Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why We Know More About War Than Peace

I love stories about military exploits and am a sucker for war movies.  (See Celluloid Nazis.)  But Adam Hochschild makes an important point that in film and virtually every other aspects of our culture we are far better at celebrating those who fight wars than those who courageously oppose them. -- Lovechilde

Going Beyond the Tale of a Boy and His Horse

By Adam Hochschild, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

Well in advance of the 2014 centennial of the beginning of “the war to end all wars,” the First World War is suddenly everywhere in our lives. Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse opened on 2,376 movie screens and has collected six Oscar nominations, while the hugely successful play it’s based on is still packing in the crowds in New York and a second production is being readied to tour the country.

In addition, the must-watch TV soap opera of the last two months, Downton Abbey, has just concluded its season on an unexpected kiss.  In seven episodes, its upstairs-downstairs world of forbidden love and dynastic troubles took American viewers from mid-war, 1916, beyond the Armistice, with the venerable Abbey itself turned into a convalescent hospital for wounded troops. Other dramas about the 1914-1918 war are on the way, among them an HBO-BBC miniseries based on Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End quartet of novels, and a TV adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong from an NBC-backed production company.

In truth, there’s nothing new in this.  Filmmakers and novelists have long been fascinated by the way the optimistic, sunlit, pre-1914 Europe of emperors in plumed helmets and hussars on parade so quickly turned into a mass slaughterhouse on an unprecedented scale. And there are good reasons to look at the First World War carefully and closely.

After all, it was responsible for the deaths of some nine million soldiers and an even larger number of civilians.  It helped ignite the Armenian genocide and the Russian Revolution, left large swaths of Europe in smoldering ruins, and remade the world for the worse in almost every conceivable way -- above all, by laying the groundwork for a second and even more deadly, even more global war.

There are good reasons as well for us to be particularly haunted by what happened in those war years to the country that figures in all four of these film and TV productions: Britain. In 1914, that nation was at the apex of glory, the unquestioned global superpower, ruling over the largest empire the world had ever seen. Four and a half years later its national debt had increased tenfold, more than 720,000 British soldiers were dead, and hundreds of thousands more seriously wounded, many of them missing arms, legs, eyes, genitals.

The toll fell particularly heavily on the educated classes that supplied the young lieutenants and captains who led their troops out of the trenches and into murderous machine-gun fire. To give but a single stunning example, of the men who graduated from Oxford in 1913, 31% were killed.

“Swept Away in a Red Blast of Hate”

Yet curiously, for all the spectacle of boy and horse, thundering cavalry charges, muddy trenches, and wartime love and loss, the makers of War Horse, Downton Abbey and -- I have no doubt -- the similar productions we’ll soon be watching largely skip over the greatest moral drama of those years of conflict, one that continues to echo in our own time of costly and needless wars. They do so by leaving out part of the cast of characters of that moment.  The First World War was not just a battle between rival armies, but also a powerful, if one-sided, battle between those who assumed the war was a noble crusade and those who thought it absolute madness.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Film Review: How To Start A Revolution

By Dan Siegel, cross-posted from Huffington Post

The sweeping changes of the Arab Spring demonstrated to the world how "the people without the guns are winning." So declares the new documentary, How to Start a Revolution, a film that profiles the ideas and impact of Gene Sharp, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated academic who can be described as the intellectual architect of non-violent, people-powered revolutions that have swept the globe over the past generation.

Nearly 30 years ago, I read Sharp's rather obscure but classic three-volume series on civil disobedience in college. While being inspired by the success of Gandhian nonviolence in rolling back the British empire, I wondered how such theories could be applied against iron-fisted regimes in the present age. In the fall of 1989, I was fortunate to witness first-hand how unarmed civic revolutions swept away authoritarian governments on the streets of Budapest, Prague and Warsaw.

How to Start a Revolution documents how Gene Sharp's ideas and tactics have inspired and guided democratic activists, notably contained in his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, originally written in 1993 for Burma's freedom movement. The free downloadable book -- which offers 198 steps for overthrowing dictators -- has been translated into over 30 languages.

The documentary, by first-time Scottish director and journalist Ruaridh Arrow, introduces us to the soft-spoken, 83-year-old Sharp in his modest Boston brick row house carefully tending to his orchids. This constant gardener plants the seeds of resistance and revolution, not knowing when and where they will sprout, and cultivates a world where the oppressed liberate themselves through peaceful means.

The film demonstrates that nonviolent resistance is anything but passive, and when properly planned and deployed, it utilizes a strategic mix of political social, psychological and economic weapons to destabilize illegitimate regimes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Big Voice

My sister is producing this inspired and inspiring documentary that explores the lives of the top-singing students of the Santa Monica High School Choir, and its visionary choir director, Jeffe Huls.  As drastic budget cuts endanger both the quality of our public schools and their arts programs, here is a determined high school music teacher striving to create a thriving vocal music program that ignites in his students a passion for music, a sense of belonging, and the value of working hard to achieve their dreams.

Watch the trailer below and you will get a sense of why this film is so moving and so timely.  The project will be funded only if $40,000 is pledged by October 10th.  They are 45% there.  So, please, click here to support this important work, and share this post widely.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day?

"Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Shift Is About To Hit The Fan

Dan Siegel is a writer, social entrepreneur and speaker on politics, film, philanthropy and civil society issues.  His articles have appeared in several major newspapers.  He worked as a writer and consultant for eight years in Eastern Europe, covering the rise of civil society movements. He was co-founder of New Visions, an organization focused on promoting effective philanthropy and innovation in the nonprofit sector.  He also happens to be a friend and former colleague of mine.

Dan wrote the following review of the new documentary I Am, which originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

I Am Review:  Hollywood Director Explores What's Right With The World

By Dan Siegel, March 9, 2011

As the world is transfixed by remarkable change in the Middle East, America's popcorn culture distracts us with another Nicholas Cage road rage movie and the next around-the-clock celebrity train wreck (aka, the Charlie Sheen Show).

Into this void steps Tom Shadyac, Hollywood blockbuster director (Bruce Almighty, The Nutty Professor, Ace Ventura) with his self-financed documentary I Am (opening in LA and NY the next two weekends). The film is a universe away from the pet detective and fat man suit that Shadyac popularized.
I Am is a sure-fire conversation starter about our cultural "mental illness" and the hopeful possibilities for a global mind shift towards greater compassion and human connection.

Shadyac is a refugee from the film industry's lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. He ditched his lonely 17,000 foot Xanadu estate in Pasadena for a modest mobile home in north Malibu. In the midst of downsizing, he suffered a bike accident in 2007 that triggered Post Concussion Syndrome, resulting in paralyzing depression (from which he ultimately recovered).

I Am is the result of Shadyac's rethinking of his priorities and his journey to probe and provoke conversation around two essential questions: what's wrong with our world and what can we all do about it?

To answer these questions, Shadyac hit the road with a four member film crew to converse with a thoughtful mix of philosophers, academics, scientists and spiritual leaders -- such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Talk show host Thom Hartmann, writer Marc Ian Barash and U.C. Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner stand out as especially fresh and compelling voices.

Shadyac artfully weaves together contributions from this chorus of thinkers and doers to lift up ancient wisdom, critical lessons from the natural world, and insights from new human sciences about how we can live better together.
[Read more after the break]

Friday, March 4, 2011

Aldo Leopold And A Land Ethic For Our Time

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.  -- Aldo Leopold

My good friend Stephen Most wrote an amazing and extraordinarily timely documentary Green Fire: Aldo Leopold And A Land Ethic For Our Time.  (Click on the link to find a showing near you.)  Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was an ecologist and environmentalist best known for his book A Sand County Almanac, published a year after his death.  Leopold had "a profound impact on the environmental movement, emphasized biodiversity and ecology, and was a founder of the science of wildlife management."

The following synopsis is taken liberally from the Green Fire web page:  Aldo Leopold was one of the most important conservationists of the twentieth-century.  He is the father of the national wilderness system, wildlife management and ecological restoration.  His classic book A Sand County Almanac inspires us to see the natural world as a community to which we belong.  The movie, Green Fire, explores Leopold's personal journey of observation and understanding and reveals how his ideas resonate today with people across the entire American landscape, from inner cities to the remotest wildlands.  His message of hope, curiosity, and critical appreciation of the natural world inspires people from many walks of life who are concerned about their own changing times and places.  In his own life, Leopold’s commitment to land, family, and community were inseparable. In light of the ecological challenges we face today, his story and ideas add depth to national and local discussions of the relationships between people and nature.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Celluloid Nazis

Sinatra impersonating a Nazi in Von Ryan's Express
I have nothing insightful to say about tonight's Academy Awards.  I suppose I could rank the four movies I saw in the theater this past year:  1)  The King's Speech; 2) True Grit; 3) Megamind; and 4) Yogi Bear 3D. 

But, I can talk about great old war movies.  Indeed, I was at a party a couple of months ago in which my friends and I began to list classic World War II films, immediately reaching consensus on the most enjoyable and memorable.  Actors, settings, action, and even the soundtracks were easily recalled, even though we hadn't seen many of these movies in years.  There is something about movies with Nazis that particularly resonates.  Perhaps it is that the Nazi characters personify evil but are still human and based on recent historical fact, not monstrous science fiction creations, that make them such compelling movie villians.

I decided to come up with my top 10 favorite Nazi movies, and the list came to me very quickly.  Here goes:

1.  The Guns of Navarone (1961) with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven and many others.  This is simply my favorite war movie and one of my favorite movies, period.
2.  The Great Escape (1963) directed by John Sturges, starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and many more. Classic.  Except for Charles Bronson as a claustrophobic Pole, this one never gets old. 
3.  Von Ryan's Express (1965) starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard.  Sinatra is phenomenal as an American officer leading the escape of mostly resentful British soldiers from an Italian POW camp.
4.  Where Eagles Dare (1968) directed by Brian Hutton, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.  Burton and Eastwood are great together in a plot with several twists and turns.  A friend and I once tried to count how many Nazis Clint gunned down, but we lost track about midway through.
5.  Kelly's Heroes (1970) also directed by Brian Hutton, starring Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas and Don Rickles.  This off-beat film about American soldiers going behind enemy lines to steal gold is exciting and funny. 
6.  Stalag 17 (1953) directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden who won an Oscar for his performance.  This is another classic.  Otto Preminger plays the POW camp commandant.
7.  The Dirty Dozen (1967) with Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas and Charles Bronson.  Marvin is assigned to train 12 convicted murderers for a dangerous mission in preparation for D-Day. 
8.  The Eagle Has Landed (1976) another directed by John Sturges, starring Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall.  Gripping movie from the German point of view about an attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill.
9.  Sahara (1943) Humphrey Bogart.  This one takes place in the North African desert, where Bogie leads an abandoned tank unit.  This film was made during the war, and is a lot less cynical than most of the others on this list.
10.  The Bridge at Remagen (1969) starring George Segal, Ben Gazzara and Robert Vaughn. Segal leads U.S. troops to capture a bridge across the Rhine in the last months of the war to prevent German troops from retreating safely.  Vaughn, the Nazi officer assigned to blow it up, tries to hold off as long as possible.

What am I forgetting?

[Related posts:  Best Westerns]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak : "Hello, I Must Be Going"

Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going.  I'm glad I came, but just the same I must be going.... I'll stay a week or two, I'll stay the summer thru, but I am telling you, I must be going.
 There was great anticipation and hope today that President Mubarak was finally prepared to resign his post. With hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered to celebrate his departure, Mubarak gave a televised speech in which, contrary to reports and all reason, he refused to step down.  The New Yorker's David Remnick put it well:  "The delusions of dictators are never more poignant—or more dangerous—than when they are in their death throes. To watch Hosni Mubarak today in his late-night speech in Cairo, as he used every means of rhetorical deflection to delay his inevitable end, was to watch a man so deluded, so deaf to the demands of history, that he was incapable of hearing an entire people screaming in his ear."

The push-pull of the inevitable end of Mubarak's reign reminds me of a song from the the 1930 Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers.  So, for some comic relief from the heart-rending events in Egypt, here is Groucho Marx with "Hello, I Must Be Going": 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Marx Brothers Milestone

Today was a very big day in my life as a parent.  After years of hope, preparation and anticipation, I sat down with my young children and together we watched my absolute favorite movie of all time, The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup.

I have sprinkled their childhood with Marx Brothers' gags, with Groucho's wisecracks, and with occasional movie clips on You Tube (including Lydia the Tattooed Lady scene in At the Circus, the mirror scene from Duck Soup, Captain Spaulding's Adventures from Animal Crackers, and the Tootsie Fruitsie Ice Cream scene from A Day at the Races).  I warmed them up a few weeks ago with A Night At The Opera, which they really enjoyed.

And so tonight it was Duck Soup. They didn't quite comprehend the brilliance of the satirical commentary on subjects such as political leaders, government bureaucracy, diplomacy, law, and war.  And some of the wordplay was too quick and sophisticated.  But they loved the remarkable vaudevillian slapstick routines, the musical numbers, and the overall zaniness of the brothers' characters.  I would say it was a rousing success.  It's on to Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business and the Cocoanuts.

Here is their favorite scene from Duck Soup, the mirror scene:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Code Pink

Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Clouseau: [bows down to pet dog] Nice doggie.
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau on the hand]
Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.

-- The Pink Panther Strikes Again

Blake Edwards died on December 15th at the age of 88.  Pauline Kael has described his "love of free-for-all lunacy," and that was certainly evident in the great Pink Panther movies he directed and co-wrote, which starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.  I particularly love the first three in the series:  The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), and The Return of the Pink Panther (1975).  The next two, The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), are fun and have some great moments, but they are a little over the top, even for me.  (Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) made after Sellers death with footage from earlier film doesn't really count).

The first three are simply brilliant, with A Shot in the Dark being the best of them all.  These movies are slapstick at its best, with gag after gag involving a combination of physical mayhem and verbal absurdity.  Sellers is oblivious as he blunders from one scene to the next, mangling phrases in his preposterous French accent, and turning the most innocuous situations into comically disastrous ones for himself and everyone around him.  It is nothing short of genius.  What is so compelling, I think, is how he valiantly tries to maintain his dignity by refusing to acknowledge the damage he has wrought, and then, against all odds, he somehow foils the bad guys in the end.  Edwards described wanting to create the character of Clouseau  as "a real clumsy, accident-prone, well-intentioned, but idiotic character," and decided that the one thing that could make him succeed was having him never give up: "He never figured he could lose, never figured that he could fail."

So, here's to Blake Edwards for giving us such unforgettably hilarious scenes, like this one from Return of the Pink Panther :

[A beggar sits in front of a bank playing an accordion. There is a monkey sitting next to him as Inspector Clouseau walks up.]
Clouseau: Do you have a le-sanz (license)?
Beggar: What?
Clouseau: City ordinance 147-B prohibits the playing of any musical instrument in a public place for the purpose of commercial enterprise without a proper le-sanz.
Beggar: I don't understand.
Clouseau: It is against the leu (law) for you to play your musical instrument.
Beggar: Leu?
Clouseau: What?
Beggar: You say, it's against the leu?
Clouseau: Yes. Unless you have a proper le-sanz.
Beggar: What kind of license?
Clouseau: A le-sanz that permits the playing of any musical instrument in a public place for the purpose of commercial enterprise.
Beggar: Commercial enterprise?
Clouseau: Yes. You play that thing and people give you the muhnay (money).
Beggar: People give the monkey the money.
Clouseau: It is the same.
Beggar: Oh, no. I am a musician and the monkey is a businessman. He doesn't tell me what to play, and I don't tell him what to do with his money.
[Through the window of the bank, you can see that it is being robbed].. . .
Clouseau: Then the minkey's (monkey's) breaking the leu.
Beggar: But he doesn't play any musical instrument.
Clouseau: City ordinance 132-R prohibits the begging.
Beggar: How do you know so much about city ordinances?
Clouseau: What sort of stupid question is that? Are you blind?
Beggar: Yes.
[Clouseau is subsequently questioned by his boss, Inspector Dreyfus]
Dreyfus: The beggar was the lookout man for the gang.
Clouseau: That is impossible. How can a blind man be a lookout?
Dreyfus: How can an idiot be a police officer?
Clouseau: Well, all he has to do is enlist...
Dreyfus: Shut up! 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What To Do When The World Series Is Over

I hate guns.  I'm scared of horses.  As a city person, I am not particularly drawn to landscapes.  And I abhor racist stereotyping.  But I love Westerns.  They've got everything:  life vs. death, good vs. evil, love vs. loss, wilderness vs. civilization, old ways vs. modern times, natural law vs. man-made law, all in a riveting action-filled package.  I love the classic John Ford-directed John Wayne Westerns (especially The Searchers), the Spaghetti Westerns, and the more cynical Westerns of the 60's-70's.  Most of all, I am drawn to the Westerns of the 1950s, from directors such as Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher.  They are more nuanced and complex than the earlier films, and have been described as bringing a noir sensibility to the conventional Western form.  Here are some of my favorites:
1.  Bend of the River (1952)  Anthony Mann. Starring James Stewart.
2.  The Naked Spur (1953) Anthony Mann. Starring James Stewart
3.  The Man from Laramie (1955) Anthony Mann. Starring James Stewart
4.  The Tin Star (1957) Anthony Mann. Starring Henry Fonda & Anthony Perkins
5.  Man of the West (1958) Anthony Mann. Starring Gary Cooper
6.  The Tall T (1957) Budd Boetticher. Starring Randolph Scott
7.  Ride Lonesome (1959) Budd Boetticher. Starring Randolph Scott.
8.  3:10 to Yuma (1957) Delmar Daves. Starring Glenn Ford & Van Heflin
9.  Blood on the Moon (1948) Robert Wise. Starring Robert Mitchum
10. Ride the High Country (1962) Sam Peckinpah. Starring Randolph Scott & Joel McCrea

When the Series is over, check them out.