January 26, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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These two films are excellent political documentaries. One is a historical account about the failure of the media in regard to President Clinton and the other is a real time challenge to Bush the younger. Both are worthy, very worthy of being seen. However millions will see one and the other will be seen only by a few hundred thousand. Why? Well timing for one thing. Fahrenheit 9/11 is about a president running for re-election and Hunting is about a president in retirement. Which one should you see? See them both because they both constitute exhibit A regarding the polarization-taking place in this country. This polarization occurred not because the left moved further left but because the extreme right wing has taken over the Republican Party.

The Hunting of the President is well done and appeals more to the reason and works with a ball peen hammer on your senses while Fahrenheit is not as tight factually but comes in with a sledge hammer on the psyche. However it’s arguments are powerful with emotional footage to back them up. Moore doesn’t like the way the Bush regime operates and is willing to play rough to get his point across. That’s Michael Moore’s style and it works well. Hunting is more talking heads with inserts from old movies to emphasize a point and to make a weak thrust at humor. However in the end it is a historical documentary about the past. It makes a case for wrongdoing but offers no solutions. Fahrenheit is about now and the future and offers a solution. That is why millions are going to see it.

Moore is an incredible marketer of documentaries and he is dragging the form kicking and screaming into the mainstream. Indeed his film is playing in pop cinema houses while Hunting is in the art houses. How did Moore do this? Moore’s film is definitely more now and more confrontational. For example Moore shoots himself asking Members of Congress to sign up their children to fight in Iraq. The Congressmen look at him like he is nuts. He also created controversy about freedom of speech in regard to his film, always a dynamic and attention getting issue, because he made Disney’s refusal to release one of their own films look like suppression of his film. Disney the owner of his producer, Miramax, was put in the awkward position of not wanting to distribute so as not to irritate the Bush administration. So with the help of the Weinstein Brothers this was blown up into a major story as if his film was truly not going find a distributor. In the end it was distributed by Lions Gate a Canadian distributor. The day when the Weinsteins can’t get a film distributed will be the day Rupert Murdock has finally bought the American media lock, stock and barrel. Then through the Weinstein’s magic it also won the Palm D’Or, France’s best picture award. Michael Moore is making the documentary film a here and now experience. Hunting is an explanation after the fact while Fahrenheit is a polemic taking a heated position in the current debate. That’ s why he may change the current cinema for the better. It is also symbolic of the failure of television news to report on politics in a meaningful way.

How many documentaries challenge the status quo as it is happening in so powerful a fashion? Not many if any. Hunting tells how a weak and biased mainline media failed in the reporting of the Whitewater, Paula Jones, Vince Foster, Monica Lewinsky and Kenneth Starr stories.

Michael Moore is not waiting for the mainline media to tell his story he going directly to the public. This will change cinema, politics, political reporting and media coverage of events forever. It can also be looked upon as a direct consequence of the media’s failure to report on William Clinton’s Presidency responsibly and accurately and the failure of mainstream television like Fox News to report accurately and the remainder of the networks to report fully and effectively on politics.

Men like Michael Moore are not going to let what happened to Clinton and the 2000 election happen again. Thank God there is someone out there who is unwilling to take it any more and knows what to do about it.


Movie Review: The Company: A Film By Robert Altman

January 17, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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The Company: A film by Robert Altman. PG 112 min. Rating A-.
This is a story of creative development by a ballet company based in Chicago. It has the Altman trademark ensemble cast but its main theme is how a collaborative group functions and creates a work of art. Mr. Altman forsakes high drama to focus on the quotidian march of daily life in a ballet company in the process of creating a new and beautiful work. Malcolm McDowell is the artistic director who is in overall command raising the money, making personnel decisions, encouraging the artists and shepherding the production of a new ballet. The choreographers shape and direct the production and the dancers and support people lend their talents, hopes, dreams and make sacrifices in a joint enterprise towards a common goal, a new ballet.
Watching this picture is like seeing a beautiful flower unfold. I can’t help thinking that the creative process depicted so elegantly must be much like Mr. Altman’s own experience in creating his films with the aid of his producers, assistants and actors. This is not a picture about love and death; there are no chase scenes or giant artistic egos artistically battling out their perceptions. It is the story of the collaborative effort by a ballet company bringing to fruition an artistic creation. I am not a ballet enthusiast but I was impressed by this fine film and Mr. Altman’s courage not to ham it up with high or low drama.


Movie Review: Fog of War: Robert McNamara’s Journey

January 6, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Bhagavad Gita

Robert Oppenheimer’s Thoughts On Seeing The First Atomic Test. The Picture On The Left is of A Hydrogen Bomb.

Fog of War: A documentary film directed by Errol Morris. Rating A+
This is a brilliant movie about Robert McNamara’s views on war and peace in the nuclear age based on his experience as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and his service as a staff officer to General Curtis LeMay during WWII. General LeMay’s command was responsible of the fire bombing of Japanese cities (bombing that in the aggregate did more damage and took more lives than the nuclear events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki). One wonders why if fire bombing was so destructive was it necessary to use nuclear bombs. One of many questions raised by this perceptive film although McNamara says Truman was correct in using nuclear weapons.

This film is based on Mr. McNamara’s book, In Retrospect, The Tragedy and Lessons on Viet Nam, Mr. Morris’ interviews with McNamara and archival film footage of the events discussed.

The premise of this film is that given human fallibility and the power of nuclear weapons to destroy entire nations in a few minutes we must be better prepared to solve international problems through diplomatic means or mediation by third parties i.e. the United Nations. Further if there is to be a war it has to be done with multilateral consent and not just one nation squaring off against another.

The film is an interview with Robert McNamara juxtaposed with archival footage of the events in his life that led him to his conclusions. Conclusions that include his belief that the Vietnam War was a mistake and that in the case of Japan, General Curtis LeMay’s comment that they would all be prosecuted as war criminals, if we lost the war, because of the fire bombing was probably correct. This is balanced by the fact, he points out, that sometimes you must do evil to accomplish good i.e. countless American lives were saved by the fire and nuclear bombing of Japan. I can’t help being reminded of the sayings, the end never justifies the means and he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword which was certainly part of the Bushido code.

McNamara states when we entered the Vietnam War we knew we could not win because we wanted to avoid a larger war with China and possibly Russia. Mr. McNamara knew this in 1962 or 1963 because intelligence reports including CIA evaluations revealed that bombing in itself could not stop North Vietnam from supplying the South with men and supplies and since the supplies of war was generated outside North Vietnam we were powerless to destroy the means of production also. Our leaders knew for every troop commitment by the U.S. the North Vietnamese could match it with an increase of their own troop strength. Further it became obvious that the will to fight in the South basically centered in the Army and not the people. After Diem and his bother were assassinated with U.S. complicity, there was no viable political base to build on. We lost the hearts and minds of the people to the Viet Cong very early.

Mr. McNamara points out that the only way out of Vietnam was unilateral withdrawal because the North knew it was winning and there was nothing to negotiate. Bombing did not seriously interdict their ability to wage the war or recruit men to fight.

So how did we go there in the first place? Mr. McNamara believes it was caused by the lack of experienced U.S. Southeast Asia experts. The fall of China and the subsequent McCarthy witch hunts had effectively purged our government of knowledgeable experts on the area. He makes the point that to the Vietnamese the war was a fight against colonialist aggressors and a civil war. Vietnam had been in a battle to free itself from Chinese domination and later French domination for a thousand years. The Americans were seen as a new colonialist aggressor while we saw ourselves in a battle to stop communist expansion. Since WWII Containment was our policy against Russian Imperialism and the domino effect was our rallying cry justifying our involvement in Vietnam. Lack of experience on our part caught us seeing this war as another Korea and another advance of communist hegemony over the world instead of a small country trying to assert its independence from China, then France, then us.

Well with the benefit of hindsight we now see that Vietnam was not the threat to the free world as first perceived. It now appears to be the independent country it always wanted to be albeit communist in government probably because that was the only source of help Ho Chi Mien could turn to in the fight against French colonialism. At that time you had to line up on one side or the other to survive and prevail. Unfortunately for the U.S. our allies in the Cold War were also the major colonialists of the world. France unlike Britain was unwilling to leave some of its former colonies peacefully and America saw the Vietnam war as one of communist expansion rather than a war to rid itself of the last vestiges of colonialism and the French trained elite among its own people.

In the end the lives of 58000 Americans and three million Vietnamese (The equivalent of twenty seven million Americans. McNamara loves numbers and their relationships.) were lost on misperceptions given as advice to our Presidents and political leaders. Advice McNamara disagreed with and which ultimately caused his dismissal by President Johnson. . This is documented by statements on tape and internal government documents since released. The hawks appear to be senators, congressmen, cabinet members and outside experts buttressed by the Joint Chiefs who were always for escalation and a military solution which would have been impossible with out a probable third world war with nuclear consequences for every living soul on earth.

To his credit he says LeMay was a brilliant commander and military leader who was indispensable in war. However McNamara says LeMay believed we were going to fight the Russians eventually so why not when we had nuclear superiority in warheads and missiles. This is why military men should be advisors and not policy makers. McNamara points out in October 1963 the military had advised the invasion of Cuba when unbeknownst to us the Russians had ninety tactical nuclear weapons and about sixty strategic nuclear weapons in Cuba. If Kennedy and Kruschev were unable to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal there would have been a nuclear exchange with the probable end of human civilization as we know it. The same situation would have occurred in Vietnam if we had followed military advice and escalated the war by using tactical nuclear devices. China would have felt threatened and retaliated. Chou En Lai once said that if we had not advanced to the Yalu River in the Korean War and sent scouting missions and flights beyond, China would have not entered the war.

McNamara makes the point in this film with Errol Morris’ formidable help that in this nuclear age we cannot go to war over a misunderstanding of another nations actions. A nuclear exchange offers no
room for correction or change of policy or goals once its done its all over.

History is plastic as it unfolds and in the heat of the moment one decision can lead to unintended results and history is always plastic in the subsequent interpretation and evaluation of events and so it is with McNamara, Morris and their film and views. One thing McNamara has right is that we cannot have a nuclear exchange by large powers or even lesser powers, ever, or else we will see Armageddon in our times.

My only sadness about this film is the limited release this picture was given. I believe five theatres nation wide are showing it. It ought to be shown to every high school student in America and all other countries as well as an example of the terms of life in the nuclear age. As McNamara points out we are not going to change human nature but communication and understanding can be improved.

If McNamara and his counterparts were sane men doing rational acts under misperceptions what about other men such as Saddam Hussein? Was/is he sane. If he was was he duped into misperceiving the consequences of his acts by fawning staff members who were fearful of disagreeing with him? Kim Il Jung. Is he sane or rational? What are his misperceptions about being a nuclear power. Would an advisor ever disagree with him in public or private? McNamara credits Tommy Thompson a former ambassador to Russia who had spent time with Kruschev and his family with saying to Kennedy during the Cuban crisis that he ought not react to the hard line second message from Russia and respond to the earlier more conciliatory message that appeared to come directly from Kruschev. Although Kennedy initially had thought he had no alternative but to respond to the later hard line message. In following Thomson’s advice Kennedy was able to work out a plan of disengagement whereby Kruschev was able to say he had prevented an invasion of Cuba and of course Kennedy secured the removal of the intermediate range missiles and their nuclear warheads which threatened ninety million U.S. citizens with extinction. Years later Castro told McNamara that at the time he urged the Russians to use nuclear weapons even though it meant complete annihilation of Cuba as a country. Is he a rationale man? Should he be in charge of country?

Bush must have thought the same about Saddam Hussein who tried to assasinate the elder Bush when he visited Kuwait after the Gulf War. Such an act, if successful, would have meant immediate war with the U.S. and Husseins probable removal ten years earlier. Is Bush’s policy of preemptive strikes a sound and a rational action? It may be with rational or irrational dictators acquiring weapons of mass destruction and little compunction against using them. This film raises all these and other questions about national policy in the nuclear age