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


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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Anti-Oscars 2014: The James Agee Cinema Cinema Circle Awards

In case you're wondering why all those critics groups and movie guild organizations out there seem to inevitably choose the same awards as one another every year from a small field of contestants, there's an obvious - and odious - reason. Hollywood strictly controls who and what gets nominated, simply by making available as awards screenings or screeners, only those films, filmmakers and actors they choose as the winners - and ignoring any other requests. Not so with the James Agee Cinema Circle, defying those financially controlled, bought and paid for bogus awards, with our yearly JACC Anti-Oscars.

And with Oscar wins based - no less than US multi-million dollar election victories - on who can afford to buy elections with the biggest bucks, The James Agee Cinema Circle has announced their Anti-Oscars 2014, in recognition of artistic merit and humanistic values alone. In other words, unlike the Academy, which primarily focuses on entertainment or sensationalism while disregarding debasement targeting race, gender and class, the James Agee Cinema Circle bestows awards on all entries equally each year. And the only losers are relegated to their JACC Hall Of Shame.

With their citing of late iconic film critic Pauline Kael that 'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising,' the Critics Chapter of JACC is described as 'an association of national and international critics, historians and film scholars who are involved in print, radio, online and TV broadcast media and analysis.'

'We have come together to form the first progressive critics organization, in the belief that idealistic perspectives, voices and diverse ideological visions in film criticism that speak with social conviction and consciousness, are sorely lacking as a public platform. We will be recognizing films embodying those humanistic ideals with our annual awards.

There are so many reasons for liking or hating a movie. One big mental roadblock is being knocked out by the performances, dramatic style or cinematography, but evaluating the story as a stinker. And the typical entertainment journalist and those for sale to the commercial media corporations, will argue that if a movie is well made, it doesn't matter if the content is reactionary, degrades, or dehumanizes, or even if it is disseminating untruths about real political and historical events.

But as JACC has so succinctly pointed out, why go to such lengths to lie, when you can just simply tell the truth. And that 'why' will be one of our many probing hot topics on the table.

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.'



*THE TRUMBO: The Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE PICTURE is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for "Spartacus" and "Exodus" in 1960.

One of the only biopics this year not twisting truths through either falsification or omission, this Michael Cuesta directed docudrama heralds the courageous, defiant, lonely and tragic struggle of journalist Gary Webb, who stood up to both the US government and corporate media in collusion. As he exposed the CIA scheme to flood the inner cities with cocaine back in the 1990s to covertly finance the illegal US-backed Contra war against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.

*THE GARFIELD: The Award for BEST ACTOR is named after John Garfield, who rose from the proletarian theatre to star in progressive pictures such as "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Force of Evil," only to run afoul of the Hollywood Blacklist.


*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For BEST ACTRESS Named for Karen Morley, who was driven out of Hollywood in the 1930s for her leftist views, but who maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life, running for Lieutenant Governor on the American Labor Party ticket in 1954. She passed away in 2003, unrepentant to the end, at the age of 93.


*THE RENOIR: The Award for BEST ANTI-WAR FILM is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece, "Grand Illusion."


*THE GILLO: The Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE FOREIGN FILM is named after the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, who lensed the 1960s classics "The Battle of Algiers" and "Burn!"


*THE DZIGA: The Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE DOCUMENTARY is named after the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who directed 1920s nonfiction films such as the "Kino Pravda" ("Film Truth") series and "The Man With the Movie Camera."


*THE BOUND FOR GLORY AWARD: The Award for BEST ANTI-CAPITALIST FILM is named after the 1976 Hal Ashby directed biopic about Woody Guthrie, played by the late David Carradine.


*LA PASSIONARA AWARD: For the most positive female images in a movie, and in light of the historically demeaning portrayal of women in movies.


*OUR DAILY BREAD AWARD: For the most positive and inspiring working class images in movies this year.


*THE ROBESON AWARD: Named after courageous performing legend, Paul Robeson. The award is for the movie that best expresses the people of color experience, in light of their historically demeaning portrayals in films.

*THE TOMAS GUTIERREZ ALEA AWARD: Named after the late legendary Cuban filmmaker. For best depicting mass popular uprising or revolutionary transformation in movies


*THE LAWSON: The Award for BEST ANTI-FASCIST FILM this year, is named after screenwriter John Howard Lawson, one of the Hollywood Ten, who wrote Hollywood's first feature about the Spanish Civil War, 1938's "Blockade," with Henry Fonda, and anti-Nazi movies such as 1943's "Sahara," starring Humphrey Bogart.


*THE MODERN TIMES: The Award for Best Progressive Film SATIRE is named after Charlie Chaplin, who made 1936's "Modern Times" and 1940's "The Great Dictator."


*THE ORSON: The Award for BEST OVERLOOKED OR THEATRICALLY UNRELEASED [seen at festivals, or on TV or DVD only] Progressive Film is named after actor/director Orson Welles. After he directed the masterpiece "Citizen Kane" Welles had difficulty getting most of his other movies made.

*JIMMY'S HALL: Directed by Ken Loach, Jimmy's Hall dramatically recounts the suppression and politically motivated persecution of Irish left activist Jimmy Gralton, the only person ever deported, and driven into exile for his ideology, by Ireland. And yes, you probably never heard of him.


*THE SERGEI: The Award for Best Progressive LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST is named after the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who created Russian revolutionary classics such as 1925's "Potemkin" and 1927's "10 Days That Shook the World."

for a lifetime of principled activism. When Belafonte recently received an honorary Oscar, he said: "To be rewarded by my peers for my work in human rights and civil rights and for peace … it powerfully mutes the enemy's thunder."


"I make things up for a living. I'm a reporter." - Danny Huston in BIG EYES.

"They came into this country with no visas, no passports, no invitations. And with syphilis and gonorrhea between their legs, they consumed us, they consumed our resources. They consumed our minerals, our land.' - MUGABE: VILLAIN OR HERO?


Samuel L. Jackson challenges his Hollywood colleagues with a song

*THE MASSES ARE MORONS. AKA POVERTY PORN: In other words, do actors really have to look so dumb and stumble over their words or behave primitively in the extreme, when impersonating proletarians in movies?


*THE MILITARY HOLLYWOOD COMPLEX CITATION: Special citation inaugurating Hollywood's new role engaging in corporate terrorism in collusion with the US government, by making a movie to hopefully bring down a foreign government.


*ELIA KAZAN TOP TEN HALL OF SHAME 2014: Citations for the worst anti-workingclass and right wing movies of the year is named after director Elia Kazan, who was Hollywood's 'King Rat.' Kazan not only informed on accused radicals to the House Un-American Activities Committee, he took out a New York Times ad justifying his self-serving treachery.


*For more information, please contact The James Agee Cinema Circle at Miguel Gardel, ProgressiveCritics@gmail.com. Guest submissions are welcome.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Manos Sucias: A Conversation With Director Josef Wladyka

By Liza Bear

MANOS SUCIAS is a well-researched, tightly scripted first film co-written and directed by Josef Wladyka which premiered at Tribeca FF 14. In spite of having won the Best New Director Narrative Award, it has taken a year to reach the theaters. A US-Colombia production. Distributor is Pretty Pictures.
Setting the story squarely within the context of dire poverty, lack of opportunity, exploitation and economic necessity, this is a highly suspenseful film about two Afro-Colombian fishermen, estranged brothers. Who set sail on a dangerous journey from Buenaventura, Colombia's largest Pacific Coast port, the hub of the drug trade emporium. Towing a narco-torpedo loaded with 100 kilos of cocaine that they must deliver to Panama, and faced with moral choices on the way.


Part 1 of interview with Josef Wladyka was filmed last April in EV by Liza Bear. 
Stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3.

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Women and Economics In Holocaust Movies

 Phoenix Movie Review: Nazi Sympathetic Ambivalence And Identification With The Oppressor In Holocaust Movies

The proliferation of Holocaust films has burgeoned into somewhat of a genre in its own right, but with a persistent suppressed and unspoken irony kicking in as well. Namely, a larger story of human behavior, inevitably cut off at the same moment in time when its victims turned up in Palestine. And to subsequently likewise perpetrate displacement and extinction of the Palestinians people and their homeland there.

An additional elephant in the screening room when it comes to partial truths and selective history, is the lack of focus on what connects all these instances of inhumanity. That is, economic gain at the expense of those designated victims. Perhaps with the distance of time from such enormous brutality, this objective analysis even dramatically, is becoming more evident in movies.

And in this regard, two such Holocaust dramatic features happen to focus on women  - and painfully fraught female bonding - as the tragic protagonists. While at the same time serving as the historically astute eyes and ears for the audience, and emerging from the extensive virtual cookie cutter, primarily torture porn cinematic category in question. Last year, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida traced the traumatic discovery of a young nun (Agata Trzebuchowska), along with her communist activist aunt (Agata Kulesza), that the apparent beneficiaries of the Nazi persecution of their Jewish family had been neighbors who took over their property.

And now German filmmaker Christian Petzold's Phoenix probes a similar dilemma of women struggling to make sense of the senseless, each in their own way, in adapting as Jews to post-Holocaust life. In this case, Nelly (Nina Hoss) is brought back to civilian life as a barely surviving concentration camp victim by her friend and Jewish Agency employee Lene (Nina Kunzendorf). Lene had fled to England, but returns to Germany after the war to help Nelly recover from severe facial wounds. And with hopes that together they might emigrate to Palestine.

Nelly however, has other ideas. She has never gotten over her dream to locate and reunite with her gentile spouse Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). Even though Lene reveals to her that Johnny betrayed her to the Nazis under duress. Emotionally shackled to him by a self-destructive combination of denial and obsession, Nelly finally tracks him down to the lurid nightclub, Phoenix.

And failing to recognize his wife due to her facially disfiguring wounds and less than perfect surgical reconstruction, Johnny aggressively drags Nelly through an elaborate ploy to pose as his presumably dead wife that she so closely resembles, in order to split substantial monetary compensation damages owed to her by the government. And Nelly reluctantly agrees to play along with the deception, in order to blindly cling to this disgraceful man. Just as she herself chose the ethically questionable route of aiding the camp Gestapo, we learn, by confiscating the property of newly arrived Jewish detainees, to order to ensure her own survival.

Eventually a human canvas emerges in both films, dividing these characters, in particular the females, into people facing brutal moral realities they cannot transcend. And while some go along to get along or succumb to identification with the oppressor, others overcome by immense heartbreak, choose suicide instead. And for none of them, unlike those Holocaust films proposing Israel as some sort of Hollywood happy ending however warped in the real world, does that healing option outside of the flow of history exist. With credit to these movies, for not doing so.

And perhaps even one day, the real story of questionable heroics will be told in movies. Namely, that rather than racing to rescue Jews from European obliteration - as the United States makes claims all the time to have done back then, as well as on behalf of other ethnicities around the world in the present. Under the cover of the better to exploit those invaded and destroyed countries' resources.

And instead, that the economic imperatives of capitalism instead allowed Hitler to advance across Europe, the better to destroy that Western ideological competitor, the Soviet Union. As flawed characters on the world's stage - both personally, and as countries - engaging in a cosmetic reconstruction metaphorically, burying truth under the rubble of history.

Prairie Miller

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Arts Express: Moscow On The Line Talking Socialist Realism, Snowden, Ukraine Uprising And Obama/Putin Crisis

**Socialist Realism at the Moscow Lumiere Brothers Center For Photography: Media Acheology, Industrial Aesthetics, Cultural Shifts. Curator Zueva Ekaterina phones in from Moscow to Arts Express to discuss the exhibit there. Shedding light on a new and different relationship of workers to their labor during the Soviet era captured via the camera's eye, and minus capitalism and the profit motive. Additional topics on the table include how Russians view ongoing hostilities between our two countries and the Ukraine crisis, and Snowden's exile there. Also weighing in on these related issues is The X File's FBI Agent Dana Scully - aka Gillian Anderson. As the actress uncovers in a very different BBC episode investigation, Karl Marx's theory of worker alienation still valid today.

**Revisiting the Vietnam Anti-War Music Scene: As the 40th anniversary of that revolutionary victory approaches next month, Steal This Radio's Mitchel Cohen delves into the mass movement music that defined that turbulent moment in time, through the songs and conversation with the late activist troubadour, Phil Ochs. And music that is no less relevant today, in the continued warring of the US on the planet.

Listen To The Show Here

 **Bluebird: A dramatic feature fusion of regional filmmaking with economic crisis cinema. Tabulating the economic and emotional toll on workers in a rural Maine logging town, struggling for survival and dignity. A commentary.

Arts Express, airing on WBAI Radio in NY archived at wbai.org, and on the Pacifica National Radio Network.

Prairie Miller

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Remembering Luise Rainer

 Golden Age of Hollywood's social activist screen goddess Luise Rainer just passed away at the age of 104. And, who is said to have used her Oscars as doorstops. Film historian David Spaner reports from Vancouver. 


David Spaner is a Vancouver based film critic. He is a member of the James Agee Cinema Circle.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

John Boorman Talks Queen And Country: National Belief System Without A Soul

            John Boorman With His PTSD Muse, Lee Marvin

The veteran British director of Deliverance, Point Blank and Hell In The Pacific with his own personal and political take on Korean conflict, and a war movie without war. And UK military bureaucracy ranging from nasty to nonsensical. Don't expect The Interview.

Also, Rembrandt Event Cinema: The influence of bare churches, the brutality of art flung on the marketplace, and the advent of self portraits to the dubious selfie today. Along with the unique perspective of art in cinema, simultaneously capturing the painter's eye, the human eye and the camera's eye.

Listen To The Show Here

Arts Express, airing on WBAI Radio in NY archived at wbai.org, and on the Pacifica National Radio Network.

Prairie Miller