Stateside: Two Movies, A Concert, And A Remedy
Reviews: Two Movies, A Concert, And A Remedy
**Diarios de motocicleta: The Motorcycle Diaries**
This Spanish-language film, subtitled in English, follows the adventures of two middle-class rakes as they travel around South America on an aged Norton in the early fifties. Along the way, one of them picks up a nickname because of his Argentinian dialect and has a moment of epiphany.
If you like your epiphanies handled with subtlety then this probably isn't the movie for you, but I really liked it. It's funny and not at all heavy handed in its message, which it could easily have been considering one those travellers was Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The most hard-hitting punch is saved for the end, when you realize that those actors you saw portraying the downtrodden poor whom Che ended up fighting for, are not actors but the still-downtrodden poor. His companion on that trip lives in the Cuba they helped liberate and is seen at the end as the old man that he now is.
Of all the crimes against humanity, surely the 1970s moustache was the greatest. It's little wonder that newspaper heiress and kidnap victim Patty Hearst defected to the cause of her captors when her fiancee Steven Weed had such a ghastly crop of hair covering his upper lip. Or was she brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Army into robbing banks?
Consisting entirely of news footage from the time and recent interviews with several folks who were significant players in or observers of the drama that played out for several years after Hearst's abduction in February 1974, this film too has a hard-hitting postscript. After some of the interviews for the documentary were conducted, four people who took part in a deadly robbery of the Crocker Bank in 1975 were brought to account in 2003 and sent to jail. Patty Hearst, who drove the getaway van, is nowadays a popular talk-show guest, having received a full presidential pardon from Clinton in January 2001.
Her kidnapping ushered in several firsts in the mainstream media of techniques that are still with us today. It was the first time that hordes of news organizations camped outside somebody's home--in this case, the Hearsts--waiting for something to happen. And it was the first time a shoot-out between police and their chasees was shown live on TV, namely the tear-gas bombing of the house in LA where some of the SLA had hidden and where they were burned to death because of the type of tear gas used.
I highly recommend Guerilla. For Patty Hearst's account of the fatal robbery, see http://www.lektrik.com/feature/est.htm
(As a totally unrelated piece of trivia I heard about elsewhere: did you know that the Carpenters' hit "We've Only Just Begun" came about because Richard Carpenter happened to hear a sliver of it in a Crocker Bank TV ad for mortgages and called up songwriter Paul Williams to ask if there was a whole song?)
**Concert: Laurie Anderson**
Every time I see a white phone at an airport, train station, or office building, I think of Laurie Anderson. And Mr. Sharkey, whom she implores to use just such a white courtesy telephone. Not that I've really followed Anderson's career since way back in the days of Home of the Brave, but when she came to town recently, I thought I'd go see what she's up to.
The stage was covered in small candles, and at first I thought that perhaps it was in the shape of the United States, or there was one candle for each star on the American flag--but there were more than fifty. Perhaps it was just the starry, starry sky because Anderson had recently been the first (and last) artist in residence at NASA. And in fact she talked quite a lot about that experience, for this was not so much a concert--though she did play some music--as a storytelling.
And the story she was telling was about the post-911 world. She subtly evoked the fear that's felt here in the United States by relating the story of how she was recently staying in a Northern California park near the Pacific Ocean and went for a walk in the hills with her small dog. A large predatory bird mistook the dog for a rabbit and swooped down out of the sky at it. Now the dog realizes it's not enough to sniff around the ground and look ahead and behind and sideways for danger, but that danger can come from another, previously unnoticed, dimension--above.
Two things Anderson said about her time with NASA have stuck with me. One is that she knows from being there that the war on terror will never ever end, it will just move around the world from one country to another. And the other is the description she gave of an electronic adaptation to spacesuit sleeves that was invented to aid astronauts. It effectively increases the power produced by their arm muscles by 40 times. It is now being adapted for use by the military on the ground in combat.
It's enabled me to visualise what it is we need to do here in the US. For so many of us, the war on terror has us feeling like we're living inside Spacesuit America, to which someone has given extraordinary powers, way beyond what we would like to see exercised. And like the robot in Lost in Space, Spacesuit America's powerful arms are waving about all over the place, striking down innocent people and destroying people's homes and lives, and endangering those of us who live inside it in the process.
Someone somewhere has either not built in or has disabled the safety mechanism that NASA developed for its spacesuit whereby, if all that power in the sleeve went awry, an electronic splint would kick in and disable the astronaut's arm until it's gotten back under control. I say the people of the United States are the splint, if only they can get their backs up and their backbone stiff enough in the face of all the manipulative ways in which their voice has been bypassed or disabled in order for Spacesuit America to run amok in the world.
I truly believe that electoral reform is our best chance of creating that splint, and supporting the Voters Bill of Rights is a good place to start.