'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


Dr David Archibald, University Of Glasgow
Film International, Financial Times, Cineaste

Liza Bear,
Bomb Magazine

Dan Bessie
Filmmaker and Culture Critic

Prof. Dennis Broe
Jump Cut, NY Newsday, Boston Phoenix

Dianne Brooks
The Film Files,

Paul Buhle
Brown University

Lisa Collins

Benjamin Dickenson
Bright Lights Film Journal, UK

David Ehrenstein
Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Miguel Gardel
Proletaria Press

Michael Haas
Culture critic

Laura Hadden
Pacifica Radio

Gerald Horne
University Of Houston

Reynold Humphries
British Film Historian

Sikivu Hutchinson, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner, Films For Two

Cindy Lucia
Cineaste Magazine

Pat McGilligan
Film Historian

Prairie Miller
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network

Logan Nakyanzi
Go Left TV, Huffington Post

Victor Navasky
The Nation

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Steve Presence

Radical Film Network, UK

Louis Proyect

Luis Reyes
Film historian

Nancy Schiesari,
BBC, Channel 4,
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

Michael Slate
Beneath The Surface, KPFK Radio

David Spaner, Arsenal Pulp Press

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig

Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Anti-capitalist Ken Loach drama takes top prize at Cannes 2016!

Loach said it was “very strange” to receive the award in such glamorous surroundings, considering the conditions endured by those people who inspired the film. “We must say that another world is possible and necessary.”
Jury member Donald Sutherland praised I, Daniel Blake as “an absolutely terrific movie that resonates in your heart and soul.”

The 79-year-old Britain has triumphed at the Cannes film festival for the second time with his welfare state drama, as Andrea Arnold’s American Honey takes…

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Broe On The European Cultural Beat: The Nuit Debout Diaries

**Broe On The European Cultural Beat: The Nuit Debout Diaries. A continuing series of Arts Express Paris correspondent Professor Dennis Broe, on location there with updates from the mass labor and student protest movements. Which he indicates have spread to sixty cities across France, while currently spilling into Belgium as well. And with the possibility that Nuit Debut may turn up at the Cannes Film Festival, where Broe will be filing his on location report next week.


Up All Night: Restoring the Republic by Questioning the Repression

Nuit Debout, the best translation of which is probably Up All Night, is a protest movement that has featured a radical and non-hierarchical rethinking of French society and French democracy, or the current lack thereof. The movement is growing fast. It began in Paris near the end of March and at the beginning of the April was said to have spread to 20 cities, but one week later was active in 60 cities. Like the French Revolution before them, the movement now boasts its own calendar, dating from its March start date, so that for example the 27th of April was called “58 March.”   
I will rehearse a bit of the “history” of the movement, a strange word in this case since it is just a little over one month old, and then talk about what I think are its four key significances and finally say something about the film that in some way inspired it, Merci Patron, or Thanks Boss.  

The movement grew out of the March 31 massive demonstration against the quote Reform of the Labor Laws at Republic, a massive union and youth rally to oppose the taking away of the 35 hour work week, forcing workers to work on Sunday, and making it easier for bosses to fire or layoff workers, all of which have deeply affected youth in this society.  However the form of the movement, a series of mass meetings which begin in the early evening and heat up as the night progresses at Republic, came from a now famous line from an actor in a demonstration at the Stock Market, the Bourse, on February 23rd of trade unionists, activists and intellectuals protesting a new environmentally unsound airport at Notre-Dames-des-Landes, the closure of yet another factory (Goodyear at Amiens) and the opposition to what is called in the neoliberal parlance university “reform.” From the multiple struggles in that demo, came the idea of creating a forum where all the struggles could be talked about and the now famous line from an actor at the event who said “After the demo, I’m not going home.” What has emerged is France’s answer to the Occupy movement in the US and the Indigenes Movement in Spain, a non-hierarchical series of meetings to debate public issues growing out of the sense that the parliamentary public sphere is bankrupt. As Chatal Mouffe says, many leftists thought that the problem in France was Sarkozy and that the solution was to elect so called Socialists but it is now very clear that these are socialists in name only, and that Holland’s policies are much more the social liberalism of a Tony Blair or Bill (and Hilary) Clinton which has begot much disillusion.

Four major points about the significance of the movement and how it has already altered the socio-political debate in France:

  1. The transformation of the space of Republic. The square of the Republic had been captured by mourners of the December attacks. It was a place of trauma bonding which may be necessary but can also easily be used to heighten security funding, push through repressive legislation such as the lifting of nationality, and as a physical justification for increased bombing in the Middle East and in Syria where France has been one of the leaders in reining destruction. Nuit Debout has changed this space or rather returned it to a place of protest against the Holland government and in so doing has pointed to the fallacy of the left leaders climbing on the security bandwagon when the situation at home is desperate. That is, The R in Republic was beginning to stand for Repression but Nuit Debout has remade the space a place for the possible refounding of the democracy so the R once again stands for the Republic. Along with this Nuit Debout in its constantly contesting places and turning them into spaces has provoked the wrath of the police which in the May Day March for the first time were at the head of the procession. To counter this repression, the demonstrators led with a group of youth in hoods (cagouile) or bandanas or gas masks who were during the demonstration pelleted with tear gas. Le Monde, no firm pillar of support for the movement, the day of the demonstration led off its May Day coverage with a story about excessive police violence. Again, this questioning of the tactics of the police, spiriting demonstrators away for questioning or locking them in their homes because they might be a source of trouble as was done with the COP 21 Climate Conference, is a breach in the image of the police after the December attacks where they have been seen as benevolent guardians of security.   
  2. There is a great fear of this movement spreading like wildfire and being uncontrollable. The Le Monde stories, that is the institutional center left representation of the movement, characterize it as simply a bobo or bourgie group of activists and intellectuals that will not spread outside of Paris. But, it already has adherents and similar outposts at least 60 other French cities and has crossed the border into Belgium. With such dissatisfaction and high unemployment in the country and with such disgust for the ineffective political institutions where both, much like in the US, the neoliberal center of both right and left is breaking down, there is real fear that it could spread quickly. Holland’s response is the hilariously paternal, “But we’ve done all we can for the kids, why are they questioning us?” 

There is also the example of the Spanish movement which began in the central square of Madrid and only a year and a half later is the impetus behind first the election of the movement mayors of Madrid and Barcelona followed by the party that sprang from the Movement Podemos coming in third in the Spanish elections and potentially able to finish second when new elections are held. There are also comparisons to the Occupy Movement which it must be remembered was brutally sabotaged in many key cities by Democratic mayors and so there is fear as the movement grows that the police and the Socialist government or the region’s right wing department head will move against them. (The last week has been filled with police violence with much use of tear gas and with rubber pellets hitting one demonstrator in the eye.) However, Nuit Debout at this moment is wary of comparing itself to either movement because it does not wish the rapid eviseration of Occupy or a too quick turn to parliamentary politics as usual in the case of Podemos. 
  1. This is predominantly youth movement but with strong links to the workers, beginning its stand at Republic after the March 31 union demonstrations against the new labor or really anti-labor law called the Al Kourmi law which will be debated in the French General Assembly this week and which was the occasion for very pointed May Day marches against the law which Nuit Debout joined.
The council thinking on work is very advanced already. The economy commission has recognized the end of the salatariat, of those who work for salaries in the coming world of automation and is pushing for a guaranteed wage, “from birth to death,” and the ability to work or not depending on how one wants to express themselves. The group has already outlined the mainstream coopting of this coming issue, the next stage on from the Bernie Sanders campaign, discussing the way the neoliberal capitalist right will propose a minimum and insufficient lifetime wage that will, in return for doing away with other social services, create a population totally at the mercy of the market, something like what is proposed in Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots, while the left version will provisionally not touch the social system but allow for its trimming in the future. Nuit Debout’s evolving proposal asks for wage, social guarantees and a cooperative model which demands equality in the wage and a reduction in the time of work. This is the crucial debate that with 50% unemployment coming in the next 20 years no politician will touch.
  1.  Movement organization is deceptive. It is non-hierarchical with speakers in the various assemblies taking turns and with the assemblies coming to decisions based on consensus, and against the parliamentary idea that there are issues in which 49% of the population loses. But though it is non-hierarchical, there is a strong organization and decisions and policies are being formulated and there is a high degree of organization necessary to keep the movement going. A Nuit Debout begins with late afternoon specific groups covering not only present but also historical moments so one early week saw discussions of the revolution of 1848, of May ’68 and the question of migration. At 6 there is a popular assembly bringing together 500 to 1000 people where the commissions present the state of their work which lasts until midnight. One problem seems to be that of retaining the memory and decision of the previous session so that Nuit Debout does not collapse into a kind of Groundhog Day where each day is a starting over.

A bit about the film Merci Patron and its role in Nuit Debout. The film is France’s Roger and Me about Francois Ruffin, raconteur and editor of the satirical magazine Fakir, and his love, albeit false, for Louis Vitton and Dior owner Bernard Arnault and his championing of a family let go by one of Arnault’s closings, the Klurs, who in the film win a settlement from the company as long as they don’t tell anybody about it, because then everyone Arnault lets go would want to be supported. The film is playing in the smaller theaters here is Paris but is selling out showing after showing. In my mind there are two main contributions that it makes. The first is a very clear idea of the difference in the country between the Arnault’s, surrounded by lavish fashion and parties, the height of elegance, and the Klur’s, barely able to survive. The film is strikingly clear in the way it differentiates the two worlds of the country, especially in dress, customs and manners. The Arnaults are also only seen at a distance, in promo spots and on the newscasts of their lavish parties while the Klurs are most often shown in the warm intimacy of their tiny kitchen.

The second interesting feature is that unlike the majority of French documentaries, which tackle controversial themes but in predictable fashion, the humor in this film makes us see both the Klurs and the Arnaults in a new light, fascinated by a destitute family and their ex-union best friend and repulsed by the imperious lavishness of the other. That is, we don’t get bored watching working class people. Ruffin keeps it interesting and light but pointed and the crowds enjoy the film but recognize that they are much closer to the Klurs than the Arnaults. Both the lightness and stark contrast are new impulses in French documentaries and the film itself is inspiring people to show up at Republic and question the direction the country is going where representative democracy, outflanked and capitulating to corporate capital, is resulting in no democracy at all.  

Last week the movement also occupied space at the Odeon Theater, which by the way I referred to in my yearend roundup as draped in the slogan “The World Is Yours” which Nuit Debout is attempting to refashion from a delusional consumerist platitude to a slogan with actual meaning. The Theater was one of the key sites of the ’68 Student Revolt here in Paris and this close to the Cannes film festival also raises questions about whether Nuit Debout will spill over into the festival, which often courts controversy as a way of promoting itself in the way that commercializes the ‘68 moment where the New Wave directors Truffaut and Godard led a protest that closed the festival. Will Up All Night appear at the festival to rethink France’s relation with commercial film production? We’ll see next week as I report on Cannes.

May Day addendum. While workers were occupied with trying to stop a repressive labor law, the far right on May Day was splintering. In its traditional subsuming of workers’ rights into a nationalistic celebration of Joan of Arc, the far right Marine Le Pen was at one Parisian Joan statue at Augustine while Jean-Marie Le Pen, her even farther right father was at a different statue at Pyramides. Le Pen the father compared his exile by his daughter--he’s persona non grata in the party with his openly racist remarks judged to make him an albatross in next year’s election--to the beheading of Louis XVI by the revolutionaries. In farther right circles Marine Le Pen is now a revolutionary–you’ve come a long way baby.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dennis Broe Talks Nuit Debout, On Location In Paris

Professor Dennis Broe is on location in Paris covering the Nuit Debout protest movement for the James Agee Cinema Circle.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Broe On The Global Literary Beat: The Cultural Politics Of The Noir Novel

By Dennis Broe

The Cultural Politics of the Noir Novel: Truthtelling vs. Bookselling

The Noir Novel, though perhaps originating in the US, is today a global phenomenon which has, like the form it preceded, rap music, a history of truth telling, of unfolding and revealing dark secrets, and of giving voice and subjectivity to those under-represented in the mainstream media and the neo-liberal global order. Thus, the noir novel in France, called the polar (a condensation of roman policier), the novel of detection, in its newest manifestation, which the French term “rural noir,” describes the 60% of the countryside that is marginalized and living outside the urban corporate order. The gialli in Italy recounts the state-mafia collaboration that continues to impoverish the people of Southern Italy while Scandinavian and particularly Icelandic Noir chronicled the years of the economic boom and bubble. In addition, Noir novels, in Iceland’s forced reinvention of itself after the financial crisis, have become one of the leading cottage industries in a country where as one translator recounted it “we kicked out all the bankers and only the writers are left.” But the genre is also a money making machine and there is an impulse to turn it from being a voice of resistance to being a globally reductive imprint of the West on the rest of the world, since we now have for example South African noir with Johannesburg remade as LA, or a rigid, utterly formulaic form, with the new Millenium novel written after its author Stig Larson’s death quickly being appropriated not by the Swedish cinema but by Hollywood’s Sony/Columbia, or, finally, a genre that simply nourishes anger,  resentment or commodified “kinky” sex as in the new “hot” literary form “grip lit,” and its lead authoress Lisa Hilton whose Maestra aims to be 50 Shades of Black.


All these tendencies were on display in the French city of Lyon last weekend for the annual Quais du Polar, a global or at least Euro-American conference of noir writers which in its 12th edition is one of the largest such gatherings in the world. The naked truth telling aspects of this genre are exemplary since, unlike science fiction cousin, it does not have to couch itself in the future to describe the horrific global effects and behind-the-scenes maneuvers of corporate capital allied with the state. In Italy, after the mafia assassination of the judges Falcone and Borsellino in the early 1990s, large elements of the press stopped covering the organized crime story. The privileged location for discussion of the way the state and the crime families were acting in collusion was the noir novel which has even featured the resurgence of the judges, not in life but on the fictional page. Giancarlo De Cataldo, interviewed by France Culture for the conference, is himself a magistrate whose Season of Massacres details the linking of rightwing intelligence forces, the state and the mafia in the wake of the Falcone-Borsellino killings and subsequent mafia bombings to negotiate a state-mafia pact that brought Berlusconi to power. Likewise, Mimmo Gangemi, a journalist and engineer from Calabria in Southern Italy in The Revenge of the Little Judge details the coming to conscience of a corrupt magistrate who attempts to settle scores with the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia--said to be now the most powerful criminal organization in the world--for killing a fellow judge. At the conference Gangemi talked about the need to make the legal system once again a reliable ally of the people of the South in their battle against this endemic corruption now spread globally, claiming that his books, once they are written, belong not to him as an author but to the people of Calabria in their struggle.

Swiss author Sebastien Meier’s The Name of the Father involves a once jailed ex-inspector of the police on the trial of money laundering, tax evasion and prostitution as they are practiced in the white collar corridors of Swiss banking power in its party capital Lausanne. Meier talked about the need in the wake of growing income disparity to create plots that involved this kind of high-level manipulation and it must be noted there is another author now also writing in French, Dominique Manotti, who is also an economic historian, whose books deal with economic corruption including the current Black Gold which details how the Marseille mafia moved into oil distribution. Finally, Nigeria’s Leye Adenle in Easy Motion Tourist, details through his female lead character a gutsy protector of working girls, Amaka--in French the book has the much better title Lagos Lady--both the sprawling beauty of Lagos and the greed which animates its corrupt ruling class who in one scene flaunt their wealth by throwing 100 dollar bills during a wedding party.

The global battle of the festival matched Scandinavian and American crime fiction. From the US Richie Price, who wrote Clockers, the Scorsese film The Color of Money and a number of episodes of The Wire was here with Whites, which deals with working class cops in the Bronx, a subgroup that is currently and rightfully under sustained criticism. James Grady, who wrote the original Six Days of the Condor which became the Redford film 3 Days and who currently has a Condor sequel, Last Days of the Condor was somewhat at pains to slightly challenge while at the same time defending and identifying himself with the contemporary American security state. While William Boyle whose Gravesend, which features an actress returning to the mean streets of Brooklyn, was chosen as the 1000th title of the French series Rivage Noir which began with Boyle’s literary hero Jim Thompson’s Recoil. Thompson is loved by the French and recognized as an original voice of criticism during the years of McCarthyite repression in the 1950s. Best of all though was Wyoming’s Craig Johnson, who appeared in Lyon in Stetson and greeted the audience with a big Western “Hi.” Johnson’s Longmire, a TV series as well which has switched to Netflix for its fourth season, is a defender of the downtrodden in the least populated state in the union and is through his Native American friend sensitive to the plight of the Cheyenne in his county. For my mind, Johnson’s character, along with characters by James Crumley and James Lee Burke, is the writer in the contemporary scene who best carries on the Hammett-Chandler-Ross MacDonald literary tradition of the quick-witted morally grounded detective in a sea of corruption.     

The Americans at Lyon were matched by their Scandinavian cousins and two big hits of the festival were Norway’s Jo Nesbo and Iceland’s Arnadur Indridason, both with best-selling detective series. Nesbo’s Harry Hole is, as his author explained, a divided figure, as is Nesbo himself whose father fought with the Nazis against Russia in the Eastern Front claiming he was a patriot and whose mother as a child was used to run missions for the Norwegian Resistance. Nesbo’s television series Occupied, in a way that is highly politically confused, explores the World War II Nazi Occupation in a contemporary setting by proposing a supposed Russian occupation of Norway, aided by the EU and the US, in an attempt to force Norway to continue to exploit its oil after the prime minister for ecological reasons has refused. (All this is of course news to the Russians who pointed out that it was they who had not invaded but rather liberated Norway during the Second World War.) Iceland’s Indridason’s current book Operation Napoleon is not a tale of his series character Inspector Erlandur but rather the story of 1944 plane crash that carried both US and Nazi officials and the supposed plot they were hatching for Iceland. Indeed the US essentially occupied Iceland with bases after the war and Indridason explained that he was among those who instead wanted Iceland to remain neutral.

The French, not to be outdone in an area in which they excel though find difficult to export, were represented at the conference with their latest form of roman noir which they have dubbed “rural noir,” a recounting of these now increasingly more desolate areas of the country, outside the media and neo-liberal bubble and decimated by outsourcing and wholescale moving of industry. Nicolas Mathieu’s current novel, Animals of War, is a detailing of the stories of what he calls the “lost areas of the country” in a way that is neither bucolic nor simply about regional color. Benoit Minville, the author who coined the term “rural noir” summed up perhaps the purpose of this new strain of noir and of noir fiction in general: “(Perhaps) you cannot change the world but our goal (as authors) is that nothing remain hidden.”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Tribeca Diaries

By Liza Béar​



April 18, 2016--The day started with an edible insect lunch at the Mexican Miscellanea in the East Village with Andreas Johnsen, BUGS director and his Nordic Lab partner from Copenhagen.


This was the first pop-up event for BUGS, one of Tribeca's most exotic documentary premieres.  Enterprising Danish filmmaker Johnsen, who also produced and shot the film, accompanied researchers and scientists from the Nordic Lab in Copenhagen to several countries from Mexico to Uganda for three years as they studied insect-eating habits practiced by 2 billion of the world's population. Today's offering was ant larva tacos cooked in avocado oil with onion and mint. {I ate two small open plan tacos as fortification for cycling from the East Village to the Regal Cinemas in Battery Park). Given Denmark's reputation for Michelin 5-star haute cuisine and its five top international chefs, don't be surprised if insects show up on the menu at the new Grand Central food court and Danish restaurant in the near future. BUGS will be screened again at Tribeca this week at Regal Cinemas, Battery Park (Wednesday, 10:30pm); and at Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea (Thursday 2:30 pm).

Then a quick ride down the West Side pear blossom and daffodil-lined bike path to the Regal for another world premiere, THE BANKSY JOB ably co-directed by Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan Harvey. This highly entertaining and well crafted UK movie documents the twists and turns of an art heist engineered by Andy Link, a Hackney, London, self-styled art terrorist AK 47 and, depending on your p.o.v, the successive acquisitions or thefts of Banksy's The Drinker, itself a hollow remake of Auguste Rodin's Le Penseur (The Thinker) adorned with a huge traffic cone/dunce cap on his head--surely a reflection on the artist rather than on Rodin as AK47 thumbs his nose at classic sculpture, its recreation and re-installation on Shaftesbury Ave as The Stinker, and its final disappearance. Silly story, right? But superbly staged, well performed, great production design and super-cynical about the London art world and art authentication, with astute and deadpan commentary by representatives of said art world. The film's dialogue effectively contrasts the posh accents of Brit gallery dealers with the hard-to-decipher Yorkshire brogue of the art "terrorists".

Day continued with a visit to Famous Deaths a surrealist Dutch interactive project at the 50 Varick Street Tribeca HQ. The lounge is adorned with product placements eg IBM's robots: Trendy Bot, Dusty Bot and Shy Bot.



April 20--Excerpt from the Q & A after today's screening of Junction 48, a narrative film about two striving hip hop artists set in Lyd, a mixed Arab/Jewish town near Tel Aviv. It premiered at the Berlinale this year where it won the Panorama audience award. This is a well-acted, intense and moving film that offers a fresh take on the situation of Arabs living in Israel, fraught as it is with tragedy, co-written by Tamer Nafar (who also stars as Kareem) and based on his own experiences as a hip hop artist, surmounting daily crises. The story is as dramatic as it is realistic. Co-star Samar Qupty, a filmmaking graduate from Tel Aviv University, is a knock-out. Video:  Director Udi Aloni expresses his views on the role of art in the Palestinian resistance, going way beyond ideological clichés to claim that for oppressed people, achieving quality in art, music, theatre is in itself a form of resistance.


April 23 2016--Christian Vincent's COURTED (L'Hermine) has its last Tribeca screening today Saturday at 6:15, Regal Cinemas, Battery Park. This is a thoroughly engaging milieu film set in a provincial Assize Court in Saint Omer, northwest France, the only court in France to have a jury trial. Leads are topnotch

French actor Fabrice Luchini as the aptly-named Michel Racine, the supercilious presiding judge with impeccable diction but a bad case of the flu and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Ditte Lorensen-Coteret, a juror on whom Racine had a crush in the past; she was the anesthetist who brought him out of a coma after an accident. Knudsen is apparently known as the prime minister in Borgen to viewers familiar with the Danish TV series (I'm not). Here she plays a single mother with a sharp-tongued 17-year-old daughter who buts in on one of judge and juror's rare coffee breaks and attempts to suss out their relationship.

Its emphases as distant from formulaic courtroom drama as you can get, COURTED unfolds with pointed anecdotal detail in the course of a felony trial for the death of a seven-month old girl. The notoriously uncooperative father has been accused of having kicked her to death, a charge which he vehemently denies. Tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Facts and contradictions emerge--but in both situations, the trial and the not-quite romance, is the full truth ever known? Whether the combat boots the defendant wears throughout the trial are relevant to the charge is never determined. The film's great strengths lie in its nimble script whose subtle observation of human interactions contrasts with the formality of courtroom procedure, and superb performances by both professional and non-professional actors. Winner of Best Screenplay and Best Actor at Venice Biennale this year. Film stills courtesy Tribeca Film Festival.

Liza Bear is a member of the James Agee Cinema Circle. Check out her other videos and interviews on her Youtube channel, nothingofficial, HERE

Saturday, April 9, 2016


Today in History, Paul Robeson Was Born - Which of These 3 Announced Films on His Life Will Be Made First?

Photo of Tambay A. ObensonBy Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and ActApril 9, 2016 at 12:11PM
Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson
On this day in history, April 9, 1898, Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, NJ. He would've been 118 years old this year were he still alive (he died in 1976). Sidney Poitier gets much of the ink, so to speak, and rightfully so, but Robeson laid the groundwork, coming more than 2 decades before Poitier starred in his first feature film ("No Way Out" in 1950). Robeson made his big screen debut appearance in a film directed by another of cinema's historical treasures, Oscar Micheaux's "Body and Soul" in 1925. In fact, Robeson's film acting career pretty much ended in the late 1940s (the fact that he was blacklisted and isolate politically by the House Un-American Activities Committee certainly didn't help) before Poitier ever stepped in front of a film camera, with around 12 credits on his resume - his performance in "The Emperor Jones" in 1933 likely his crowning achievement; on film anyway.
One key opportunity (among many) that was missed which may not be widely-known (and given some of our recent conversations on this blog about films on anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection) is that Robeson was reportedly to star in a film on Toussaint-Louverture, which was to be made in the 1930s, with Soviet-era directing legend Sergei Eisenstein attached to helm. It obviously never happened.
But Robeson wasn't just a film actor. He also had a successful stage career, was a singer and activist. But those are a mere words that simply can't fully capture the dynamic human being and incredible presence that he was.
And with all the apparent interest in biopics on black public figures (see my most recent list here), I'd say that a Paul Robeson biopic is long overdue, given the man and his accomplishments - frankly, far more-so than many of the biopics we've seen in recent years.
As of this posting, we are aware of 3 previously announced films on the life of Robeson, although it's not clear where each one stands today - whether they're still alive and in development, shelved for good, or in Limbo.
The first: Announced in 2012, Michael Jai White said during an interview while doing press for a documentary ("Generation Iron") he was involved in, that he intended to bring the life story of Robeson to the big screen, playing Robeson himself. He lamented the fact that Robeson's legacy seemed to have been forgotten, and argued that he hasn't been given the proper recognition he deserves, given what he accomplished, calling him a personal as well as a national hero. White insisted that he is/was the person to play Robeson, adding that it was a part that he could definitely do justice to. He went on to say that the project was in the works, and that it was a personal quest for him to see that it got made. That was almost 4 years ago; no word on whether it's still a passion project for him at this point.
The second: Announced in 2013, British actor David Harewood was attached to play Robeson in what was said to be more of an indie production, with Sydney Tamiia Poitier (daughter of Sidney Poitier) as Paul Robeson’s wife, Eslanda ("Essie") Goode Robeson. South African director Darrell Roodt ("Winnie") was initially attached to helm. Months later, Vondie Curtis-Hall reportedly took over, replacing Roodt in the director's chair. The project hailed from Four Stars International, and was to be produced by Greg Carter, and executive produced by Richard Akel, with a script penned by Akel and Terry Bisson, with promises of a film that's worthy of its subject. Also of note, Louis Gossett Jr. was to portray W.E.B. Du Bois in the film which was expected to be a traditional biopic, showing Robeson's rise (along with his wife, who was also his business manager) into his 60s. The goal was to shoot the film in August of 2013, in Toronto and Montreal; but it doesn't appear that photography actually happened, or if the project is even still in the works. It's not listed on any of the above names' IMDB pages.
And the third: Announced in 2014, Steve McQueen revealed, via the Guardian(UK), that he was planning to direct a feature film based on the life of Robeson, saying that it would indeed be his next feature directorial effort after "12 Years a Slave." It wasn't clear to me whether McQueen's project was something entirely new, or if he was in fact taking over the existing project that his fellow Brit, David Harewood, was already attached to star in. According to the Guardian piece, directing a film on Robeson was McQueen's dream project: "His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger [...]  But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice," McQueen said. With an Oscar-winning film on his resume, and the attention of the film world, he certainly had "the juice" after "12 Years." But 2 years later, it's not clear whether it's still a dream project for him. Harry Belafonte is involved in the project, although we don't yet know in what capacity exactly. I'd guess as a producer/consultant, given that Belafonte and Robeson were pals. McQueen added: "We’re very fortunate that we’re on a roll together to make this dream a reality. Miracles do happen. With Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, things have come full circle." He didn't share what actors he may have been eyeing for the part. But assuming it's still a project in the works, but is just taking some time to come together (as is often the case in the business of movie-making), depending on when the film is released, and given that it would very likely be high-profile enough, it could very well be another Steve McQueen film that will find itself in Awards season conversations, for whatever year that is.
Given the long life that he lived, the events he lived through, the other historically-significant public figures he knew, interacted and worked with (like Oscar Micheaux), his on-screen and off-screen accomplishments, his activism that would lead to his black-listing, and so much more, there's a lot of great history here in this one, single life. And a big screen account of that life is one that's definitely warranted. Or maybe a miniseries, his story unfolding over several episodes, that one of the premium cable TV networks picks up, so that we get a more comprehensive portrait of the man and his life, instead of squeezing it all into a 2-hour feature film.
Which project will get to the finish line first is anyone's guess. I imagine that there's a matter of life rights to be considered here, with the Robeson Estate controlling them. So there could be some behind-the-scenes conflicts that may not have been made public yet. We'll certainly find out soon enough.
But no matter; I'm just encouraged that there's actual new interest in bringing Robeson's life to the screen.
In the meantime, one of my favorite clips of the renaissance man; dateline 1959, talking Shakespeare (he portrayed Othello early in his career - 1943). It's a rare treat to find footage of Paul Robeson as Paul Robeson. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Moonwalkers: Tarantino On Acid Subversive Sixties Stoner Satire

Moonwalkers may be a sixties cold war comedy about US media machinations to make it to the moon first, but its combo ballsy big screen intersection of politics, publicity and propaganda couldn't be more provocatively in the here and now. As a competitive moon landing operation in heated rivalry with the Soviet Union back then shrewdly bids to even out the odd over at the Pentagon, by substituting for perseverance the predetermined, conveniently scripted scenario skills over in Hollywood.

A psychedelically laden satirical banquet bashing a discredited US media as manipulative when it comes to fact versus fantasy as the storytelling machinations on any movie set, Moonwalkers opts for a hand wringing CIA in stealthy ops mode. And bent on tapping already spaced out on screen director Stanley Kubrick to stage an Apollo 11 makeshift moon landing well, just in case. Reluctantly called to duty for this daffy quest is PTSD damaged Viet vet CIA operative Kidman (Ron Perlman), who has massive anger mismanagement fantasy issues of his own, inside his perpetually restaged Nam freakout flashback head.

Which lands the seriously disoriented Kidman in the UK packing a suitcase full of CIA secretive cash in a search for the elusive Kubrick. And pursuing in the course of an extensive menu of period detail mindblowing mishaps, an array of individuals none of whom are the directing legend but claim they could be. Chiefly among them is failed rock musician Jonny (Rupert Grint) - more Harry Pothead here than anything else. And who may not be Kubrick, but is motivated enough by the money to possibly conjure a marijuana fueled make believe moon landing anyway. 

Move over millennials, who may be too out of touch with the sixties stoners thing you wouldn't understand. But just how far we've come a long way baby, from truth in movies and the media if there ever really was any, couldn't be more subversively served up in Moonwalkers - whether high on controlled substances for the duration or not.

Prairie Miller
Critical Women On Film

Liza Bear: Best Films, Released And Unreleased In The US

            Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

--The New Girl-Friend
--The Assassin
--Going Clear
--The Connection

 --Sworn Virgin
--Stranger in Canton
--The Measure of Man
--Mia Madre
--Human Capital
--Arabian NIghts
--Peace Tolls in Our Dreams
--No Home Movie
--Listen to Me Marlon

Liza Bear
Bomb Magazine

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Court: A Conversation With Indian Filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane

By Liza Bear

'...The film is outstanding in its acute observation of courtroom protocols and procedures, arcane colonial-era laws and judicial peccadilloes that serve to create a theater of the absurd. But the story’s originality surges when it steps outside the courtroom between the sessions, which are constantly adjourned on inane pretexts, to follow the daily lives of the principal players—defense attorney Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber, who’s also the film’s producer), public prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), and Judge Sadavarte (Pradeep Joshi), adding texture and layers of unpredictability to their characters. Their domestic and social routines challenge the conventional affiliations between class and professional role—the cold-hearted public prosecutor, for instance, is from a working class background, while the defense attorney is from the upper echelons of social privilege.'


Liza Bear produces Cherchez La Femme on Youtube. She also writes for Bomb Magazine. Liza is a member of The James Age Cinema Circle.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Arts Express: The Most Dangerous Man In America. A Conversation With Director Woodie King Jr.

“I have been despised for so long for being Black, that to tell me you will despise me because now I declare myself officially Red, does not faze me in the least.”
W.E.B. Dubois

**Black Lives Matter: Past, Present, Future.
Most Dangerous Man in America: A conversation with the director, Woodie King and excerpts read by the playwright, the late Amiri Baraka. This is a dramatic reflection of one of the most traumatic events in the terrible period of McCarthyism. W.E.B DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP, a scholar and political activist, known and recognized throughout the world, was indicted in 1951 by the US government at the age of 82 as "an agent of a foreign power." In the play, the focus moves back and forth between the Harlem community and their opinions, the witnesses' testimony and the courtroom battles. This is Amiri Baraka's last play written just before his death, and never before performed on stage until now.


**Churchill, The Play. Commentary and excerpts.

It is 1946. In the past year, Winston Churchill has led Britain and the Allies to WW II victory in Europe. He has also shockingly been defeated for re-election as Prime Minister. Sitting in forced retirement with his wife Clementine at their Chartwell home, he shares his life in flashback and storytelling. In Churchill, the Nobel Prize laureate discusses his failures, successes, politics, and his obsession with art, liquor and women.

Arts Express, Airing On WBAI/The Pacifica National Radio Network and Affiliate Stations on May 14th, 2015.