Ah, August! Time to take a break either in the city or at home—relax, catch up, see a movie or two, and read THAT book. Well, I am all involved in running in the Democratic Primary for State Assembly (vote Sept. 13th!). But we have some very strong movies we would like you to see.
Let’s Go To The Movies
Director: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney is the most important American documentary filmmaker working today. His subjects are red button targets. Oscars and Emmys are his. Gibney’s most recent work includes his essential look at Steve Jobs as a productive sociopath, and his critical exposé of Scientology as a neo-fascist cash-incentivized pyramid scheme closeted as a self-help religion and clothed in militant secrecy and punishment. A must-see (also streaming).
ZERO DAYS could not be more timely or frightening. It is about cyberwarfare, something that governments around the world have been engaged in for at least the last 10 years. In his first message to Americans after his forced exile, Edward Snowden was skyped into the South by Southwest technology conference. He spoke very directly about how insecure the protection of classified and confidential information was, and how vulnerable to being hacked it was.
The latest scandal, a hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s internal emails, offered a revelation of the Committee’s bias against Bernie Sanders. The news media has been caught up with what I would call typical cyberwarfare responses—who did it rather than what was revealed.
ZERO DAYS concentrates on cyberspace as the battlefield of the 21st century. It follows the development of a virus cyber-weapon and how it was used in an attack on the Iranian government’s scientific nuclear energy programs. Stuxnet is the weapon. It is a computer worm that targets industrial systems that are used to monitor and control large-scale industrial facilities such as power plants, dams, waste processing systems, and similar operations. No one took credit for this cyber-weapon attack. No government, no secret anonymous hacker! Stuxnet was highly effective. It ate the development and scientific data of the Iranian system. The movie reveals just how sophisticated 21st century cyberwarfare is in the military weapons arsenal.
The film opens with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denying anything to do with the computer virus attack. Gibney sets out to find the perpetrator of this highly effective attack. ZERO DAYS tracks down this highly risky experiment. The filmmaker reveals it was developed by the United States and Israel to disable the Iranian nuclear power network. It worked. But the ramifications of this kind of military action are truly frightening. It shows how a computer virus can be created to do just about anything. We know that the Pentagon has been hacked, we know that the White House has been hacked, and we now know that the Democratic National Committee has been hacked. Fingers are pointed at Russia and Putin.
But let’s step back for a moment to Edward Snowden’s revelation of how the NSA was spying and hacking both allies and “enemies” of the U.S. The response of our allies was the same. Angela Merkel in Germany was full of anger and mistrust.
Snowden warned the U.S. government and challenged the conference geeks that, unless they worked to develop a secure unhackable (that is a relative word that can change almost daily) security system, we are under great risk of being attacked—not by bombs or foot soldiers—but by someone on a computer sending a virus that will either extract classified information, destroy a bridge, or disable the National Power Grid.
What is the American public response? What does it mean when elected officials and government officials (Clinton, Kerry) lie to the public about practices that are in place? These are not simple questions. National security, the safety of our citizens and our soldiers is on the line. This is whatZERO DAYS challenges us on.
I will tell you that watching this documentary made me extremely uncomfortable. It also made me feel powerless to be able to do anything when my government and many private businesses are actually engaged in the practice and denying it. Military and industrial cyber-espionage are real. I don’t mean to frighten, I just want you to know what is being done in your name.
In theaters and on stream outlets.
Director: Marlon Riggs
Pee’d inTO the Wind
Director: Curt McDowell
During August, the devastation AIDS has had on the art world is on exhibition all over NYC, including film programs.
ART AIDS AMERICA is a critical if flawed and incomplete exhibit that is on display at the Bronx Museum of Art (make the subway trip please). The majority of the artists were dead and young, before the full power of their creativity flourished. Critics and activists have rightly complained about the lack of inclusion of artists of color and women. That acknowledged, it should not prevent you from going to see the work that is on display, including a remarkable film, Tongues Untied, by Californian Marlon Riggs, a black, gay filmmaker.
This film could not be more relevant in this moment of Black Lives Matter then when it was made at the height of the AIDS pandemic. It may be the most important cultural film playing in New York City today, given how we are caught up in a political reality steeped in bias and prejudice. I knew Marlon. The last time I remember talking to him we were seated in a sauna in Berlin late one night during the Berlin Film Festival, talking about the power of film to reveal what is invisible, either by choice or ignorance, of the diversity of who we are as Americans and who we are as people both affected and living with AIDS. Riggs uses contemporary black gay male attitudes to show resistance, survival, and friendship through song and poetry. He uses poets with attitude to demonstrate a fearless and fierce resistance to racism and a death sentence. I don’t know how to say this but it is also full of joy, sassiness, and snap-to-it attitude.
Downtown, PARTICIPANT, an arts-engaged, nonprofit gallery space, is also devoting itself to bringing forward three artists who are in danger of disappearing from the radar of contemporary art criticism. The curators position these artists for the importance and significance of their work not only because each died of AIDS but because each used the reality of their lives to create art.
San Francisco-based artist and filmmaker Curt McDowell, a student of George Kuchar at the San Francisco Art Institute, was to me our Fassbender post-Andy, tinctured with the outrageousness of John Waters. His drawings and paintings are on display at PARTICIPANT and his films—delicious, raunchy, confrontational and funny—will be screened at the Anthology for two weeks in August. I knew Curt. It is a small world and gay people fighting AIDS everywhere knew each other.
Also on exhibit are the video works of Tom Rubnitz. I’d met him through the B-52s and had a brief affair with him as we traveled to New Orleans where the B’s were performing at Mardi Gras. Along with Nelson Sullivan, Rubnitz’ work brings back to life an incredible queer cultural response to AIDS. In-your-face cabaret and performance art at places like Bobby Bradley’s legendary Pyramid or Danceteria sprinkled the city with defiant hope. Rubnitz shows the John Waters influence—he was not afraid to be trashy, not to be nice but always committed to capturing the culture of trashy drag creativity and fabulousity: e.g., Taboo!, John Sex, Silva Thin, RuPaul, Joey Arias, Ann Magnuson and Mr. Fashion.
The Participant exhibit also includes Robert Ford, a black, gay man in Chicago out of its punk/dance music scene as well as the publisher/editor of what many people think is the best zine that came out in the early nineties, THING. It had a zine-like life of 10 editions. What a remarkable sensibility Ford had while capturing Chicago, S.F., and N.Y.C. filtered through the eyes and ears of a black gay man. Lady Bunny, Deelight, and Little Annie are just some of the cover figures. To my mind it is the best coverage of what was queer in the art, literature, music and fashion worlds—where geography was based not on location, but on sensibility.
Finally on 13th Street at the Bureau of General Services, Queer Division, a bookstore/gallery/performance space located in the LGBT Community Center, is an exhibit that brings to life people like Keith Haring, Peter Huger and (most importantly) names you may not recognize in collages that honor and represent creativity in the darkest of times. The bookstore is a sight to behold. Trust me, there are things there that are not sold on Amazon and need to be held in your hand before you buy. Their cultural program has had me there more than any other space since it opened.
jimfouratt.com or Jimfourattsreeldealmoviesthatmatter.blogspot.com