5 posts categorized "War"

April 09, 2017

5 Things Democrats Could Do To Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t) — TED RALL

SUPERCoupla weeks ago, I speculated that we may soon witness the end of the Democratic Party as we know it. I was kind. I didn’t mention the fact that the party is all out of national leaders. I mean, can you name a likely, viable Democratic candidate for president in 2020? Can you name three?

I followed up with more crystal-balling in a piece predicting that the meek will not inherit the earth if and when Trump gets dragged out of 1600 Penn by Senatorial impeachment police. The meek — the Democrats — could have/should have been the Anti-Trump Party. But they’ve dropped the ball. After the deluge, Paul Ryan.

With everyone so focused on the Trump Administration dead pool — how will he go? when? — we’re overlooking that Republicans could come out of the Trump debacle stronger than they went in. How crazy is that?

Now I want to look at another facet of this political Rubik’s cube: what the Democrats could do to avoid political irrelevance.

Not that they will.

—Democrats should stop calling themselves “The Resistance.” It’s an insult to the actual resistance fighters of World War II who were tortured and murdered. It’s also an attack on Strunk and White’s diktat not to stretch words beyond their plain meaning. Resistance to Republicans hasn’t been part of Democratic politics for generations. Quit the hype. Under-promise, over-deliver.

—Democrats should actually resist Trump and the Republicans. They shouldn’t have gone along with any of his nominees, but their promise to filibuster pencil-necked right-wing libertarian freak Neil Gorsuch would be a nice place to start. No Democrat, including those from purple/swing states, should vote for any GOP nominee or legislative initiative. Let’s not hear any more stupid talk of finding “common ground” with Trump on infrastructurespending or anything else. The GOP controls all three branches of the federal government so they’ll get whatever they want — and they should own whatever happens as a result. Democrats shouldn’t get their hands dirty.

—Democrats ought to articulate an alternative vision of what America would look like if they were in charge instead of Trump and the Republicans. It’s nice (not least for the 24 million people who would’ve wound up uninsured) that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare imploded. But that victory goes to rebellious Republicans, not Democrats. Here was a national debate over the ACA — Obama’s signature achievement — and Democrats didn’t even participate! How crazy is that? Never mind that they wouldn’t have gotten a vote on it — Democrats should have proposed their own bill reforming the ACA, one that moves left by adding single payer. Every Republican idea should be countered by an equal and opposite Democratic idea. Other countries call this act of self-definition shadow governance or, in a time of war perhaps loyal opposition. Whatever you call it, refusing to let your adversaries frame the acceptable ideological range of political debate is basic. In other words, a standard party-out-of-power tactic (e.g., the Tea Party 2009-2016).

—Democrats need to stop disappearing between elections. Campaigns are exhausting and it’s natural to want to catch one’s breath and conduct a postmortem to determine what went well and wrong. But it’s gotten to the point that the only time left-of-center voters hear from the Democratic Party is the year of a major election, for the most part only a few months before November and then only to ask for money. In the era of the 24-7 news cycle and the Internet, that hoary see-you-in-two-to-four-years approach is as outmoded as Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s cut-and-paste stump speeches and network TV shows that take summers off for something called “vacation.” A modern party should become part of our everyday lives. Every burg needs a Democratic Party storefront bustling with activity. Every Republican officeholder needs a ferocious Democratic challenger, even at the localest of local levels. Door-to-door campaigning and grassroots organizing should happen every day of every month of every year — in every state, regardless of presidential race electoral vote considerations, just like Howard Dean said.

—Bernie Sanders says Democrats can and should do class issues and identity politics. He’s right. As we’ve seen with the increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent years, the two are intertwined: gays’ incomes have risen But here’s the rub: you can’t really take on poverty and income disparity while accepting contributions from banks and other corporations whose interest lies in perpetuating economic misery by keeping wages low. The biggest lesson Dems should internalize from Bernie’s candidacy is his reliance on small individual donations.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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December 07, 2016

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Thanks to Trump, No More Ameri-Splaining

Image result for american exceptionalism

A shining city on a hill,” Ronald Reagan called America (by way of the Puritan authoritarian John Winthrop). “We are great because we are good,” Hillary Clinton said during the campaign (via Tocqueville). Michelle Obama, earlier this year: “This right now is the greatest country on Earth.”

You may have heard of “mansplaining,” which is when a dude patronizingly explains something to a woman, often concerning a subject about which she knows more than he does (c.f., rape culture, workplace discrimination, etc.). Other spin-off portmanteaus mocking pompous people of privilege include whitesplaining (white person explains racism to black person), straightsplaining, Millennialsplaining, and even (during the primaries) Bernie-splaining.

May the victory of Donald Trump mark the long overdue death of Ameri-splaining — when American leaders like Clinton and Obama (and not a few ordinary citizens) pretentiously declaim our nation’s supposed exceptionalism to people in countries that do a better job than we do.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Trump for his campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. Granted, he wasn’t talking to blacks and other oppressed segments of society for whom the past is more about pain than nostalgia. Trump’s campaign was aimed at whites. Nevertheless, Trump deserves credit for acknowledging that — at least at this time — America is not so great. “A Third World country,” he calls us. Keep reading and you’ll see that he has a point.

The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem.

Problems? Where to start?

Our economic structure sucks. We’re the world’s richest nation. But because we also have the most horrendous wealth inequality, most Americans are poor. According to the UN, our poverty rate is worse than 17 of the 19 OECD countries. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty. But the rich pigs in charge don’t care. Which is why we have the worst social safety net.

Maybe we should stop letting people die of cancer because they’re poor before Ameri-splaining human rights to Iran, where free RouhaniCare for everyone (!) rolls out in 2018. Similarly, we might want to stop executing children before telling the Iranians they’re wrong to do the same thing.

Our infrastructure is outdated and poorly maintained. It would take an additional $3.6 trillion to bring our existing highways, bridges, dams, sewers, water pipes, rail and so on up to code — yet spending on repairs is at a 30-year low. That doesn’t count the $500 billion or more it would cost to build a high-speed rail system like they have in Europe and Japan — you know, moderncountries.

Rather than harassing China over their ridiculous little fake islands, perhaps U.S. officials could invite the brilliant civil engineers creating a high-speed train system to Tibet, complete with pressurization like a plane as it soars through and around some of the biggest mountains on the planet, to show us how to bring our trains into the 21st century.

What is with us? Why do we talk down to the rest of the world from the depths of the lowest swamp below the moral high ground? At his penultimate State of the Union address, President Obama Ameri-splained to Russia’s Vladimir Putin over his “aggressive” annexation of Crimea. At the time, the U.S. was in its 14th year of occupying Afghanistan and its 12th of occupying Iraq. It was bombing the crap out of Yemen. Obama’s death drones were killing thousands of people, most of whom he thought were innocent.

When you stop to imagine what we look like to the rest of the world, we’re lucky we got away with just one wee 9/11.

Will Ameri-splaining continue under Trump? You’d think not, but since he’s already swiveled 180 degrees on so many other issues, he easily could revert to Bush-Obama-style triumphalism from his current, refreshing pessimism. The difference now is, no one — not even here in America where no one reads anything — can possibly take the U.S. government seriously when it scolds some country for, say, torturing people. Whereas Obama condescendingly tells his successor that torture doesn’t work (but not that it’s immoral, or that he still allows the CIA to use it), Trump has said of waterboarding “I like it a lot.”

The United States has always been corrupt, savage and brutal. It has always been wildly dysfunctional and hypocritical. But now, thanks to a president-elect who is loudly ignorant and utterly devoid of impulse control, the mask is off. The horrible truth about the United States can no longer be denied.

Trump epitomizes truth in advertising. We’re a nasty, crappy country.

President Trump suits us fine.

By Ted Rall

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

October 06, 2016

THE DIRECTORS VIDEO ESSAY SERIES: BY COLE SMITHEY

SOFIA COPPOLA: AUTEUR

 

ROBERT ALTMAN: SATIRIST

 

JIM JARMUSCH: OUTLIER

 

SAM PECKINPAH: LIBERATOR

 

KEN LOACH: SOCIAL REALIST

 

JOE CARNAHAN: THE BEST-KEPT SECRET

 

CATHERINE BREILLAT: TRANSGRESSOR

 

WERNER HERZOG: MENSCH


DAVID FINCHER: MODERNIST


WILLIAM FRIEDKIN: THE MUSCLE


JOHN CASSAVETES: INDIE ICON


PAUL VERHOEVEN: REBEL


LARS VON TRIER: PROVOCATEUR


QUENTIN TARANTINO: MAVERICK

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: MASTER OF SUSPENSE

 

LUIS BUNUEL: FETISHIST


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May 11, 2012

Time Magazine

What’s Wong With This Picture?
Time Magazine Sucks
By Cole Smithey

TimeThe May 21, 2012 issue of Time Magazine is a significant bellwether. It speaks volumes about the state of America’s steadily imploding media, of which Time Magazine has crossed a line into tabloid exploitation. It could well be the magazine’s Waterloo. The New York Post has nothing on Time Magazine anymore.

A presentational image of a “mother” casually standing in front of a photographer’s white screen with her left tit exposed to allow her nearly four-year-old “son” (with the unisexual Assyrian name of Aram) to suck on it. He wears army fatigue pants and a gun-metal-gray t-shirt, and stands on a child’s chair that makes him only 18" inches shorter than his mother. The image is offensive across a wide scale of social decency. Pedophilic overtones saturate the militarized image. The chair is important because it creates an optical illusion of the child being older — much older than he is. His limp hands dangle helplessly at his mother's crotch. Dressed in a black leotard with her right hand on her hip, and her left knee cocked so that her ballet-slipper-styled shoe heel rises from the floor, suggests a come hither expression attenuated by a rebellious fuck-you attitude that dares the viewer to guess at what else she’s capable of. Her dead facial expression makes her look like a machine-woman — an android.

The representational (versus presentational) distinction is important. Here is a woman, acting as a “model.” She uses her own child to make a political statement. Skinny, blonde, and objectively sexy with tan lines that demarcate her arms from her pale white breast, the woman (Jamie Lynne Grumet) clearly intends to be the poster mom for a cult that, at best, adds more sand on the scales to the belief that most people have no business procreating. The 26-year-old Grumet isn’t yet old enough to qualify for the MILF designation that some male readers will be tempted to bestow upon her. She looks closer to 18 than to 30. One thing is certain; she cares more about her political agenda/image than she does about the vulnerable child at her breast.

The headline “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” establishes a bullying editorial tone with a military association — think, “Be All You Can Be.” The rhetorical question is only barely softened by the sub-head, “Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes—and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.” Note the incorrect use of the word “guru,” which is a Sanskrit term for a teacher of “Indian religions.” Talk about mixed metaphors — they are here in spades.

Whether or not the photo personally offends you, you should recognize that the posed image is more than just provocative. No kind of parallel image involving a 26-year-old male and his three or four-year-old daughter would ever pass for anything other than an actionable example of incestuous sexual exploitation. It doesn’t help matters that the boy in question sports a belly. The child is already overweight. Whether or not the boy yet perceives a sexual relationship with his mother; the effects of his long-term breastfeeding are already visible on his body.

Aram’s camouflage pants underscore a significant aspect of the photo’s subtext. The boy is being fattened up for war. His artificially created mental, emotional, and sexual state will be repurposed by a military complex poised to capitalize on his unique psychology.

The fractures are showing at Time Magazine, and every other TMZ-influenced media outlet that makes up what passes for news in this country. America doesn't do news anymore. War on civility is declared. Are we DEMOCRACY ENOUGH to do something about it? Only time will tell. You can start by canceling your subscription to Time Magazine, and or never buying it again.

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July 19, 2009

THE BEST WAR FILM EVER MADE — ELEM KLIMOV'S 'COME AND SEE'

Elem Klimov's Masterpiece of Russian Cinema
By Cole Smithey

Come and See2 Stalingrad-born Elem Klimov's "Come and See" is an undiluted expression of cinematic poetry in the service of an unspeakably turbulent, fact-based, anti-war narrative about the 628 Belarusian villages burnt to the ground along with their inhabitants by the Nazis. The film is a disorienting vision of a genocide hell on Earth that would pale Hieronymus Bosch's most gruesome compositions. An electricity-buzzing stench of death and social decay hangs over the picture's constant volley between neo-realistic, formal, and documentary styles that Klimov uses to convert as wide a range of specific wartime experience as possible. The director takes the viewer on a quicksilver descent into an existential madness of war through the eyes of his 14-year-old peasant protagonist Florya. Alexei Kravchenko's extraordinary performance as the film's subjective guide encompasses a lifetime of suffering over a period of a few brutal days of the Nazi invasion. 

Elem Klimov Born into a communist family on July 9, 1933, Elem Klimov's parents constructed his first name as an acronym of Engels, Lenin, and Marx. In his 70 years, Elem Klimov made only five films: "Welcome, or No Trespassing" (1964), "The Adventures of a Dentist" (1965), "Agony" (1975) and "Farewell" (1981). "Come and See" was his astounding final picture that would establish Elem Klimov as a storyteller of untold narrative depth and intuitive sensitivity.

For the film, Klimov fashioned a detailed visual vernacular of dialectic form. His original, rigorous narrative format compresses the overwhelming heartbreak of Hitler's War. We experience its many jolts, shocks, and horrors. By the film's end, we witness a young boy's soul so terribly ravaged by the war's horrors that he resembles an old man.

When Klimov sat down to write the script with his collaborator Ales Adamovich, the ardently intellectual director crafted an acutely personal story about a boy who goes to fight against Nazi troops occupying his native Belarus in 1943, after joining up with a ragtag army of partisan soldiers taking shelter in the middle of a wooded area.

Objectively, "Come and See" is Elem Klimov's brave attempt to cinematically compartmentalize and contextualize his own wartime experiences as a child escaping the battle of Stalingrad, in the company of his mother and younger brother, by raft across the Volga while the city burned to the ground behind them. 

Klimov said of the indelible event, in relation to "Come and See," "Had I included everything I knew, and shown the whole truth, even I could not have watched it."

The director asserts the story's peculiar social parameters with an old man holding a horsewhip while calling for two boys guilty of incessantly "digging."

"Playing a game? Digging? Well, go on digging you little bastards," the old man shouts at the boys.

Come and See2From the distance arrives what seems to be a short, stout military officer carrying a stick and frothing at the mouth with recriminations for the little old man that he approaches with measured steps. We realize that the apparent military officer is, in fact, one of the little boys — speaking in a raspy fake adult voice to play his imaginary part of a menacing armed forces commander.

Exasperated, the old man who fathered at least one of the "bastards," gets on his horse and cart, telling his defiant son that if he won't listen to his father then he'll "listen to the cane." Klimov uses the vision of a young boy appearing as an old man to bookend the story as a manifestation of the war's aging effect on its survivors. The once fresh-faced Florya will switch places with his young friend, whose fate falls to Nazi soldiers. The impersonating-child deliberately chooses to comport himself as a veteran soldier. For his part, Florya will have his youth stolen from him in unspeakable ways.

Come and See Film Poster

Florya's smaller companion walks along the beach to find Florya laughing manically at nothing in particular while crouched down in bushes. We are introduced to Florya as a child not in control of his behavior. There is already some madness present in his manic laughter. Florya is subordinate to his peer, who orders Florya to get back to work "digging." We, the audience, know already that everything is not right with the boys and their surroundings.

Klimov employs a powerful metaphor of the boys attempting to gain escape from the outside world by digging deeper into the earth. The oddly naturalistic scene exerts a primal human motivation at odds with the noisy warplanes that pass overhead.

Buried in the sand up to his shoulders, Florya struggles with both arms to pull something from under the sand — it appears as if an unseen monster is swallowing the boy, attempting to drag him to the depths of hell. After much struggle, Florya excitedly extracts a prized rifle that he believes will give him entree into joining a partisan troop of soldiers so that he can help battle Hitler's rampaging armies.     

A German recon warplane flies overhead to the sound of German radio-broadcast propaganda. Klimov will reuse the same archive footage of the bomber plane many times over during the course of the film to achieve a droning visual effect of an authentic historical reference that contributes to an unrelenting rhythm of sudden violence, and brutal spatial dilemmas. Already Florya's journey is a person that we can relate to only with total involuntary commitment.

Cone and SeeThe endemic breakdown of family and society is confirmed in the next scene where Florya's frantic mother pleas directly to Klimov's empathetic camera for her son to take the axe that she places in his hands, to kill her and her twin daughters rather than abandon the family. Florya's peasant mother is disconsolate as she beats him with a bundle of rope, refusing to allow him to leave. But Florya is immune to his mother's panic. He winks at his little sisters while he holds the axe, playing a secret game with them.

Two protestant soldiers peer in through the family's window before entering the home to take Florya to join a nearby regiment of soldiers. It is the last time that we will feel any sense of home or normal life in the film. The soldiers' politeness turns abruptly to that of menacing authority figures taking Florya with them as a kind of willing prisoner.

Glasha In the military camp, Florya meets a lovely but deranged teenaged girl named Glasha (disconcertingly played by Olga Mironova). The wild-eyed stare of her steel-gray eyes makes Glasha as much of a monster as a would-be love interest for Florya to gravitate toward. That Glasha, dressed in a pretty green party dress, is carrying on some kind of affair with the troop's military chief only momentarily distracts from the extent of her mental instability — inasmuch as we subjectively bestow sanity to the Partisan group's stern military leader. There's contagious insanity in the air that seems to have infiltrated every character that Klimov introduces.

The film's first act closes with a group photograph of the troop that provides a formal tableau of thick narrative subtext--witness a wounded soldier bandaged like a mummy and a black female cow with "Eat me before the Germans do," written in white on its side.

Klimov Upon their departure, the ragtag troop abandons the young boy that the military chief has quietly deemed unsuitable for the demands of battle. Florya's inconsolable anguish at being deserted by his surrogate family boils to a breaking point when he accidentally steps on a nest of eggs, killing the tiny birds in a glimpse of nature made horribly grotesque by his unavoidable human brutality. It's this violent and immediate style of detailed poetic storytelling that grips you and pulls at your senses with an inescapable urgency of survival. Klimov's precise use of graphic symbolism will steadily increase to a fever pitch in the film's stunning postmodern climax where a backward moving collage attempts to collapse the Pandora's box of Hitler and the war that determines Florya's survival.

Come and See3 The soldiers also abandon Glasha. The two adolescent refugees cry into each other's eyes in a heartbreaking expression of raw emotion that Klimov captures with extended fourth-wall-breaking close-ups that intuitively editorialize on their fragile mental states. Florya recognizes Glasha's strange psychosis, but is unable to evade her spell. The pity that the soldiers take on the pair, by leaving them behind, backfires when a rash of falling German artillery shells permanently robs Florya of his hearing. The bombings are especially shocking for their violent realism that arrives suddenly with large swaths of forest ripped apart by earth-quaking explosions accompanied by a high-pitched ringing that destroys Florya's hearing and wrecks his conscious mind.  

Florya Klimov utilizes Florya's sensory deprivation with a twisted soundscape that indoctrinates us into Florya's pain and panic via a claustrophobic sonic space that increases our sense of being badly wounded. The next morning, Florya and Glasha frolic in the rain in a brief reverie where they forget the impending danger that awaits them. Under the muted sounds of sped up radio music, Glasha does a Charleston-styled flapper dance atop Florya's rain-soaked suitcase. There's a dreamlike quality to the couple's short-lived musical respite before an outlandish pelican-type bird conveys an unnerving omen of unexplained incidents to follow. Wild animal life will play an important part of the image system filigree that Klimov uses to regularly connect the story to its ecological foundation in the landscape of Belarusia. 

Klimov is commanding in his willingness to create abstract visual motifs, as when Florya returns to his mother's house with Glasha and peers down into a well while looking for his family. We view Florya through the back end of an organic cinematic telescope through which he sees himself. What Florya doesn't see are the mangled bloody bodies of his family and neighbors piled high against the backside of what was once his family's home. Glasha looks back and sees the carnage as they walk away from the area, but worriedly refrains from alerting Florya to the horror just behind them.

Come and See mud Florya runs into a thick muddy swamp that he is compelled to cross, believing that his family is hiding on a small island that he must trudge through quicksand-like mud to get to. Glasha follows Florya into the mud and holds onto the back of his coat as they painfully make their way through the thick brown sludge. Klimov layers on subdued layers of musical textures and ambient sound to weave a theme of self-flagellation, as assisted by Belarusia's uncontrolled topography that threatens to swallow up our protagonist and his female companion.

Come-and-seepreview3 Glasha betrays Florya the first chance she gets when a Belarusian peasant helps her escape the mud. The traumatized Glasha loudly explains that Florya's family was killed, and that now he is deaf and out of his mind. Through his muted hearing, Florya hears her cruel words that Glasha speaks and reacts with a pained cry that powerfully expresses a depth of agony that imprints the film with an indelible image of victimization. Moments later, Florya will be led by peasants to the badly burned body of his friend's father, who speaks his last words about how he begged the Germans that set him on fire to kill him. A crowd of desperate peasants chant under Klimov's soundscape of blowing wind. Florya sees a trench coat-dressed effigy of Hitler with a human skull head that the peasants put clay on to make more lifelike. A group cut off Florya's hair and buries it as part of a cleansing ritual that reinvents the traumatized Florya as a walking ghost. 

Come and See4 In the third act Florya becomes a roaming independent soldier with a knack for barely escaping Nazi attacks. Florya's participation in expediting the extermination of a cornered group of Nazis by handing a gasoline filled can to a Nazi collaborator, is as suggestive an act as it is a literal one, for the Belarusian peasants will open fire on the Nazis before the fuel is ignited. Florya gains an historic perspective of Hitler that knows only annihilation. His hatred and fury seeks to eradicate the world of Adolph Hitler and his armies with tremendous prejudice. With his brain and body irreversibly changed, Florya has become the only thing that he will ever be capable of being for the rest of his life, a soldier against Hitler. 

"Come and See" won the Moscow Film Festival's Grand Prize in 1985. Afterward, Klimov was elected as first secretary of the Soviet Filmmakers' Union and, during his two years on the post, oversaw the release of more than a hundred previously banned Soviet films. Elem Klimov went on to struggle with the idea of creating a film version of Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita," and with making a film adaptation of Dostoevsky's "The Devils." However, in 2000, he gave up filmmaking because he felt that he had done "everything that was possible." The visionary filmmaker died on October 26, 2003, and left behind a war film that accomplishes everything possible in cinema, and reinvents it.

Come and See

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