'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


Dr David Archibald, University Of Glasgow
Film International, Financial Times, Cineaste

Liza Bear,
Bomb Magazine

Dan Bessie
Filmmaker and Culture Critic

Prof. Dennis Broe
Jump Cut, NY Newsday, Boston Phoenix

Dianne Brooks
The Film Files,

Lisa Collins

Benjamin Dickenson
Bright Lights Film Journal, UK

David Ehrenstein
Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Miguel Gardel
Proletaria Press

Michael Haas
Culture critic

Laura Hadden
Pacifica Radio

Gerald Horne
University Of Houston

Reynold Humphries
British Film Historian

Sikivu Hutchinson, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner, Films For Two

Cindy Lucia
Cineaste Magazine

Pat McGilligan
Film Historian

Prairie Miller
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network

Logan Nakyanzi
Go Left TV, Huffington Post

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Steve Presence
Radical Film Network, UK

Louis Proyect

Sandy Sanders

Nancy Schiesari,
BBC, Channel 4,
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

David Spaner, Hollywood Inc.

Luis Reyes
, Arsenal Pulp Press

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig

Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer

Monday, April 25, 2016

Broe On The Global Literary Beat: The Cultural Politics Of The Noir Novel

By Dennis Broe

The Cultural Politics of the Noir Novel: Truthtelling vs. Bookselling

The Noir Novel, though perhaps originating in the US, is today a global phenomenon which has, like the form it preceded, rap music, a history of truth telling, of unfolding and revealing dark secrets, and of giving voice and subjectivity to those under-represented in the mainstream media and the neo-liberal global order. Thus, the noir novel in France, called the polar (a condensation of roman policier), the novel of detection, in its newest manifestation, which the French term “rural noir,” describes the 60% of the countryside that is marginalized and living outside the urban corporate order. The gialli in Italy recounts the state-mafia collaboration that continues to impoverish the people of Southern Italy while Scandinavian and particularly Icelandic Noir chronicled the years of the economic boom and bubble. In addition, Noir novels, in Iceland’s forced reinvention of itself after the financial crisis, have become one of the leading cottage industries in a country where as one translator recounted it “we kicked out all the bankers and only the writers are left.” But the genre is also a money making machine and there is an impulse to turn it from being a voice of resistance to being a globally reductive imprint of the West on the rest of the world, since we now have for example South African noir with Johannesburg remade as LA, or a rigid, utterly formulaic form, with the new Millenium novel written after its author Stig Larson’s death quickly being appropriated not by the Swedish cinema but by Hollywood’s Sony/Columbia, or, finally, a genre that simply nourishes anger,  resentment or commodified “kinky” sex as in the new “hot” literary form “grip lit,” and its lead authoress Lisa Hilton whose Maestra aims to be 50 Shades of Black.


All these tendencies were on display in the French city of Lyon last weekend for the annual Quais du Polar, a global or at least Euro-American conference of noir writers which in its 12th edition is one of the largest such gatherings in the world. The naked truth telling aspects of this genre are exemplary since, unlike science fiction cousin, it does not have to couch itself in the future to describe the horrific global effects and behind-the-scenes maneuvers of corporate capital allied with the state. In Italy, after the mafia assassination of the judges Falcone and Borsellino in the early 1990s, large elements of the press stopped covering the organized crime story. The privileged location for discussion of the way the state and the crime families were acting in collusion was the noir novel which has even featured the resurgence of the judges, not in life but on the fictional page. Giancarlo De Cataldo, interviewed by France Culture for the conference, is himself a magistrate whose Season of Massacres details the linking of rightwing intelligence forces, the state and the mafia in the wake of the Falcone-Borsellino killings and subsequent mafia bombings to negotiate a state-mafia pact that brought Berlusconi to power. Likewise, Mimmo Gangemi, a journalist and engineer from Calabria in Southern Italy in The Revenge of the Little Judge details the coming to conscience of a corrupt magistrate who attempts to settle scores with the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia--said to be now the most powerful criminal organization in the world--for killing a fellow judge. At the conference Gangemi talked about the need to make the legal system once again a reliable ally of the people of the South in their battle against this endemic corruption now spread globally, claiming that his books, once they are written, belong not to him as an author but to the people of Calabria in their struggle.

Swiss author Sebastien Meier’s The Name of the Father involves a once jailed ex-inspector of the police on the trial of money laundering, tax evasion and prostitution as they are practiced in the white collar corridors of Swiss banking power in its party capital Lausanne. Meier talked about the need in the wake of growing income disparity to create plots that involved this kind of high-level manipulation and it must be noted there is another author now also writing in French, Dominique Manotti, who is also an economic historian, whose books deal with economic corruption including the current Black Gold which details how the Marseille mafia moved into oil distribution. Finally, Nigeria’s Leye Adenle in Easy Motion Tourist, details through his female lead character a gutsy protector of working girls, Amaka--in French the book has the much better title Lagos Lady--both the sprawling beauty of Lagos and the greed which animates its corrupt ruling class who in one scene flaunt their wealth by throwing 100 dollar bills during a wedding party.

The global battle of the festival matched Scandinavian and American crime fiction. From the US Richie Price, who wrote Clockers, the Scorsese film The Color of Money and a number of episodes of The Wire was here with Whites, which deals with working class cops in the Bronx, a subgroup that is currently and rightfully under sustained criticism. James Grady, who wrote the original Six Days of the Condor which became the Redford film 3 Days and who currently has a Condor sequel, Last Days of the Condor was somewhat at pains to slightly challenge while at the same time defending and identifying himself with the contemporary American security state. While William Boyle whose Gravesend, which features an actress returning to the mean streets of Brooklyn, was chosen as the 1000th title of the French series Rivage Noir which began with Boyle’s literary hero Jim Thompson’s Recoil. Thompson is loved by the French and recognized as an original voice of criticism during the years of McCarthyite repression in the 1950s. Best of all though was Wyoming’s Craig Johnson, who appeared in Lyon in Stetson and greeted the audience with a big Western “Hi.” Johnson’s Longmire, a TV series as well which has switched to Netflix for its fourth season, is a defender of the downtrodden in the least populated state in the union and is through his Native American friend sensitive to the plight of the Cheyenne in his county. For my mind, Johnson’s character, along with characters by James Crumley and James Lee Burke, is the writer in the contemporary scene who best carries on the Hammett-Chandler-Ross MacDonald literary tradition of the quick-witted morally grounded detective in a sea of corruption.     

The Americans at Lyon were matched by their Scandinavian cousins and two big hits of the festival were Norway’s Jo Nesbo and Iceland’s Arnadur Indridason, both with best-selling detective series. Nesbo’s Harry Hole is, as his author explained, a divided figure, as is Nesbo himself whose father fought with the Nazis against Russia in the Eastern Front claiming he was a patriot and whose mother as a child was used to run missions for the Norwegian Resistance. Nesbo’s television series Occupied, in a way that is highly politically confused, explores the World War II Nazi Occupation in a contemporary setting by proposing a supposed Russian occupation of Norway, aided by the EU and the US, in an attempt to force Norway to continue to exploit its oil after the prime minister for ecological reasons has refused. (All this is of course news to the Russians who pointed out that it was they who had not invaded but rather liberated Norway during the Second World War.) Iceland’s Indridason’s current book Operation Napoleon is not a tale of his series character Inspector Erlandur but rather the story of 1944 plane crash that carried both US and Nazi officials and the supposed plot they were hatching for Iceland. Indeed the US essentially occupied Iceland with bases after the war and Indridason explained that he was among those who instead wanted Iceland to remain neutral.

The French, not to be outdone in an area in which they excel though find difficult to export, were represented at the conference with their latest form of roman noir which they have dubbed “rural noir,” a recounting of these now increasingly more desolate areas of the country, outside the media and neo-liberal bubble and decimated by outsourcing and wholescale moving of industry. Nicolas Mathieu’s current novel, Animals of War, is a detailing of the stories of what he calls the “lost areas of the country” in a way that is neither bucolic nor simply about regional color. Benoit Minville, the author who coined the term “rural noir” summed up perhaps the purpose of this new strain of noir and of noir fiction in general: “(Perhaps) you cannot change the world but our goal (as authors) is that nothing remain hidden.”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Tribeca Diaries

By Liza Béar​



April 18, 2016--The day started with an edible insect lunch at the Mexican Miscellanea in the East Village with Andreas Johnsen, BUGS director and his Nordic Lab partner from Copenhagen.


This was the first pop-up event for BUGS, one of Tribeca's most exotic documentary premieres.  Enterprising Danish filmmaker Johnsen, who also produced and shot the film, accompanied researchers and scientists from the Nordic Lab in Copenhagen to several countries from Mexico to Uganda for three years as they studied insect-eating habits practiced by 2 billion of the world's population. Today's offering was ant larva tacos cooked in avocado oil with onion and mint. {I ate two small open plan tacos as fortification for cycling from the East Village to the Regal Cinemas in Battery Park). Given Denmark's reputation for Michelin 5-star haute cuisine and its five top international chefs, don't be surprised if insects show up on the menu at the new Grand Central food court and Danish restaurant in the near future. BUGS will be screened again at Tribeca this week at Regal Cinemas, Battery Park (Wednesday, 10:30pm); and at Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea (Thursday 2:30 pm).

Then a quick ride down the West Side pear blossom and daffodil-lined bike path to the Regal for another world premiere, THE BANKSY JOB ably co-directed by Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan Harvey. This highly entertaining and well crafted UK movie documents the twists and turns of an art heist engineered by Andy Link, a Hackney, London, self-styled art terrorist AK 47 and, depending on your p.o.v, the successive acquisitions or thefts of Banksy's The Drinker, itself a hollow remake of Auguste Rodin's Le Penseur (The Thinker) adorned with a huge traffic cone/dunce cap on his head--surely a reflection on the artist rather than on Rodin as AK47 thumbs his nose at classic sculpture, its recreation and re-installation on Shaftesbury Ave as The Stinker, and its final disappearance. Silly story, right? But superbly staged, well performed, great production design and super-cynical about the London art world and art authentication, with astute and deadpan commentary by representatives of said art world. The film's dialogue effectively contrasts the posh accents of Brit gallery dealers with the hard-to-decipher Yorkshire brogue of the art "terrorists".

Day continued with a visit to Famous Deaths a surrealist Dutch interactive project at the 50 Varick Street Tribeca HQ. The lounge is adorned with product placements eg IBM's robots: Trendy Bot, Dusty Bot and Shy Bot.



April 20--Excerpt from the Q & A after today's screening of Junction 48, a narrative film about two striving hip hop artists set in Lyd, a mixed Arab/Jewish town near Tel Aviv. It premiered at the Berlinale this year where it won the Panorama audience award. This is a well-acted, intense and moving film that offers a fresh take on the situation of Arabs living in Israel, fraught as it is with tragedy, co-written by Tamer Nafar (who also stars as Kareem) and based on his own experiences as a hip hop artist, surmounting daily crises. The story is as dramatic as it is realistic. Co-star Samar Qupty, a filmmaking graduate from Tel Aviv University, is a knock-out. Video:  Director Udi Aloni expresses his views on the role of art in the Palestinian resistance, going way beyond ideological clichés to claim that for oppressed people, achieving quality in art, music, theatre is in itself a form of resistance.


April 23 2016--Christian Vincent's COURTED (L'Hermine) has its last Tribeca screening today Saturday at 6:15, Regal Cinemas, Battery Park. This is a thoroughly engaging milieu film set in a provincial Assize Court in Saint Omer, northwest France, the only court in France to have a jury trial. Leads are topnotch

French actor Fabrice Luchini as the aptly-named Michel Racine, the supercilious presiding judge with impeccable diction but a bad case of the flu and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Ditte Lorensen-Coteret, a juror on whom Racine had a crush in the past; she was the anesthetist who brought him out of a coma after an accident. Knudsen is apparently known as the prime minister in Borgen to viewers familiar with the Danish TV series (I'm not). Here she plays a single mother with a sharp-tongued 17-year-old daughter who buts in on one of judge and juror's rare coffee breaks and attempts to suss out their relationship.

Its emphases as distant from formulaic courtroom drama as you can get, COURTED unfolds with pointed anecdotal detail in the course of a felony trial for the death of a seven-month old girl. The notoriously uncooperative father has been accused of having kicked her to death, a charge which he vehemently denies. Tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Facts and contradictions emerge--but in both situations, the trial and the not-quite romance, is the full truth ever known? Whether the combat boots the defendant wears throughout the trial are relevant to the charge is never determined. The film's great strengths lie in its nimble script whose subtle observation of human interactions contrasts with the formality of courtroom procedure, and superb performances by both professional and non-professional actors. Winner of Best Screenplay and Best Actor at Venice Biennale this year. Film stills courtesy Tribeca Film Festival.

Liza Bear is a member of the James Agee Cinema Circle. Check out her other videos and interviews on her Youtube channel, nothingofficial, HERE

Saturday, April 9, 2016


Today in History, Paul Robeson Was Born - Which of These 3 Announced Films on His Life Will Be Made First?

Photo of Tambay A. ObensonBy Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and ActApril 9, 2016 at 12:11PM
Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson
On this day in history, April 9, 1898, Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, NJ. He would've been 118 years old this year were he still alive (he died in 1976). Sidney Poitier gets much of the ink, so to speak, and rightfully so, but Robeson laid the groundwork, coming more than 2 decades before Poitier starred in his first feature film ("No Way Out" in 1950). Robeson made his big screen debut appearance in a film directed by another of cinema's historical treasures, Oscar Micheaux's "Body and Soul" in 1925. In fact, Robeson's film acting career pretty much ended in the late 1940s (the fact that he was blacklisted and isolate politically by the House Un-American Activities Committee certainly didn't help) before Poitier ever stepped in front of a film camera, with around 12 credits on his resume - his performance in "The Emperor Jones" in 1933 likely his crowning achievement; on film anyway.
One key opportunity (among many) that was missed which may not be widely-known (and given some of our recent conversations on this blog about films on anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection) is that Robeson was reportedly to star in a film on Toussaint-Louverture, which was to be made in the 1930s, with Soviet-era directing legend Sergei Eisenstein attached to helm. It obviously never happened.
But Robeson wasn't just a film actor. He also had a successful stage career, was a singer and activist. But those are a mere words that simply can't fully capture the dynamic human being and incredible presence that he was.
And with all the apparent interest in biopics on black public figures (see my most recent list here), I'd say that a Paul Robeson biopic is long overdue, given the man and his accomplishments - frankly, far more-so than many of the biopics we've seen in recent years.
As of this posting, we are aware of 3 previously announced films on the life of Robeson, although it's not clear where each one stands today - whether they're still alive and in development, shelved for good, or in Limbo.
The first: Announced in 2012, Michael Jai White said during an interview while doing press for a documentary ("Generation Iron") he was involved in, that he intended to bring the life story of Robeson to the big screen, playing Robeson himself. He lamented the fact that Robeson's legacy seemed to have been forgotten, and argued that he hasn't been given the proper recognition he deserves, given what he accomplished, calling him a personal as well as a national hero. White insisted that he is/was the person to play Robeson, adding that it was a part that he could definitely do justice to. He went on to say that the project was in the works, and that it was a personal quest for him to see that it got made. That was almost 4 years ago; no word on whether it's still a passion project for him at this point.
The second: Announced in 2013, British actor David Harewood was attached to play Robeson in what was said to be more of an indie production, with Sydney Tamiia Poitier (daughter of Sidney Poitier) as Paul Robeson’s wife, Eslanda ("Essie") Goode Robeson. South African director Darrell Roodt ("Winnie") was initially attached to helm. Months later, Vondie Curtis-Hall reportedly took over, replacing Roodt in the director's chair. The project hailed from Four Stars International, and was to be produced by Greg Carter, and executive produced by Richard Akel, with a script penned by Akel and Terry Bisson, with promises of a film that's worthy of its subject. Also of note, Louis Gossett Jr. was to portray W.E.B. Du Bois in the film which was expected to be a traditional biopic, showing Robeson's rise (along with his wife, who was also his business manager) into his 60s. The goal was to shoot the film in August of 2013, in Toronto and Montreal; but it doesn't appear that photography actually happened, or if the project is even still in the works. It's not listed on any of the above names' IMDB pages.
And the third: Announced in 2014, Steve McQueen revealed, via the Guardian(UK), that he was planning to direct a feature film based on the life of Robeson, saying that it would indeed be his next feature directorial effort after "12 Years a Slave." It wasn't clear to me whether McQueen's project was something entirely new, or if he was in fact taking over the existing project that his fellow Brit, David Harewood, was already attached to star in. According to the Guardian piece, directing a film on Robeson was McQueen's dream project: "His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger [...]  But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice," McQueen said. With an Oscar-winning film on his resume, and the attention of the film world, he certainly had "the juice" after "12 Years." But 2 years later, it's not clear whether it's still a dream project for him. Harry Belafonte is involved in the project, although we don't yet know in what capacity exactly. I'd guess as a producer/consultant, given that Belafonte and Robeson were pals. McQueen added: "We’re very fortunate that we’re on a roll together to make this dream a reality. Miracles do happen. With Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, things have come full circle." He didn't share what actors he may have been eyeing for the part. But assuming it's still a project in the works, but is just taking some time to come together (as is often the case in the business of movie-making), depending on when the film is released, and given that it would very likely be high-profile enough, it could very well be another Steve McQueen film that will find itself in Awards season conversations, for whatever year that is.
Given the long life that he lived, the events he lived through, the other historically-significant public figures he knew, interacted and worked with (like Oscar Micheaux), his on-screen and off-screen accomplishments, his activism that would lead to his black-listing, and so much more, there's a lot of great history here in this one, single life. And a big screen account of that life is one that's definitely warranted. Or maybe a miniseries, his story unfolding over several episodes, that one of the premium cable TV networks picks up, so that we get a more comprehensive portrait of the man and his life, instead of squeezing it all into a 2-hour feature film.
Which project will get to the finish line first is anyone's guess. I imagine that there's a matter of life rights to be considered here, with the Robeson Estate controlling them. So there could be some behind-the-scenes conflicts that may not have been made public yet. We'll certainly find out soon enough.
But no matter; I'm just encouraged that there's actual new interest in bringing Robeson's life to the screen.
In the meantime, one of my favorite clips of the renaissance man; dateline 1959, talking Shakespeare (he portrayed Othello early in his career - 1943). It's a rare treat to find footage of Paul Robeson as Paul Robeson.