It’s impossible to not speak of how popular culture, and in particular the role film and television play in building consciousness, pushes a candidate like Donald Trump forward. Making a television personality popular based on his ability to say “You’re Fired” into a person who may hold the future of the US in his emotional shaking hand can only be described as frightening. Major television media is the reason he is a viable candidate. Scripted “reality” television created a false representation of who this devious, shifty businessman Donald Trump actually is. This was done by blurring the line between authenticity and fantasy, mashed up with the digital nurtured world of distancing intimacy. While these ideas are worthy of hours of debate, here I simply say, dear reader, in NYC we have the good fortune to be able to choose what we pay money to see and watch in theaters. All of us have access to the internet and its capacity to stream alternative news analysis, e.g., Democracy Now, and watch narrative and documentary films in our homes that present ideas mainstream media does not, e.g., YouTube, vimeo, Hulu, Amazon Prime etc. The fight against self-censorship in the marketplace by creative content providers is difficult and self-evident. Ok, so now I have stated out loud what many of us grapple with on a daily basis and sometimes remain silent about.
Let’s Go To The Movies
The Museum of the Moving Image has stepped up with two programs in July that I think address these issues from a creative point of view.
Born on the Fourth of July
Director: Oliver Stone
Tom Cruise plays Ron Kovic, a disabled Vietnam war veteran who comes to believe he has been abandoned by his country and becomes an anti-war activist. Made in 1989, its message is as relevant today for all those injured and traumatized veterans of the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria as it was in 1989. Cruise can act when given a multi-dimensional role not just dependent on physical agility or a radiant smile. And a sad Westbeth resident memory: Seth Allen appears before AIDS robbed us of his talent. Stone has never been afraid to risk controversy. He is our Costa-Gavras.
Museum of the Moving Image: July 1–3
On the Campaign Trail:
Documentaries and Mockumentaries
As the planned theatrics of the two conventions are about to unfurl, here is a real- time look at what actually occurs backstage as candidates jostle to be nominated. Each film in its own way is an incisive attack on political spin. The series features the first black woman to seriously seek the Democratic nomination—Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, director Shola Lynch (2004); and Convention, director AJ Schnack (2009). A group of documentary filmmakers chronicle the 2008 Democratic National Convention; Caucus director AJ Schnack (2013) offers a pre-Trump look at the machinations of Michele Bachmann in Iowa, NomiNation (2016); Street Fight director Marshall Curry (2005) examines Cory Booker’s attempt to unseat longtime Newark Mayor Sharpe James, and the very funny and dead serious mockumentaries, Tim Robbins’s Bob Roberts (1992) and Robert Altman’s Tanner ’88 (1988). July 16–24
Most of the Directors will be present for Q&A.
Roseanne for President
Director: Eric Weinrib
Controversial comedian and television star Roseanne Barr ran for President in 2012. She attempted to run a serious campaign in the spirit of Michael Moore, but the media refused to take her seriously. I actually love watching her sprinkle tea party and working class realness into the construed reality of most political campaigns. What made her a star is on ample display: motor mouth, impulsive, smart, pissed off. This is presented with absolute sincerity and total belief she could and should win. I think she would have been an excellent choice for Sanders’ VP slot…just imagine a debate between Trump and Barr.
Director: James Solomon
Every person of my generation recognizes the name Kitty Genovese. March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was attacked on a street in Kew Gardens, Queens. The New York Times reported she had been stabbed repeatedly. It was 11:30 at night. She screamed loudly. Martin Gansberg in a front page New York Times story reported that 38 people admitted to hearing her scream and some could even observe her stabbing and did nothing. Gansberg’s editor was the now legendary A.M Rosenthal. He was then the Metropolitan desk editor who later became the Executive Editor of the Times. Rosenthal smelled a juicy story. It was. People across the country read and were shocked by the event. It confirmed for many their smug feeling of New Yorkers being selfish and uncaring. It reverberated worldwide and Kitty Genovese has remained visible in the memory bank of most Americans of my generation.
But was the story that Ginsberg wrote and Rosenthal edited true?
No one seemed to ask this question.
Screenwriter James Solomon by happenstance met Bill Genovese, a disabled veteran confined to a wheelchair, who was 16 years old when Kitty was murdered. At the age of 63 he decided to find out what really happened to his sister. He agreed to let Solomon follow his investigation. And it is a stunning tale that reveals itself like a great “can’t put down” mystery novel. I had heard whispered in my crowd that Kitty was a lesbian, but it was always an unsubstantiated rumor. No more. Bill found the lover who the family thought was her “roommate” and there is a recorded interview with her about Kitty. I don’t want to reveal more, but will tell you it is a serious indictment of A.M. Rosenthal and his integrity as a reporter and editor as well as a perfect example—alive in 1964 and rampant today—that what makes a juicy story in the tabloidization of what was once called news reporting, is the most important element.
Director: Ivy Meeropol
Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is 35 miles from Times Square. It first became active in September 1962 with two additional towers opening in the early 70s. Its license to operate has expired, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is reviewing its renewal application. Nearly 50 million people live in close proximity to the aging facility. While there has been opposition to the plant for over 40 years because of the public being made aware of the Chernobyl disaster (1986), the Three Mile Island accident (1979), and the SL-1accident (1961), it has been a combination of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (2011) and the proposed fracking line that has raised the level of calls for closure from the surrounding community, including people who live in NYC. New Yorkers have mobilized, not least because they learned of the proposed frack gas pipeline running right along the foundation of Indian Point, placing them in a direct blast zone. That is the background of Ivy Meeropol’s film, beautifully conceived and shot at Indian Point. Shockingly Obama had committed to the expansion of the Nuclear Power plants and remained positive even after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. What Meeropol has accomplished is to tell this very dramatic and scary story in very understandable language, and to honor the commitment of grassroots organizers. A perfect companion piece to Josh Fox’s work, and as a checkmate to Pandora’s Box, a positive documentary on nuclear power plants which I saw screened at Sundance.
Let’s Watch Television
Readers know that I have been committed to reviewing smaller films of merit that are theatrically released in the hopes that you and your friends will make a night out at the movies.
Some of the best storytelling is now being done for viewing on your large flat screen. Not only do we have HBO, SHOWTIME, AMC and a range of free and pay TV, we also have streaming outlets like NETFLIX, AmazonPRIME, Hulu etc. So I have decided to begin to alert you to some of this creative work.
There are over 30 movies currently being adapted for either network TV or as cable series. I’ll examine a recent series on TNT that I have begun to watch.
Director: David Michôd
This series is based on the breakout drama from Australia about a crime family headed by a mother (Jacki Weaver nominated for an Academy award) and her four boys. While the grade B movie classic Bloody Mama, starring Shelly Winters, may come to mind, TNT’s Animal Kingdom lives in the violent world of Martin Scorsese. TNT commissioned Jonathan Lisco to develop the series. Ellen Barkin plays the Mom who can’t keep her eyes, desire and, sometimes, hands off her three older boys. Now that her fourth son is 17, she appears to think of him not only as a new boy to
criminally educate in the family business, but as fresh meat in need of Mommy love. What makes a cable series successful is the casting, direction and most importantly the writing. That is what makes Homeland and say, Game of Thrones, a success. Animal Kingdom in its debut season soars in each category. It is available on demand.