Thursday, May 29, 2008

Documentaries Part 1: Politics and Media

I’ve been meaning to write about some of my favorite documentaries for a while now. The task seemed too tough because there are so many good ones. So I decided to break it into parts- by subject matter. I tried to think of all the films that had helped shape my thinking and a few crucial ones came to the forefront. The following films all deal with global issues, media, religion, politics, etc… They are disturbing and thought provoking films. The next set I write about will be based around arts and music. But for now revel in the accomplishments and embarrassments of mankind…

Capturing the Friedmans

This is a very disturbing film. The Freidmans were a seemingly perfect family living in New York until one day child porn is found on the fathers computer. The community flips out because he has been hosting after school tutoring for kids, with the help of his young son. Soon allegations are flying from every parent in the community. The father and son are accused of horrific, crazy, sex crimes: gang rape orgies with children being one. What makes this film so amazing is everything that happened was captured on camera by one of the other brothers. We see the most intimate and tragic details as the story unfolds. The film ends up being about the power of media, fear, and gang mentality. The truth is nothing happened at the tutoring sessions (the father admitted molesting two boys elsewhere). Stemming from their irrational fears- the parents and asshole cops coerced their kids into making false accusations. The saddest part of this film for me was the young son that got caught up in this- brainwashed into thinking he had done the crimes he was accused. He did a lot of time in jail. Watch the extras for a view of his life now- it is heartbreaking.

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations

This is thoroughly incredible and shocking film making. See the first Paradise Lost first. It’s about the “West Memphis Three,” three innocent redneck metal heads convicted of killing three children in a Satanic ritual. Wrongly convicted because the cops were dumb, incompetent, lazy, conniving, and most of all, prejudice. Like other films discussed here, the authorities coerced a confession- this time from a scared and inbred 14 year old. These boys are still in jail 14 years later.
The follow up film clearly shows the killer is Mr. Byers, a father of one of the murdered children. He is a drugged out fanatic “Christian.” A seriously, seriously evil human being. His answers are never the same, he is clearly unstable, and there is concrete evidence that he killed the children. During the filming of part one, he gave a knife to the film crew. They had it tested and the blood and fibers from the crime scene were on the knife. Still, the cops wont admit wrongdoing and that’s that- a psycho killer runs free while 3 innocent people rot in jail. Insanity.

Deliver Us From Evil

Speaking of evil, Father Oliver O’Grady, a Catholic priest, is as bad as it gets. This man has single-handily ruined hundreds of lives by raping and sexually abusing kids for 20 years. His victims range from teens to a baby of nine months. Yes, this freak raped a baby. Under the guise of a servant of God, he gained the trust and access to family homes, only to rape the sons and daughters in their rooms when the parents were asleep. The kids were so brainwashed by him and the religion- they either thought it was OK or were too confused and scared to say anything. When complaints and accusations eventually started the Church would cover up his crimes and move him to a different parish to start the abuse over again. The fact that Cardinal Mahony knew this was happening and let it occur shows the true nature of the Catholic Church. A church that demands celibacy from its young men is setting them up for perversions and trauma. The sickest part of all is when O’Grady was arrested; he did seven years in jail then was deported to his homeland of Ireland. There, he roams free, still working with families and kids. Since the film, there have been new lawsuits filed against him in Ireland. The film opens with him hanging out at a public pool, babbling about his problems, so detached from the torment he has caused, it is sickening to watch. If you like films that make you angry and sick to your stomach, this film is for you.

Manufactured Landscapes

This film uses the photography of Edward Burtynsky to show the enormity of industrialization in China. There is a lot of crazy shit happening over there I was unaware of until I saw this film. The film is made up of beautiful shots of landscapes altered by man- like chemical wastelands, mines (pictured at the top), massive factories, and cityscapes. Shots of poor people sifting through mountains of E waste (the remains of consumer products- computers, TVs, etc) are otherworldly. Entire towns in rural China are dedicated to striping appliances shipped in from all over the world. The underprivileged sit in dumps ripping apart computers, dividing them into recyclable metals and plastics- and toxic chemicals that just eternally pile up and help destroy the ecosystem. The craziest part of the film, for me, was about the Three Gorges Damn Project. They are building the largest damn ever built, or probably will ever be built, to supply energy for Chinas new ever-expanding mega cities. In the process they are tearing down 17 cities and covering them, over a 200-mile radius, with water. The most famous architects in the world have worked on this project, most walking away from it, claiming it to simply be “too big.” The weird thing about the tearing down of these cities is, in Communist China, the people that have lived there for generations are forced to tear down their homes by hand- brick by brick. There is incredible footage of these apocalyptic looking decaying towns (pictured in the poster) and cities being torn down by peasants. There are huge banners hanging everywhere with Communist slogans on them about working harder to improve society. The film was shot by Peter Mettler who did the criminally underrated Gambling, Gods and LSD. He has a really amazing hand held camera style and an eye for noticing insightful details. His style is very effective in one of the DVD extras, a tour through old Shanghai. Burtynsky narrates the film, he doesn't say much, but when he does it is very deep and effective. A must see.

The Corporation

This is a film about the nature of corporations and the ideology that goes along with them. Corporate entities are their own beast- compassion and thoughtfulness do not come into play when your dealing with a machine designed to make money and control- at all cost. Sure, CEOs and board members are to blame- but it is the misuse of the concept of a corporation that is intrinsically flawed. This is one of the messages of the movie- and also that multi-nationals are raping the earth, subjugating people, and destroying communities. Not a pretty picture at all. Globalization happens at the cost of the poor. One story that sticks out in my mind is how the Betchtel Corporation managed to privatize all municipal water- including RAINWATER in Bolivia. Protests occurred, people died, and the executives were eventually driven out, fearful of their safety. It was a complicated situation but explained well in the film. Also discussed is the military industrial complex, a subject explored thoroughly in the excellent film Why We Fight. The suppression and manipulation of news items that would hurt corporations are addressed, as well as the concept “the corporation as a psychopath”. There are interviews with a lot of inspiring people like Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky.

Manufacturing Consent

I’m going to come out and say, for me, this is the most important piece of cinema ever made. When I finished watching this, I pressed play and watched it again to let the ideas and revelations sink in a little further. It is based on the understandings and ideas of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is linguist and a political activist and is probably the most eloquent and well informed man on earth. The film is about propaganda and how it shapes public opinion. And how it is everywhere we look- in every part of our lives- and most don’t know it at all. It is about how history is reported, recorded, and manipulated to suit the needs of corporations and government. There are lots of other great documentaries on Chomskys work including Imperial Grand Strategy and Power and Terror. See this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More Scientology Protests

I had to share this creepy photo of some Scien-zombie's watching the May 10th protests on Hollywood Blvd. Photos by Tom Andrews for LAist.
Also, this sign a protester made had me thinking:

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mister Lonely

Harmony Korines first film since 1999’s Julien Donkey Boy is about a group of celebrity impersonators living on a commune in Scotland. It is his most strait ahead film so far. This one has a more ‘normal’ look to it and there is more linear plot development then Gummo or Donkey Boy. Don’t get me wrong it is still very strange. He sets up situations and scenes with the celebrities that are pretty damn surreal at times. One of my favorite images is of the Pope crying in a bathtub that is placed in a field while Buckwheat stands and washes him. The colors of the Scottish highlands and the costumes are beautiful. The film touches on a lot of ideas: identity, faith, masks, and absurdity. It seems Korine is building a set of motifs that run throughout his films: bathtubs, dirty water, BMX bikes, and dancing.

Diego Luna plays Michael Jackson and his moves are pretty right on. His costumes are pretty hysterical; he wears the little MJ facemask for a lot of the movie. Samantha Morton is looking a little bigger than usual but not afraid to show it and as always, her performance is great. Some other people in it are Werner Herzog, Dennis Lavant, and even David Blaine is in there for a second. There are a lot of scenes with most of the cast where Korine lets them hang out and improvise in character. Potion Lords sent a representative to the Los Angeles premier and had TIM ask Harmony about how he uses improv with his actors. Video below.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Israeli Occupation of Palestine

Wow, Israel is fucked up. Even when my friend Rachel Corrie was purposely run over and killed by one of their bulldozers a few years ago, I didn’t fully understand the conflict over there. Now I'm starting to. In John Pilger’s book, Freedom Next Time, he writes, “Israel is the undisputed world champion violator of international law- an international law founded as a consequence of the crimes of the perpetrators of the Jewish holocaust.” This is ironic because they are some of the worst abusers of human rights since the Nazi’s. The Palestinians were living peacefully until in 1948 the Jews were awarded the right to a homeland. They started Israel and began kicking out all Arabs in the region. They started a campaign of destruction, killing and ethnic cleansing that continues to this day and goes virtually unchecked by the rest of the world. They are trying to oppress and wipe out Palestinian culture. Thousands live in refugee camps that are completely walled in. There are checkpoints everywhere and it often takes hours and hours to try and get through one. They cannot leave, go to school, see the doctor or anything without permission from the Israeli army. Ambulances are often not allowed to pass as the wounded bleed to death within sight of them. There are many cases of pregnant women not being able to pass a checkpoint to reach a hospital and having to give birth in a car and their babies usually die. Within the Occupied Territories there are Jewish ‘settlers,’ living in heavily fortified and guarded communities set up inside the camps. Inside these walls are rich suburban homes and affluent Jews watering their lush green lawns, while just meters away, beyond a wall, drinking water is very scarce and hundreds of children are dieing of starvation.

Israels excuse for this behavior is that they are battling terrorism. This stems from the fact a Palestinian organization, Hamas, attack them with suicide bombers. This is relatively new tactic in the region starting in the 1990’s (suicide bombers never existed in Iraq before the Anglo- American invasion.) Children growing up in the refugee camps have never known anything but war. Most have seen death first hand, often times members of their families. They live in constant fear of being bombed or shot. One of the most disturbing tactics Israel uses in its occupation is the targeting of children. From 2000 to 2004, 618 children were killed, over half shot in the head or neck, indicating sniper shooting. Most killings occur in their homes, school, or workplace. The trauma in these kids runs deep. The only weapon they have is themselves and they are very confused. The idol worship surrounding “Martyrs,” as they call them, is intense. Ten year old kids are becoming suicide bombers because they don’t know what else to do and and frankly, they don’t want to live. As well as starting the entire situation, Israel also provokes them. For example, in 2001, they wanted to attack and re-occupy the regions and try out their new jets and bombs, as well as send in 30,000 troops. But they needed a ‘revenge factor’ to motivate the troops for maximum killing, as well as to have an excuse for their actions within the international community. The problem was Sharif Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas had reached a secret deal that the suicide bombings would stop. Well, the Israelis heard about the plan and decided to assassinate the Hamas leader to provoke a response. It worked. Inevitably, 12 days later a new wave of suicide attacks occurred. Shortly thereafter, Israel attacked with unprecedented force.

The most despicable man alive is probably Israel’s leader Ariel Sharon. This man is a monster. His most notorious crime occurred in 1982 with his invasion of Lebanon. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was based in Beirut and he wanted them wiped out. In the first two weeks 14,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed and 20,000 injured. According to UNICEF, 10 children were killed for every one Palestinian fighter. Eventually the PLO retreated and was evacuated by an international force. Women and children remained in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, assuming they would be safe. Wrong. Sharon deemed them “terrorists.” He allowed a fascist trained group called the Phalangists to encircle the camp and systematically murder every child, women, and elderly person. The Israeli army sat in watchtowers making sure no one escaped. The events were sanitized in Israeli propaganda. One of Israel’s public control methods is to accuse anyone critical of them of being an Anti-Semite and therefore pro Nazi. This, and a well-oiled propaganda machine, has let them get away with atrocity after atrocity. Another one that springs to mind occurred in 2002. For three weeks, the Israeli Army had invaded and occupied Ram Allah in the West bank, the capital of the Palestinian Authority. They said it was to ‘destroy the infrastructure of terror’ (Israel conveniently jumped on the ‘terror’ bandwagon after 9/11). The actual aim was, according to John Pilger, “to destroy the infrastructure of an organized society.” Pilger toured the area ten days after the occupation. Desks and textbooks in schools had been trashed, musical instruments looted, computers destroyed and hard drives stolen. Their cultural center was demolished. The master tapes of one of the best collections of Palestinian cinema were all destroyed. Every piece of equipment in the town’s radio station was wrecked. The soldiers shit everywhere: on artwork, in drawers, on floors, flowerpots and books. The children’s art section had been pissed on and vandalized with the Star of David and phrases like “Sons of bitches- you fuckers- I was born to kill.” Gardens with cypresses and fruit trees were bulldozed. This is a very common practice in the Occupied Territories. As soon as any prosperity occurs, like agriculture, the army comes in and sets them back a few years, motivated by spite. There are horror stories after horror stories, I could go on but it is just to fucked up. They have even started stamping the hands of their prisoners, a sad echo of the way their people were treated 60 years ago. Israel are not the only ones to blame. America supplies them with their jets, helicopters, and bombs while Britain helped put the country together with the Balfour Declaration. The fact that both these countries turn a blind eye to what is happening is a crime against humanity in itself.

Click map for bigger image.

An image from the Sabra and Chatila massacre.

EDIT: June 2nd. I met a man at a BBQ last week who served four years in the Israeli army. Every young man has to over there. We had a long talk and and he confirmed all of the above article. He told me he had committed violent acts at the checkpoints for the first year of his service, then wised up and mellowed out. The word he most often used to describe the settlers, politicians, and the situation in general was "fanatics".

Friday, May 2, 2008


I hadn't been properly stoned in a few months so last night I smoked some bubble hash and watched the movie Smiley Face. What a delightful combination. This is the funniest movie I have seen in a long time. Anna Feris stars as Jane, a pothead who accidentally eats an entire batch of pot cupcakes and trips out hard as she tries to do the most simple tasks. For anyone that's ever been really stoned or dosed, this is a must see. We see the world totally through her eyes as she deals with all kinds of squares and uptight citizens. There is plenty of subtle psychedelic humor for the dedicated psychonauts out there. Gregg Arakis' direction is very creative, he gets inside the hallucinations in Jane's head in a fantastically realistic way, resulting in one of the trippiest movies in a long while. Anna Feris is a genius. Her reactions are hysterical. She mumbles, fumbles, and bumbles her way through the day. The supporting cast is incredible too. Each actors plays their character in a overly quirky and weird way that's hard to describe but makes perfect sense to a high mind. This film redefines the pot movie genre and is one of the best drug movies ever.