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First uploaded March 28, 2020
Last updated March 30, 2020
PICKS OF THE MONTH
March 2020 Picks
1 (Animated series, Systems theory)
The official trailer for Cells at Work! from AnimeLab.com
The 2018 anime series Cells at Work! (now on Netflix) whose body-protection subject and treatment of it we're reading as a teen-friendly allegory of health's precarity in a perpetual war (Original run 8 July 2018, Tokyo MX, BS11 [Nippon BS Broadcasting], Tochigi TV, Gunma TV, Mainichi Broadcasting System, TV Aichi, RKB Mainichi Broadcasting, Hokkaido Broadcasting, Animax Asia; Netflix launch 13 March 2020) and Zeynep Tufekci's article in The Atlantic titled "It Wasn't Just Trump Who Got It Wrong" (Published in The Atlantic 24 March 2020)
ADAPTED from Akane Shimizu's manga of the same title by co-writers Yūko Kakihara and Kenichi Suzuki and directed by Suzuki, the 2018 Japanese anime Cells at Work! produced by David Production got a well-timed launch on Netflix last March 13.
A step up for juvenile instructional animation for biological, medical, and other scientific matters, the 2018 series succeeded in embedding the functions of red and white blood cells inside a war and love story, or in conjuring such a story using those personified characters and their functions, all with the usual anime amount of cuteness. We were instantly reminded of Tampopo, the classic 1985 Japanese spaghetti-Western film, oh okay ramen-Western comedy film, that barraged us with a lot of information about Japanese and other food, all within a gangster-film and martial-arts-film sort of toughness that drove the story forward.
Cells at Work! has episode titles that may attract a lot of people today, like "Pneumococcus" and "Influenza," in lieu of an episode on the SARS-CoV-2 that's not here yet, this series season being from 2018. Still, the storylines can at least teach us the habit of first googling stuff like the "bacteria capsule," or the "spleen," or the "dendrite," if we know nothing about them yet. Google them first, that is, before we open our mouths, especially if we're leaders behind whose rhetoric a lot of people assume there's already a high level of comprehensive erudition.
The next time a country's president tells you (about the COVID-19, for instance) something like, "Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away," . . . or another country's health secretary comes up―after being asked by congressmen about whether the executive branch would consider a temporary ban on, say, all Chinese tourists, given an epidemic that's already expanding in their country―with lines like, "Certainly that's one of the possible options that we are looking at, but not at this very moment. The reason being, your honor, is we have to be very careful also of possible repercussions of doing this, in light of the fact that confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are not limited to China. . . . If we do this, then the concerned country–China in this case–might question why we’re not doing the same for all other countries that have reported cases of the new coronavirus," . . . the next time such statements are made on TV or in a House committee hearing, or even in a Malacañang press briefing, such as that one that Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte delivered, on February 3, that goes: "Let’s start with the narratives by saying that everything is well in the country. There is nothing really to be extra-scared of that coronavirus thing, although it has affected a lot of countries. . . . You know, one or two in any country is not really that fearsome," . . . the next time, you can just point those statements' speakers to this series, now available for an affordable Netflix fee. That first statement, from United States president Donald Trump, is easily an argumentum ad ignoranciam or argumentum ad captandum one. But that next one from Philippine Secretary of Health Francisco Duque is complexly an argumentum ad passiones, argumentum ad ignorantiam using a false negative, argumentum ad consequentiam cum argumentum ad baculum, and (by representation) argumentum ad crumenam brew! To be fair to Secretary Duque, however, his above answer addressed to congressmen was given two days before the first Philippine COVID-19 case was confirmed, that of a Chinese woman, and three days before the United Nations declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Point future leaders to this series, we say. For if you can make them watch it, they might see, as many young people who'd watch the show definitely would, that a virus epidemic like the one we're having now that was already attacking bodies everywhere in late January (only 42 days short of being declared a pandemic) was necessarily also attacking those bodies' countries as well. An epidemic labeled as a potential pandemic already speaks of an oncoming invasion (or an invasion in progress) by a different sort of force, not necessarily care of the country/countries where the epidemic originated, an attack therefore that should have been addressed with foresight forthwith, as perfect hindsight would now naturally teach us. Understanding that that attack or invasion in progress is "not necessarily care of the country/countries where the epidemic originated" is the sort of understanding that would easily validate any ban on tourist travel from that/those country/countries as not a ban on that/those country/countries at all, therefore as not a thing for a government to be worrying about!
embed of Zeynep Tufekci's article in The Atlantic, titled "It Wasn't Just Trump Who Got It Wrong," published 24 March 2020
The best articulation of what we're trying to say in complex systems biology terms was University of North Carolina assistant professor Zeynep Tufekci's article in The Atlantic titled "It Wasn't Just Trump Who Got It Wrong," where she talked about the risk factors that information sources failed to consider and about the second- and third-order effects that our habitual reductionist empiricism was too deficient to see. This failure, Tufekci claims, hampered the mainstream media's and the state and local governments' ability to quickly raise alarm over the onset (or attack) even as early as the first week of February. Sure, the article may be seen as a product of hindsight bias, as we couldn't find material wherein Tufekci herself raised an alarm about the virus in either early 2020 or late 2019, the way Bill Gates had consistently been screaming at microphones about pandemics to come in general. But, no matter. For her concept in this article (and its presentation) is quite the classic artwork that it is that, as appropriate, finally arrives at total realism with all of its academic elements instead of at a sci-fi-ish level (despite its potential of sounding so to the average American intellect).
But back to Cells at Work!. You see, the reason why we're putting Cells at Work! in the number one spot in our current month's list, apart from the reason that it's one hell of a fun material for further family bonding during the stay-at-home order period, is because it's the one that pushes a rare thesis for us, kids and adults alike, to appreciate: that while the war films genre must only rightfully talk about the very difficult struggles of mankind at the level of Detective Pikachu's or Voltron's big battles, it does not have to dedicate itself solely to conflicts fought from outside of our anatomies or outside of our planetary atmospheres. For there are just-as-tough world wars occurring inside of earthlings' bodies! And though this series season features very familiar battles, God knows what battles may be sent our way as material for future seasons. . . .
Yes, sure, this series just gets into the basics, just the basics, as if trying to make no more than a simple (albeit updated) variation on Fantastic Voyage or Osmosis Jones. You can't really expect it to treat, not yet anyway, of such omens as the ones presented in that 2019 report by the UN Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) and, before that, the 1989 meeting called by Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg regarding coming apocalyptic pandemics, can you? This anime series cannot yet churn out a script about that GPMB report statement already warning of preparedness “hampered by the lack of continued political will at all levels” and cautioning that although “national leaders respond to health crises when fear and panic grow strong enough, most countries do not devote the consistent energy and resources needed to keep outbreaks from escalating into disasters.” Nor can this series dive yet into the topics of that Lederberg meeting that already considered, in 1989, “a then bold hypothesis that viruses, far from being vanquished by modern medicine, were actually surging worldwide in animals and people, often in forms never previously seen.” How can this first season jump at once into that meeting, the findings from which actually shook the US National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine enough for that Institute to come up with its own report that in turn would drive the Clinton government to label certain medical threats as security threats? This series has yet to come up with another season for that!
Yes, true, Cells at Work! is not Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak nor a Bill Gates YouTube video on the subject. It's an anime, for Christ's sake! But, . . . like the Lederberg meeting, it actually brings forth in its own way the idea, to all ages and to well-educated individuals and not, that bacteria and viruses are national security as well as national economic threats. That wars against bacteria and viruses are wars. And although this Season One may send the wrong message that our bodies have enough brilliant fighters to thwart any villainous attack, freeing us and our kids from worrying too much, the shōnen-seinen/shōjo stories here still try to push the counter-message―that these "internal" wars that are occurring beyond our vision and are being taken care of by red and white blood heroes and heroines are still wars with determined adversaries in them. And if you happen to have knowledge that even the simple flu is still a source of worry as a potential pandemic scene-maker (remember the 2009 flu pandemic?), you may be able to put two and two together and know that these kinds of wars demand just as many upstanding Churchills in the darkest of countries' hours, Churchills who must not only have ample knowledge of what it is they're talking about (when they act or do not act on proposals from anyone in their government, or anything from their gut, regarding combating the deceptions and lies of these enemies that roam many animals' bodies) but must also have mighty, incorruptible focus to be able to invest in intelligence to intercept an oncoming or ongoing onslaught. For, as we should have learned, it is when we take things lightly with praying or bragging confidence that we are led to face not-so-cute consequences.
Again, this series won't give you anything about the present crisis' star villain while in quarantine and on your Netflix, but it'll give you the impression that there are territories you and our leaders can't ever ignore again.
2 (Mixed media)
Art de Leon. New Profile. 2020. resin and paint on 21.5" x 36" wood panel
New Profile. (Posted on Art de Leon's Facebook timeline 30 March 2020)
ORION, Bataan-based young artist Art de Leon is supposed to open his third Art Underground one-man show this April, but with the ongoing quarantine that threatens to extend itself to mid-May, the opening date of the show remains uncertain. But the artist posted on Facebook on March 30 one of his just-finished pieces, and although it's not going to be one of the works he'll be showing in that upcoming show of his, we can already announce that this PWU School of Fine Arts and Design graduate got our attention. Lucky you with a Facebook account, you can see that piece embedded here.
Let us just tell you a thing or two about New Profile for now. The little sculptures of the work are made of resin. They were acrylic-painted and then glued to the wooden 21.5 by 36 inch-wood panel that you see in that image up there.
But why is the work on our list?―you ask. Well, as we've been wont to advertise our utilitarian approach to art appreciation, we'll tell you how this one fits into that standard. First, it's obviously a work that―once hung on a wall―would seek to solicit a viewer's recollection of that month and year when everything that this imagery seeks to represent occurred. And, boy, has the imagery succeeded in getting it smack down in the middle of things: the social distancing trope on safety, the surgical masks as symbol of defense and caring, the lines as stand-ins for discipline and a slowed time. Whether you see that combo as simple or complex, it focuses on just those select experiential elements within that historical moment that, come to think of it, also happen to be basic to art making: space, lines, and the contexts they end up alluding to.
From this simple pattern work you can, and we suspect will, add your own stories to enrich the mathematical piece's subject and theme, thereby backing up that evolution that the piece's title seems to be pointing at. That evolution created indeed a new privacy-leaning profile for social behavior, even a new social presentation of our selfie-addicted individualities. How long that evolved classicist state will stay remains uncertain.
One of Sky Group's No Spoilers campaign billboards. (Photo by Darwin Social Noise / Sky Group)
Darwin Social Noise's No Spoilers campaign for Sky Group. (Published March 2020, Madrid)
WHEN on March 11 the Ministry of Madrid ordered the closure of all ministry-administered museums in the city as well as the National Library and the Royal Palace, the city virtually started a sudden stay-at-home culture that would be followed by the March 13 shutdown of bars and terraces by the Mayor of Madrid, the suspension of all judicial activity in the Community of Madrid by the General Council of the Judiciary, and the stoppage of all of the city's shops' operations except those by food and basic-need sellers.
This did not mean, of course, that the city government and populace would not have a problem with a number of elements who would still go out of their homes for unnecessary walks, a behavior that would collectively be seen as counterproductive to the effort to halt the fast rise of SARS-CoV-2-positive cases in the city (and the entire country of Spain).
For client Sky Group, the agency Darwin Social Noise came up with an idea of letting the media conglomerate contribute a mode of intervention towards the overwhelming problem, at least in Madrid: since Madrilenians still love to read as much as watch TV, why not let the media company buy up a number of digital billboards in central Madrid to display plot spoilers of people's favorite shows of the moment? That way, those who'd end up reading the spoilers on the digital posters might come out pissed, especially as they would later have to go home to watch TV! These people might then avoid going out again, to eschew reading any more of those irresistible spoilers. That large slogan below each spoiler translates to "If you don't want spoilers, / #StayAtHome."
Notice the hashtag in that slogan? Although the spoilers were disseminated in central Madrid alone, social media practically made the annoying intervention national.
4 (Video clips)
The March 17 Balitanghali news clip titled BT: Paghihigpit sa mga checkpoint, naging aberya sa mga pasahero't motorista. [Uploaded by GMA News, March 16 - US time; removed from YouTube August 2020, returned to YouTube September 2020]
The March 17 Balitanghali full broadcast where the above clip, removed from GMA News' YouTube channel and from gmanetwork.com, can still be viewed as this broadcast's first news report. [Uploaded March 17, 2020 by GMA News]
BT: Paghihigpit sa mga checkpoint, naging aberya sa mga pasahero't motorista, the March 17 Balitanghali news clip uploaded to GMA News' YouTube channel. (Video clip posted 16 March [US time] on GMA News' YouTube channel and 17 March [Manila time] on www.gmanetwork.com; video removed August 2020, returned September 2020)
WE were so attracted to this news item from Balitanghali's crew and news editors that we waited for this news clip of theirs to be uploaded to GMA News' YouTube channel or to be embedded in a corresponding written report on gmanetwork.com. That was because we instantly saw the contents of the item as providing a case against a certain kind of communication art allowing for miscommunication, implementers' free interpretation, and confusion.
True, the clip covers just one incident, the midnight one at the Meycauayan-Valenzuela City border roadblock, during the Metropolitan Manila-wide mess that happened on the night of March 16 (that went on into the dawn of March 17). But it already acts as a rich anecdote of what seems to have been created by that primetime announcement of a Luzon-wide "enhanced community quarantine," night of March 16. The enhancement was supposed to be for immediate implementation by midnight of the same date, in spite of the announcement's anti-clarity style.
This clip is not the only one around the Internet carrying documented news about that metropolis-wide confusion. In fact, other clips or full-program videos that came later would narrate worse workers' plights, such as this March 18 one by Unang Hirit that begins with two workers' decision to walk for hours, with one worker walking for twelve hours from Parañaque, the other for 14 hours from Bacoor, to the same Valenzuela City border―this time, however, the troopers on the Bulacan side would already be offering the traveling workers bananas, bread, and water; the previous night's roadblock-cum-barricade had become just one of a number of simple random checkpoints. There was also this March 19 news report from abs-cbn.com that tells of the journey of eight construction workers who started to walk from Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City in the afternoon of March 16 to their hometown of Manaoag, Pangasinan (they got a ride along the way from Bulacan to Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, and then again from Gerona, Tarlac to Manaoag). Or, more painful, this March 22 report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer about one worker's five-day walk from Alabang to his hometown in Camarines Sur. That was not the only five-day trek we heard about. . . . But as our main entry to our March picks list on this matter, we chose the above embedded Balitanghali clip, uploaded to YouTube in the afternoon of March 17 (March 16 is the US date used below the uploaded video), because it's the material that carries just the right amount of basic ingredients for signifying a lot of unsteady stuff of huge political import to current semantics. To be more specific, this news clip's contents function as the tight signifiers of a first stage of confusion resulting from a certain kind of communication art, even as we're aware that the whole mess-up was caused by both the communication of the quarantine "enhancement" and the underlying contexts behind the quarantine itself.
Now, understand that we totally get President Rodrigo Duterte's embrace of a populist-leaning or drunken banter-espousing kind of sprawling speech-giving and announcement-making, a kind that's seemingly proud of its provincialism (talking to the least-informed persons in the room). This has, after all, been proven to be effective in drawing in a mass audience tired of sophisticated, barong-clad academics and lawyers and sons of formerly-ruling other oligarchs seriously flaunting their vocabulary as tokens of solutions-producing brilliance. Duterte, as a contrasting sort, would bother to take the teacher stance, which is probably wise, considering that the masses' aforementioned tiredness from the usual politician's esotericism unmindful of the ignorant is not at all an unreasonable kind of tiredness. . . . However, we also understand why many among the populace who demand clarity and focus, be they from the educated class or not, would also be frustrated by the President's speech habits. This frustration would only double or triple when it comes to speeches that purport to announce or declare something that should be of immediate importance to the general public's interest. A bunch of raillery, asides, and partisan chest-beating or boasts as well as insults that often, if not always, find their way into such announcements would muddy clarity and tear down focus, making it hard for many listeners to come up with cohesive takeaways on their own.
We don't know if there is political science behind all this―which is to wonder if this is all intentional for a communication effect wherein content is secondary to package and interpretation is considered ready and universal, at least among Duterte's faithful.
One such speech that would birth a lot of questions more than intimate quick, obvious answers (to immediate queries an office should be able to foresee) was the President's announcement of that "enhanced community quarantine," made at past 07:30 pm of March 16, that other elements of the Philippine National Police understood as already an order for a "total lockdown" (check embedded video clip above again). That PNP reading was only natural, as what they were supposed to be enhancing can't be anything other than the previous days' "partial lockdown." Still, the announcement would be mocked by many as a typical display of the President's eternally rococo communication style that tries to communicate as many details as possible at the expense of strengthening a focal point, so that its important contents would later in the night be repeated by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, containing especially the necessary details (the guidelines); Nograles' clear reading of these guidelines and his on-point well-read answers to journalists' questions did cut like hot knife across butter and came out like the clear contrast to the President's presence that would always look unable to achieve the same kind of focus delivered with ease by Nograles.
We noticed an achievement, though. The sin of confusing people from a certain kind of communication art would be a lighter sin than that of confusing the citizenry from a certain kind of planning and decision. At the outset, allow us to say that we totally support and advocate the scientific rationales behind quarantine-cum-lockdowns. But if we are to be critical of this quarantine-cum-lockdown, we would be critical not only of the order's initial communication art (we already expressed that) but also of the order's and guidelines' potential vagueness (to their first-salvo implementers) in relation to the scientific objectives, the scientific objectives that are supposed to be the very soul of the order but that the implementing police may not have been very keen on. This kind of "focus on the police" in the early version of the "community quarantine" was already criticized by Vice President Leni Robredo a day before the enhanced quarantine declaration, and although the report about that critique did not bother to ask or write what Robredo's suggestions were, it did imply she was merely asking for more attention to possible labor sector hardships that was certain to result from all this.
Let us examine the problematics of the lockdown order, even with the detailed guidelines, and how (context-wise) this order reached the implementers on at least that first night, as displayed in our news video clip above. Sure, this examination of ours may also be seen as a product of hindsight bias. But the future is definitely what hindsight aims to work for, so, . . . humor us:
In the embedded video clip above, the on-site report starts with a woman who has to catch a plane bound for Canada. To do that, she has to be driven to the airport in Pasay City by her family. Her problem is that her family wouldn't be allowed to enter Meycauayan on their way back.
Here's the context of that situation:
The police as implementers of the order would allow a citizen to exit his/her province and enter Metro Manila and then depart for another country. It would even allow a couple of family members to drive that citizen to the airport. But it would not allow those family members to re-enter Bulacan (in the duration of the lockdown). The order may indeed have specified that a citizen who wants to go to the airport shall be allowed to be driven there by a family member or two; it is doubtful, however, that the order would have specified that should that traveling citizen want to see his/her family get home after driving him/her to the airport, he/she must opt to only walk to the airport on his/her own, or drive there on his/her own and leave his/her vehicle at the terminal after. Now, in the instance of a very strict lockdown, it would be understandable why someone who enters Metro Manila (to drive a wife or husband to the airport or whatever) would not be allowed by Bulacan police to re-enter Bulacan. But it boggles the mind why in that situation someone would be allowed by Metro Manila police to enter Metro Manila at all, unless it is only Metro Manila that's being quarantined (i.e., unless it is only Metro Manila that is being treated as the zombie zone, where citizens from the provinces would be given the right to enter that zone to join the zombies but would not anymore be allowed to go back to Bulacan to join the non-zombie humans there). . . . It looked very much like the police interpretation of the order was that of a full lockdown that would protect the Bulacanese from any virus coming from Metro Manila, but not Metro Manilans at the airport from any virus that may be brought in by a Bulacanene family and their car! If it was indeed a full lockdown, no one should have been allowed to leave their barangay, town, city, or province to get to Metro Manila and the airport, and even potentially bring a virus to a plane and another country. Airlines should have been ordered to either reimburse fares to their Filipino passengers, if that is possible, or open these passengers' tickets for rebooking any time after the quarantine. Or, . . . at the risk of triggering panic buying, the full lockdown in the metropolis and adjoining provinces could have been scheduled for initiation 48-72 hours from the hour of announcement, allowing families to configure their positions in the area before things were told to already shelter in place. After all, a night-of-March-15 directive allowed a 72-hour window for OFWs and foreigners to fly out! . . . There's our hindsight bias on that whole affair.
The news clip's report then moves (at 1:52) to the situation of shocked commuting workers coming from various parts of Metro Manila on their way home to various Bulacan destinations. These workers on their way home were asked to halt before the plastic roadblocks installed at this same Meycauayan-Valenzuela City border, but interestingly cargo trucks were allowed to pass. Some of the workers may have alighted the jeepneys and buses they were on when those vehicles were told to stop and already park at their Valenzuela City terminals or go back to their Metro Manila garages, but others actually walked for hours from their work locations to this border due to the already-meager public transport discouraged to go out by the March 12 "partial lockdown" dictate. That dictate ordered all public vehicles to pick up no more than x number of passengers for social distancing inside them (strictly implemented by March 15).
Here's the context of this second situation:
The police as implementers of the order would allow cargo trucks to pass the roadblock, even as these trucks could themselves be carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but not those humans coming home from work. This indicates that the border patrol was unaware of the fact that an object, any object at all, could be a carrier of the virus, given that that object may have come from a place where a citizen or foreigner with the COVID-19 may have sneezed droplets onto that same object's surface and crannies. Again, if it was indeed a full lockdown for quarantining purposes, a truck (a part of which could potentially be contaminated, as we said, or the driver of which could potentially be a carrier) should not have been allowed to enter any Bulacan barangay, town, city, or any adjoining province's area, just as no human that could potentially be a carrier was not. Or . . . again, the full lockdown in the metropolis and adjoining provinces could have been scheduled for initiation 48-72 hours from the hour of its announcement, to allow workers to configure their respective positions in the metropolis and their respective provinces before things were told to halt in place. After all, it was the Valenzuela City police (not the Bulacan police) that looked in the news video to be disallowing the workers their exit from Metro Manila, even as, again, a night-of-March-15 directive was still allowing a 72-hour window for OFWs and foreigners to fly out of this same metropolis (definitely not a sign of an already-active full lockdown).
Thankfully, later, the workers were allowed to pass and get home and eat their supper at dawn after their temperatures were taken. While Valenzuela City mayor Rex Gatchalian believed it was already full lockdown, probably the reason why Valenzuela City would not allow people in transit to exit the city (for whatever reason), it seems that the Bulacan police had a different reading of things, because allowing asymptomatic persons to pass (Bulacan's police merely took the travelers' temperatures, as we said) still smacks of a "partial lockdown" or "soft quarantine." And, by the way, not allowing people to exit your place while letting them huddle together without regard for social distancing is akin to already branding them as contaminated humans or now-zombies! . . . And that's our hindsight bias on this other unfortunate affair.
5 (Documentary film)
The official trailer released by Showtime for The Kingmaker
The Kingmaker. (First released 29 August 2019, Venice Film Festival. First theatrical release 8 November 2019, US. First Philippine release (limited) 29 January 2020. SHOWTIME TV and Amazon Prime Video premiere 28 February 2020. First Philippine wide release schedule for 25 March 2020 but postponed due to the Luzon-wide lockdown against COVID-19)
THE Marcoses were likely delighted that The Kingmaker's wide theatrical release in the Philippines did not happen on March 25 due to the Luzon-wide "enhanced community quarantine" against the COVID-19 pandemic. But we already got to preview the film, so here are our thumbs-up notes, which you may find helpful in case you want to access it on Amazon Prime:
Initially, Lauren Greenfield's work comes out as a mere variation of Ramona S. Diaz's 2003 documentary film Imelda, a film that put into focus Imelda Marcos' quirky views about the world and its workings. Both films make an effort to give most (or much) of the floor to the largely discredited former First Lady of the Philippines and her camp in order to give "balance." Unfortunately for the Marcos side, however, both films somehow end up giving the public these free-wheeling monologues from Marcos and her family and friends as testimonies that could (some would say would or should) be used against them. "(He) wanted to be president," Marcos says at one point, alluding to her husband, "so that he could maximize his wealth and talent." We are reminded of Alison Klayman's 2019 fly-on-the-wall documentation of Steve Bannon's speaking travels in the United States and Europe with The Brink, which had the same effect on serious examiners of speech, even though that work (true to the fly-on-the-wall tradition) didn't invite testimonies from Bannon's critics. (The Brink was in our June 2019 picks list.)
Later down the road, however, The Kingmaker turns itself into a caveat of a song about the sinister plan of the Marcoses' camp to place Bongbong Marcos in Malacañang as the next President of the Philippines, implying that that objective―beyond its symbolic value as something that would bring back the old grandeur of the family's name and standing―would also be a means to secure the Marcoses' wealth still in danger of a future unfriendly government's seizure, or could be in danger of investigations, beyond the term of ally Rodrigo Duterte whose government is portrayed to be the family's wealth protector in the present. The presidency in Bongbong Marcos' hands would certainly be an end goal that would give the family all the power to get back all of the family's frozen assets (including Independent Realty Corporation and other properties Marcos' cronies surrendered to the PCGG), perhaps even those wealth that Ferdinand Marcos purportedly placed under the caretakership of front organizations and individuals (like Lucio Tan).
In The Kingmaker we are still exposed to the same old Marcosian penchant for displaying haute jewelry and clothing, gilded furniture, expensive objets d'art, highly-priced paintings by this or that modernist or Renaissance painter, and so on. But there is also the inescapable display of bespoke generosity or token charity towards the poor. It's the kind of generosity that Ayn Rand and the US Republican Party would approve of, if only because it's that sort of altruism that wouldn't aim to become a socialistic policy of government. (Speaking of Republicans, except for that shot with Lyndon Baines Johnson during the waning years of the Vietnam War [a part of the Cold War], the Marcoses are mostly seen here in the company of that party's leaders. Funny, isn't it, that―thanks to the American alt-right―the word "republican" is now being associated with Americans with a nostalgia for the days of monarchs. Lucius Junius Brutus and Collatinus, or the participants of the June Rebellion, would turn in their graves. However, there are also shots here with other dictators from both sides of the left-right political spectrum.)
Listen: we know that many would regard a documentary as not so much a work for art (except if it's of the poetic sort) as a film for journalistic and historical ends, unless they agree that the documentary film is also an art form that includes such ethos as, say, the one behind observational documentation that may only intervene via silent narration and perhaps a minimum amount of intermittent interviewing from behind the camera and then, finally, only interpret everything via the editor's hands. This is that sort of documentary. . . . But beyond that, understand also that this film's story, like the one in Diaz's film, actually focuses on a utopia of beauty maintained by a philosophy of rightist strength (like the Left, it's a utopia that's also appropriating the color red). In one scene, one of the Marcos regime's victims, Etta Rosales, speaks of the San Juanico Bridge as a beautiful "bridge of love," having been regarded as Ferdinand's personal gift to Imelda (using public money and a government loan, of course), which would find an ironic accompaniment or parallel in another "San Juanico Bridge" that is a form of torture using two beds (this form of torture was common in the days of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos). Earlier in the film, the former First Lady declares, while driving by a highway-side slum, "Before, during my time, there were no beggars. I had a place for them"―as if that would let everybody's forgetful memory today recall her Transcendental utopia for a Manila embraced by "the good, the true, and the beautiful." With that statement from Marcos, we are reminded of that series of beautification moves in the 2015 APEC Summit during Noynoy Aquino's government when squatters' neighborhoods along the route of some delegates' motorcades were temporarily cleared, with some of these areas covered with painted GI sheets and tarpaulin. People who experienced Manila under the Marcos regime complained that this was a Marcos-like thing for an Aquino government to be doing (an Aquino shouldn't be doing such a Marcosian thing because the family of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Noynoy's father, believes Imelda and General Fabian Ver were the brains behind the assassination of the late senator). We wish the film got to that APEC Summit thing, too, but never mind.
The film then associates Imelda's utopia of beauty with the Marcos couple's tacky vision of Paradise. The latter vision actually looks more theme-park-like in its manifestation than sincerely or scientifically environmentalist and people-serving at its root. One example of this is the Calauit Safari Park, allegedly a product of Imelda's whim after seeing the animals in Kenya ("I got so envious that we didn't have those," Imelda confesses. "So she ordered them," says Beth Day Romulo, wife of Marcos' Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos P. Romulo). While species translocation is usually a positive note for conservation, the Calauit paradise project did not have that left-of-center purpose in mind: for one, it required the expulsion of indigenous tribes from Calauit Island; then, the IUCN denied there ever was a record of a request from the Kenyan government for the translocation, further stipulating that the distance between source and destination of the wildlife translocation done at Calauit would go against IUCN policies. Near the end of the film, the negative results of the inbreeding between the giraffes of Calauit is used as a metaphor for the negative results of political dynasties everywhere.
(Incidentally, the current COVID-19 pandemic is being viewed as a possible outcome of Chinese legal importation of African wildlife, including bats and pangolins.)
But while Greenfield's film doesn't cover that Marcosian thing that's been present in every subsequent government after Marcos', it does show an ugly side of politics from all parties. Politicians from all parties accept and then flaunt the supposed reality that a project started during a certain regime belongs to that regime instead of to the nation that that regime served; they would even put aside the international bank lenders from whom many a government project's inception usually derive. Thus, a Philippine Children's Medical Center that Marcos loyalists would be touting as a symbol of Imelda Marcos' heart would supposedly find not enough maintenance money for its children's playground in 2014, and the former First Lady there grabs the opportunity to harp on the heartlessness of the Noynoy Aquino government that's supposedly behind the neglect. We don't know the reasons for the neglect: is it because the playground is of no use to children who couldn't possibly have the strength to use it, or was it really because the hospital is one among those touted by Marcos loyalists as an "Imelda project"? Admittedly, though, the latter is really questionable, considering that many Marcos-era built facilities continue to find maintenance budgets for their maintenance and continued use.
Now, in Imelda Marcos' criticism of Noynoy Aquino's government as having "no soul, no heart," one is brought to ask what sort of concepts of soul and heart there had been, really, among all the regimes that the country went under. For it puzzles the mind how a soul and a heart from any of the politics that happened in this archipelago could ever be deemed real, given that they would all overwhelmingly show a priority love for certain corporations and relatives and then a pork barrel-fed soul for the kleptocratic sharing of 1,000-peso crumbs they would hand out to a stupidly-grateful people that have forever been regressively taxed in the first place. All governments that served the Filipino people are guilty of such shortcomings and sins, but none more egregiously than the Marcos government.
Sadly, however, the Filipino nation would both complain about their country's politics and adore their beloved kleptocrats at the same time. This is made possible by the fact that Philippine politics is truly, perhaps almost solely, a thing of beauty. That is, its election campaigns are up to now largely propelled by politicians' or politicians' spouses' singing prowess, not by their capacity to communicate solutions to issues. This is the reason, perhaps, why the country's singing First Lady herself judged other leaders solely by their appearances, unable to understand the "monster" tag on some of them after having been shown kindness.
Imelda would also qualify excessiveness as an expression of a "mothering" philosophy. And so, today, she would continue to practice this mothering mission by being the mother sponsor of a would-be future king of the nation in son Bongbong Marcos. It should be asked why she would pick Bongbong for this journey than launch the elder Imee to become her mission's archipelagic queen. Is it because she understands that it is he who has the ability to make pretty speeches about the condition of the poor, in that traditional beautiful way that every other Filipino politician would try to master? Never mind that Bongbong Marcos is the sort of poor-sympathizing conservative politician who would be grossly embarrassed to fly in economy class.
Now, unfortunately for the aesthetics of the traditionalist politicians of the Philippines like Bongbong Marcos, there is an alternative beauty in such a thing as, say, social realism's. While understood as referring to a style or movement in the arts, realism is actually also a people's way of viewing freedom, and it is a view quite different from Bongbong Marcos' royalist Dark Enlightenment idea for "liberating" the same people. So, should Bongbong become President of the Philippines by whatever Facebook-driven "miracle" by fake news or alternate histories and other forms of deliberate falsehoods, . . . would he declare martial law, too, after encountering the reality bite of this difference? Would he simply play his royal flute (yes, he plays the flute) as his country gives birth to a generation of new Lino Brockas painting a world different from the militarized beautiful theme park his "global mother" of a "love-rich" mother has always wanted to seriously project?
6 (Television documentary)
screenshot from "Slumlord Millionaire," episode 3 of Dirty Money season 2: Netflix
"Slumlord Millionaire," episode 3 of Dirty Money season 2. (Netflix premiere 11 March 2020)
ANOTHER fine thing to watch on Netflix as a sidebar to getting updated on Donald Trump's handling of the US COVID-19 crisis would be this episode titled "Slumlord Millionaire" directed by Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme. It is the third episode of the second season of the series Dirty Money, thus a part of a relatively observational documentary series for political web cinema that uses its subjects' testimonies and compiled media-footage audio to narrate the issues/problems tackled, with nary a whisper from the interviewer. Each episode's script is therefore in the hands of the film editors. The season premiered 11 March on the streaming service.
The episode is to us another study in contrasts existing in the world today between beauty and the ugliness that feeds that beauty―to be more specific, it's another case study of some elements of the successful real estate business elite, in this case Kushner Companies owned by Charles Kushner and for a time managed by his son Jared Kushner, who would surround themselves with the beauty and "high standard quality" available to man, like a Vera Wang wedding gown, . . . but all that from earnings from selling "sub-standard quality" products, namely apartments for rent with illegal parts such as asbestos, to citizens who would not have the normal wherewithal to sue for true "affordable quality." These lower-middle-class citizens living from paycheck to paycheck would even be exposed to a scheme called "churning" from just one instance of not paying rent on time, raising their debt month to month, with many of them not even getting certificates of occupancy that would guarantee no illegal electricity and gas work would be done by the building owner while they're there. One of the contractors working illegally on a New York building owned by Kushner Companies figured in the gas explosion that leveled another building a couple of blocks away from the JK2 Westminster building.
This is also about the aesthetics of deregulation (or failure of an enforcement system to provide uncorrupted oversight upon, say, a Kushner property not living up to the fire code, and we mean oversight beyond sending notifications of violation without the follow-up of fine collection). Or, rather, it's about the aesthetics of selling products without regard for the laws of regulation and, most importantly, the well-being of customers whom you might now want to remove from your premises for your gentrification upgrades, exposing them thus to contrived repair noise, lead, and crystalline silica that might finally irk them enough for them to move, which the the Kushner company would do as a way of getting around the law against illegal evictions. In short, this film is about architecture for the rich to live or put an office in and architecture for the defrauded poor renters who won't ever get respect from landlords owning that building that they won't ever live in.
It could also be treated as a study on examples of current-century ironies, considering that Kushner Companies, the subject of the episode, is a family business founded by Charles Kushner, the son of two Holocaust survivors. Jared Kushner―son of Charles and the CEO of the company when Charles was convicted of illegal campaign contribution, tax evasion, and witness tampering and was thus sent to jail―is married to President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka. Trump's government has been associated with alt-right movements in the United States who, in turn, are associated with other alt-right (even neo-Nazi and other Dark Enlightenment) movements in the world who, it so happens, are anti-Jews and anti-non-whites (except, maybe, if you're a royal Saudi Arab?). Now, we might remember that the anti-Semitism of Europe during the rise of Adolf Hitler's Nazis derived its soul from supposed abuses by Jew-owned businesses! And, oh, by the way, Jared―who functions as one of his father-in-law's three closest advisers in the White House―regards the American people as "customers of government" instead of as the government's bosses. What a Fascist view.
And, you may laugh about this minor thing, but the Trump government under which Jared serves today has a very close affiliation with the evangelical Christian Right, and the Kushners owned 666 5th Avenue until 2018. The new owners would change the building's number to 660. :)
This Dirty Money episode is good material as well, you could say, for studying the level of information Americans get. Many of the complaining relatively-poor tenants in the Kushners' Baltimore complex happen to be continuing Trump supporters. Should that be placed as another entry in the semiotics of present-day American ironies? Add to that the irony that it would be President Trump, Jared's father-in-law, who would be accusing the leaders of Baltimore and the district where Baltimore is of letting the city be infested with rats.
Another irony, a humorous one perhaps, is that the person who went after Charles Kushner was then-U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie, a Republican who likely regarded Charles' contributions to the Clintons and other Democrat politicians as a problem. But Christie as later governor of New Jersey would himself prominently figure in his own scandal, the Fort Lee lane closure scandal. Being a Republican, however, he would also later be endorsing Trump for the presidency. Guess what. When Trump won, he became a member of the president-elect's transition team, there working with Jared.
But although Charles and Jared are now supposedly Republican, Jared being husband to Ivanka, the Housing Rights Initiative thought it best to take the lead in filing class action lawsuits in New York against Kushner Companies, because, it turns out, there's a paradox in Charles Kushner being also a big contributor to the campaigns of incumbent NY state governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats. (This March, it looked like that Kushner-Cuomo connection has already lapsed, after we saw that no-aid-from-the-White-House situation Cuomo got himself placed in, blanketed by all those COVID-19 cases and deaths in his state. The Trump government would finally invoke the Defense Production Act―that Cuomo and other governors of the hard-hit states had been screaming for―on March 28, ordering General Motors to manufacture ventilators. However, it seems now that it did this only after getting wind of the fact that GM was in fact already going to do just that, turn its activity into ventilator manufacture).
By the way, the episode also contains a case study on the curation of truths and of business celebrities who should matter in your lives via the power of mass communications and visual layouts that come with newspaper ownership.
To close, allow us to quote from New York City Council member Ritchie Torres, who rounded out our story's characters' characterization bluntly this way: "How you run your company speaks volumes about the kind of person you are, especially when you're responsible for the lives of tenants who want nothing more than a fighting chance at a better life." A fighting chance at a better life. But, as reported by Alec MacGillis of ProPublica in 2017, look at the greed by which Kushner Companies would go after poor tenants who've years ago left Kushner properties, sending these former tenants broken-lease fee bills, armed with the assumption that many of them, as renters from years ago, have likely already lost their permission-to-vacate papers. Who gets rich? The Kushners' lawyers, who would continue to harass them until they get a lawyer of their own, a lawyer who'd tell the Kushners' lawyers that the burden of proof is on the Kushners, a lawyer who'd also tell them that they can actually get a copy from the city registry of that permission to vacate that they lost.
What's the moral in this story? To paraphrase, this episode is a portrayal of the art of fleecing the poor when you have all the power. It, in effect, becomes a social realist episode, and might even have the potential of soliciting socialist realist idealizations of humanity qua humanity that would finally wake up one day, full of all the bullshit dropped on them already, ready to get back at the greedy to grant their families their dues. Should a family that acts like a merciless Mafia gang ("Your mama died? Fuck you, pay me") die like a Mafia gang, too? We won't go that far. But it would be best for everyone to read that it was the effects of both the merciless regressive taxes and the deregulations that Louis XVI brought forth to the French people that ultimately led to the French Revolution. It would be good for us to be aware of what happened to people in history who got so royal that way.
7 (Animated short film)
The official trailer for Sitara: Let Girls Dream
Sitara: Let Girls Dream on Netflix. (Netflix premiere, 8 March 2020)
PAKISTANI-CANADIAN journalist/filmmaker/activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's new animated short, Sitara: Let Girls Dream, is also now on Netflix, and perfect timing! Now that people have been given the order to stay at home, even the order to stay within 200 meters of one's home or building or within one's village or town or city or province, certainly no one can dream of flying anywhere just yet, not even to drive anywhere near to get some fresh air. Whether you (now) love or hate the company you've been destined to keep in that same space you're not supposed to get out of for weeks, it'll be enough for you to understand how it would feel to be a Sitara.
"Through Water" by Låpsley - audio on YouTube
"Through Water". (Released 19 March 2020)
DOWN with any celebratory music that may be made to blare on speakers after the COVID-19 crisis passes and the economy reopens! Why? Because "Through Water" by British singer-songwriter-musician-producer Låpsley is the caveat we should all be listening to immediately after the current crisis.
You see, this crisis will be over by at best mid-May, at worst before the end of the year, but the oncoming water crisis, when it comes in its full global glory, will be harder for governments to address. That is why Låpsley's song, in the eponymous album that combines the worry and prayer of Afrobeats with the futurism of ambient, as if to echo the merging of this song's cries about oncoming impacts with its demands for legal and technological adaptations, strikes us as offering the perfect recipe for an aesthetic attitude towards meeting the geo-political tsunami and turning it into an opportunity.
One of the official trailers released by Lionsgate for Knives Out
Knives Out on DVD. (First released 7 September 2019, Toronto International Film Festival. First theatrical release 27 November 2019, US, Canada, France, UK, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines. First Internet release 7 February 2020. DVD and Blu-ray premiere 25 February, US)
ANOTHER film we'd be recommending a streaming of, via Amazon Prime? during your self-quarantine in this month of your very, very clear privilege or relative under-privilege . . . would be this film, about privilege and relative under-privilege. Considered as the Agatha Christie-esque whodunit of the year 2019, we missed it during its Metro Manila run last November-December. It was finally released on DVD this February 25; however, as it'd be a while before we can expect delivery of DVDs and such, it might please you to know that the film was actually already available for streaming even way before February.
The film was written and directed by auteur Rian Johnson, who has already proven his mettle in tackling the demands of neo-noir (Brick), comedy-drama (The Brothers Bloom), neo-Western crime drama (three episodes of Breaking Bad), crime comedy-drama (an episode of Terriers), the science fiction thriller film (Looper), and the space opera (Star Wars: The Last Jedi). It's this versatility that made it a non-surprise for us to see Johnson put his hands into a black-comedy mystery project that he wrote himself, Knives Out. He was already talking about it in 2010, and started writing the script for it right after the press tour for The Last Jedi.
And what is our reason for recommending the near-future purchase of a DVD or Blu-ray copy of the film so that you can have other people watch it with you? Or what is our reason for recommending a streaming of this in your self-quarantine in this month of your very, very clear privilege or relative under-privilege? Well, . . .
Have you ever gone through a whodunnit with a bunch of friends and acquaintances, even family members, who also happened to have been unable to keep themselves from commenting on the characters of the film as the story progressed? Well, if you have, then you know what whodunits ultimately subtly highlight, don't you, more than any other genre: they subtly put the spotlight on people's various social and political biases as viewers. Imagine having a democratic (or anti-democratic) socialist and then a neoliberal social conservative in the same room watching Knives Out, with both of them providing a running commentary as the narrative unfolds! It would definitely be fun to watch such a U.S. House of Representatives-like room getting divided up with the two's ideological bias-based conjectures!
It seems Johnson knows this axiom regarding whodunnits all too well, enough for him to have fun with our various positions, even with the ending.
Now, if we mentioned British Agatha Christie in the first paragraph, our apologies. Johnson's whodunit is set in aristocratic Massachusetts, and the social and political contexts that would be pivoting around his film's characters can only be painted with the American Republican vs. Democrat, even the moderate Democrat vs. progressive Democrat, sort of color spectrum. But, universally, it can actually still be read from within the international left-right political spectrum, and Filipinos can still definitely relate to the frustrations and aspirations as well as the sins and virtues of the characters portrayed here.
The plot of this story springs from the suicide or murder of a wealthy crime novelist (Christopher Plummer) and revolves around his constantly-antagonistic-towards-each-other obvious heirs and heiresses, but also around the author's relationship with his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), the daughter of an illegal immigrant, who may likely have been the author's murderer. The confirmation of Marta's murderous act must be done by private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who was anonymously hired by one of the heirs. Hmm. It seems Blanc has his work cut out for him and might soon corner Marta, as she has confessed, in a kind of liar paradox from an American-immigrant Pinocchio variant, that she cannot lie without puking. What do you think now?
Almost sounding like a guide to an oncoming year wherein we'll be asked to pick from among different versions of reality and the truth again, Alissa Wilkinson of progressivist Vox could be said to be spot-on when she objectively wrote in her review last November: "The twists aren’t aids to telling the story, they are the story. It’s the most finely tuned version of a murder mystery you could hope for, with joyous performances and style in spades. So if you don’t want a hint of a spoiler, stop here. If you don’t mind a bit of background, carry on."
The official trailer by Amazon Studios for Honey Boy
Honey Boy. (First released 25 January 2019, Sundance Film Festival. First limited theatrical release 8 November 2019, US. First wide release 27 November 2019, US. Latest theatrical release 27 February 2020, Australia, Italy; 6 March, Mexico. Upcoming theatrical release 16 April, Netherlands [TBD]. Philippine release, none scheduled)
ALSO check out on Amazon Prime or YouTube Movies this exquisitely-paced piece on a father-and-son tale great for family bonding during this stay-at-home month.
Here's a question. Is it possible to make a film with the Romantic or Expressionist drama of a music video, but with the truthfulness of an observational documentary? Hell, we don't know, except that that was probably just the kind of film that we saw when we watched Honey Boy, a film launched in the US November last year and in the UK in December, but only started showing in Australia from 27 February and in Mexico from 6 March. It was supposed to show in the Netherlands in April, but was likely postponed due to the social distancing rules announced late this month; the rules are good up to June 1, so we don't know when the film will start showing in Amsterdam. In the Philippines, meanwhile, it'll hopefully be shown later in the year, . . . maybe never. But here's what we know:
Shia LaBeouf hired music video and documentary filmmaker Alma Har'el, a friend of his, to shoot the actor's confessional semi-autobiographical story and screenplay about his father as a verbally and mentally and sometimes physically abusive dad. The result? Just like we said: an exquisitely-paced piece on a father-and-son tale perfect for family bonding during this stay-at-home month.
We can't imagine how painful it must have been, even while therapeutic, for LaBeouf to write and complete his fictionalized screenplay-memoir while in drug rehab. About it he said, "It is strange to fetishize your pain and make a product out of it and feel guilty about that. It felt very selfish. This whole thing felt very selfish. I never went into this thinking, 'Oh, I am going to fucking help people.' That wasn't my goal. I was falling apart." (Hollywood Reporter)
We certainly think it was courageous of him to convincingly play the part of his own father in the film, fictionalized as James Lort. He probably felt he just had to do this, too, as part of his therapy leading to total liberation from the pain. In the process of that, he produced an acting achievement that's just so "in there," maybe because he did not have to contrive anything for the purpose of wanting to help people, painting a portrait of James as both strict and loving in his own stupid way, to a son who would ride behind him on his motorbike, leaning forward on his back half-asleep, tired from work. Framing LaBeouf's achievement are the paralleling just-as-emotional performances around him by the two actors in the role of 12-year-old (Noah Jupe) and 22-year-old (Lucas Hedges) Otis Lort, along with the guest acting performance of FKA Twigs as the Lorts' prostitute neighbor in the motel they were living in.
The film records how Otis' substance abuse started at age 12 while under the guardianship of his father during his younger years as an actor. James Lort just got out of AA rehab, and although felt he had to make it up to his son by trying to be a father to him as the latter was starting his stint as a child actor for a TV series in Hollywood, he still couldn't escape the rage he acquired from a past trauma regarding his mom's death and his stint as a soldier and all those other misfortunes in his life, escaping from which trauma was made possible only by substances that would exacerbate his emotional instability. In the present, 22-year-old Otis is himself sent to rehab after figuring in another DUI incident. In the rehab center, Otis struggles with his own rage set by memories of his father's unforgivable abuse and of his parents' divorce.
We love how it ends, with an older James riding on the back of 22-year-old Otis' motorcycle, leaning forward on Otis' back, half-asleep, tired from life. Fade to shot of Otis riding alone, free from having been such an unforgiving son . . . at last.
The official trailer by Amazon Studios for Honey Boy
A Hidden Life. (First released 19 May 2019, Cannes Film Festival. First theatrical release 11 December 2019, France. Latest theatrical release schedules 19 March 2020, Russia [postponed]; 20 March, Mexico [stopped and postponed on March 22]; 27 March, Iceland [postponed]. Upcoming theatrical release 9 April, Italy [likely to be moved further or cancelled]; 23 April, Argentina. Philippine release, none scheduled)
IN this month of lockdowns, we'll learn both to obey the barangay tanods and the police and to pray hard. Here's a Terrence Malick film to stream with just that kind of perfect combination, being a treatment of the story of the beatified Franz Jägerstätter who was martyred by the Nazis of World War II.
Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl) is a farmer in the village of St. Radegund in Nazi-occupied Austria in the year 1939 when World War II in Europe erupts. In 1940 he is drafted to serve with the Wehrmacht and sent to the garrison at Enns for military training, away from his wife and their three daughters (and a daughter from a previous relationship, actually, who is not seen in the film) for several months. In 1941, with France secured after its June 1940 surrender to Germany, Jägerstätter is given a farmer's exemption to go back to his farm and family. Gradually between this time and early 1943 his family is despised by the other villagers because of his anti-Nazi beliefs that he doesn't hide even from officers and the Nazi-sympathizing mayor, and also because of a seeming paralleling exemption from the draft. In early 1943, however, he is finally called to active duty and reports to the Wehrmacht garrison in Enns. This quiets the villagers momentarily. But in Enns, because of a Catholic devotion Jägerstätter acquired from his deeply religious wife Franziska Schwaninger (played by Valerie Pachner), and also because of his conviction about the wrongness of the Nazi position, he refuses to take the required oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. For his refusal to take this oath he is taken to prison, but would be asked time and again to abandon his protest. His refusal of all offers would mean a no-clemency status and a wehrkraftzersetzung (undermining of military morale) indictment, punishable by death by guillotine at the Brandenburg-Görden Prison after a trial in Berlin. (It is not clear in the film whether, before Jägerstätter left for Enns, his wife Franziska was expressing an initial opposition to Jägerstätter's decision to heed the call to active duty or to his plan to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, a refusal that was certain to result in imprisonment.)
Jägerstätter's story is a story of total religiosity, the reason why he was beatified in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI. To others, his story is one of stupidity that, for the sheer display of textbook devotion, sacrificed what would have been his continuing presence as a father to his four growing daughters. To the Christian Nazis, meanwhile, who might have believed (just as many neo-Nazis today believe) that it's a Christian's duty to be on the crusade of ridding the world of Jews and non-Aryan abominations, Jägerstätter's stance was a wrongheaded and treasonous choice.
It would be pointless to debate with the believers of that last approach to the Christian text, an approach which by the way abounds today in the upswing of America's and Europe's Christian Right. But the question as to whether Jägerstätter's decision to leave his family and face death was indeed a stupid choice or not cannot be dismissed by a simple-headed "it's a no-brainer" approach, which was the very logic St. Radegund's inhabitants used in their impatience towards Jägerstätter's maverick posture. Maybe it's true that it would not have hurt Jägerstätter's Catholic religiosity if he had chosen to remain alive for his wife and daughters by taking that oath of allegiance, considering that his doing so was at the point of a gun, so to speak. "God doesn't care what you say, only what's in your heart," said his village's priest who accompanied Jägerstätter's wife to Berlin to see Jägerstätter before his execution, aiming to convince him to take an offer of stay of execution. . . . But let us also remember that the charge against Jägerstätter was wehrkraftzersetzung! We are not in any position to know if indeed his stance and sacrifice resulted in that aforementioned undermining of morale of even a very negligible percentage of the German army (and he was aware of that possibility, especially as the German leadership seemed itself to be taking that possibility seriously), and whether this unraveling of morale (if there indeed was) would have even just a tiny dot of an effect on the German resistance against the invading Allies (and he was aware of that possibility, considering that the German leadership's behavior and urgent treatment of the matter seemed to point to that effect's reality in 1943). If his and others' similar disposition did contribute to a real wehrkraftzersetzung, or had the potential of making the wehrkraftzersetzung a reality (counting his and others' effort as courageous effort), then we cannot simply conclude that Jägerstätter's decision was merely of "religious pride" and not also for a military and anti-Hitler patriotic value. And while others would label Jägerstätter's conscientious objection as a kind of pacifism, remember also that―despite his strong devotion―he did undergo training as a soldier. He attacked a man in the farm to stop him from continuing to insult his wife. If he was aware that his religious bearing would also serve the internal resistance against Hitler, then we cannot simply and so easily equate Jägerstätter's attitude with that of Desmond Doss' in the biographical film Hacksaw Ridge.
Nevertheless, like in his other films, director Malick (The Thin Red Line) would also like you to focus on the (philosophical) musings of his characters in this film, not solely on the "practical" or pragmatic pronouncements for rationalizing actions. Because of this, in the film we are made ready to accept Jägerstätter's religious wife's coming out to Berlin to give her husband her still pained, perhaps still reluctant, permission to sacrifice himself. It has been Malick's manner to decorate his films with epistolary, diaristic, or philosophical musings in voice-over from which he would dramatize the ongoing conflicts between reasoning and emotion in every character's head. This is the reason why, despite A Hidden Life's short of three-hour length, he still wouldn't be bothered with turning the film into your usual biographical film enumerating data points; here he assumes that you either already have some bit of backgrounder on the subject or have the capacity to google the (or more) details about Jägerstätter. He does not think it is his job to provide you with all of those details, because he's more interested in letting you, through his films, hear what he thinks were the words that were said by the characters in those movies, whether through words quietly said to themselves, in their minds, or loudly to others, during this or that hour. He is not interested in the usual backgrounders for more rounded portrayals; no scene here, for example, about Jägerstätter's joining the Third Order of Saint Francis, even though we saw him cleaning the floor of the village church and ringing its bell early in the film. It is as if, to Malick, those rounded backgrounders will only give you clichéd or simplistic reasons for understanding characters' having behaved this way or that or having made that choice or this. Malick is more interested in the language of thinking, as when Jägerstätter muses in a letter to his wife about the groupthink that's enveloped the world, softly asking, "what has happened to our country?"
Because of this mannerism, all of Malick's films' dialogues and monologues function like essay paragraphs. For instance, when Jägerstätter asks another worried male villager the question "do you believe in what we're fighting for?" . . . it comes out like a sentence from quiet pondering. When he talks with the village priest about his questions regarding the Nazi army's acts and the sympathizers' assertions, and especially when he starts talking about his thoughts to the bishop in Linz, and then when he tells his wife that he thinks the bishop is afraid he may be a Nazi spy, we see that all these words coming from him are a product of meditations and scruples. The same with the village-church painter's words in his drunken-like monologue. The same with the prison officer's planned words that asked Jägerstätter: "What good do you think your defiance is doing anyone? You think you'll change the course of things? You think the authorities are aware of you? That your protest will come to their attention? . . . What purpose will it serve?" All of those uttered words from all of those characters have the same introspective weight as Jägerstätter's questions and answers in voice-over that would adorn the movie from this point on, starting with: "Does it make a difference if this war is just or unjust? You shine their shoes. You fill their sandbags. Are you innocent?" Our favorite is this one, referencing Jägerstätter's wild personality prior to meeting his wife: "Once you never forgave anyone, judged people without mercy. Now you see your own weakness, so you can understand the weakness of others." And this one, from his religious wife: "Where are you? Why did you create us?"
Finally, remember that scene in The Thin Red Line where an American platoon found itself in the company of an indigenous tribe on the Pacific island and would have momentary respite from the fighting, the camera itself resting from the firepower scenes to be with leaves and the streams and the fauna? In A Hidden Life, that kind of contrast is bigger in favor of the rural scenes and activities of farming and farm life (some shots of which would have the effect of a long take, even though they aren't). Thus the film's title, which comes from a line in George Eliot's Middlemarch.
Of course that title also points to Jägerstätter's elusive reasons for doing what he did, there hiding behind the "obvious" moral ones provided by the conventional wisdom of the village at the time. It also points to his very name and sacrifice themselves, which had hitherto been long in hiding, because purposely hidden. After the war Jägerstätter was criticized by his countrymen as a deserter, and then for failing to prioritize family life. St. Radegund refused to put his name in its war memorial, and the pension for his wife was continually refused until 1950. His reputation began to surface only in 1964 after the mention of his name and act in Gordon Zahn's book In Solitary Witness.
Michael Moore defending Sanders: ‘If we vote on fear, we will lose to Donald Trump’ | MSNBC
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s calling out, on MSNBC on the eve of Super Tuesday, 1) the moderate Democrats’ sponsors’ Hail Mary pass to get the other moderate candidates' campaigns to coalesce around leading moderate Joe Biden's, and 2) on the moderates' “vote on fear” campaign to stop the rise of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. (3 March 2020, MSNBC)
THE COVID-19 pandemic has already clearly showed that although a high-standard universal public healthcare system is no guarantee at minimizing a pandemic's number of cases and deaths, just as Italy's (ranked second in the world by the WHO) could not, it is the setup that would eliminate all the poverty of facing such an enemy as a pandemic virus. And, interestingly, it so happens that that system is one of the biggest issues that has been debated repeatedly in all of the US Democratic Party debates before each state primary. And that is why this clip is just as significant as any other for this month.
First of all, what is the clip's rant all about? And what is the art issue that's also here?
You see, running a political campaign is both a science (as in the science of crowd manipulation) and an art (visual communication, etc.). The latest demonstration in art of how serious that science/art can be/go was probably in the film Brexit: The Uncivil War, which we reviewed in January last year. So, . . . if a political campaign is an art product, it would be safe to say that a criticism of one must be an art criticism of sorts.
It is no accident that we found just that sort of art criticism, and an insightful one at that, in a surrogate for Bernie Sanders' campaign (for the US Democratic primaries) who happens to be a documentary filmmaker. His name is Michael Moore, and he critiqued what recently happened in the campaign of candidate Joe Biden just before Super Tuesday. [Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay, while his other documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, won the Palme d'Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. He has also written for and starred in TV Nation, a satirical news-magazine TV series, and The Awful Truth, a satirical TV show.]
Moore questioned why candidates Pete Buttigieg, who won in the Iowa caucuses, and Amy Klobuchar, who was expected to win her home state of Minnesota's primary, couldn't wait for Super Tuesday to finish before throwing in the towel and endorsing Joe Biden. MSNBC host Ari Melber, on whose show Moore went on, asked Moore if he was suggesting anything sinister around the posthaste coalescing of the three. Moore said he was not, but we know of course that Sanders had been pointing to the presence of at least 60 billionaires supporting the candidacy of Biden and Buttigieg, as against his mainly-grassroots support; marry that oft-repeated message with Moore's question, and you'll have Moore definitely implying that a group of powerful people had asked Buttigieg and Klobuchar to withdraw and endorse Biden so that their share of the moderates' votes could go to Biden, the leading moderate, and thus enable him to overtake Sanders.
That pre-Super Tuesday coalescing would have been understandable as just politics (just how politics is or goes), except that behind it is what Moore refers to as the strengthening "vote on fear" campaign against Sanders' progressivist democratic socialist identity, which incidentally echoes the Republican Party's own anti-socialist fear-mongering that have been bandied about against Sanders and such Democrats as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar (both Sanders endorsers). Buttigieg claims to be a progressive, as does Tulsi Gabbard, but the only other remaining progressivist in the contest during that time who has also remained totally progressivist without surrendering to any request for "moderation" on some issues is Elizabeth Warren. Warren has talked a lot about dividing up the monopolies of Silicon Valley, whom she has implied are supporters of moderate Democratic candidates along with the pharmaceutical companies worried about Sanders' and Warren's universal health care programs.
Moore's "vote on fear" view displayed in the video above is not uniquely or exclusively his. Justice Democrats co-founder Kyle Kulinski, in his March 14 show, talked about a study that found a seeming conspiracy playing out on the Democrat-leaning networks CNN and MSNBC, a conspiracy to paint Sanders more negatively than Biden after Sanders' early surge, purportedly with the aim of paving the way for Biden's image finally winning the voters' hearts. A rich art collective, eh? You could be certain that the progressive media, The Young Turks among them, would have sounded off similar takes on the happening.
Here's why we think this art criticism of the moderate Democrats' clever art intervention can get more serious than simply Sanders' defeat in the primaries. By this action, what threatens the Democratic Party now is a possible, definitive realization by the democratic socialists and other progressives within the party that the corporate donors of the party will always be coalescing, tomorrow as much as today, to make sure that no democratic socialist or progressive would ever become the party's presidential nominee. Joe Biden's campaign had even at one point been pushing the message that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat, which was almost a warning to other independents caucusing with the Democratic Party. When Biden stated that he should be the nominee because of his being the real Democrat, he was practically saying, "you independents, especially you democratic socialists, won't ever be accepted in the Democratic Party. Not really."
If this kind of "realization" of the left wing of the Democratic Party happens at all, we may see an evolution in American politics' art history. The democratic socialists may start to think that maybe they've been putting themselves in a now-clearly-hostile alliance, and maybe it is now the time to remove themselves from this party's gallery, it having demonstrated that it won't give progressives any chance to win from within, ever. The progressives might then start to entertain the idea of putting up their own art happening, wherein they would start talks with the Green Party, the Freedom Socialist Party, the Justice Party, Socialist Party USA, and Socialist Alternative, towards the formation of a millennial- and left-populist-supported third force that would aim to destroy in the 2022 and 2024 elections the long-standing problematic duopoly of eternally big business-backed US politics. From this new position, with FDR and LBJ as their possible mascots, they may start painting the Democratic Party as just another version of the Republican Party that would also demagogue its way into elected offices without delivering on the people's most important demands after winning.
After all, the Democrats do have their share of suspect people and lies. Remember that among its recent donors were the likes of Charles Kushner and Harvey Weinstein, and among its cunning politicians the likes of Joe Manchin, alleged (in the documentary film Knock Down The House) as someone on the payroll of coal mines.
And why might the democratic socialists of America march on this way (or in another way)? Well, they might decide that they definitely should, if only because, as we said above, the COVID-19 pandemic has already clearly showed that although a high-standard universal public healthcare system is no guarantee at minimizing a pandemic's number of cases and deaths, just as Italy's (ranked second in the world by the WHO) could not, it is the setup of a universal healthcare system that would eliminate all the poverty of facing such an enemy as a pandemic virus, the poverty that it's now clear as day is overwhelmingly there when your sole defense weapon is a largely private sector-operated (or cost-efficiency- and profit-motivated) healthcare system like that prevalent in the United States. [d]
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