CRITICS CHAPTER



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


WHO WE ARE

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, Writemovies.com

Lisa Collins
Filmmaker

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
BlackFemsLens.org, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner
TheHotPinkPen.com, 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

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Steve Presence
Radical Film Network, UK


Louis Proyect
s
Counterpunch, Marxmail.org

Sandy Sanders
BlueJayWay.net

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

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

David Spaner, Hollywood Inc.

Luis Reyes
, Arsenal Pulp Press

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig
Telesur


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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bro On The Global Literary Beat

By Dennis Broe 

Bro On The World Literary Beat: Is the Occupy Movement Dead? 


Crime in a Bi-Polar World: Good and Evil, Poor and Rich in the Globalized Economy

This is Bro on the World Literary Beat and I’ve just come back from this year’s Quais du Polar in Lyon France, one of the world’s largest gathering of crime novelists—in France crime novels  are called Polars. The hot topics this year and all of them very relevant and timely included : widening inequality and crime novelists taking an interest in how much more sequestered the ultra-rich have become; the French rail strike, the last gasp of the unionized workers in France standing up to Macron’s anti-worker policies with the nationalized train corporation, the SNCF, one of the sponsors of the event; in Italy, the country focused on in the festival, the interplay between the global and local and the role of the state and organized crime; and the exploration in France of what are called ZAD’s Zones of Defense, environmental and social areas carved out by protestors, the most famous of which was invaded by the police a day after the panel concluded.
 

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE
 

Crime novels and their cinematic equivalent--on the screen called the film noir--have often had a sympathy for the underdog and for working class habits and ways of life. In the U.S. Daschiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich took the detective novel out of hands of well to do British detectives and by creating the hard-boiled novel brought a new realism and class consciousness to the genre which emerged from the working class form of the pulps. They were then followed at the time of the growing popularity of the paperback by another generation of American writers including Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Chester Himes who were exceedingly critical of American society in the 1950s. An international panel at Quais du Polar though focused on crime writers’ explorations of a class not previously featured in the form, the superrich, now sequestered in gated communities and rearing their youth as well in select schools that limit interaction with other classes. Malin Persson Giolito, a Swedish author has written a book Quicksand which attempts to come to grips with why one of these rich teens goes amuck in her high school. Colin Harrison from the U.S., whose most famous book is Manhattan Nocturne, talked about the class geography of Manhattan and his experience of being at a gathering of the ultrarich for a wedding on Long Island which also involved Black and Latino youth from the Bronx parking the cars of the invitees as part of an unequal way in which the two worlds interact. Finally Gianni Biondiollo, from a working class background in Milan discussed a book he has written about murder on the catwalk involving the fashion industry in that city called The Charm of the Siren. Biondiollo explained that he became a kind of sociologist to study the closed and wealthy world of Milan’s fashion industry. This involved a leap of imagination also since he is colorblind. Biondiollo and the Scottish author Ian Rankin with his eponymous Inspector Rebus both come from, as did many of the writers at the conference, working-class backgrounds and their police detective characters exhibit that perspective but both also point to the way the now more bourgeois aspect of the form of the detective novel itself pigeonholes and tames working class perspectives by interpolating them under the sign of the police.

A subject that came up in several panels was the current strike of the cheminots, the railway workers, trying to protect their salaries and to protect the railway system from being privatized. This is perhaps the last great strike by what is left of France’s unions. Its most powerful sector at the moment is the public sector and it is the railway workers who led the other unions in winning a prolonged strike in 1995 that kept the French government from cutting back social welfare. The railway itself, the SNCF was one of the sponsors of the conference and in a panel on the movement of 1968 titled Under the Pavement, the Polar, recalling the famous phrase from that moment, Under the Pavement, the Beach, there were mentions of support by two authors for the strikers which were widely cheered from the audience. Dominique Menotti, who in her other life is a professor of economic history, writes mysteries about the current economic climate including The Lorraine Connection about murder and strikes in an electronics firm. She spoke about May 1968 and how the ripples of the movement shook French society until being extinguished in 1983 and 1984 under the so called socialist Francois Mitterand. Her fellow author Serge Quadrappani, a translator and noir novelist whose mysteries are often set in Italy chimed in that the spirit of 1968 in Italy ended for him with the death of the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini on a beach just outside Rome. Pasolini he claimed was killed by the Italian police who had always regarded him as a trouble maker. Needless to see this speculation never made it into Abel Ferrara’s uneventful detailing of the director’s last day titled Pasolini. That the support of these novelists for the strikers was greeted with warmth by the audience goes along with the fact that since the strikes began more of the French population has come out in favor of them, 42 percent in favor before and 47 percent after, despite the fact that many of the population will be driving or like me taking buses as I bussed back from Lyon because the strikes are two out of every five days and will last three months. This is so far the best organized protest against the Macron government’s picking off the working force issue by issue and sector by sector.
 

In Italy Noir novels, polars, are very regional and each region has its own well-known author. The dean though of Italian noir, Massimo Carlotto, whose The Last Good Kiss is a veiled swipe at the Berlusconi era, did not come but did send his protégé Piergiorgio Pulixi whose Night of the Panther tracks drugs, the government and the mafia in the Northeast Veneto region, just outside Venice. Carlotto has founded his own line of novels called Sabat/age which is designed to highlight through various authors working in various regions the ongoing relationship between organized crime and the state. The line itself in its continuing to deal with the political economy of crime is a kind of resistance in the noir novel to the main Anglo-Saxon emphasis at the moment on what is called “the domestic noir” best exemplified by Paula Hawkins Girl on the Train and which purports to bring a more female and psychological dimension to the genre, but which also tends to evacuate the social aspects.

As for the regions, Mimmo Gangemi, chronicler of the Southern region of Calabria at the tip of the Italian boot in his series titled The Little Judge, pleaded for the region to be seen as something other than just the home of the ‘Ndrangheta, the family centered mob. Gangemi also reputed the claims that the ‘Ndrangheta had become internationalized but this denial was belied by a film shown at the conference Anima Nere, Black Souls, which opened with a family from the shepherding village of Aspromonte now involved in drug running in Milan and very much internationalizing. Maurizio di Giovanni talked about the food, sights and odors of Naples as seen through his detective Commisario Ricciardi who operates in the fascist period under Mussolini and works sometimes intuitively through the smells of the dead while Valerio Varesi whose River of Shadows is about the now largely de-industrialized Po Valley, the former center of working class activity and who has been compared to the American Crime Writer whose subject is Louisiana James Lee Burke, cautioned and argued ominously that through the internet and globalization the Italian regions were becoming much more homogenized.

 Finally, some French authors of crime fiction have taken to chronicling the phenomenon of what are called ZADs, Zones of Defense, people’s resistance sites organized around environmental and social issues where all kinds of counter organizations sprout, similar to but more enduring than Zucotti Park in the Occupy Movement. The ZAD to stop the building of the airport at Notre Dame des Landes this year was successful and the state has called off the environmentally intrusive construction. The occupiers wanted to stay on the territory and continue to develop it as an alternate site but the day after the conference the state began clearing them with tear gas and stun grenades. Jean Bernard Pouy’s My ZAD in fact begins with just such a scene and was inspired by the resistance site organized to protest the building of a dam at Sivins in the Garonne section of Southern France. The other famous ZAD, now utterly and brutally cleared is the refugee camp at Calais. Pouy, an inveterate noir writer and anarchist explores the coming back from the dead of a 40-something Zadiste who, fired from his job and beaten, rallies to contest local corporate power proving that the social and political polar is not only alive and well but also vibrantly topical.

 

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.
 

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE
 

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.”


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.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE 

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.”

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