The Words, This Time: James Baldwin: Nobody’s “…Negro”—A Home Video Preview

(This is a much delayed review and commentary on Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and released to Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Download—including Amazon Video—May 2 by Magnolia Home Entertainment.)

“There is not another writer who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South.” — Time, May 17, 1963

What does an effeminate writer with a cartoonish face; a wide, effusive, queer grin; crooked, gaped teeth; and a habit of crossing his legs and dangling a cigarette holder in his right hand like a dandy when he speaks have to do with recent outrage over the flagrant and most foul police shootings of primarily young African-American men? As Haitian filmmaker and international citizen Raoul Peck sees it, quite a bit. It may or may not seem as if the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Birmingham followers were just released from jail Saturday, and not necessarily on April 20, 1963, but one thing’s for sure, the more things change, the more they stay the same—a fitting turn of phrase when it comes to the African-American experience. I’m not sure if James Arthur Baldwin would believe that the redemptive election of the nation’s first African-American president ultimately represented progress or a step back, but had the Harlem native son clawed his way through the muddy depths of racial provocation, strife, and social ill still plaguing his people to the surface of his grave to awaken to this, I’m also not sure if he might rather just cover himself back up with dirt and go back to sleep. Peck doesn’t believe so, and not just because Baldwin’s dreams be so disturbed; it was just this sort of contemporaneous riot—then, the dignified demeanor of Dorothy Counts walking—schoolbooks in hand—through a gauntlet of abusive White citizens to attend class at a newly integrated high school in Charlotte; today, the moving responses, ripostes, and vigils of the wives, sisters, girlfriends, etc. of the victims of those shootings—that brought Baldwin out of his Parisian exile. Besides that, Peck was not even a young man when he discovered the American’s writings that form the basis of …Negro so penetrated to the bone the essence of the “negro problem” they ventured on prophecy. If Baldwin’s bones do rattle at the forcefully lethal expression of malice and ill will toward his brothers (and sisters) under color of authority, he might hardly blink an eye at the rest; after all, his testimonies ultimately predicted it.

If the film is based, then, on Baldwin’s written and oral expression, including Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street and other essays, magazine and newspaper articles, including an April, 1978 piece in The New York Times entitled, “The News from All the Northern Cities Is, to Understate It, Grim; the State of the Union Is Catastrophic,” a few things still need to be clarified. NO, James Baldwin did not “write” this film, as the odd and misleading opening credit states, as if we were about to witness a posthumous realisation of an August Wilson piece, which was strange enough. It’s a homage, for sure, but make no mistake about it, Raoul Peck (Sometimes in April, Lumumba) crafted this film. Second, the film’s title is a watering down of Baldwin’s initial, actual “N—“ expression that today still might carry the same shock as it did then when Baldwin was trying to wake folks up, though in today’s pop-culture-influenced parlance, it’s used in ways that I can assure you Baldwin would write an entire tome on the psychological complexities at work. …Negro is divided into segments with titles such as “Paying Your Dues” and “Witness,” but it was primary inspired by an unfinished book-length testimony Baldwin was intending to write about his contemporaries King, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X entitled Remember This House. You may or may not be too surprised to see who comes out best—besides the unassailable Evers, it’s King. While Baldwin joined the chorus in denouncing the southern Christian’s “early” departure from Birmingham—after a resolution with city leaders but before a particularly virulent put-down of “rioting” by police and National Guardsmen—and asserted that Malcolm X “corroborates [African-American} reality” when he speaks, this is particularly acute when Peck includes an excerpt from a television interview conducted by Kenneth B. Clark in which he makes ugly and juvenile assertions about “ignorant Black preachers” and “Uncle Toms,” to which King gives a calm, cool, and collected rebuttal. While this was Malcolm X about at his worst—and Baldwin believed that toward the end the two had not only come closer to respecting one another but were essentially espousing the same things—it’s this same calm, cool, penetrating intellect and deep reservoir of knowledge and wisdom of King’s that Peck draws from Baldwin in the film.

While that “unconditional” voice, as the filmmaker puts it in his dedication, the one that became to be known as the voice of the Civil Rights Movement, is sometimes typewritten across a black screen in white typography, it’s more often given dramatic resonance by Samuel L. Jackson’s deep cadences, rich pauses, and emphatic precision. His profound and moving narration is not only one of the highlights of Jackson’s career, but one of the most devastating and authentic I’ve heard committed to narrative voiceover. No, this is not the nauseating commercial spokesman pushing the benefits of Capital One’s cash-back credit-card rewards program over those of Chase and the others, not to worry. Besides that, Peck captures Baldwin, whose oratorical eloquence was honed during a teenage stint replicating his abusive stepfather’s calling as a junior minister at a Pentecostal assembly in Washington Heights, at some particularly entertaining and illuminating events: a Harvard forum in 1963; a University of Cambridge debate in 1965 in which he receives an effusive standing ovation from a packed audience of White students; and an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show that not only captures the chain-smoking writer in fine form as he respectfully reproves Yale philosophy professor Paul Weiss, but the classic facial expressions and uncomfortable glances at the audience of the host, who encapsulates Baldwin’s take on the current status of the American negro by saying, “At once better and still hopeless.” Witticisms and deep, incisive comments abound from the subject throughout. One can’t help but think that for today’s generation who may lack tolerance and even respect for Civil Rights-era and other veteran African-American leadership—and who declined to even vote for Hillary Clinton despite all that was at stake—Baldwin would immediately fill a void and command respect. That may or may not be why Peck thought the time was right for this.

Baldwin arrived at this preeminent place perhaps because of his status as an outsider. His escape to France as a young man in 1948—even with nothing but $40 and the clothes on my back on the Paris streets “nothing worse could happen to me” than already had in America, Jackson narrates—practically guaranteed that. When he returned as a “witness” to the troubles in 1957—some of the most satisfying footage is seeing a wide-eyed, wonderstruck Baldwin riding shotgun in a car as he tours the Chicago streets nodding his head this way and that to get views from every window—and though he toured the South in 1963 in support of the Congress of Racial Equality, he formally turned away from the principle organized movements—the Muslim Brotherhood, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and the NAACP, which he believed exhibited class elitism. The sometimes emotionally brittle writer took pride in his poor Harlem street boy days—“My school was the streets of New York City”—and rejected organized religion. Besides, as Jackson also narrates, “I was never in town long enough to commit myself to the movement. My motive was to write about it.”

Here, I couldn’t help but be reminded of similarities not only to Afro-Caribbean writer Franz Fanon, who woke up left-wing European intellectuals with his stark depictions of the effects of colonialism and who died in December, 1961, at the age of 36, but French writer Jean Genet, who was rescued from a lifelong prison sentence by French intelligentsia led by the likes of Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre who were most impressed with his penmanship. A ward of the state before his first birthday, the national treasure turned to a life of crime, homosexuality, visionary writing, and, after being pardoned, a life of international activism à la Sartre. But Genet never felt comfortable with his comparatively bourgeoise peers—his The Thief’s Journal is one of the darkest and most extremely lived autobiographical pieces I can imagine—and remained an outsider of the literary establishment and any other. Baldwin actually toured America with Genet in support of the Panthers, George Jackson, and Angela Davis during the time of the Soledad Brothers Defense in 1971. Genet’s provocative caricature on race and class, The Blacks, arrived off-Broadway in 1961 with a cast including James Earl Jones; Louis Gossett, Jr.; Cicely Tyson; and Maya Angelou as the White Queen. The long-running sensation “inspired” A Raison in the Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry to write Les Blancs as a more dignified Pan-African response to themes of colonialism—an adaptation by Rogue Machine at the MET Theatre in Los Angeles is actually currently running through July 31.

Hansberry appears in …Negro not only as a close confident of Baldwin’s who also died young—just 40 days before Malcolm X at the age of 34 from pancreatic cancer—but because of her demonstrative role in a surreal encounter with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in May, 1963, subsequent to the Birmingham “Riots.” Baldwin recounts how Hansberry defiantly walked out of the meeting with other civil-rights leaders after delivering a particularly stinging summation of the president’s younger brother’s out-of-touch views of negroes in the struggle. The contingent had been hoping to persuade the administration, “the good white people on the hill,” as Baldwin referred to Washington, to provide federal support for African Americans who were enduring the threats, harassment, and violence of integration and peaceful protest, but they left empty-handed, with Baldwin feeling that the future Democratic presidential candidate was completely out of touch with Black Americans. No, despite some of his and his brother’s intervention on behalf of integration, the man whose own assassination five years later would close like a guillotine any hope of a liberal 1960s political movement segueing into the next decade does not come off well here at all. As if to illustrate that insularity that so bedeviled the East Coast prep royalty, Kennedy reportedly referred to Baldwin as “Martin Luther Queen.” Among the AG’s dangerous dalliance with closeted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was to put Baldwin in his crosshairs, with much of it being plainly discernable muckraking focused on the writer’s alleged homosexuality, in which the writer pretty much wore the “alleged” on his sleeve. Peck graphically reveals some of the organization’s conclusions among the astounding number of pages—some 1,887—it compiled on Baldwin, far more than many others at the time, ultimately portraying the morally questionable citizen as a “dangerous individual,” a threat not only to national security but to the very democracy itself, a distinction Genet most certainly would‘ve been proud of if it were even true. The official dossier, perhaps an unparalleled waste of time and energy, echoes Baldwin’s opinion expressed in the film that White society held a “laughably pathetic” view of Malcolm X “were it not so dangerously wicked.”

Yet, Baldwin’s outsider status was cured and sealed much earlier in a way that he himself felt was similarly wicked, and Peck spends a good deal of the film on this, which came as a surprise. As a middle-school student Baldwin not only came under the influence of Countee Cullen, but his math teacher, Orilla Miller, took the promising young student under her wing, introducing him to the city’s art and culture but also, significantly, its cinema. His first film was the seemingly innocuous Dance, Fools, Dance starring Joan Crawford; images of her dancing wildly on a stage in B&W play while Jackson narrates Baldwin’s impressions from The Devil Finds Work. Classic Hollywood can at times appear very innocuous, especially with talented stars around, but if the treatment of women isn’t appalling enough, the fact that most everyone in them is White to noticeable exception can leave one not used to White society feeling left out, to put it mildly, not to mention an impressionable young boy of a different skin. Things get more literal with patently questionable cowboys and Indians fare like John Ford’s The Stagecoach; the boy’s childhood with the stars now includes John Wayne and Gary Cooper cleansing the prairie with wild, wanton rampages on horseback and stagecoach, guns a’blazin’. The psychological effects of racism are realized; faced with thrilling depictions of national genocide, the boy sees that “my countrymen were my enemies,” and with a choice between good guys and bad, “the Indians were you.” In Wayne and company, “immaturity is a virtue,” creating “a legend out of a massacre.” Gunplay seems to be all the sensation, unless you’re a Black Panther. Baldwin then takes on what he perceives to be Hollywood’s misuse of Sidney Poitier to fit White expectations. Amid scenes of The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night, Baldwin muses that Black audiences must either be howling with unintended laughter or hugely disappointed. By the time Jackson relates the writer’s reminisces of a thwarted interracial relationship with a White girl in which the couple are forced to clandestinely date, a missed opportunity at love that also haunted King, the young man’s already halfway to Paris.

On it goes, a deeper journey into darkness as the film progresses; it’s not quite Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now!, but it may as well be. Images of B&W civil-rights actions, police brutality, Baldwin, King, Evers, and Malcolm X flash to contemporary scenes of Ferguson, incendiary protests, and further police intimidation. Peck does an excellent job compiling text, stills, and video; still, segueing to the contemporary scenes may require the audience take a leap of faith, no matter how convincing they may seem. Upon a latter, second viewing, I realized the filmmaker had gone to the well too often with scenes of Classic Hollywood bucolic Americana contrasted with racial unrest and aggressive, out-of-control policing. Assisted by editor Alexandra Strauss and animation and graphics designer Michel Blustein, it’s agit-prop filmmaking, to be sure, but one that strives to remain truthful. A concluding chapter emerges, “Purity,” a title with evocations of a final solution.

For Baldwin, there is no separation between the destiny of the American nation and that of African Americans, those “unique” peoples from whose bright eyes “a light seems to go everywhere,” as Jackson narrates. The very fabric of the democracy depends on a permanent uplift and unification, a nation born from slave auctions and carried on through cheap labor, a democracy that has not yet even begun. “The story of the negro is America’s story. It is not a pretty story.” A good writer typically has a nice degree of amateur psychology in his or her bag of tricks, and Baldwin is certainly no exception. In analyzing the impetus for carrying forward a race-based system far beyond the blossoms of slavery, the trenchant social observer asserts a similar perspective to King’s “sick white brothers” diagnosis of the psychological pathology behind it. Through the genocide of the native peoples and the inculcation of a system that “repudiates my existence” and remains entrenched in deep economic poverty, White Americans have completely abrogated their “moral authority”; “it’s a “formula for a kingdom’s demise.” Baldwin believes the way out is for Americans to start taking responsibility because “we need each other.” He offers the spark for a new beginning: “The future of the country depends on white people figuring out why you needed to have a n— in the first place.”

One of my biggest takes from …Negro is the Dick Cavett excerpt. I can’t get beyond contrasting that show with today’s ebullient late-night figures the likes of Jimmy Fallon and their absolutely useless shenanigans, celebrity adorations, and trifling interviews, while Tavis Smiley can barely string together 20 minutes of content in exile on PBS with hardly enough funding to stay afloat. It may seem a curious take, but it actually goes right to the heart of Baldwin’s essential beliefs. Amid wild scenes from The Jerry Springer Show, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine on The Gong Show, and staged game-show giveaways on Let’s Make a Deal and The Price Is Right, Jackson asserts Baldwin’s critique of an “immature… narrow-minded” nation in which “the empty lives we live” are reflected in “the empty, tame, bland images on television” through which “we fail to recognize who we are.” Far from being just commercial decadence, the broadcast entertainment confirms a deep psychological denial and moral surrender, an inability of White Americans “to come to terms with themselves and the race problem.” “To look around America today is to see radical insights into white complacence,” Jackson intones. Peck wonders what’s changed; so do I. About all he doesn’t include are the reassurances of Fox News Channel hosts and commentators that yet another senseless shooting was not the dreadful confirmation of a prejudiced, out-of-control police force but the unacceptable and unfortunate actions of a suddenly lifeless Black man, or countering to a guest with barely concealed indignation, “What, me worry? The problem is your racial consciousness…” let alone the network’s inflammatory coverage of the Ferguson unrest that I had the misfortune of catching on a plane one night.

Toward the end of 1987, the body of James Arthur Baldwin perished in his home in the medieval commune of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the French Riviera from stomach cancer and was returned to the state of New York to be buried in a cemetery plot, yet his words are still there, all around us. Just turn on the television, or open your web browser, if you prefer, look, and listen, then you tell me.

http://www.iamnotyournegrofilm.com/

http://www.roguemachinetheatre.net/les-blancs

© 2017 John Tyler/24 Hours

The Order of Identity: Split—A Home Video Preview

If the purpose of going to the cinema is just to enjoy oneself, let alone be completely stunned—slammed against your seat, like all of the mostly “urban” youths I saw this with in the sanctuary city of all sanctuary cities in the renegade state of California, then Split, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest exhibit in his career renaissance, is certainly going to be one of the films of the year. It is that alone for the simply monstrous performance by James McAvoy, the talented and expressive Scottish actor who made his breakthrough here upstaging Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, and who’s gone on to digital Hollywood serial exposure and fame. In a consummate performance that would earn him an Oscar nomination for sheer audacity and brilliant execution if horror-thrillers were given any consideration, McAvoy twists and contorts all of that facial expressiveness and beyond to the requirements of playing a handful of the multiple personalities of one Kevin, the host of a “horde” of characters who come to fruition under the methodological term now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID.

Among these colorful players, who materialize much to the amazement of the three girls—mean girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen); second-fiddle beauty Marcia (Jessica Sula); and deeply isolated, nearly mute social outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, Morgan, Barry)—who are precipitously abducted from a shopping center parking lot in a brazen daylight action very early on, within the stark industrial confines of a makeshift home that was not properly zoned by the city, are Dennis, the brazen, bespectacled, big-brother kidnapper who’s gained the upper hand on Kevin himself; Miss Patricia, a matronly, upper-crust caregiver dressed like a new-age Scottish bagpipe player whose exceptional breeding barely masks a sinister Dickensian inner channel; and Hedwig, a young adult with the mental and behavioral capacity of an adolescent who flirts with the distressed girls and fancies petty and more actual rebellions against Dennis and the Misses so long as he can get away with them. A fourth, the OCD fashion designer and primary interloper Barry, tries to warn Kevin’s psychiatrist, the nearly professionally exiled Dr. Fletcher (a perfectly cast Betty Buckley), of the startling goings-on, but is beating to the punch by Dennis, whose tête-à-tête with the caring, concerned, but implicitly intuitive therapist is worth the price of admission alone. D. can barely keep the lid on the basis of all the uproar—the imminent materialization of a new character known as The Beast, whose depiction in Hedwig’s childlike drawings is ominously, monstrously inhuman.

The late realization of the setting of Kevin’s twisted domicile tips Shyamalan’s hand to the latter of the nature versus nurture debate, and allusions to The Beast’s proclivity for flesh betrays cannibalism for a more animalistic hunger; hence, the girls abduction as “unpure” sacrificial lambs. It’s Nietzsche and Dostoevsky run amok. The true basis for Kevin’s diagnosis, of course, is extreme childhood trauma—could it be anything else?—trauma that is also mirrored in Casey—whose backstory is intercut in some inspired editing by Luke Ciarrocchi, who also edited Shyamalan’s previous, The Visit, and who cut his teeth as an assistant on the director’s The Happening—which allows her to instinctively alight to and even empathize with Kevin’s motivations, as if she had seen the X-Files episode, Unruhe, and was following Agent Scully’s rational lament, “For truly to pursue monsters, we must understand them…” (Taylor-Joy and the other young actresses are all excellent.)

Monsters? One of the original in the Western canon is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a multilayered metaphor for all sorts of personal, social, and political demons at the monstrous time, and certainly evoked here with the emergence of The Beast, a necessitated, perhaps, materialization of all sorts of similar forces hence, like neofascist and neocommunist uprisings from Germany—foreshadowed cinematically in brilliant recent films by Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) and Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader)—to North Korea to Cambodia to Cuba, not to mention the turbulent formation and realized nuclear ambitions of Pakistan, carved out of the writer-director-producer’s own native land. Shyamalan’s smart script must be aware of this; before making Split, he had just formulated much of Fox’s rather excellent dystopian sci-fi social satire, Wayward Pines.

Still, Shyamalan has childlike tendencies himself, and here, he’s like a kid in a candy store. The departure for Split is certainly the schizophrenic horror genre and a more tasteful modification of the more recent torture-horror films—Claire’s white sweater is dispensed with early, under a pretext, of course, and the distressed Richardson spends much of the film in undergarments. Detractors may point to a few liberal and derivative indulgences toward the end as material evidence of a misfire, but what would otherwise exasperate myself in a lesser film are merely a few pardonable missteps here. Indeed, Split nearly rises to the level of a Halloween, one of the more excellent of the schizophrenic offerings, especially in Buckley’s exceeding performance, which evokes Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis. Her heartbreaking reaction in her office to the realization that Dennis has, in fact, overcome Barry, the brief interlocution of Kevin himself in a pivotal moment, and the empathetic flashbacks to Kevin’s and Casey’s childhoods all contribute to this being no mere horror knockoff or exploitation flick.

As we just saw Monday night on A&E’s Bates Motel, when Freddie Highmore’s Norman Bates is condemned with having the same dreadful condition, which presupposes madness, he replies quite calmly and directly, though with a hint of preparatory schoolboy agitation, that all of us, after all, have multiple personalities, depending upon the social situation and particular player(s) involved. In the hands of Shyamalan’s gritty and penetrating script, Split is a transformative piece that calls into question the nature of identity itself, not only for the abnormally developed, but for all of us who may believe we are normal, and whose close adherence to a civilized routine has pronounced us definitely as anything but. All good cinema is transformative, altering your reality and view of yourself and the world around you, and Split certainly qualifies, not that anyone will leave a viewing inquiring too closely, ‘less they go mad. It’s a bit of a dilemma, one’s unexamined mind, and nowadays, in these modern-primitive times, it may be best to just leave it alone. After all, Freud already did that, and his findings were none too comforting.

(Be completely stunned—be slammed against your living room seat; Split is now available with extras, including an alternate ending and deleted scenes, on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Download from Universal Studios Home Entertainment!)

© 2017 John Tyler/24 Hours

Ghosts of Nat Turner—2016 Film Award Favorites

Now that #oscarssowhiteandblack has been revealed, with only an actor of Indian decent crashing the party—so much for true diversity, then—and having myself seen some 30 films in the busy last quarter of last year, I have emerged, then, from the dark, dim and dreary theatres and into the light with these startling not so year-end film-award insights, which incorporate those theatrical releases from the last year, divided into domestic/English language and international/foreign language categories.

Domestic/English Language

Top Five Films

The Birth of a Nation

Knight of Cups

Born To Be Blue

Moonlight

Free State of Jones

Filmmaker of the Year (Writer-Director)

Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation)

Runners Up: Terrence Malick (Knight of Cups); Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Director of the Year

Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda)

Honorable Mention: Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Screenplay

Noah Oppenheim (Jackie)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Runner Up: August Wilson (Fences)

Honorable Mention: Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship)

Male Performance of the Year

Ethan Hawke (Born To Be Blue)

Runners Up: Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones); Tom Hiddleston (I Saw the Light)

Female Performance of the Year

Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane)

Runners Up: Carmen Ejogo (Born To Be Blue); Natalie Portman (Jackie); Rachel Weisz (Denial)

Honorable Mention: Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship); Marion Cotillard (Allied);

Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker)

Male Supporting Performance

Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures)

Runner Up: Adam Driver (Silence)

Honorable Mention: Tom Wilkinson (Denial); Jeremy Renner (Arrival)

Female Supporting Performance

Meagan Good (A Girl Like Grace)

Runners Up: Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson); Zoe Saldana (Live By Night); Sienna Miller (Live By Night)

Honorable Mention: Chloë Sevingny (Love & Friendship)

Actress of the Year

Rachel Weisz (Denial, Complete Unknown, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster)

Runner Up: Natalie Portman (Jackie, A Tale of Love and Darkness, Jane Got a Gun, Knight of Cups)

Honorable Mention: Amy Adams (Arrival, Nocturnal Animals)

Best Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki (Knight of Cups)

Runners Up: James Laxton (Moonlight); Bradford Young (Arrival)

Best Music

David Braid, Todor Kobakov, Steve London (Born to Be Blue)

Runners Up: Café Society; Hanan Townshend (Knight of Cups)

Best Original Song

“Born to Be Blue”—Arranged and performed by David Braid (Born to Be Blue)

Runner Up: “Honky Tonkin’”—Written by Hank Williams, performed by Tom Hiddleston and the Saddle Spring Boys (I Saw The Light)

Best Mood Piece

Exodus—Composed by Wojciech Kilar, performed by the Crakow Philharmonic Chorus and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit (Knight of Cups)

Costume Design

Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh (Love & Friendship)

Breakthrough Filmmaker (Writer-Director)

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Runners Up: Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation); Robert Budreau (Born To Be Blue)

Breakthrough Actor

Trevante Rhodes “Black” (Moonlight)

Runner Up: Joe Alwyn (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk)

Breakthrough Actress

Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, Moonlight)

Runner Up: Ryan Destiny (A Girl Like Grace)

Honorable Mention: Jaz Sinclair (When the Bough Breaks)

Best Ensemble

Knight of Cups

Runners Up: Moonlight; Fences

The I, No I, No I, Can Carry This Film Award

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures)

Special Citation for Creative Filmmaking

Anna Biller (The Love Witch)

Special Citation for Filmmaking Merit (Director—Writer—Actor)

Ben Affleck (Live By Night)

Underseen and Underdistributed Film of the Year

A Girl Like Grace

Repertory Screening of the Year

Howards End—New 4K Restoration (Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles, Sep 2-22)

Runner Up: Daughters of the Dust—25th Anniversary 2K Restoration (Laemmle Ahrya, Beverly Hills, Nov 25-Dec 1)

Charles Chaplin You’re No Longer Welcome Here—Ghost of Nat Turner—Award (RIP)

Nate Parker

International/Foreign Language

Top Five Films

The Childhood of a Leader

The President

Rabin, The Last Day

Under the Shadow

The Model

Filmmaker of the Year (Writer-Director)

Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The President)

Runners Up: Amos Gitai (Rabin, The Last Day); Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader)

Honorable Mention: Peter Greenaway (Eisenstein in Guanajuato)

Director of the Year

Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda)

Best Screenplay

Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold (The Childhood of a Leader)

Runner Up: Guillermo Calderón (Neruda)

Male Performance of the Year

Senior: Mikheil Gomiashvili (The President)

Junior: Elmer Bäck (Eisenstein in Guanajuato)

Honorable Mention: Matthias Schoenaerts (Disorder); Roland Møller (Land of Mine)

Female Performance of the Year

Senior: Catherine Frot (Marguerite)

Junior: Narges Rashidi (Under the Shadow)

Runner Up: Lou de Laâge (The Innocents)

Male Supporting Performance

Luis Gnecco (Neruda)

Runner Up: Liam Cunningham (The Childhood of a Leader)

Honorable Mention: Robert Pattinson (The Childhood of a Leader)

Female Supporting Performance

Bérénice Bejo (The Childhood of a Leader)

Runner Up: Diane Kruger (Disorder)

Best Cinematography

Reinier van Brummelen (Eisenstein in Guanajuato)

Runner Up: Lol Crawley (The Childhood of a Leader); Sergio Armstrong (Neruda)

Best Music

Scott Walker (The Childhood of a Leader)

Runners Up: Mike Lévy (Disorder); Amit Poznansky (Rabin, The Last Day)

Costume Design

Brenda Gomez (Eisenstein in Guanajuato)

Runners Up: Sang-gyeong Jo (The Handmaiden); Andrea Flesch (The Childhood of a Leader); Muriel Parra (Neruda)

Breakthrough Filmmaker (Writer-Director)

Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader)

Runners Up: Babak Anvari (Under the Shadow); Jayro Bustamante (Ixcanul)

Honorable Mention: Mads Matthiesen (The Model)

Breakthrough Actress

María Mercedes Coro (Ixcanul)

Runner Up: Maria Palm (The Model)

Special Citation for Creative Filmmaking

Hans Petter Moland, Kim Fupz Aakeson (In Order of Disappearance)

Overdone and Overrated Film of the Year

Elle

Runner Up: Julieta

Top Ten Films of the Year (in order)

The Birth of a Nation; Knight of Cups; The Childhood of a Leader; The President; Rabin, The Last Day; Born To Be Blue; Moonlight; Under the Shadow; The Model; Ixcanul

© 2017 John Tyler/24 Hours

2016 Election Day Preview: California Ballot Propositions II

(This continues my 11th-hour take on the state’s lengthy list—17 in all—of initiatives to be decided by a vote of the people—at least those who have not already—Tuesday.)

  1. Adult Film Condom Use. Health Requirements. Initiative Statute.

Yes, adult film sites, not those ubiquitous webpages found all across the WWW, but those retro California cool bedrooms, living rooms, and poolside patios, are, much like NFL stadium playing fields, actual worksites, and safety is paramount. After all, a good number of adult film stars perished during the AIDS crisis, and one-quarter of performers today have been consigned to an STD, according to the measure’s proponents. That’s a high rate of failure, even on a Sunday. Sixty would close loopholes those well-meaning pornographers and exploiters of human flesh exploit in state regulations that require condom use for recorded acts of nonsimulated intercourse. The initiative, much like 61 just below, is being proffered by AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein, yet is opposed by other AIDS advocacy organizations. Why? Besides clarifying requisite condom use and mandating fuller cooperation and engagement with Cal/OSHA, 60 empowers casual viewers and, indeed, apparently anyone to litigate adult film producers for failure to comply with the condom requirement. This has a host of respectable folks, including not only AIDS and LGBT advocacy groups, but most of the state’s newspapers and its two major political parties, warning of a potential trove of vindictive suits of questionable merit against not only wayward adult film producers, but performers, film crews and even cable and satellite providers, as well as the possibility of potential vindictiveness and harassment through the apparently potential publication of performers names and addresses. Even mom-and-pop producers operating out of their garages and bedrooms improperly displaying their wares could be caught up in the litigation circus! Sixty follows Measure B, the 2012 Los Angeles County initiative that folks like the Los Angeles Times editorial board lament essentially drove adult-film production out of the San Fernando Valley and with it all those skilled, good-paying production jobs. Similar claims are now being made against 60. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated 60 could drive wayward pornographers further afield and underground. Opponents also posit that the industry’s HIV testing protocols are working. My view on Measure B was that if you’re not complying with the law, then good riddance! And now, that there’s a lot of potential hysteria with 60, and that testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis isn’t quite enough. But as I said before, I’m no expert, but then again, who is? An unassuming voter may defer to opposition by the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee and the Adult Performers Actors Guild, who also claim that Weinstein wouldn’t meet with them when drafting this proposal, and still won’t. It’s also alarming that Weinstein himself would apparently be promoted to an honorary position within the state bureaucracy in which he would personally review films for offending content. No Recommendation: Leaning No.

  1. State Prescription Drug Prices and Standards. Initiative Statute.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein, whose nonprofit organization certainly has a stake in such affairs as prescription drug pricing, returns with this possibly well-intended measure. Intent is everything in these initiatives, and a good reason why so many California voters are pulling their hair out when trying to decide them, especially when it’s just a single individual who’s initiated them, and whose motives for doing so may remain inscrutable. After all, his foundation, which boasts it is “the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care” in the nation, operates outside the purview of his own initiative, which is opposed, like 60 above, by other AIDS advocacy groups, as well as the trove of state newspapers alluded to above, not to mention others like the California NAACP. Who resides within the purview are the state agencies that spent $3.8 bil two years ago on prescription drugs for their employees and others—those 12 percent you see in the ubiquitous ads paid for by the multinational prescription drug companies themselves to the tune of nearly $110 million. Advocates, who include the California Nurses Association, AARP and Sen. Bernie Sanders, argue that the potential effectiveness of the measure has them running scared. Opponents argue that the other 88 percent of state prescription drug users will be hit with a retributive increase in costs to make up for the drug companies’ losses if the measure goes into effect. Sixty-one would require state agencies to negotiate and purchase prescription drugs at the lower pricing points of the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs, which are essentially about 20-24 percent lower, for various reasons, than customary, according to proponents. Lo, there’s precedent for this, and the drug companies themselves essentially tell us in their ubiquitous ads, making the claim that prices will, indeed, rise for those remaining 88 percent privately or un-insured. This makes 61 a potentially damned if you do or damned of you don’t initiative. On merit, it’s valid, and there’s no question that prescription drug costs are wildly out of control, par for the course for the entire healthcare industry, long before the Affordable Care Act came along, which is now absorbing so much the criticism. Other states are eying the vote here, and if 61 passes, it could spread like wildfire across the nation, eventually ending up in Washington, where legislators have been reluctant to reign in their corporate sponsors, and where W. gave up federal control on prescription drug pricing in his administration’s unsightly Medicare Part D corporate unveiling, perhaps settling into provisions in the Affordable Care Act that would benefit all. Perhaps that’s why The Bern is so excited about this measure, and if it’s damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and while for us nongovernmental employees and privately insured, it might take a little more pain before we receive any further relief, I say we go at it with all guns blazing. Recommendation: Yes.

  1. Death Penalty Repeal. Initiative Statute.

There are few arguments for capital punishment, and none are really tenable. There are several against, and all are virtually compelling. I don’t wish to belabor the point here, as I’ve done so often in the past, but a lot of us, as with 64 below, have been waiting for this for a long time, since even before California Chief Justice Hon. Rose Elizabeth Bird and others were excised from the Court by voters in an effusive right-wing hit for essentially refusing to carry out the provision. Sixty-two would affect sentencing in first-degree murder convictions under those prosecutorial-beloved “special circumstances,” mandating life without the possibility of parole as the state’s maximum sentence, and really the ultimate sentence under which civilized human beings can collectively operate. If it passes, it will be too late for Stanley Williams, the reformed Crips founder who turned to authoring children’s books advocating for a life free from the thrall of street gangs, and who was excruciatingly executed in 2005 two weeks before Christmas. In ads you’ve seen, proponents have called out the state’s death penalty as hopelessly derailed, and, indeed, it’s a fraught process that reeks of punitive injustice and alarming condescension, from the biased selection of those defendants subjected to the punishment all the way to the, yes, excruciatingly unnatural way in which the condemned are ultimately put away, a catalog of horrors so horrific that in 2014 a federal District Court jurist ruled it rose to the unconstitutional level of a cruel and inhumane practice. Duh. Recommendation: Yes.

  1. Firearms and Ammunition Sales. Initiative Statute.

As you well know, California has been at the forefront of so-called gun-control legislation, sticking to an effective assault-weapons ban that, nationally, is absent across a vast majority of the land. Just this year, the Democratically controlled legislature passed several bills, some of which were signed by the governor, and some that were not. Some appear here, in yet another “common-sense” approach that I believe was originated by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is likely on the precipice of removing that “Lt.” from his title, I imagine. Sixty-three goes beyond most measures by extending controls like background checks beyond firearms to actual ammunition, which makes sense, considering its actually the ammo that does the killing, and not necessarily the guns, so perhaps the NRA is partially correct. Most alarmingly, certainly for weekend warrior M&P assault weapon-style enthusiasts and wannabe special ops aficionados, it bans the possession of large capacity—10 rounds and above, I believe—magazines, moving those previously excused pre-2000 possessors into the ranks of the criminal. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but the measure’s other provisions are all solid, intending to keep potentially explosive firearms away from the most dangerous among us through essentially “common-sense” measures. Sixty-three also requires commercial ammunition providers to register with the state DOJ and obtain a license to sell. Proponents correctly argue that assault-style weapons are superfluous—and can only exponentially add to the body count when madmen strike, which has been quite often, it seems. They are designed, after all, for military use, and have been appropriated by police departments, not to mention criminals. Which raises a paranoiac question: While I don’t believe—nor should anyone—that the Second Amendment applies to individual firearm ownership, the constitutional framers, so mindful of that distressing Redcoat presence and billeting, certainly didn’t intend to have U.S. citizens be at the mercy of a heavily militarized and trigger-happy police state, which is something we seem to be precipitously gravitating toward, at least those of us beyond the confines of what Donald Trump so reverentially refers to as the “inner cities,” which is already there. Still, a vote for 63 means that James Brady didn’t die in vain, and this state, and nation, is so awash in gun violence that only a sadist or misanthrope would actually provide a human being with a loaded one, much like matches to a neglected child. I’ll just leave it to the militias to defend their positions as they see fit, and, besides, if we ever do decide to come together to overthrow a neofascist police state, we can always import our semi-automatics from East Africa or the Balkans, no worries. And our large-capacity magazines, as well. Recommendation: Yes.

  1. Marijuana Legalization. Initiative Statute.

Yes, a lot of us have been waiting a long time for this, and this is round two, after 2010’s unsuccessful Prop 19, even though the state’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act essentially went a long way toward full legalization given how lax obtaining scripts and enforcement have become. But don’t get too carried away, 64, after all, was not written by Zonker Harris. As its advocates suggest, it’s actually quite restrictive, not only limiting possession to a single ounce, but consumption to the domicile or point of sale, and not in places like parks, planes, trains and automobiles, and bars, where alcohol is actually allowed. Far from effecting a vision of middle-school-aged boys toking out before, during and after school, and eventually dropping out of not only school, but society, 64 would actually benefit youths by placing the legal sales of upwards of $1 bil in annual taxable income into youth programs like afterschool, job placement, and substance abuse, and it restricts legal sales to those under—not 18—but 21. Opponents have argued that a legion of zoned-out drivers will be unleashed upon unsuspecting and sober-minded motorists throughout our streets, highways and byways, but evidence from states that have already legalized suggest this is sheer hysteria, much like just-mentioned fears of increased usage. Driver-usage technologies will eventually adapt to the proposition. What hasn’t been adequately discussed is, to me, the most consequential component of recreational drug decriminalization—its impact upon the drug cartels and violent street gang distributors. Much as 61 above has prescription drug companies quite alarmed over profits, so initiatives like 64 have the cartels in a potential bind. After all, however you’re going to vote on this, would you rather your kids and/or their friends got high from a joint supplied by a licensed, law-abiding Californian, or smuggled in and distributed by the Mexican Mafia? Recommendation: Yes.

  1. Carryout Bag Charges. Initiative Statute.

This is a deceptive measure—as if we need another one—propagated by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the four largest plastic bag manufacturers, from places like New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas, who are also responsible for the opposition to 67 below. Sixty-five would divert the proceeds from stores of carryout bag sales if 67 passes into a Wildlife Conservation Fund. Sounds lovely, but opponents argue the APBA is exaggerating the revenue 65 will generate, putting the actually amount to upwards of $80 mil from the organization’s $300 mil claim. Stores have to pay for the bags anyway, but this is more about presenting a united front against the plastic bag consortium. Sixty-five has to receive more votes than 67 for it to take effect. Recommendation: No.

  1. Death Penalty Procedures. Initiative Statute.

This initiative is a dream come true for death penalty advocates, stymied by execution delays that have effectively castrated the sentence, as if waiting for an eternity amid throngs for a government entitlement on a hot, sunny day. Like 62 above, it would apply to first-degree murder death penalty sentencings involving people of color, er, excuse me, special circumstances. Much like Al Gore’s abandoned appeal of the 2000 presidential election verdict in the fair Sunshine State, we as a nation just don’t tolerate delays, for any reason, however justified they may be, and even in the interest of justice. According to the Legislative Analyst, there are nearly 750 condemned prisoners residing now at San Quentin and the Central California Women’s Facility, unless somebody’s died since the Voter Information Guide was printed, and supporters want them excised from the community of prisoners pronto, and not dyin’ of “natural causes,” which is, up to now, far more likely to happen. Sixty-six would get the wheels of (in)justice spinning faster by opening the trial courts to death penalty cases, expanding the attorney pool, and limiting appeals to a five-year period and the filing of habeas corpus petitions to one year from attorney appointment, which even now is an aggravatingly time-consuming affair. That’s all fine and dandy, I suppose, but opponents are pointing out that if these were to materialize, miscarriages of justice would increase due to substandard proceedings. Sure, the present system is a mockery, I’ll agree, making career prisoners—and litigants—of the condemned. I mean, after all, the most efficient way to execute the sentencing humanely is just to take the condemned out back of the jails and shoot them in the head, like Stalin used to do. For sure, if one of my sisters was kidnapped, tortured, raped and dispatched from the living, I’d want to organize a posse to locate the perpetrator and bash his skull in with a lead pipe by dawn, and unlike the Russian soldiers, not even have to worry about the cleanup. I agree that Lonnie Franklin, Jr. is a great candidate for a sped-up process. But the death penalty sits atop an egregiously flawed judicial system that is becoming more illuminated with each passing day, one that, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, has seen more than 155 death row exonerations nationwide in the past five decades, with 13 coming in the last two years alone, and with three of them having been resident since 1975. These figures are likely far more astounding, and in this light, is it really a good time to adopt a system more akin to China, North Korea, Iran and Texas? If this measure receives more votes than 62 above, it supersedes it, and like Sean Penn’s Jimmy Markum in Mystic River, do you really want to live with yourself knowing you just offed an innocent man you were convinced was guilty, which is now even more likely under this initiative? Recommendation: No.

  1. Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban. Referendum.

Like a lot of things, especially issues concerning the environment, this initiative comes about two decades too late. It’s too late for the wildlife compromised by the vast stream of disposable plastic strewn across our nation’s waterways, but better late than never. Our conspicuous consumption has never seen anything like the single-use plastic bag. The Legislative Analyst claims that 15 billion single-use plastic bags have been distributed to unsuspecting state shoppers every year, and, if you’re like me, you know that maybe 10 billion of those were superfluous. Several communities—150 in all—across the state have enacted single-use plastic bag bans at grocery and drugstores and the like, and 67 is a referendum on the state legislature’s passage of SB 270, which also requires a charge—typically $.10—to cover a recycled paper or plastic bag that can be reused, with certain exemptions, such as for low-income residents. I’ve seen it in action here, and, trust me, everyone, from customers to the checkout people. is just glad the single-use bags are gone, like a rainbow after a storm, or the dissipation of a really bad dream that couldn’t have been real. Recommendation: Yes.

© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours

2016 Election Day Preview: California Ballot Propositions I

(I’m not an expert on the state’s lengthy list of initiatives—17 in all—to be decided by a vote of the people—at least those who have not already—Tuesday, but this is my 11th-hour take. And when it would take a semester college course to get even a tentative grasp on them, then again, who is?)

  1. School Bond Funding for K-12 and Community Colleges. Initiative Statute.

You’d have to be a Scrooge to come out against a bond proposal to construct and modernize schools for our kids, and, lo, Ebenezer himself—Gov. Brown—has done just that! The issue, so to speak, with this initiative is that, unlike past measures, it was not introduced by the state but by private developers, who would win big here by shifting funding away from local development fees on new construction within the local school districts that would benefit. At the same time, this is such a pressing problem that if 51 were to fail, the legislature would certainly, IMO, adopt a similar measure by next election that would not contain this provision, er, giveaway. School supporters are so desperate for the funding they’re supporting it anyway. There’s also concern that it would not benefit low-income communities as much as it should, an old tune, that, as the former mayor of Oakland, the governor knows a thing or two about. Recommendation: No.

  1. Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Funding. Initiative Statute.

The state’s Medi-Cal program received a huge boost form the Affordable Care Act—one of its signature successes—$15 billion in new funding to modernize healthcare for the poorest Californians. Several initiatives Tuesday address additional funding of the socialist program. Fifty-two would continue a program in which hospitals fund Medi-Cal with matching funds from the Feds that kicked in more than $8 bil last year alone to the $95 bil program. In short, if you’re a Blue state, you accept this gift, if you’re a Red, you run for your lives from the hand that feeds, and to let your poor suffer alone. Recommendation: Yes.

  1. Statewide Voter Approval of Revenue Bonds. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Of all the initiatives on the ballot, this one may not only be one of the toughest calls, but may have much broader implications than we give it credit for. This, in short, could be a sleeping giant. The initiative proposes the seemingly benign objective of requiring voter approval of revenue bonds of more than $2 bil, a seemingly handsome reward for our Fair Democracy. Its proponent is Stockton agribusiness landowner Dean Cortopassi, who, depending on who you talk to, is either an even-tempered and well-minded millionaire, or a petty and self-interested businessman who’s misusing the initiative process to jab a thorn into Brown’s $25 bil Sacramento River Delta water project that would affect Cortopassi’s holdings. The argument against is that it will cripple the ability of state and local governments to fund necessary projects in times of need. While I’d certainly like to tell the governor and the state just what they can do with their environmentally unsound water project and insane $65 bil—and likely exponentially rising—High-Speed Rail project, this, unfortunately, may not be the avenue in which to do it. Cortopassi is correct to point out that we are on a slippery slope with bond funding, which last year ate up $6 bil from the general fund, what with the expected avalanche of anticipated bond projects arriving soon—of which the school bond measure is just the tip of the iceberg—we need to choose our bond expenditures carefully, all the while knowing it’s essentially the only way to fund these types of infrastructure projects and improvements, and, thus, the sleeping giant here. What tips the scales additionally, for me, is that it’s supported by the right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, perhaps the single most corrosive force in state politics in the modern era, and one of the principal reasons why this once-great state is in such decline and in need of such revenue in the first place. It’s an insane idea to hand your voice back to the closed-door state politicos and their grandiose schemes, but, as we just witnessed with Brexit, granting the people the authority to vote on certain issues may not always be the best idea, even in a Democracy. No Recommendation: Leaning No.

  1. Legislative Proceedings. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Ditto this initiative, in which the Mask of Democracy rears its often grotesque, two-faced head, once again. It’s seemingly benign contentions—supported by the likes of the California League of Women Voters and California Common Cause—would require 72-hour online postings of pending legislation and the audiovisual posting of legislative proceedings, seemingly aiding and abetting the cause of legislative transparency. Citizen activist groups could monitor legislation for back-door shenanigans before it arrives for a full vote, and we could witness ourselves if our elected representatives are, indeed, as eloquent as, say, Roger Williams or Thomas Payne. However, and here’s the rub, the 72-hour window would also embolden the “special interests”—those business-suited and briefcase-clad white men crossing L Street in the hot, midday sun in droves—to swarm like bees to flowers on the awaiting legislators, turning representative democracy into a game of The Price is Right. The provision for allowing personal recordings of legislative sessions and using such material for attack ads come election time is nauseating to say the least. As always, the “special interests” could likely gain the most from this initiative. Besides, I’m no fan of the Internet myself, especially for video use, and, anyway, you can already find the text of the bills online, whether pending or not, here: www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html. Recommendation: No.

  1. Tax Extension on Wealthy Income Earners. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

This extension of an earlier initiative—2012’s Prop 30—taxes an additional one-three percent of annual income on earners making more than $263,000 on a prorated scale, injecting an additional windfall of $4-$9 bil annually into the state’s general fund, with about half going to the K-12 schools and community colleges and up to $2 bil on Medi-Cal under a formula I read about but hardly understood. This is what’s known as a win-win—don’t worry, the luxury auto, yacht and wine industries will still do fine, recession or no—and if you’re like capital magnate Warren Buffet, you won’t mind paying the additional tax to fund a more livable environment outside the walls of your secluded castle. The rest of us will just be grateful for your generosity, even as we plant and harvest your fields and pay exorbitant rents on your squalid tenements. Recommendation: Yes

  1. Cigarette Tax. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Poor cigarette smokers. I hate to punish them again, but their noxious habit—I used to have it—accounts for $3.6 bil in state healthcare costs annually, according to the measure’s proponents, but that’s precisely what this initiative will do: exact a $2.00 per pack tax on top of the $.87 tax they’re already paying—with $.75 of that coming from previous voter-approved measures—further driving up the cost of a pack of the so-called cancer sticks to more than $8.50, when you include the sales tax. No, those allied toughs, everyday heroes and alluring heroines seen daily in B&W on TCM would be in an uproar! But the numbers were more concerned with as we step over these folks on our way to a better society is that it will bring in about $1.5 bil into state coffers, primarily to be used on the ubiquitous Medi-Cal program—up to $1 bil annually—and things like tobacco prevention programs. Yes, here, at least, it’s now good to be an indigent on a state-sponsored healthcare program, but terrible to be a smoker, in more ways than one. The tobacco industry is opposed to 56, of course, spending more than $55 mil to defeat it, which just goes to show that, yes, there’s a sucker born nearly every day. Recommendation: Yes

  1. Criminal Sentences. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

This initiative would do what Prop 66 below would not: return state prisons to more of a rehabilitation-based system rather than a punitive one, fueled by overzealous criminal prosecutors eager to put even nonviolent and juvenile offenders away for as long as they can get away with. As I understand it, Fifty-seven would provide for parole hearings for nonviolent offenders after they complete their base sentences as well as rehabilitation credits even for those who haven’t. The result is that, according to the Legislative Analyst, prison terms could be reduced by perhaps 25 percent for the former population. The impetus for this is the state’s teaming, overcrowded state prisons and the judicial decree that even law-and-order-minded Gov. Brown couldn’t empty these decrepit houses fast enough of nonviolent offenders in his great state-to-county prisoner migration of 2012. The state’s nonviolent prison population numbers into the tens of thousands—with nearly 30,000 last year—and while Californians are certainly sick of hearing about reduced sentences—and rightfully so, considering the revolving-door policies of several of the state’s county jails—this initiative will complete the process of not only trying to save the state needed revenue but maintaining these notorious walls for those violent offenders—those truly Bad Hombres, so to speak—we definitely do not want to see filtering in and out because of the severe overcrowding crisis, with emphasis on the word crisis. Even better, it would relinquish authority for the adult sentencing of juveniles—a truly heinous act, no matter the circumstances—from automatic sentencing requirements and prosecutorial retribution and put rightfully into the esteemed chairs of the more sympathetic, wise and level-headed juvenile court jurists, resulting in, by my calculations based on Legislative Analyst data, a reduction of such atrocities by roughly 85 percent. Recommendation: Yes

  1. English Proficiency. Bilingual Education. Initiative Statute.

Back in 1998, with Proposition 227, even our kids were subjected to a right-wing political hit when California schools were severely restricted in their authority to utilize bilingual education programs for English learners, the vast majority of whom—80 percent—are Latino. 227 required parents of English learners sign a waiver for their kids to be instructed in an English-only classroom, after an introductory haircut, so to speak, as with the native Californian “savages” in the Spanish missions; with enough like-minded others, kids could escape the wrath of the folks wielding the scissors in the English-only classrooms. Fifty-eight would largely reverse this by waiving that requirement, so to speak, and re-establishing bilingual education as a primary learning tool. It would essentially bring decision-making authority on bilingual learning back to the parents and the community, and away from right-wing Republican hacks who certainly support the notion when it comes to Charter schools. Why do we do this? Not only out of respect for the immigrants and their families, but because dual-immersion language programs work, and in a Blue state, we try to do not only what is right, but what actually works. Recommendation: Yes

  1. Corporations. Political Spending. Legislative Advisory Question.

Many are questioning the validity of this initiative, but, hey, if the legislature is going to ask my opinion on an important matter concerning campaign financing, I for one am going to give it to them. The legislature is inquiring upon its citizens whether it should go to Washington, like Mr. Smith, to try to initiate a Constitutional amendment reversing the widely panned 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Sounds like a bit of a long shot, but, hey, taken upon its merit, why not—why should we doubt its sincerity. The typically narrow 5-4 decision by the Roberts activist conservative court asserted, IMO, that corporations, non-profits and the like are essentially individuals when it comes to Constitutionally protected free speech in influencing elections, and that no restraints should be placed upon them, whether in money spent or transparent disclosure, on election campaigns independent of a federal office seeker or political party. It largely resulted in the creation of the SuperPac, politically action committees funded almost entirely by superwealthy individuals, which operate independently of the party or candidate they are advocating for, creating a superfine line between the federal prohibition of corporate-funded federal campaigns. While the result of the decision has played out as feared in that regard, the decision was widely believed to have favored Republican supermoneyed interests, but, lo, Democrats, much to the dismay of a Bernie Sanders, have adapted and also use it to their favor, with Tom Steyer actually outcontributing Sheldon Adelson at the top by $13 mil this year. The California legislature is largely Democratic. Go figure. The party is opposed to Citizens United en masse, but raises SuperPac money like there’s no tomorrow, if only because it has to, as if it were a drowning man treading water. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Recommendation: Yes

(This posting continues.)

© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours

Black Lives Matter—But Just How Much?

“I did it so that the world knows these police are not here to protect and serve us. They are here to assassinate us. They are here to kill us because we are black.”

— Diamond Reynolds, social media chronicler and eyewitness to her boyfriend Philando Castile’s point-blank “assassination” in Minneapolis July 7, quoted in the Los Angeles Times

I The Fruits of Arbitrary Power—The Bloody Massacre

On the evening of March 5, 1770, in the Incident on King Street, commonly known as the Boston Massacre, eight occupying forces—one captain, one officer, and six privates—of the British Royal Army fired upon a pretty unruly and belligerent mob of colonists, many of whom were armed with clubs, responding to an ugly and ridiculous street encounter between a provocative merchant and a British sentry, killing five and injuring six. The incident served to inflame tensions that were already nearly intolerably high between colonists and occupying British troops enforcing the Townshend Revenue Act upon the point of bayonet and through the depths of musket muzzle, and was a pivotal signpost on the road to revolution. Among the dead was Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race merchant seaman and escaped slave of Black-African and Native-American descent who cloaked himself under the alias, Michael Johnson. Attucks was among the first and foremost to agitate that day and the first to die. He is seen lying prone with two gushing red gunshot wounds to his chest in the far left of Paul Revere’s infamous engraving—actually a copy of an original by Henry Pelham, apprentice and half-brother to John Singleton Copley, entitled The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or The Bloody Massacre. In some prints, Attucks was depicted as a person of color, but in others, he appears to be colorless, or White, as if Black Americans were to be effaced from the prominent history of the colonial revolution.

It was none other than then lawyer and literary political provocateur John Adams who eventually defended the “assassins,” who’d been charged with murder; six of them were acquitted, while two others were convicted of manslaughter and given a lighter sentence, which constituted a hot branding upon the thumb. Adams, who believed murder convictions would have been a gross miscarriage of justice, singled out Attucks among the “motley rabble of… negros and molattoes” and other low life, as having gone a long way toward engaging the fatal actions of the besieged soldiers with his “mad behavior.” Indeed, if the incident had occurred 246 years later, say, in March of this year, and the other victims had been Black as well, Fox News Channel show hosts and commentators might also have found the “massacre” to have been entirely justified; you can just imagine the incendiary and inflammatory coverage.

Adams, who nonetheless defended the term “massacre” as an apt description and asserted the incident, among the others taught to American schoolchildren, necessitated the complete and utter removal of British rule from the colonies, stated prophetically, “the incident is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.” Indeed, in its immediate aftermath, in the interest of public safety, a reluctant Thomas Hutchinson, then Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, successfully petitioned to have the occupying forces—the 14th and 29th regiments of the British Royal Army—removed to the fortress of Castle William Island. At a time of great public agitation and unrest, Massachusetts Bay was left without any effective means of official law enforcement.

II Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies—The Ghastly Apparitions of D.C.

It sounds rather ideal, doesn’t it? Is it not plainly true and self-evident that today’s urban police forces constitute just such an imminent threat upon the liberty of our persons? Just past the celebration of this nation’s 240th year of independence, then, might not Adams, above those very same colonial merchants and rabble-rousers, if they’re bones and chains were to be rattled and loosed from beyond their decrepit cemeteries by the anguished hue and cry of yet another lamentable citizen death at the hands of our present-day standing armies—those militarized and belligerent police forces—might they not arise and call for a new day? Would these ghastly colonists alighted to the happenings and circumstances of the present day in this regard, not find a uniformed army of police forces with a vast array of semiautomatic and automatic rifles and the like at their most immediate disposal at least, if not more, hostile than those posted, billeted Redcoats of 1770? Just what is Independence, now, besides slavery, for the affected African-American communities? What is it for any of us? From what are we Independent from, and from whom? The British?

Are we not the subjects of what amounts to a national police force of such astounding facility and the will and readiness to use it so as to render the Constitution itself to be little more relevant than if it were mere discarded toilet paper in a public restroom at the end of another long and bustling day? Would not these police that so often put themselves upon the African-American descendants of the former slaves themselves cause even a former slaveholder like Thomas Jefferson, who certainly would’ve hoped for better, to recoil in utter horror if he were to return in ghostly apparition? Would he not have cause to pause, and ponder—&*^%, perhaps I was right all along—maybe we should have repatriated many of these poor people to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Haiti, after all?

From one vantage, he peers in a vertical, south-facing window into the Oval Office, espying that eloquent statesman, Barack Obama, presiding at the handcrafted wooden presidential desk. After awhile, the ghost withdraws, to stretch his legs, so to speak, moving east down Pennsylvania Avenue NW, then a quick left on Madison Place NW, then disappearing for a long stretch east on H Street NW, cutting down Benning Road NE at Maryland Avenue, then left on E. Capitol Street SE, up Division Avenue NE into Lincoln Heights until he makes a sharp right on Dix Street NE, whereupon he suddenly stumbles upon the prone and quivering body of a young African-American male dying in a pool of his own blood at the hands of a swarm of nearby armed, commiserating D.C. Metropolitan peace officers. Though the incident barely agitates the tranquil atmosphere enveloping the sitting president, dutifully applying his signature to various documents with a pen from his left hand, nonchalantly taking calls from a foreign leader or two on some urgent and pressing matters, and what-not, there’s nothing peaceful about it. Is it not one thing to be oppressed by the occupying force of a colonial army, a rather cut-and-dry affair, after all, and yet another to be repressed by those peoples of your own nation?

III Generations—Slavery To Now

Indeed, compared to today’s gut-wrenching racial horror courtesy the nation’s police forces, as if black-on-black gang violence spirited by the deliberate introduction of rock cocaine and inexpensive, fly-by-night firearms from White-owned gun manufacturers wasn’t enough, that riveting B&W Civil Rights-era footage utilized by the likes of the producers of PBS documentaries Eyes on the Prize and the more recent Freedom Riders seems almost quaint by comparison. Rabid, racist cops armed with water cannons; vicious, trained dogs; nightsticks; handcuffs; jails—beatings, melees, taunts, threats vs. today’s calculated, cold-blooded police murders—take tour pick. Secret, nighttime abductions, clandestine extrajudicial lynchings? The grotesque horror of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s nude, beaten, bloodied, barbed, ravaged, mutilated corpse dropped into the murky depths of the Tallahatchie River or 25-year-old Freddie Gray beaten, broken, shackled, severed, disfigured, and unconscious in the back of a Baltimore Police Department transport van? The twisted, mangled, fractured, crushed corpses of Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, 14, 11, and 14, strewn across the blasted, burnt out basement of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church or the lifeless, charred corpses of the five children, 7-13, ash choked in their constricted nostrils and lungs, assigned by history to anonymity, in the burnt-out, smoky ruins of the ravaged West Philadelphia row house? Freedom Riders or Black Lives Matter? Perhaps only the shot-up, bloodied, disfigured body of Medgar Evers, collapsed on the cold ground in front of his own house, remains? Al Sharpton is still with us.

These times have become so dreadful and incredible that art imitates life in the second season of NBC’s fascinating, dark serial glimpse of late ‘60s Los Angeles, Aquarius. In the episode, “Revolution 1,” which aired the night a Baltimore judge cleared a second officer of second-degree murder and three counts of manslaughter in the absolutely brutal beating, maltreatment, and rough-ride death of Gray, in the tense, charged aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have an absolute heart attack over any number of issues—and not only those enveloping the Black community—if he were also to arrive, like Jesus, today, the Watts-based Black Panther Party affirms its decision to hold a peaceful demonstration the following morning, to the incredulous dismay of Charlie (Gethin Anthony), who’d been watching the rest of the nation’s major cities burn on the television screen from a sofa in the serene Pacific Palisades estate of Dennis Wilson (Andy Favreau). The peaceful march drops his spirit, dampens his hopes for an apocalyptic American “race war” in which African-Americans rise up, Haitian-style, leaving only he and his followers to live out their new destiny; failing that, it will have to arrive spasmodically through the spilt blood of their victims. That the deeply disturbing events and circumstances of today would certainly alight the depraved, manic, and racist imagination of a Charles Manson shows just how backwards we have gone, how far we have fallen, as a people and a nation. From slavery to Reconstruction to the Civil Rights era to today, Diamond Reynolds is not naive. She knows these issues are not just domestic, but that the entire world—from Moscow to London to Johannesburg and beyond—is watching, wondering if, and when, we will ever change, or awaken from our national nightmare of race and unremitting violence.

(This posting will continue.)

© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours

Artistic License, Exotic Locale; or, The Communists are Coming! Eisenstein in Guanajuato—A Home Video Preview

The idea of a pioneering early-20th century modernist Russian filmmaker making a wild sojourn in post-revolutionary Mexico seems anomalous at first, yet formalist art-house British filmmaker Peter Greenaway brings this seemingly staid real-life persona vividly to life in his eccentric, deeply artistic, protean, homoerotic passion play, Eisenstein in Guanajuato. The film, nonetheless a bust with the jury when it premiered at Berlin last February, is greatly benefited by a furiously physical, ebullient, expressionist performance by Finnish actor Elmer Bäck (Where Once We Walked) as Sergei Eisenstein himself. The culture clash of the button-down, gray-suited, urban Russian Marxist intelligentsia mixing with laid-back, colorful, provincial Mexican post-revolutionaries alighted by indigenous, pre-Colombian ritual, sensibility, and custom is not entirely erased here in Greenaway’s painterly milieu, but his protagonist’s embrace of the local flavor comes to blur what barriers may have existed between the two. That’s not to say that, as depicted here, Eisenstein isn’t a fish out of water, what with his gleaming ivory suit; outsize frame; wild, unkempt mane; and generally overbearing disposition; nor that he doesn’t completely ingratiate himself with the local Guanajuato—a picturesque, neocolonial, baroque capital city once pivotal to the nation’s independence, which was prefigured by street protests over inequitable wealth distribution and where the uprising initially manifested itself at the Siege of the Alhondiga, that is now a World Heritage Site—populace.

Indeed, his arrival veritably cries, “Outsider,” as he descends the dusty Guanajuato plateau in a caravan of period convertibles—the setting is October 1931—bulging with camera equipment and suitcases and a film crew—primarily artistic co-conspirator Grisha Aleksandrov (Rasmus Slätis) and cinematographer Eduard Tisse (Jakob Öhrman)—ostensibly to execute an ambitious, episodic, romantic, culturally rich, revolutionary-style film project entitled ¡Que viva México!; the convertibles may not be named Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, but the pompous arrival threatens a distinct cultural invasion and the European himself seems as wide-eyed and excited about the possibilities as Columbus himself. Once ensconced at an opulent baroque luxury hotel—after being welcomed, much like Leon Trotsky himself five years later, by local internationale cultural and political ambassadors Diego Rivera (José Montini) and Frida Kahlo (Cristina Velasco Lozano)—the excitable Russian maestro seems as secure and contented with his surroundings as a king in his castle. But like an emperor without his clothes—once stripped naked in the shower in a spacious, clear glass enclosure, he seems as vulnerable and diffident as his penis, which he proudly exalts in song while scrubbing himself. Eisenstein’s audacious, consequential 10-day sojourn is just beginning, but it remains to be seen just who will be the conqueror, and, likewise, the conquered.

Not only does the heralded Eastern director’s arrival coincide with a period of personal and professional uncertainty—Eisenstein was in retreat from Hollywood where a teaming with Paramount Pictures turned to disappointment over a rejected screenplay he’d written and his Communist ideology, and in apparent exile from Stalin’s Russia for his pioneering modernist techniques that were contrary to prevailing social-realist artistic doctrine—but with considerable baggage—psychological, existential, and literal. His stay takes an immediate turn for the worse, though the spirited tourist-adventurer appears immune to any of its consequences. His first night, he takes an uninviting aside through a labyrinthian street tunnel via an adjacent alley—the serpentine, subterranean layout of much of the city’s streets was necessitated by the torrential flooding that nearly destroyed it—into an impoverished nocturnal netherworld of beggars and alike unsavory denizens in which he ends up prone and puking on himself that Greenaway delightfully turns into a hazy, phantasmagorical cultural immersion and initiation. By day, he’s stalked and haunted throughout the neocolonial streets by a band of menacing revolutionaries in full peasant regalia, complete with rifles, bandoliers, and sombreros. Meanwhile, his appalled maid discovers a prolific trove of compromising photographs of the prurient interest, including potentially displeasing lampoons of Jesus, that threaten to have the nonplussed director expelled not only from his luxury lodgings but from the offended Catholic country itself. Controversy never seems far from unorthodox thinkers and unconventional artists, and seems to alight to those in the public eye like a moth. Eisenstein’s travels and travails are not only of the immediate interest of his hosts, but are being espied across bold newspaper headlines from West to East; this concerns the bemused nonconformist about as much as a mosquito landing on his balcony while he sleeps and dreams.

What saves the wayward director from deep trouble are not Frida and Diego, who, for the most part, disappear from the film, but his guide and translator, appropriately named cultural attaché Palomino (an excellent and game Luis Alberti, The Golden Dream). The two form an intellectual, cultural, and adventurous bond that turns not only to the sensual but to the macabre. Their blithe yet brooding musings are amplified by excursions to the municipal cemetery and a museum of death. It’s not unlike Hamlet waxing on the literalness and symbolism of the human skull, and the dialogue moves swiftly. It doesn’t hurt that the Russian’s recess coincides with local celebrations of All Saints’ Day. “Here, death is very close,” Palomino muses. So is sex.

The pair’s complicit affair imperceptibly turns amorous under the host’s advances. Eisenstein appears to be a neophyte to such seductions, and much is made of the director’s bashfulness and lack of confidence in his fleshy physique, which he nonetheless displays in his suite as if he were a nude model to Peter Paul Rubens. Greenaway, no stranger to eroticism nor even homoeroticism, displays this bedroom dual with much bravura and little modesty—when the pair consummate their affair, it’s a personally symbolic reprisal for centuries of European colonialism. In this middle period, the film can be difficult, especially with Eisenstein surrounded by cheerful and beautiful Guanajuato maids, waitresses, etc., and disclosing his affairs in effusive nightly calls home to his future wife, Vera, but it is rewarding for those who can get through; some will not make it. Greenaway, who scored the art-house hit The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; as well as the erotic The Pillow Book; can be uncompromising in this way; he is, after all, working in the fashion of a serious and masculine artist. Here, that includes inventive storytelling complete with documentary-style interludes, split-screen symbolic imagery that enhances motifs and themes, and a swirling, 360-degree panoramic shot of the famed visitor entertaining Palomino, his wife, Concepción (Maya Zapata, Under the Same Moon, Bordertown), and children with amusing stories of Hollywood in the backyard garden of their home atop a hilltop high above the city, all set to a classical soundtrack. Story and art fancifully blend with the spontaneous arrival of All Saints’ Day.

The escandaloso asunto is eventually interrupted by the arrival of determined, haughty matriarch Mary Craig Sinclair (Lisa Owen, The Amazing Catfish), the wife of Upton, who, it turns out, is financing Eisenstein’s Mexican expedition at the behest of Charlie Chaplin—at this point, with international socialists deeply ingrained in Hollywood, Joseph McCarthy, though he had a predecessor at the time in Frank Pease, who had Eisenstein discredited and expelled while the socialist was collaborating with Paramount, would’ve had a field day—and her pesky, matter-of-fact, spirit-killing brother, Hunter S. Kimbrough (busy South African actor Stelio Savante, Poe), who’s overseeing the writer-producer’s ideological investment. With the Southern California producer even exchanging letters with Eisenstein’s true overseer, Stalin, the Russian’s exiled idyll is truly coming to a head. Not that he could care about the ramifications; the squandering of a massive budget for an epic foreign-film project only causes the pioneering filmmaker to wax on dreamily about his only true concern—his artistic obligations. All this drama goes on while he reclines, stands on, jumps on, or stalks about his poster bed at the center of his spacious, marble-floored accommodation in various states of torpor and inspired wakefulness, with and without Palomino at his side.

Indeed, it’s no wonder his financiers are so concerned. All the while, there seems to be precious little actual filmmaking going on—though in reality Eisenstein shot miles and miles of footage that Aleksandrov would turn into ¡Que viva México! decades later. When the crew catches a dramatic break when a natural disaster strikes outside of town, the listless director is loath to leave his room. Compelled to do so, while Tisse captures the unfolding action in a driving rain, an abandoned baby is placed in his lap; the resulting photo, with the visitor cradling the infant protectively, is front-page news the next day, with Eisenstein cast as an activist hero. In truth, the conflicted maestro is withering from reality and retreating into cinema, his metaphysical oasis. Whether he’s deserted Russia or been deserted by the motherland itself, it’s artistic license uncontrollable, but even a true dreamer intuitively discerns the constraints of the world, and that the jig is up. Upon his demonstrative, bittersweet farewell, as his caravan peels away on the Guanajuato city streets, Eisenstein, the man, and the myth, through Peter Greenaway’s magical lens, has truly been transformed.

(Eisenstein in Guanajuato is now available on DVD and Digital Download from Strand Releasing. Greenaway, currently filming Walking in Paris, about pioneering modernist Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi’s extensive walking trek though Europe as a young man in the early 20th century, has just announced a …Guanajuato follow-up, Eisenstein in Hollywood!)

http://strandreleasing.com/films/eisenstein-guanajuato/

© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours