A reader suggested a film for reflection as racial tensions rise in the present moment.
I had earlier written the following review.
The Best of Enemies
Based on a true series of events in Durham, North Carolina, “The Best of Enemies” centers around a 1971 two-week meeting of citizens on the subject of school integration.
The town set up a study meeting that brought together members of the black and white communities. Its two co-chairs were Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), a local Civil Rights activist, and Claiborne Paul “C.P.” Ellis (Sam Rockwell), the head of the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
The reason the meeting — called a “charrette” — is organized is because a local judge knew he could not get away with issuing a ruling against integration, which had been the law of the land since 1954. Instead, the city invites Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay), a black community organizer from Raleigh who has orchestrated “charrettes” in various places.
A “charrette” is not a legal proceeding. It is an example of “democracy in action,” a way for a city to take its own temperature on a hot-button issue. Henson and Rockwell are superb in their depiction of two angry leaders who have their own agendas.
The KKK involvement in local politics through intimidation and threats of violence, was strong in 1951. It is less prominent today. Be aware, however, that this film is a dramatic and at times tense look, at the American racist mind-set. It is a film that celebrates how “the best of enemies” can find common ground.
It also allows viewers of this 2019 release to look for signs of hope in our current political landscape.
In search of movies to recommend during this self-isolation period, I found a WallWritings posting that discusses two movies. (Note: parential discretion essential)
The films are two of my favorites, Nashville and The Apostle.
It was posted January 12, 2011, and like any posting, it reflects the author’s mindset at the time.
In this case, I wanted to note our periodic violent events, our national religious differences, the popularity of Nashville-style music, and my personal involvement in the motion picture ratings system.
Here, below, is the 2011 posting:
The link to the original follows this new posting.
by James M. Wall
In Tony Judt’s final book, The Memory Chalet, he wrote as a historian looking back on his own life. Judt, who finished his final work a few months before his death, defined the task of the historian this way:
of all the cliches about “History,” the one that most appealed to me was the assertion that we are but philosophers teaching with examples.
If we take “examples” to be stories, parables, myths, art forms, or legends, the way is open to all of us to be philosophers who teach. As a confirmed cinephile, I am emboldened to take Judt’s lead and offer the occasional movie to convey what for me is important for others to consider.
Nashville is a film that became relevant this past week because of the mass killings in Arizona.
This 1975 film by Robert Altman has retained its position on the shelf of the memory because it is a cinematic work of art that evokes an American period of tumult when political conflict exploded into violence.
The film deals with many interacting lonely souls, a characteristic Altman story. In the film Altman follows a group of individuals who for a variety of reasons, have arrived together in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. They gather in the “country music capital” at a significant moment in American political history.
The film places these lonely souls on a stage, or in the audience, during a performance at Nashville’s Parthenon. They are there to hear a presidential candidate speak.
More importantly, they are there to see and hear several prominent country music singers, one of whom, a young woman, is shot by a gunman in the audience.
The closing moments of Nashville captures the confusion, the horror and the grief, of such an event. This is not a film “about” country music. It is a film “of” America.
A review by New York Times critic, Vincent Canby, appeared on June 12, 1975.
Nashville . . . . is a panoramic film with dozens of characters, set against the country-and-western music industry in Nashville. It’s a satire, a comedy, a melodrama, a musical. Its music is terrifically important—funny, moving, and almost nonstop. . . .
There are so many story lines in Nashville that one is more or less coerced into dealing in abstractions. Nashville is about the quality of a segment of Middle American life. It’s about ambition, sentimentality, politics, emotional confusion, empty goals, and very big business in a society whose citizens are firmly convinced that the use of deodorants is next to godliness.
Nashville doesn’t make easy fun of these people. It doesn’t patronize them. Along with their foolishness, it sees their gallantry. . . .
At the end of the film Barbara Harris, as a perpetually disheveled, very unlikely aspirant to country-and-western stardom, almost tears the screen to bits with a gospel version of a song heard earlier (“It Don’t Worry Me”) that concludes the narrative in a manner that is almost magical.
A second film which fulfills Tony Judt’s call for history teaching by example, is The Apostle. In a crucial moment in this film, a traveling Pentecostal evangelist and a local citizen confront one another in the dusty church yard of a small southern Louisiana town.
Before The Apostle was released in September, 1997, I arranged a theatrical screening for a national church conference in Florida. Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association (MPAA), helped line up the theater for us.
Jack had been working with the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Theater Owners, to build bridges between the film industry and the church community.
This particular relationship inside a small corner of the God-Mammon dialogue, had earlier played an important role in the creation of the MPAA’s film rating program. I heard Valenti say on several occasions that the system could not have survived in its early years, “without the involvement of the churches”.
The rating system was created in 1968 largely by the personal drive of Valenti, and with the support and participation of both the NCCC and the Catholic Office of Bishops. Now that 43 years have passed, the rating system is such an accepted part of the movie industry, that few people outside of those of us involved in the struggle to create and sustain the system, still connect the churches with the MPAA.
The documentary, This Film is Not Yet Rated, is a badly flawed work about the formation of the system. The documentary deals with what the film-makers want us to believe is the “uncovering” of the power of a rating system conducted in “secret”. The film’s creators claimed to be “shocked, shocked” by what their research discovered.
They had turned up the shocking news that there are “clergy on the movie ratings appeal panel”.
That shocking connection was true, but it was not new. The connection was established by Valenti when the system was created because he was convinced the system could not survive without public support. He reasoned, correctly, as it turned out, that one way to assure transparency for the system was to involve Protestant and Catholic leaders in the creation and ongoing monitoring of the system.
The monitoring continues until this day. I know this, because I serve as the NCCC Protestant representative on the appeals panel, along with a colleague from the Catholic Bishops’ film office.
For the definitive history of this era see William Romanowski’s book, Reforming Hollywood, click below
Which brings me to that Florida clergy screening. To put that event in context, those in attendance were all from “high steeple churches” within one of our national mainline denominations. Naturally, the film’s distributors thought the film would appeal to an audience of ministers. They were only half right.
It did not help that the film focused on a traveling pentecostal preacher with a dark past, a man who really believed that he had “the power of the Holy Ghost to bring others to Jesus”.
In an early scene, the preacher comes across a car crash. When he rushes up to the car, he finds the driver close to death. The preacher talks quietly to the young man, urging him to “accept Jesus” before he dies. A state trooper arrives. The preacher ignores him. When the trooper persists, Duvall kicks him away, looking like an aggravated mule.
This was a man on a mission; he will not move until he “knows” the dying man is with the angels.
Beyond the subject matter of Penecostalism, there was the usual problem with showing a secular film in the context of a religious gathering. In spite of the many efforts of some pastors, a few religious critics and professors and the Broadcasting and Film Commission of the NCCC, to the established religious communities, movies are for entertainment and escape.
The screening of The Apostle to this particular conference clergy audience, was less than an overwhelming success. I led the discussion that followed the showing of the film. While, there were some fellow cinephiles who accepted the power and wisdom of Robert Duvall’s performance as the traveling Pentecostal preacher, most did not.
The Apostle was produced, directed, and written by Robert Duvall, who also was the lead performer in the film. One clip of the film depicts a central encounter in the film which is as as relevant today as it was in 1997.
Since the encounter between Duvall and the character played by Billy Bob Thornton involved a bulldozer preparing to destroy a church, the encounter takes on a special significance for anyone who has been paying attention to the current and systematic destruction of Palestinian homes by Israeli army bulldozers.
Toward the end of The Apostle, Duvall is celebrating an anniversary of the little church he had established in southern Louisiana. Thornton drives up in a his bulldozer, bringing with him a backup group of rough-looking supporters.
They had come on a mission: They will tear down the church building. The racial tension is obvious. Most in the congregation behind Duvall are African Americans.
The role that Duvall plays is of a devout Pentecostal preacher from New Boston, Texas, Eulis “Sonny” Dewey. Some plot twists force Sonny to leave his family and travel to the predominantly black town of Bayou Boutte, La.
A reviewer for Variety wrote:
Beautifully detailed and deftly structured, every scene in “The Apostle” logically leads to the next one, each elaborating on the central theme of religious redemption. As a writer, Duvall never allows viewers to think that they know everything there is to know about E.F. Perhaps even more remarkably, he doesn’t violate the character by summing him up: Almost every scene discloses another dimension of the preacher’s complex personality. . . .
The film, Queen of the Desert, begins with a distant image of a small group of travelers moving across a vast desert. Two sentences flash across the screen, setting the stage for what is to follow:
The onset of the First World War hastened the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East for five centuries. The colonial powers set their eyes on dividing the spoils.
The film then moves to a small room in which British army officers gather around a table with a minister from the War office, the future British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
The officers and Churchill are looking at a map of the colonial “spoils”. Churchill asks: “How do we delineate the borders?. . . Who knows best about the tribes? . . .Who knows best about the Bedouin tribes?”The officers reluctantly agree among themselves, “That woman”.
“That woman” is Gertrude Bell (left), a British archaeologist, writer, traveler, and a diplomat, who worked in a time of intense Western colonialism.
After a delay of two years, the public finally has a limited DVD access to a motion picture that rescues Bell from the history books and should introduce her to a wider public.
The film is Queen of the Desert, based on the real-life story of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)(Nicole Kidman), a humanitarian among those human colonialist scorpions who were roaming the deserts in search of prey and profits.
To the indigenous people of the region, Bell is better known, and far more appreciated, than T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by Peter O’Toole in David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia.
The difference between the two? Bell was a woman and a natural diplomat, while Lawrence was a male warrior, glamorized through David Lean’s film.
Lean’s film rescued Lawrence from oblivion, which Queen of the Desert should have done for Gertrude Bell. It has failed to do so, not because of its lack of merit, but because the film industry determines what it thinks will sell.
Our popular understanding of history is shaped through popular culture, where films, television and now, social media, play definitive roles.
Military exploits have a greater popular appeal than diplomacy, while a film depicting Arab history as it really was, colonial exploitation of indigenous populations, goes against the popular narrative.
Gertrude Bell was an exception to the norm. She actually cared about the people of the Levant. Her books, and books about her, underscore this.
What was it that kept the film Queen of the Desert from the public for two years and then only grudgingly granted it very limited distribution? No one is saying. The fact remains, however, that Hollywood knew the story of Gertrude Bell violated a narrative written and protected by Zionism.
Levant history before 1947 was of little consequence, a period best left unexamined.
Queenof the Desert was initially screened in 2015 at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. It was nominated for the festival’s highest award, the Golden Bear. Directed by noted German director Werner Herzog and beautifully photographed on locations in Jordan and Morocco, the film was a natural for American “art house” screenings.
With Nicole Kidman (above) as the film’s star, and a script by Herzog, which examined the role Gertrude Bell played in modern history, film companies should have battled for U.S. distribution.
They did not. Films that violate the conventional historical narrative do not sell, or so it is assumed by the historically ignorant decision-makers of Hollywood.
The film focuses on a Middle East before Israel entered the historical stage. Could that reality play a role in Hollywood’s reluctance to embrace Queen of the Desert?
I am reminded of a West Wing episode in which President Bartlett was given an authentic map of the Levant from 1709, the region which Gertrude Bell came to love centuries later.
President Bartlett’s staff members all had the same reaction to Bartlett’s plan to frame and post the map in the White House:
“You can’t do that, some people will be offended because Israel is not on the map”. Puzzled, Bartlett said Israel did not exist when the map was made. “Doesn’t matter, some people will be offended”, was the insistent response.
The Desert Queen covers history in the World War I era. Israel did not exist then. Israel did not exist until the United Nations yielded to Zionist pressure and declared Israel a state in 1947.
That could explain why after its 2015 festival showing, Queen of the Desert dropped from sight. A Nicole Kidman film was shelved for two years.
When Queen of the Desert had itslimited run earlier this year, it finally surfaced. There was still money to be made so the film now has DVD exposure. On October 3, Netflix and sites like Amazon, began renting or selling copies.
Gertrude Bell was there when the modern Middle East was formed. Because of her personal and caring knowledge of tribes and their leaders, she was used by the victorious nations after World War I to draw borders and choose leaders who became kings.
A sensitive film which examines the life of one of the most significant women of the 20th century, is ending its journey deep into the archives of film history, a journey noticed by only a few.
The picture above of Gertrude Bell between Winston Churchill (left) and T.E. Lawrence, was taken in Cairo, Egypt, in the early 1920s.
It is an unfortunate fact of history that this photograph is viewed as one of a future British Prime Minister, the real “Lawrence of Arabia”, and “that woman”.
The film industry missed its chance to give Queen of the Desert, the story of Gertrude Bell, the same prominence it gave Lawrence. Is there yet another perilous journey to be made that would jar Western culture and its leaders into the reality of the Levant?
The answer is yes, but not until Zionism loses its grip on its version of the region’s narrative. And not until humanitarians in the spirit of Gertrude Bell, reshape our understanding of history back to what really happened.
An earlier Wall Writings posting, entitled, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, came to mind this rainy May afternoon as I pondered what to share with readers this week during our ongoing period of face masks and shared isolation.
That posting was seven years ago this summer. Since then we have seen Barack Obama complete his second term, Donald Trump elected to one term, and are now experiencing a dizzying campaign season as he campaigns for a second term. link below.
This rememberance, however. is not about political campaigns, it is about a song and two authors.
What follows below are segments lifted from the 2013 Wall Writings posting.
“After Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States, he delivered a stirring inaugural address that called on Americans to join with him in addressing the problems facing the nation.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily nor in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.”
Further along in the 2009 posting, I added this about the inauguration:
“Obama’s speech was followed by a benediction from 87-year-old [The Reverend] Joseph Lowery, from Atlanta, Georgia, whose opening words must have sounded familiar to the millions of African Americans in the crowd and around the nation.
Lowery’s prayer began with the third verse of James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, which, since it was written in 1920, has emerged as the “national anthem” of the African American community.
The third verse of “Lift Every Voice” appears even more relevant today than it was in 2009. Here are the words that begin the third verse:
“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far along the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.”
James Weldon Johnson’s words are significant today because pessimism surrounds the peace talks. [between Palestine andIsrael].
Until we hear further from the negotiations participants, we must wait to see how the occupier and the occupied resolve, for the time being at least, how they will live together.
It is in this time of waiting that I decided to set out on a journey that begins with Johnson’s hymn. On the internet journey I followed a path that led to another eloquent African-American author, Alice Walker. Novelist and poet, Walker has more than thirty books, the best known of which is her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple.
In one of the speeches she delivered to a Palestinian audience during a visit to Ramallah, Walker described her encounter with Israeli border guards when she traveled from Amman to the West Bank by way of the Allenby Bridge.
As the hours of interrogation dragged by at the Allenby Bridge, Walker finally asked one of the young Israeli soldiers peppering her with the usual irrelevant questions, have you ever heard of the novel, The Color Purple.
The soldier had not heard of the novel nor the film based on the novel, even though the film was directed by Steven Spielberg, an Israeli favorite.
After that visit, which was organized by TEDxRamallah, Walker tried to enter Gaza on a different mission.
In June, 2011, Walker was among 38 people aboard the ship, Audacity of Hope, one of the ships which tried, and failed, to sail from Greece to Gaza to break the Israeli maritime siege of Gaza. Israel prevailed on Greece to prevent the ships from sailing.
In a 2011 conversation with Ali Abunimah, Walker (right) pointed to the parallels “between the [planned] Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the Freedom Rides during the US Civil Rights movement when black and white Americans boarded interstate buses together to break the laws requiring racial segregation.” . . . . . .
My journey following the path of Alice Walker turned up many examples of the gentle manner in which this remarkable woman stands for justice for the Palestinian people. For example, she is an avid supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. . . . . . .
Finally, in following the path of Alice Walker through the internet, our journey brought me home to Georgia, to my own alma mater, Emory University.
Alice Walker placed the archive of her work in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library of Emory University in 2008. The Walker Archive was opened in 2009.
One video from the evening honoring Walker features historian-activist Howard Zinn who initially met Alice Walker at Spelman College in Atlanta where he was her teacher during the 1960’s. To view that video, click here.
The Emory event honoring Alice Walker closed with the singing of James Weldon Johnson’s “Life Every Voice and Sing,” the African-American “national anthem” with which we began this journey. In this way, the circle closes, from James Weldon Johnson, to the Rev. James Lowrey, to President Barack Obama, and finally to Alice Walker.
The young man who leads the singing that closes the evening is an Emory graduate, class of 2011. His name is Garrett M. Turner. He is currently pursuing further graduate work at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
A few years back, Phillip Lee, editor of Media Development, a World Association of Christian Communications (WACC) publication, interviewed me. During this time of self-isolation, I thought it was appropriate to share it.
Phillip Lee: My last question has to do with your passion for cinema. If you were to pick one film that has born the test of repeated viewing and still has “something to say”, what would the film be and why?
James M. Wall: Emily Dickinson left us a quote that I have always cherished. She was something of a recluse, surrounded, as she put it, by her “Kinsmen of the Shelf”, the books that were crucial to her. Our topic here is films, and since DVDs perch on shelves around me, I consider them my kinsmen on the shelf.
If I must select one film to be my companion isolated alone, after considerable pondering, with apologies to John Ford and the Coen brothers, I choose The Straight Story.
I have a personal history with that film’s director, David Lynch. I was in Hollywood for a meeting when a religious Los Angeles Film Critics group gave an award to Lynch for The Straight Story in 1999. I ended up sitting next to Lynch at lunch, and told him how much I liked the film. I also told him something I assumed he did not know.
I had written a film column in The Christian Century, in which I praised Blue Velvet, an earlier 1986 Lynch film. I called the film outstanding for its unvarnished portrait of sheer evil rooted in a small Middle Western community, a vision that was the polar opposite of The Straight Story. A Chicago columnist had one comment for that reading from a religious writer, “O Lordy”. Lynch told me he had heard the strange news that a religious publication had praised Blue Velvet. He was glad to meet me.
I believe Lynch and I agree on one point: Evil and good coexist in human existence. In these two contrasting works of film art, Blue Velvet and The Straight Story, Lynch covered the extremes. It is The Straight Story side of Lynch that I choose for my single movie companion. Here is why.
The Straight Story is based on a true story which first surfaced in a news report about a 73-year-old man, Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who attempts to drive a motorized lawn mower from Iowa to the Wisconsin home of his brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton). As the film opens, Alvin lives quietly with his adult daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek) in Laurens, Iowa. Life is slow there. One night a telephone caller tells Rose that Alvin’s brother has had a stroke. As a storm rages outside, the look on Alvin’s face as he hears Rose in the next room, announces that his life will no longer be quiet. There is a past to confront.
Lynch’s close-up shot of Alvin, his face lit by lightning, captured my admiration early in the film. So also did the performance of Richard Farnsworth, as he interacted with his small-town retired buddies. Or when his daughter Rose takes Alvin to see a doctor. Alvin is a stubborn man, rejecting the doctor’s advice at every turn.
After the visit to the doctor, where Alvin refuses to change his habits, Alvin tells his daughter he will travel to see his brother. Rose reminds him that his obstacles are great. He does not own a car and Rose does not drive. Still, Alvin prepares to begin his journey. This is a trip he must make alone. He and his brother are estranged. Now is the time to address that estrangement.
Lynch’s script-writers withhold details. The nature of the brothers’ disagreement has deep consequences, but nothing earth-shattering, just some vague conflict which led to ugly words within the family.
Alvin builds a trailer and attaches it to his motorized lawn mower. The smile that crosses his face as he leaves town on what he hopes will be a successful 370-mile trip, is the quiet smile of a man making up for lost time. He sleeps in his trailer and cooks simple meals close to the highway. One stop requires Alvin to camp for a few days while his mower is repaired by two bickering brothers. He sees them as mirror images of his own younger self and his brother.
Director Lynch filmed Alvin’s journey along the same route the real Alvin Straight travelled in 1994. The Chicago Tribune said of The Straight Story, “this is the most compassionate movie Lynch has ever made”. It is also that rare film, a serious adult story with touches of humour, rated G. Imagine that, a G-rated film in 1999 which is not just for children. That is one reason I want this side of Lynch and his mower-driving Alvin to stay with me.
As Blue Velvet attests, Lynch does have a sure grip on portraying evil. In contrast, with his cinematic palette, Lynch gives us Alvin Straight in a story which celebrates family, perseverance and love. The farmland and small town scenes, shot on location, undergirded by a solemn musical score, plus the love Alvin demonstrates for his daughter and, in a moment of reconciliation, for his journey to see his brother, all contribute to one of the finest works of cinematic art from the 20th century.
This is a film that is as steady as a rain storm in an Iowa night, or as uplifting as an early morning sunrise in Wisconsin. It sustains the viewer as it calls for whatever steps are needed to make amends for decisions made, or not made.
This is a film with moments that are to be cherished and embraced, like, for example, Alvin talking his way to buying a “grabber” device he likes in a store, or the scene where Alvin’s neighbour lady rushes into his kitchen to find he has fallen to the floor. She grabs the telephone and shouts, “What’s the number for 911?” That is a line I reach for when I need a lift.
I hereby officially take Rose and Alvin as my companions in isolation. We will, together, enjoy the sunset and long for the rain. For companions, I prefer those friends who speak a G-rated language, while we converse together on a stage of middle-American farmland.
Lee, Phillip (2017). “A Road Movie from Georgia to Palestine and Home Again: Interview with James M. Wall”. Media Development. LXIV (3): 21–27
I took a three-month break from blogging. When I reported back to duty, I found the word that says it all.
It is “puerile”, which is fully explained on Word Genius, which you may access by clicking here.
We have an abundance of evidence of the suitability of the term puerile, to sum up the behavior of President Donald Trump.
The President faces a near certainty of congressional Impeachment and potential removal from office should a few Senators acknowledge their own purile lust for holding onto power.
The evidence against Trump piles up daily, starting each dawn with a twitter storm of insults, falsehoods, and cries of self-pity.
Surrounded by headlines that stir anticipation of only the fourth presidential impeachment in American history, we must plow ahead to defend “puerile” as the appropriate word for what led to this moment.
If you have failed to read the link above here it is in part:
Israeli politics shine no light on the darkness of oppression.
Take the career 0f Ken Loach, a film director who exposes injustice on and off screen. He has long been a constant warrior against Zionist oppression
On April 1, Tom Suarez wrote a detailed analysis for Mondoweiss that traces Loach’s career. He begins:
“Two years ago, during a talk I gave about Palestine at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, British filmmaker Ken Loach raised a most essential question. Paraphrasing, he asked, “Where do we go from here?” “The gist of my reply: We must first expose Israel’s front-line weapon against justice for Palestine, its cynical misuse of the smear of antisemitism. So long as we respond to this abuse on its own terms, the weapon is foolproof. It hijacks the discourse away from Israel’s crimes regardless of the efficacy of the smears. Israel’s crimes, and even the “P” word — Palestine or the Palestinians — remain off-limits.
“We must instead stop allowing Israel to control the terms of our response. Instead, we must turn the tables and accuse the accusers of antisemitism for exploiting Jewish identity in the service of injustice.
“But Ken Loach’s own recent brush with the weapon demonstrates the barriers to speaking that simple truth”. . . . . .
Loach made Kes, in the late 1960s which was given a limited U.S. release in 1973. The poster above highlights Loach’s focus on the oppressed early in his career. The Israel Lobby knew of Loach’s political passion, which could account for its limited exposure. Roger Ebert loved Kes and wrote a review which listed the honors it received in England.
In his review, Ebert continues:
“But it was never released commercially in America. For that matter, it never got very good bookings in England, either – the distributors were afraid that audiences wouldn’t understand the movie’s Yorkshire accents. This is the typical sort of blind muddling that seems to go on, whenever a good film comes along that’s slightly out of the ordinary; nobody was afraid of Michael Caine’s accent in Alfie, maybe because Alfie had enough sex scenes to carry the day.
None of this would be important if Kes were not one of the best, the warmest, the most moving films of recent years. After a couple of years in limbo, it was finally picked up for 16-mm distribution in 1972… it’s perhaps inevitable that it took Loyola’s Biological Honor Society to arrange the booking – were they interested in the movie, or the kestrel?
In his review Roger missed the Lobby connection or perhaps the Lobby was below his radar screen? The poster above from Director Ken Loach cries out for the connection to be made.
It isn’t often that Academy Award winners completely fail to open in Chicago, but that’s what happened with “Kes.” In the event that the movie’s name doesn’t exactly sound familiar, I should add that “Kes” won the 1970 British Academy Award, as England’s best film of the year. It picked up a lot of other honors, too, including the grand prize at Edinburgh and lots of praise at the 1970 New York Film Festival. But it was never released commercially in America.
For that matter, it never got very good bookings in England, either – the distributors were afraid that audiences wouldn’t understand the movie’s Yorkshire accents. This is the typical sort of blind muddling that seems to go on, whenever a good film comes along that’s slightly out of the ordinary; nobody was afraid of Michael Caine’s accent in “Alfie,” maybe because “Alfie” had enough sex scenes to carry the day. None of this would be important if “Kes” were not one of the best, the warmest, the most moving films of recent years.
After a couple of years in limbo, it was finally picked up for 16-mm distribution in 1972 and had its Chicago premiere last April at Loyola. The movie is about a teenager and his trained kestrel, and it’s perhaps inevitable that it took Loyola’s Biological Honor Society to arrange the booking – were they interested in the movie, or the kestrel.“Kes” was directed by Ken Loach, a young British filmmaker who has now made three movies of high quality and disappointing commercial performance.
His “Poor Cow,” with Carol White, was an ambitious but somewhat confusing movie about a barmaid who becomes pregnant; it would have fared better, I think, in these latter days of women’s lib. After “Kes,” he made “Family Life,” which got good notices at the 1972 Cannes festival and opened in New York last fall as “Wednesdays Child.” This was the story of a misfit adolescent girl and her uptight parents, and it was effective in a grim, slice-of-life way.
But “Kes” is Loach at his best. He shot it on a very low budget, on location, using most local nonprofessionals as his leads. His story is about a boy who’s caught in England’s class-biased educational system. He reaches school-leaving age and decides to leave, but doesn’t have anything else he much cares about. He’s the butt of jokes and hostility at home (where his older brother rules), and inarticulate with his contemporaries.
One day he finds a small kestrel hawk, and trains it to hunt. The bird becomes his avenue to a free and natural state – the state his soul needs, and that his home and school deny him. And then the system, alarmed or offended by his freedom, counterattacks. The film has a heartbreaking humanity. ……
Works of film art endure when the underlying intent remain the same. One segment in John Ford’s film, The Searchers, reminds us that revenge is not a morsel best eaten when cold, but a morsel best buried with the dead.
Jesus said it best, “little children, love one another”.
I wrote a Wall Writings posting April 10, 2017, which featured The Searchers. It began:
A raid has killed members of a frontier family. Ethan Edwards, portrayed by an angry, unforgiving John Wayne, was secretly in love with one of the victims. The quick burial in a nearby hillside cemetery is conducted by a family friend, the Reverend Captain Samuel Johnston Clayton (Ward Bond).
Mourners sing, “Shall we gather at the river”. The Reverend Captain Clayton, formerly of the Confederate army, stands beside three wooden crosses. He prays.
Ethan Edwards abruptly ends the service with an angry shout, “Put an amen to it. There’s no more time for praying.”
An angry posse prepares to ride out in search of the raiders.
The scenes below from John Ford’s 1956 classic western film, The Searchers, begin a long search driven by the dark emotions of hatred and revenge.
The posting from April, 2017, was provoked by an angry President Donald Trump’s orders to fire 60 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase in Syria.
It was from that base the U.S. claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a deadly chemical attack on a rebel-held town in northern Syria.
It is now August, 2019, and this nation has just lived through two more mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. We have once again had our mourning and our anger. Once again, we insist, this is not who we are.
We are wrong. Once again, the hate and fear that divides us clings to hate not love. We put an end to prayers and in the spirit of a revenge-seeking John Wayne, we choose hate and denial.
This Is Us, as Mitchell Plitnick writes, in an essay of that title. Here is a pertinent segment from his essay that should be read in full.
Plitnick begins by sharing a brief speech he found on MSNBC, by Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton. At the conclusion of his answer to a question, Glaude noted that when we see these horrific mass shootings, we ask, “Oh my God, is this who we are?”
Glaude answered his own question. “What we know is that this country has been playing politics for a long time on this hatred—we know this. So, it’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It’s easy to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders. It’s easy for me to place Charlottesville on his shoulders. It’s easy to place El Paso on his shoulders.”
But then Glaude resoundingly proclaimed, “This is us! And if we’re gonna get past this we can’t blame it on [Trump]. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us. Glaude hit the nail on the head.”
Mirchell Plitnick continues in his essay:
No one should minimize the horror of the Trump presidency. We should not belittle the fact that with his every word and action, Trump is trying to create a nation where white makes right, where the poor increase in number and are increasingly unable to survive. He is trying to create a country that hates itself, directing that hate at the other, while he and his cronies laugh all the way to the bank.
Glaude is correct to point out that Trump is not inventing this, he is unleashing it, harvesting hate that has festered for decades, suppressed—but not defeated—by liberal ideals.
But as Americans so often do, we think of the Trump presidency in terms of ourselves, of what happens within our borders. For many of us, that doesn’t even extend to a place like Puerto Rico, which Trump was able to smugly neglect in a way he never would have dared to do to a mainland U.S. city. But what of our foreign policy under Trump and for years before him?
Progressive Americans are asking themselves every day how we can tolerate the separation of families at our borders, the incitement to violence frm the White House, the undermining of democracy by the Republican party, who either block legislation en masse or go meekly along with whatever the president and Senate majority leader say. How do we continue to tolerate police shootings of unarmed black men? How do we tolerate an enormous tax cut for the rich while the same people are trying to find ways to kick millions off of health insurance that they can already barely afford?
The list goes on and on. But we do far less introspection when it comes to foreign policy. Events in Gaza, Iran, the United Kingdom, Congo, Kashmir, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and other places do not exist in isolation from the United States. Sometimes by action, sometimes by inaction, the U.S. affects events all over the world. That’s hardly news. Most Americans know it. But too few of us take it seriously enough to let it influence our votes or political activity.
Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. His previous positions include vice president at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace. His blog may be found at http://www.mitchellplitnick.com.
How may we best take seriously these words of urgency from Mitchell Plitnick and Eddie Glaude ?
Start by studying and sharing Mitchell Plitnick’s essay and Eddie Glaude’s MSNBC speech. Then find the role you may play in helping others and yourself, grasp the reality that revenge, and hate must give way to love.
On Sunday, June 16, leaders of the nationalist bromance between Israel and the Trump government took one small step for tyranny and one huge step for “in your face” diplomacy.
In case you missed it, UPI circulated the story that Israel had ceremoniously named a small Golan Heights future settlement, “Trump Heights”, to honor the best friend Israel has ever had in the Washington, D.C. White House.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was joined in the naming ceremony by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. (The picture above is his.)
The UPI story received scant attention in U.S. media outlets.
It deserves further attention. As anyone with even the slightest grip on reality is aware, the as-yet-undeveloped settlement of “Trump Heights” is not in Gaza or the West Bank, where Israel has spent decades developing settlements on stolen Palestinian land.
It is on occupied Syrian land. UPI quotes President Trump as he ignores that reality: “Trump said the United States’ recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of Golan Heights ‘was a long time in the making’ and should have occurred decades ago.”
The Golan event is just the latest “in your face” diplomatic step Trump has taken. He also recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 when he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step Democratic and Republican candidates routinely promise but never implement.
The 2020 reelection of Donald Trump would result in many more such perverse diplomatic steps that would further spiral down this nation into nothing less than a dictatorship of the rich riding on the ignorant prejudices of white nationalism.
What other option awaits us in 2020?
This moment in the political calendar, when the Democratic National Committee is putting on a series of debates to showcase more than 20 candidates for the nomination in 2020, we have another option.
On the issue of Israel’s wholesale theft of Palestinian (and Syrian land), our choice at the ballot box in November, 2020 is between Trump’s “in your face” ignorant Zionist-dictated diplomacy and the 20 plus Democratic presidential candidates whose street creed is built entirely on “weasel words” designed to protect vote-seekers.
First. we need to explain how we are using “weasel words” to define political evasiveness.
With due respect to one of God’s creatures, the weasel follows its instincts to survive and exist from generation to generation. A weasel does what a weasel does. If a hungry weasel enters a hen house in search of sustenance, it will steal eggs.
“Weasel words” are a colloquial term for words or phrases used to avoid being forthright. Weasel words are used when the speaker wants to make it seem like they’ve given a clear answer to a question or made a direct statement, when actually they’ve said something inconclusive or vague.
James G. Zogby, director of the Arab American Institute in Washington, wrote a June 22 essay drawn from a recent New York Times survey on Democratic candidates answers, on camera, on key issues.
The Times asked many questions. Israel’s human rights question was answered by most of the candidates in “weasel words”. Click on this link and watch, at the very least, how your favorite candidate dances around the issue of human rights and Israel.
The attitudes of Democratic voters toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have become decidedly more balanced in the past two decades. Favorable attitudes toward Palestinians are up while attitudes toward Israel appear to be in decline. While, overall views of Israel remain positive, substantial numbers of Democrats are opposed to Israeli policies – namely settlement construction and violations of Palestinian rights. Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, is also viewed negatively by most Democrats.
These shifts in opinion have placed many Democratic presidential candidates in a bind – especially those who have served in Congress or as Governors. As conscious as they may be of their base’s changing mood, they have also been schooled not to alienate pro-Israel donors or cross Israel’s lobbyists, who can, if aroused, distract their campaigns with a barrage of protests.
It was against this backdrop that I watched the results of a months-long New York Times’ project in which they interviewed 21 of the Democrats running for president on a range of foreign and domestic policy issues that will confront the next president. There were questions on Afghanistan, handguns, health care, immigration, and the death penalty.
Most intriguing to me was question #4: “Do you think that Israel meets international standards of human rights?” because it was deeply revealing about each of candidates’ principles, their understanding of, and readiness to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Beginning in Iowa in February, 2020, voters will have a choice: Vote on the issue of Israel and the Palestinian occupied people for the “in your face” candidate now in office, or the “weasel words” candidate who emerges with the nomination.
Trump is currently in power and he uses that power to satisfy Zionists. The absurdity of his current economic plan, designed to buy off the Palestinians’ quest for freedom, was a non-starter. That is the best we are going to see from his “in your face” diplomacy.
The other option for Palestine will be the Democratic “weasel word” nominee. We know what we get from Mr. “in your face” Trump.
The “weasel word” Democrats have until November 2020 to give us their best. Maybe they will surprise us. We can only pray, work and hope.
Samia Khoury has been my friend since before the first Intifada. My first of 20 trips to Palestine and Israel, always as a journalist, was in 1973. All too slowly, since that first trip, I grew to grasp the depths of the harsh reality of Israel’s oppressive military occupation of the Palestinian people.
I first met Samia Khoury when I attended a board meeting of the Palestinian Sabeel organization. We have remained in touch through our blogs and through personal notes. Through these exchanges with Samia, she has kept me informed on the politics and cultural life of Palestine.
I have quoted from Samia in Wall Writings from time to time. She has connected me to life in Palestine under occupation. What she does not know is that she has also tempered my anger over the governments of Israel and the United States, an anger she also feels I am sure, but handles with grace and if I may quote Job, “patience”.
She epitomizes the steadfastness (in Arabic, sumud), of the Palestinian people under occupation. which anyone open to human suffering, knows is an illegal, brutalizing, and well-orchestrated colonizing Israeli plan, to steal the land and imprison the people of Palestine.
Her most recent posting is such a masterful statement of this current moment in Palestine that I felt I must share it with my Wall Writings family. Since I am sharing it in its entirety, and not through quotes, I wrote and asked her permission to reprint it.
I also asked her for a few words to introduce her to my readers, She gave the permission and offered this introduction and explanation of her posting title:
“I started it as “Deal of the Century”, and that is how it was posted on my blog, but then many of my recepients were being blocked, so I changed the title to “Bribery”
I told her I would use her preferred title. Here from Samia Khoury’s blog is:
The Deal of the Century
by Samia Khoury
The US administration has never been supportive of our cause as Palestinians. And I specifically say the administration because we have a lot of support from the public, the main stream churches, the civil society, as well as many Jewish Americans.
The United Nations records show clearly that it was the Veto of the US at the United Nations that has hindered the implementation of the UN resolutions that would have guaranteed our rights as Palestinians, basically the right to return to our homes from which we were evicted by force or had to flee for our lives in 1948.
We were never even offered compensation, and Israel continues till this day to deny its responsibility for our plight.
But never has an administration been so blatantly pro active in its humiliation of the Palestinians and ignoring their rights like this present administration. It actually violated international law so as to offer Israel all that it wants on a silver platter.
First by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then by cutting all US Aid that started flowing into the country after the Oslo agreement between the PLO and Israel was signed.
Yet the US found it very timely to close the offices of the PLO in the USA, as well as cutting aid to UNRWA, the organization which was established by the United Nations to take care of the basic needs of the Palestinian Refugees until they were able to realize their right of return.
So it seems like “this great democracy in the world” is taking its clue from “the only democracy in the Middle East.” I still remember how Mr. Netanyahu in his theatrical presentation at the UN General Assembly Meeting in September 2018 thanked the president of the USA for pulling out of the agreement signed with Iran during the term of Mr. Obama, while sending a message to Iran that Israel knows what they are doing.
Will Israel be the force behind the US to wage a new war against Iran this time. Nothing would be surprising now that more American troops have already been sent to the bases in the region.
Ironic indeed that the US has waged so many wars on other people’s lands in the name of democracy, while Israel continues to hold a whole population under occupation, and it has recently passed the Nation State Law in its Knesset that would deprive 21% of its citizens most of their basic rights.
While the US has the liberty to impose sanctions on countries that do not abide by its rules, it takes harsh measures against any individual, or body that promotes the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israel for violating international law, in the same way that Israel does.
After seventy one years of dispossession and fifty two years of a brutal occupation, we get a novice in political issues to come up with the “Deal of the Century.” First they humiliate us, then they starve us and now they want to further humiliate us by bribing us into accepting money for our rights in a conference in Bahrain.
Thank you, but no thank you. In our ethics lessons, we were taught that those who bribe and those who accept the bribery are just as guilty. But who will convict the guilty in this case?