Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi

This novel is a snapshot of current affairs, the emotional environment of USA, and we who inhabit it.
The USA is not really a easy place to find a feeling of home and community. Some of us feel that is made worse by clever marketing strategies of international corporate interests that have learned that divide and sell is a profitable business model. I don’t mean to suggest that there was necessarily a conspiracy meeting of big business cabals that came up with this, but rather it is a result of mass media run as for-profit business by for-profit businesses and supported by the backing of for-profit business, naturally supporting its interest. We are set against one another to sell things. The buying choice of children is not understandable to parents, this aids in moving product and causes more alienation from one another since we have little to identify ourselves with other than our product purchase choices.

This novel is not about business and mass media, but this has set the mood.
It is simply a story of teens in Los Angeles area, Southern California and blowback of US imperialism. The man figure of the novel is Raz, the USA born son of middle aged Iranian immigrants. In a way it parallels the stories of early 20th Century European immigrant children whose parents have made the very bold and radical move to an attempted a new better life in America, once A Good Country, only to find their children groundless, between worlds, subject to abuse by the children of the those who came here a generation or so before them, looking for a place to belong and susceptible to conscription in street gangs.

Here the setting is not the tenements of the Lower East Side with its poverty, but the children of very successful immigrants in fine houses with swimming pools in Laguna Beach, yet still lost, abused by religious intolerance made far worse by religious fundamentalism global terrorism that is a result of USA’s and The West’s century of manipulations in the mid-east. And what does popular USA
corporate secular culture offer? It is apparently void of a spiritual center, or even basic community. This environment is ripe for the fundamentalist fringes, of whatever origin, religious, or political, to come to the rescue.

The novel is really a very simple story, lucidly and believably told, of a bright sweet teen boy’s final high school years and his yearning for a place to belong with loving partners, friends.
The novel is written by a woman who is very good at creating the world of a young man including his sexuality and the casual marijuana use of him and his young friends.

In the news terrorist attacks cause the plot to shift toward tragedy in this engaging yet simply plotted novel.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

This was Bellow’s first novel.
It is set in Chicago during WWII.
The character, Joseph, writes about his life in first person journal entries. He is in his 30s. He is dangling because he might get drafted into the army soon. Since he might be drafted he is not working. He is married and his wife is working. He is basically just hanging out. They are living in a rooming house.They lost their apartment because of a dispute he had with the landlord.

It is a short novel of one of those extended times between things, before something big might happen. In this case being called up into a war that one might get killed in. The novel is mostly internal dialogue of someone in one of these in between times, and a very stressful one. It is also a portrait of a man without an exterior structure to control his time and actions. It is a place that many find difficult to find comfort. It is easier to just let someone else tell one what to do, show up here, at this time, do this job for this long, eat at this time, etc. He is dangling outside of that structure for a time, that place where one has to be self motivated, or self contained enough to be at peace when the order of the day is to run with the crowd. The novel shows that this can be a difficult place where one needs to be very strong, assured of oneself enough to go on.

There is not much mention of the war.  A war, that at the time of the novel’s composition no one knows  what is going to happen, how long the war will go on, how many will die, or who will win. The book contains that tension that hangs right there alongside that dangling man. It is an extreme time of “we are all together” which can be harder than usual on the temperamentally alienated.
Joseph visits family. His prosperous brother tries to give him money which creates tension. He visits his wife’s family, more tension. There is conflict in the rooming house, and between him and his wife, in the role reversal of the man being the breadwinner.

Aren't we all dangling on the edge of life on the mysterious precipice of death?
What does one do while dangling?

Good novel from a man who was later awarded The Nobel Prize (The Dynamite Prize).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

American Anarchist (2016)

American Anarchist (2016)
“Written” and directed by Charlie Siskel

This documentary is a portrait of William Powell who in 1970, at age 19, wrote a book called The Anarchist’s Cookbook.
The Anarchist’s Cookbook is an manual of revolution, how to make bombs and stuff like that. I’m not exactly sure what is all in it having never read or owned a copy.

The movie is made by Charlie Siskel. Documentaries are funny. If a filmmaker points a camera at someone and asks them questions, and edits all that together, the filmmaker gets to take credit as having written the movie. That seems pretty strange to me, especially in a situation like this where the subject, Powell, does most all the talking, yet he doesn’t even share the writing credit. Who came up with these rules? Powell’s wife also appears some in the movie.

William Powell is a very good talker. The delight of the film is getting to hear what he has to say. He handles Siskel’s interrogations with patient brilliance. Siskel keeps trying to corner him, to rattle him, to get some doc cinema gold with some kind of outrageous or angry reaction. He fails with the cool, thoughtful, and articulate Powell. Where Siskel keeps attempting to give Powell enough rope to get whatever he is looking for, he ends up defeated, hanging himself, as a hack documentary maker thinking he is on some scoop with a ruthless outlaw.
Yet Siskel was more or less fair in the way he edited most of the movie. We do get to see what a wonderful man Powell became, whatever one thinks of his writing 48 years ago.

William Powell, who died on July 11, 2016 at the age of 66 three months before the movie was released, spent his life as an educator of children with special needs. He spent his life working outside the USA. Siskel does spend some screen time telling us about this aspect of Powell’s life.

Even though Powell, as far back at 1976, regretted writing the book and stated that it should be put out of print, Siskel interrogates him bringing up that the book was in possession of the Columbine High School kid killers and others headline sensational killers. This gets to be a bit much with the implication that somehow Powell is responsible in association for the actions to these lost killers. Powells is very good at handling this stating that he was not aware that these people had the book. He says how could he be? He was living out of the USA and not one to investigate on the internet mass shootings. Siskel keeps up with this kind of stuff taking it to a ridiculous extreme at the very end when he attempts to compare Powell to Gavrilo Princip the man who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914 which somehow started WWI. Apparently Siskel is very proud of this moment. After he asks this he gives us the movie’s final shot with Powell sitting there a bit stunned at this silly implication and trying to think of a measured response. But what I saw at that moment was how a documentary maker can manipulate footage via editing to make his point, except this time it just doesn’t work because by that time we have looked into the eyes and heard the measured responses for 2 hours of a very good and decent man who clearly spent his entire life helping people, children, less fortunate than he.
Did Powell pay for his sins of free speech other than this interrogation by Siskel? He and his wife say that he did. Although very qualified in his teaching field of labor, when the employer institutions found out about the book, sometimes though anonymous sources, he was not hired at job after job. This is regrettable, most likely the children he could have worked with are the ones who suffered most from this.

But there is an association between Powell, the Columbine killers and other kid killers who may have had the book. Powell was bullied in schools as a child and sexually abused by an administrator. By the time he was 19 and inspired by the righteous and popular rebelliousness of youth at the time, he channeled his rage into that movement and produced the book.
So Powell did not create himself any more than school killers do? They are all a result of the bullying and injustice of school systems and the abuse of children that often happens there either institutionally or peer bullying, or both in the situation of young Powell. Powell was a bright boy and not a violent person. His reaction to the abuse, coupled with governmental injustice and the Vietnam war, was to call for revolution and write a book not act out violently.

The movie also implies that the Anarchist Cookbook is the only source of this type of information. It has never been so. Powell got some of his stuff from government pamphlets.  And although we see brief footage of Abbie Hoffman from Vietnam protest, the revolution is imminent days, there is no mention of his book that covers a lot of the same material and more and was released at the same time, Steal This Book. Meanwhile this type of bomb building information and everything else in these books has been available on the internet for a least 20 years.

American Anarchist is worth watching.
It is currently playing on Netflix

A Star is Born (1976)

I saw this movie in a theater 40 years ago when it was new. I didn’t remember much about it. I saw the original March - Gaynor more recentl...