A couple of complex flicks
Taxi para tres is a thriller about the impossible moral complexities of life for the working, idling, robbing or just timidly persevering poor. Ulises (Alejandro Trejo), a taxi driver in a Santiago (Chile) slum, is kidnapped (so he will tell the police at the end of the adventure) by two young, reckless, stupid ruffians, who use his vehicle -- with Ulises as the driver -- to effect assaults on any available target, including other poor people. The knife- and pistol-wielding ruffians, childish moron Coto (Fernando Gómez ) and fast-talking Chavelo (Daniel Muñoz) later return to seek refuge in Ulises' house and ingratiate themselves with his family. Ulises is basically honest and protective but also -- like a lot of urban poor -- cautiously audacious. That is, he'll do very risky things when he calculates that the opportunities are right. There are no purely good guys in this movie, nor any purely bad ones -- even the brutal cop Padilla (Cristián Quezada) and the floozie who alternately betrays and protects Ulises (Elsa Poblete) just seem to be people doing the best they can in a twisted moral universe.

The other complex film is a movie about movies, and about art and the stimulus of formal restrictions. In The Five Obstructions (DE FEM BENSPÆND), young (b. 1956) Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier challenges a much admired senior (b. 1937) Danish journalist and filmmaker Jørgen Leth to remake Leth's 13-minute, 1967 film, "The Perfect Human" -- five times, each time under conditions (obstructions) imposed by von Trier. Leth is brilliantly up to all these challenges, the result being that we get to see Leth's six enormously diverse variations (the original plus the five remakes) on a theme within a film constructed by von Trier. And von Trier is himself a wonderfully inventive artist who relishes exploiting self-imposed "obstructions" (formal limitations) -- as you know if you've seen his disturbing recent movie, "Dogville" (for my blog on that movie, see Archive entry for 2004/05/03).
Anti-democratic pageant
For days now, American TV has been wall-to-wall tributes to the old actor who fronted for the great attack on American democratic principles that continues under the reign of the present usurper, GWB. Reagan was the man who, with a smile, vowed openly to take government away from the people and give it to the corporations. He was quite open about that, and he called it "freedom" -- using the word to mean exactly the opposite of what it meant in the Declaration of Independence. To Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries, "freedom" meant enlarging the opportunities for citizens to "pursue happiness," and their government's job was to help them do that. To Reagan and his crowd, "freedom" meant enlarging the opportunities for corporations to pursue dollars, regardless of their effects on citizen's health, living standards or feelings of solidarity. Reagan allowed his minions to arrange financing for terrorists in Nicaragua, and called them "freedom fighters." He also backed that other group of terrorists in Afghanistan who morphed (it was an easy transition) into al-Qaeda and kindred groups.

What worries me is that so many Americans would mistake this man, Reagan, for a friend, when his actions were designed to make ordinary citizens like you and me ever less powerful in the face of the monied interests. This is not a new problem: shortly after World War II, Erich Fromm wrote Escape from Freedom, to understand why Germans, having had a chance at democratic government in the 1920s, supported a charismatic orator who wanted to turn them all into obedient robots. Those human robots were to serve German greatness, which meant wars of conquest and expanding industrial output.

G. W. Bush is a much less convincing actor than Reagan (and possibly even less intelligent -- and Reagan was one of the dumbest presidents on record). And W. is no orator at all. The American escape from freedom won't replicate the German experience of the last century, at least not in its details -- racism is not likely to have mass appeal here, and even where it does, the racists can't agree on whom to hate. But the readiness to have somebody else make our decisions for us, as long as that somebody guarantees us creature comforts, is still a lot like what Fromm described.

It may be time to renew Thomas Jefferson's call:
What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.

[Here is the complete letter to William Smith, dated Paris, November 13, 1787.
For a summary of Erich Fromm's argument, see essay by Dr. C. George Boeree. Other things you might want to read: Planet Reagan , by William Rivers Pitt; Frank Rich's column in tomorrow's (Sunday's) New York Times (not yet on the web)


Check this out!
Bush is over. Nothing more needs to be said. The whole argument is laid out here.


A joyous way to protest the war and celebrate life
This will be the proper way to receive the delegates to the Republican National Convention in New York! Take a look at Artists Against The War and click on the "Banner Project."


R.I.P., R.R.
Ronald Reagan was not a great president. In fact, in his second term he was a barely functioning one. But he sure knew how to play one on TV!

Among other disasters, you will recall that he actually financed terrorists, including the organization that 20 years later destroyed the Twin Towers. U.S. covert action money built up the Nicaraguan Contras, the Angolan UNITA under the homocidal megalomaniac Joseph Savimbi, and -- worst of all for us -- the mujahedeen of Afghanistan and their Saudi confederates, including Osama bin Laden.

One big problem with Reagan was that he had too active an imagination. Things he'd dreamed up (that welfare queen with the Cadillac, for example) and movies he'd seen seemed real to him. W.'s problem (and ours) is that he has almost no imagination at all, or curiosity. And when he imitates Reagan's boyish grin, he just looks foolish. He may be no worse than Reagan as a real president (that would be a tough test), but he's abysmally worse at faking it. Reagan managed to fool all of the people (or nearly) some of the time; W. is fooling only himself and a dwindling sector of the willingly self-deluded.

For a fitting farewell to RR: Goodbye and Good Riddance by Phil Gasper.