[Marxism] The Boston Globe on radical films
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Sat Sep 5 17:05:34 MDT 2009
Rad, bad, & dangerous to know
Films rarely take up radical causes. Thre result can be a mix of Karl and
By Ty Burr, Mark Feeney, and Wesley Morris, Globe Staff | September 6,
The revolution is once more being screened. Opening Friday is Uli Edels
critically praised The Baader Meinhof Complex, which dramatizes
Germanys violent Red Army faction of the late 1960s and 70s.
Since the cinema is at once the most personal of art forms and a vast
commercial enterprise, films about the radical left are rare and varied,
from mawkish Hollywood tales to unstinting Maoist deconstructions.
American filmmakers have tended to mine the era for human drama, even
when dramatic engagement is beside the point. Europeans favor theory,
however abstruse and humorless.
The great radical movie - one that invites us in and connects the dots -
may have yet to be made, but its not for lack of trying. (Maybe the
rarely seen Milestones, from 1975, screening at the Harvard Film
Archive on Sept. 26, will be it.) Meanwhile, we rate some of the
contenders; four fists is as radical as we have seen.
LA CHINOISE and WEEKEND (1967)
With these two landmark works of agit-art, Jean-Luc Godard announced that
narrative was a bourgeois contrivance and the cinema a weapon of
revolution. Chinoise features actors playing students discussing
radical theory; its a great time capsule and more critical than youd
think. The masterful Weekend simply envisions the end of the Western
world, snarled in an infinite traffic jam.
A revolution is not a dinner party, Mao Zedong famously wrote. He
didnt say anything about a laff riot, though. In Bananas, Woody Allen
heads off to Latin America in romantic pursuit of Louise Lasser. Becoming
involved in a local guerrilla movement, he ends up revolutionary leader
of the country. Allen, with his beard and combat fatigues, could be Fidel
Castro - assuming Fidel joined the Friars Club. Who needs Annie Hall when
youve got Gus Hall?
DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)
Not a radical movie? Thats the point. When Al Pacinos bank robber gets
the crowds on his side by shouting Attica! Attica! hes proving both
how everything was political by the mid-1970s and how genuine radicalism
had become co-opted by radical chic. In its backhanded way, that one
scene marks the death of the 60s.
3 1/2 Fists
Oh, the Ecumenical Liberation Army. So committed to assassinating news
prophet Howard Beale (Peter Finch). So committed to negotiating a
lucrative deal for its prime-time television show: The Mao Tse-Tung
Hour! These Black Power-ish radicals might be cutthroat negotiators,
but showbiz can cheapen any cause. As the groups no-nonsense leader,
played by the great Laureen Hobbs, laments, The Communist Partys not
going to see a nickel of this . . . until we go into syndication! Word.
Easily the most problematic movie about radicals. On the one hand, there
is the sweeping real-life love story of journalist John Reed (Warren
Beatty) and his future wife, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), as the Russian
Revolution swirls around them. The films so big-budget tame that Beatty,
who also directed, screened it at the White House for an approving Ronald
Reagan. On the other hand, Reds has actual, honest-to-God (oh, all
right, honest-to-the-dialectic) radicals in it, like George Seldes and
Scott Nearing. Its hard to get more radical than that.
PATTY HEARST (1988)
Director Paul Schrader gives us Americas Most Famous Kidnapped Heiress
a.k.a Tania the urban guerrilla. The superb Natasha Richardson rides
Hearsts trajectory from a pampered Berkeley 19-year-old to a bereted
bank-robbing member of the leftist Symbionese Liberation Army, the
radicals who kidnapped her. Its part black comedy about race, class, and
privilege, part psychological thriller. Did she really have no idea what
she was doing? Schrader unequivocally did.
RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988)
Sidney Lumets drama, based on Naomi Foners Oscar-nominated screenplay,
neatly captures the late-80s take on 60s radicals: flawed boomers led
astray by their own ideals. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti are very good
as ex-campus guerrillas living underground in suburbia; River Phoenix, in
one of his best mainstream roles, plays their very confused son.
Hot off New Jack City and his mostly-black western, Posse, Mario
Van Peebles, working with dad Melvin, brought us an epic that managed to
make the Black Panther Party seem like a bunch of grad students on
poetry-slam night at the campus coffeehouse. It was righteous. But it was
also stagy, like watching a movements greatest moments turned into a
flashy movie of the week.
I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996)
Mary Harrons sneaky, cheeky portrait of Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor),
the Factory hanger-on who, one evening in 1968, pumped a bullet into her
mentor-tormentor Andy Warhol. The movie evenhandedly views Solanas as
tough, funny, insightful, and bonkers - her anger toward men fueling both
homicidal rage and a guerrilla feminism that continues to echo today.
In Spike Lees indignant satire, the radicals in question - a nitwit
hip-hop outfit called the Mau Maus - kidnap the star of an appallingly
popular minstrel entertainment hour and threaten to execute him during a
live webcast. They owe a small debt to the Ecumenical Liberation Army of
Network, but Lees rendition is sad as well as harshly funny: They
have no idea what theyre doing.
CECIL B. DEMENTED (2000)
More irreverent lark than full-blown masterpiece, this John Waters farce
gives us some deliciously bad rap and R&B numbers and a radical filmmaker
whose guerrilla outfit (the Sprocket Holes) kidnaps a Hollywood star
(Melanie Griffith) and, among other unprintable acts, forces her to star
in their new budgetless feature. Needless to say, she comes down with an
awesome case of Stockholm syndrome. You, meanwhile, might come down with
a Patty Hearst flashback. Hell, Hearst might, too. Shes in the film!
CHICAGO 10 (2007)
3 1/2 Fists
Turning the transcripts of the landmark 1968 court case into an animated
documentary reenactment may be a tad theatrical - but Abbie Hoffman would
approve. Hank Azaria provides the voice of the Yippie prankster and Roy
Scheider plays Judge Julius Hoffman, cluelessly turning the 10 activist
defendants into counterculture martyrs. What happens to Bobby Seale
(Jeffrey Wright) is still shocking to behold.
Nobody saw Steven Soderberghs four-hour epic. It wasnt a biography of
Che Guevara, per se, but a meticulously staged thesis about why
revolutions dont always work. Part of the reason, Soderbergh argues, is
that Guevara thought of military strategies as being somewhat
interchangeable. He had a one-size-fits-all attitude about revolution.
And as his estate would discover in the decades since his death: That
works better with T-shirts.
© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
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