burns and Novick’s epic recap of the war stops short of the treatment that might help us internalize the lessons we need. Because their film promises to define the conversation about Vietnam for decades to come, it is vital that critical analysis and debate continue.

By virtue of their power of presentation and the wide exposure their film will receive, Burns and Novick have established themselves as the framers of our collective memory on Vietnam. Power infers responsibility—theirs was to get the history clear and right.

They have gotten a lot right—the sense of Vietnamese and Americans’ shared humanity, of the tragedy and depraved brutality of the war and the persistent lying on the part of our leadership. And, while they have started a robust and vital dialogue about Vietnam that we wouldn’t be engaged in otherwise, crucial elements are either missing or misstated. These elements keep the Vietnam opus from being the masterpiece it could have been and confound our ability to draw the most useful lessons from the conflict.

A fundamental confusion undermines “The Vietnam War.” Was it a civil war or a U.S. war of aggression? Though everything they depict adds up to the latter, the filmmakers avoid that inevitable and damning conclusion. They present the Geneva Accords, which called for an election in 1956 to reunify the country under one government after its temporary division at the 17th parallel. But they fail to drive home that U.S. subversion of that international accord was just a beat in a long line of premeditated aggression. For the record, subversion of an international accord is itself deemed a war crime.

In fact, the U.S. undermined the 1956 election (which never occurred), supported Ngo Dinh Diem as leader of its first puppet regime, dispensed with Diem (and his assassination) when his usefulness ran out, and then installed and propped up a series of puppet “governments.” South Vietnam was a client state—not a legitimate and representative government. But the filmmakers persist in treating South Vietnam as a legitimate representative of the South Vietnamese. In their insistence on not taking sides, the filmmakers instead perpetuate the old—and fully debunked—“civil war” narrative that led us to war.

Their voice-over narration cites the enemy as “the North,” contributing to the “civil war” confusion. But Pentagon-sponsored research had established as early as December 1964 that the “enemy” had Southern origins.

Viewers might recall that in Episode 4, the film reveals the little known Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Study, a Rand Corp. investigation inspired by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s research question: What makes the Viet Cong tick? The first study group reported its results in December 1964 to Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Gen. William Westmoreland and to the Department of Defense in January 1965. The striking substance of that report, not covered in the film, underscores a central contradiction in the framing of the Vietnam War.

The Rand analysts explained that the enemy in the South was not the jungle insurgency they had expected, but rather a popular government that carried out normal governmental tasks in wide swaths of the countryside. Most pertinent to this discussion, the Provisional Revolutionary Government and its army, the National Liberation Front (as the Viet Cong called themselves), was a movement “by and for southerners,” the analysts said.

Their description of the enemy’s resolute determination to fight to the finish for reunification of Vietnam and what they termed “peace with freedom,” prompted a Pentagon deputy to declare, “If what you say is true, we’re fighting on the wrong side—the side that’s going to lose this war.” That memorable quote appears in the film, but without the context that would clarify its meaning.

The Rand analysts’ emphasis on Southern origins of the resistance is well supported by subsequent research. New York University history professor Marilyn Young documented how Southern-bred resistance to Diem’s reign of terror in the countryside—suspected Communists were rounded up and executed en masse—precipitated the North’s entry into the war. Even Le Duan, secretary general of the Communist Party of Vietnam, had opposed armed insurrection in the South, arguing that “consolidation of the North was the pre-eminent revolutionary task” and sanctioning only political struggle.

Flaunting Le Duan’s directive, remnants of the Viet Minh formed self-defense units that eventually forced the Northern-based party to sanction official formation and arming of the National Liberation Front and to come to their direct aid.

Well known, as documented in the Pentagon Papers, was the expected outcome of the thwarted 1956 elections. Vietnam would have been reunited as one country under the Communist leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

The argument of North Vietnamese aggression evaporates once we’ve debunked the Tonkin Gulf Incident (see the Pentagon Papers), and dispensed with the myth of two Vietnams and the ensuing illusion of the U.S. as protector of a democratic South Vietnamese government. With those props gone, our war effort is thrown into stark relief. We were the aggressors.

The distinction of who was the aggressor in Vietnam couldn’t be more important. Under international law, a response to aggression is the only legitimate reason to wage war. The Nuremburg trials, which were led by U.S. efforts, established that aggression is the gravest war crime of all, because it is aggression that undermines the peace and serves as a precursor to other war crimes. That is why the U.S. was so intent on painting North Vietnam as the aggressor—only then would Congress and international opinion sanction the war.

The filmmakers’ failure to identify the aggressor and their clouding of the issue with the old “civil war” construct deprives the public of a framework for analysis.

Of course, U.S. aggression did, in fact, serve as a precursor to other crimes.

The filmmakers rightfully acknowledge My Lai as an atrocity. And the film depicts other atrocities, including Zippo raids on villages and the use of Agent Orange and napalm. It touches on pacification. But it doesn’t connect the dots for viewers who don’t know the history. We don’t learn that destruction of the very fabric of Vietnamese life was fully intentional, that full-out assault on civilians was central to U.S. war strategy. Most distressingly, for anyone interested in our nation’s compliance with international law, all of this adds up to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Take the strategy with the most benign name—pacification. What this meant in practice was the purposeful displacement of half the population of South Vietnam. Because it was recognized that the guerrillas were fish in the sea of the people, U.S. strategists aimed to drain the sea to deprive the guerillas of their support base. Zippo raids destroyed the villages while Agent Orange destroyed the crops, and villagers were forced into resettlement camps surrounded by barbed wire. The purposeful generation of refugees is a war crime, which the documentary fails to name.

The film’s treatment of the Phoenix Program bears particular mention. The voice-over describing the program states that former CIA Director William Colby testified to Congress that it couldn’t be determined how many of the more than 20,000 identified Communists killed under Phoenix had been innocent. Let’s unpack the implications of that statement. Under Phoenix, suspected Communists were detained, tortured and then killed. The suspects included civilians—men, women and children.

Guilty or innocent, Communist or not, we are proscribed by the rules of war from summarily executing those we capture, not to mention the proscription against torture. I learned that much as a kid watching World War II movies. But the implication, as it is presented, is that “innocents” might have been caught in too big a net, not that torture and murder of any and all captives is illegal.

Then there is the bombing. The most strident voice calling out the air war in the film is that of Jane Fonda. Fonda’s regrettable decision to condemn the air war while perched on an anti-aircraft gun undermined her message. But she spoke an essential truth. The carpet bombing with B-52s was a war crime.

The filmmakers’ decision to frame the “Hanoi Jane” episode with a clip from “Barbarella” and former Marine John Musgrave’s sexual fantasies neutralized the single voice calling out for the war crimes inquiry of the bombing. This is a glaring lapse of editorial judgment on the filmmakers’ part—the titillating “Barbarella” clip belongs on the cutting-room floor.

Lest it be misconstrued, discussion of war crimes was not confined to the left. Fonda’s call for a war crimes inquiry was echoed during the late 1960s and ’70s, especially after My Lai. To cite just a few examples, Nuremberg prosecutor and U.S. Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor took a leading role, alongside members of Congress and American scholars and jurists and GIs who launched their own investigation, in the discussion of potential war crimes charges that might be leveled at U.S. leaders.

Taylor wrote a treatise on the applicability of Nuremberg to Vietnam, titled “Nuremburg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy” (1970). And a small book titled “War Crimes and the American Conscience” chronicles the Congressional Conference on War and National Responsibility held in 1970, in response to My Lai. These were only two of a score of war-crimes offerings from the period, as Neil Sheehan of The New York Times documented. While a documentary can’t cover everything, the broad-based outcry against U.S. aggression and war crimes demands full treatment.

The subject was debated at the time. Witnesses at the Congressional Conference spoke to the fact that the war was being waged against the “entire Vietnamese people” with no regard for a “distinction between civilians and combatants.” Falk cited the most egregious examples of that practice: “the B-52 pattern raids against undefended villages and populated areas, free-fire zones, harassment and interdiction fire, Operation Phoenix, search and destroy missions, massive crop destruction and defoliation, and the forcible transfer of the civilian population.”

Conference participants did not reach consensus on the issue of genocide, with some arguing that the war was genocidal and others opining that U.S. crimes did not meet the criteria for genocide designation. That war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed was not debated.

My Lai was put into terrible relief when author Jonathan Schell described a two-week journalism stint flying over Quang Nai, the province where My Lai is located. From the air, he charted B-52 destruction of the province, shading the destroyed areas on military maps, and documented that 70 percent of the villages there had been destroyed from the air. He corroborated his findings with interviews of ground commanders. The My Lai massacre occurred three months later.

It was not isolated. An estimated 2 million civilians died in the war and half the population—approximately 8 million people—were driven from their homes. That is a holocaust.

But Burns and Novick don’t acknowledge the full implications of aggressive war and its progeny—the host of war crimes we inflicted on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Rather, the filmmakers couch their exposure of war crimes with misplaced journalistic “impartiality.” In Episode 9, John Kerry, representing the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, offers riveting congressional testimony that identifies specific war crimes and contextualizes them. But what could have been an opening to an analysis of systemic war crimes is checked by the insertion of an interview that denies systemic abuse.

There are other strong moments, such as when Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien questions how the My Lai perpetrators could escape unpunished and when a Vietnamese survivor recalls the devastation on the ground after a bombing. But even as they portray atrocities inflicted by U.S. forces, the atrocities are particularized. We see the devastation of napalm on Kim Phuc, but we don’t appreciate how many civilians that criminal enterprise killed or maimed as our armed forces targeted civilian centers.

Coverage of the Winter Soldier Investigation would have dispensed with the notion that war crimes were anything but systemic—but the GIs’ devastating 1971 inquiry isn’t covered.

Most importantly, the atrocities covered by the film might have had restorative impact if they had been framed with an analysis of aggressive war—in other words, an analysis that imparts lasting lessons.

As profound and simultaneously flawed as it is, “The Vietnam War” offers Americans a vital opportunity to re-examine Vietnam. Arguably, a film that addressed the war as a war of aggression with full disclosure of those terrible implications most likely never would have been made. Viewed from that perspective, Burns and Novick’s series is a considerable achievement. But it is one that requires us to continue its unfinished work.

To grapple with such damning conclusions as those proposed here, the public needs an 11th episode—our own multifaceted inquiry into what occurred in Vietnam.

One element that needs further exploration is the role of the anti-war movement: who fought, what we said and how we said it. And how GIs, resistors, deserters, conscientious objectors, concerned clergy, students, workers and academics, blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos—in short, the full spectrum of society—joined forces to stop U.S aggression. That chapter has not been fleshed out and bears telling.

A haunting song of the period that could serve as soundtrack to the 11th episode is Holly Near’s “No More Genocide in My Name.” I remember that being called as a chant at demonstrations against the war. I lived and demonstrated in Los Angeles, where Ron Kovic, the subject of the movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” and Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers co-defendants, regularly marched with us. To my recollection, Russo first raised the “no more genocide” chant (the most likely inspiration for the song). Those words were intensely personal to Russo, who was listed as an author of Rand Corp. reports that advocated the air war and other crimes against humanity.

A half-century later, it is time we face up to the true nature of the horror of Vietnam. Until we acknowledge the criminality of U.S. aggression in all its forms, until we call out loudly and clearly that there will be no more war crimes in our names, we will fail to safeguard our essential morality and be doomed to fateful repetition. Our calls for democracy will remain hollow, stripped of their core by our crimes against humanity. And our fatal flaw will not go unnoticed.

Barbara Myers is an independent journalist, with historically based film and print stories set in Vietnam, China and Rwanda, and the author of The Other Conspirator, The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It. 

Barbara Myers

Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

An all-women “Lord of the Flies” reboot is a contradiction in terms

Two male directors are slated for the all-girl remake and, besides Warner Bros., few are excited

 

An all-women "Lord of the Flies" reboot is a contradiction in terms
“Lord of the Flies”(Credit: Columbia Pictures)

It was announced Wednesday that Warner Bros. will remake “Lord of the Flies” with an all-female cast directed by two men.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel will write and direct the new version, based on the original novel by Noble-prize winning author William Golding, Deadline reported.

“We want to do a very faithful but contemporized adaptation of the book, but our idea was to do it with all girls rather than boys,” Siegel told Deadline. “It is a timeless story that is especially relevant today, with the interpersonal conflicts and bullying, and the idea of children forming a society and replicating the behavior they saw in grownups before they were marooned.”

McGhee added that he hopes the spin will break “away from some of the conventions, the ways we think of boys and aggression. People still talk about the movie and the book from the standpoint of pure storytelling,” he told Deadline. “It is a great adventure story, real entertainment, but it has a lot of meaning embedded in it as well. We’ve gotten to think about this awhile as the rights were worked out, and we’re super eager to put pen to paper.”

People on Twitter were quick to point out why this concept may be inherently flawed:

[flies into frame on a broom]
the thing about lord of the flies is that it’s about systemic male violence + how it replicates
[flies away]

uhm lord of the flies is about the replication of systemic masculine toxicity
every 9th grader knows this
u can read about it on sparknotes https://twitter.com/deadline/status/903002462394527744 

GOOD: A female-centric Lord of the Flies!
BAD: A female-centric Lord of the Flies written by… two men.http://deadline.com/2017/08/lord-of-the-flies-scott-mcgehee-david-siegel-female-cast-warner-bros-william-golding-novel-1202158421/ 

Photo published for Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

deadline.com

Lord of the Flies, but with women, and also written and directed by two men! This couldn’t POSSIBLY miss the mark! http://www.vulture.com/2017/08/looks-like-were-getting-a-female-lord-of-the-flies-remake.html 

We’re literally living an all-male “Lord of the Flies” right now, but sure, let’s see two male writers describe how women would be worse.

As Twitter users explained, McGehee and Siegel — the creators behind the quite brilliant, quite enlightened “What Maisie Knew” — might need a refresh on the nuance of the classic novel and how women actually work together before they actually “put pen to paper.”

Yes, people will talk of “Mean Girls,” “Heathers” and the often self-destructive behaviors of women and girls in cliques both in youth and in adulthood when it comes to this remake. Yet, at its core, Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is an intensely malenarrative rooted in male group dynamics. The vocal turn-taking gambit that requires the passing of the famous “conch” and so many other aspects of the source material constitutes a sharp critique of how men and boys listen to and interact with each other both in personal and political situations. Women, as we have learned, do things very, very differently.

As writer Roxane Gay said, “An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because . . . the plot of that book wouldn’t happen with all women.”

The American nightmare: the career of moviemaker George Romero

Nicole Colson looks at the career of moviemaker George Romero, who died July 16.

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
— Karl Marx

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
— Johnny, Night of the Living Dead

Zombies on the hunt in Night of the Living Dead

Zombies on the hunt in Night of the Living Dead

THE “THEY” that were coming for poor Barbara–and for us in the audience–changed frequently from film to film over the course of horror-master George Romero’s career. Racism, consumer culture, Reagan-era militarism, the ruling class–all were fair game for the father of the modern zombie movie, who died on July 16 after a career in film spanning nearly 40 years.

Romero’s best and most-enduring film was his first–1968’s Night of the Living Dead. It was made by a group of friends and shot on a shoestring budget outside of Pittsburgh in just 30 days, with the cast and crew working in 24-hour shifts. Friends played the zombies, and the meat and entrails needed for the gore were helpfully provided by a friend who was a butcher.

Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a group of survivors of a zombie outbreak seeking shelter in a farmhouse–catatonic Barbara, whose brother Johnny is killed in the opening scene, squabbling parents Harry and Helen and their young daughter Karen, young couple Tom and Judy, and protagonist Ben. [Editor’s note: Spoilers abound throughout this article, but it’s your fault if you haven’t seen these movies already.]

The film masterfully ratchets up the tension as the survivors fall victim to the zombies, before ending on a note that is both shocking and beautifully bleak, and stands as not only a masterpiece of modern horror, but one of the starkest commentaries on racism in American film.

While zombies had been depicted in American film before Night of the Living Dead, they were, essentially, not monsters but slave labor. Romero’s genius was in taking zombies and turning them into a slow, inexorable, mindless force bent only on feeding–a force that he would use as an allegorical foil in multiple films.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NIGHT OF the Living Dead was one of a number of horror movies from the late 1960s and ’70s that were shaped by the massive upheavals taking place in American society.

Romero and other horror icons, like Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, who emerged at the time transmitted on screen what they saw in the world: the violence of police, dogs and fire hoses being used against civil rights marchers; city streets burning in the wake of urban rebellions; body bags and the escalating horrors of Vietnam.

The monstrous was already taking place in real America every day, and making its way into living rooms on the evening news. It was only natural that this should find its way onto the big screen as well.

As Romero commented in the 2000 documentary The American Nightmare, explaining the choice to shoot his first movie in black and white, “In those days, the news was in black and white, and black and white was the medium…I thought it was great, you know, this idea of a revolution…a new society devouring the old completely and just changing everything.”

“Obviously,” Romero added, “what’s happening in the world creeps into any work.”

In contrast to the multitude of zombies in horror today–from the Walking Dead to World War Z, the endless iterations of Romero’s own Living Dead series, and even a genre of “zombie romantic comedies”–Night of the Living Dead was the first time that an act of cannibalism had been portrayed on a U.S. movie screen.

The scene of a young child eating her parents was shocking for what it said about a society so at odds with itself, as evidenced by the racist violence used against civil rights activists and the increasing numbers of young men returning home from Vietnam in body bags or still alive, but profoundly changed by the horrors of war.

In fact, the look of Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead owes much to effects artist Tom Savini, who used his experiences as a combat photographer in Vietnam as inspiration.

While Romero didn’t originally intend for Night of the Living Dead to be a commentary on race and racism, the casting of Black actor Duane Jones as protagonist Ben makes it impossible to not see the film this way. Because of Jones, scenes in the film evoke lynchings, the terror of the Klan and the civil rights movement.

That Ben is authoritative and seemingly in control throughout–slapping Barbara out of hysterics at one point and telling Harry to “Get the hell down in the cellar. You can be the boss down there. I’m boss up here”–only underscores the gut-punch of the casual brutality of his death. It is one of the most emotionally devastating endings in modern film, not just horror.

In a twist of fate, Romero and his collaborators finished the film and loaded it in a car trunk to take to New York to find a distributor on April 4, 1968–the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

PART OF the brilliance of Night of the Living Dead is the way it builds tension through demolishing movie conventions–the ostensible heroine becomes catatonic for virtually the entire film, only to be eaten by her brother; the young couple in love are burned alive and eaten; the nuclear family is (literally) torn apart as a zombified child chomps on her dad and then hacks mom to death with a trowel.

Just when dawn is breaking and rescue seems imminent for Ben–who has, against all odds, survived the long night of the zombie hordes–he is nonchalantly gunned down. Shot between the eyes by a white sheriff’s posse, he is reduced to “another one for the fire,” his body dragged away with hooks.

As Renée Graham wrote recently in the Boston Globe about seeing the film in 1968:

Everyone in the posse is white. Ben is African American. I was a child, but the message I received was depressingly clear: They killed Ben because they believed a Black man had to be a threat. A Black hero equaled a dead hero…

Already, 1968 had been a beast of a year. On an April night, as my family prepared to celebrate my father’s birthday, a TV bulletin announced the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Two months later, still wearing a costume from my dance recital that evening, I stood in front of the television watching mourners wave, weep and salute as a train carried the body of Robert F. Kennedy, murdered days earlier. For months, every adult around me walked around in agony and silence.

Yet nothing that year affected me as profoundly as watching Ben die…

Night of the Living Dead made Romero a legend by expanding the audience’s concept of what a horror movie could be. Its resonance for me still cuts deeper. Whatever his original intentions, Romero’s classic taught me early and indelibly that the real monsters who threaten us aren’t undead ghouls stalking the night.

“We always had that ending,” Romero commented later. “It seemed like the only fitting end. And even though the posse goes rolling across the countryside, leaving our hero dead, we get the feeling that they are not going to win either. There’s this new society coming. In the end, none of this is going to work, guys.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

LATER INSTALLMENTS of Romero’s Living Dead series would make the social commentary more explicit–though none to the same brilliant extent as Night.

Romero would state in one DVD commentary that while writing or making a movie, the points he would make about society were often more important to him than the characters–which led to politically interesting films, though the storytelling sometimes suffered.

Dawn of the Dead, perhaps Romero’s best film outside of Night, is a satire on consumer culture. In it, survivors take refuge from zombies inside Pittsburgh’s Monroeville Mall, leading to hilarious sequences of “mindless consumption”–both by human survivors and, of course, the zombies. “This was an important place in their lives,” one character says in explaining why the zombies would be drawn to a shopping mall after dead.

In 1985’s Day of the Dead, Reagan-era militarism comes under fire. A group of scientists and soldiers are stuck in an underground military base, coming into conflict over the macho militarism of the soldiers in charge, as well as the grisly experiments by one of the scientists, who believes that zombies can be made docile.

Of particular interest in today’s current political climate, however, is Romero’s 2005 Land of the Dead–an uneven, though often hilarious, entry in the Living Dead series.

A maniacal and entertainingly campy Dennis Hopper plays a character clearly modeled on our current president. In the face of societal collapse, he has convinced the super-rich to move into a self-enclosed, Trump-Tower-like, high-rise called “Fiddler’s Green.” The rest of the human population lives outside in squalor and fear, while Hopper’s character sponsors mercenaries to go out on runs and collect supplies for the rich.

At the core of the film is the question of the allegiances of the mercenaries and the potential of a growing zombie consciousness. Led by a Black zombie mechanic, the zombies begin to communicate and organize. The climax of the film hinges on a moment of zombie-human solidarity that is both funny and deeply satisfying for socialists to watch.

As Romero once said, “The zombie for me was always the blue-collar monster. He is us.”

Also well worth watching is Martin, Romero’s 1978 meditation on the vampire genre–which asks what makes a monster and what kind of psychological dysfunction lurks inside the house next door.

Though uneven, the film takes joy in exploding romanticized notions about vampires–there’s nary a sexy or sparkly vampire anywhere in it–to get down to brass tacks in examining what might be thought of as vampire working conditions.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“I’VE BEEN able to use genre of fantasy/horror and express my opinion, talk a little about society, do a little bit of satire,” Romero once said, “and that’s been great, man.”

Marxist film scholar Robin Wood, a staunch defender of Romero’s work into the 1980s, would go farther, claiming:

It is perhaps the lingering intellectual distrust of the horror genre that has prevented George Romero’s Living Dead [series] from receiving full recognition for what it undoubtedly is: one of the most remarkable and audacious achievements of modern American cinema, and the most uncompromising critique of contemporary America (and, by extension, Western capitalist society in general) that is possible within the terms and conditions of a “popular entertainment” medium.

So in tribute to George Romero, don’t wait until Halloween this year to watch his movies. With the monsters in Washington revealing their true natures every day, we should remember what Romero thought about the potential of horror:

Horror is radical. It can take you into a completely new world, new place, and just rattle your cage and say, wait a minute–look at things differently. That shock of horror is what horror’s all about. But in most cases, at the end of the story, people try to bring everything back–the girl gets the guy and everything’s fine and things go on just the way they were. Which is really why we are doing this in the first place. We don’t want things the way they are or we wouldn’t be trying to shock you into an alternative place.

So go ahead–when it comes to George Romero movies, consume away.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/08/02/the-american-nightmare