Movies for Your Revolutionary Spirit

http://billsmovieemporium.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/560norma-rae.jpg
 
9 to 5

The subtitle might as well be Dictatorship of the (Pink-Collar) Proletariat.  Three secretaries kidnap their misogynist asshole of a boss, trap him in his own mansion, and run the business like it was theirs–or everybody’s.  Child care, flex time, better pay, and the actual workers–the women–running the show.  It’s a workplace in transition to workers’ democracy, and it’s the place I’d rather be a secretary at.  Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda can be my politburo any day. 

Chop Shop

In Queens’ Iron Triangle lives Alejandro, a young street kid hustling in the sprawl of the auto-parts houses and mechanics among which he lives. What the classical Marxist might call the “lumpenproletariat” we’re more tempted to call the new working class—maybe immigrant, maybe first generation, but nonetheless a kid who’s struggling to survive in the world that neoliberalism creates in our own backyards.  Selling appropriated hub caps and headlights taken from the cars that invade the neighborhood for baseball games at Shea Stadium, Alejandro’s got two goals: support his sister and buy a taco truck.  The survival strategies of the urban underclass (theft, sex work) might tempt the liberals in the crowd to boo hoo, go home, and join a fiery e-mail campaign to save our youth with the state’s intervention, or mistrust every little brown kid they see when they cruise “that side of town.”  We’re inspired to get in the street, fight harder, and take power for the people.  It’s these kids that we’re fighting for and, we hope, with.  

Cradle Will Rock

The film is based on the true story of Orson Wells’ attempt to produce the musical, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein, under the Federal Theater program.  The musical, about union struggles and poverty during the thirties, was never produced.  Director / Screenwriter Tim Robbins weaves together many events of the 1930s: Diego Rivera’s mural in the Rockefeller foyer featuring the face of Lenin, steel strikes, the rise of fascism in Italy- – with fun music and comedy.  Sure, it’s not that inspiring that the WPA theater ended, and you definitely won’t be uplifted by the scenes of the hearings from HUAC, but what does inspire are the politics of the art that people were creating for the public good and with public money.  The film questions the role that art could and should play in society.  I mean, wouldn’t you want your child to see the musical Revolt of the Beavers?

Cradle Will Rock

http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/filmnotes/images/cradle14c.jpgThe film is based on the true story of Orson Wells’ attempt to produce the musical, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein, under the Federal Theater program.  The musical, about union struggles and poverty during the thirties, was never produced.  Director / Screenwriter Tim Robbins weaves together many events of the 1930s: Diego Rivera’s mural in the Rockefeller foyer featuring the face of Lenin, steel strikes, the rise of fascism in Italy- – with fun music and comedy.  Sure, it’s not that inspiring that the WPA theater ended, and you definitely won’t be uplifted by the scenes of the hearings from HUAC, but what does inspire are the politics of the art that people were creating for the public good and with public money.  The film questions the role that art could and should play in society.  I mean, wouldn’t you want your child to see the musical Revolt of the Beavers?

Fried Green Tomatoes

The Whistle Stop Café  in Whistle Stop, Alabama has two famous dishes: fried green tomatoes and sexist pig barbecue.  This is a movie about two women connecting despite patriarchy, loving and supporting one another in hard times during the Great Depression in the South, and about the telling of the story between two new friends.  It’s a movie about intimacy—queer, intergenerational, interracial, and across genders and classes.  The ugliness of domestic violence and white supremacy are presented, challenged, and beaten by the women at the center of it all, making a life for themselves cooking the food they know how, and in a twist, the food they need to cook to survive.

The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington is pretty exciting to watch for most people but even more so when he plays Melvin Tolson, a possible communist (we know one when we see one!) debate teacher who’s on the down low organizing Texas sharecroppers, black and white.  Based on a true story, the film is a relief from the common Hollywood narrative of the white teacher who saves poor savage students of color.  Along those same lines, a little bird told me you should also see To Sir With Love.  In Great Debaters, a debate team from an all black college becomes the first to debate students at Wiley College during Jim Crow segregation.  While they are at it, they’ll debate great political themes that will hold your interest. 

Norma Rae

In the heat of the summer in some unknown Southern mill town, an organizer from up North arrives with a mission to put a union in the town’s mill.  In the face of all the obstacles that divide the workers of the world– patriarchy, white supremacy, management–a young, white woman stands on up: Norma Rae.  If she’s got the time, you’ve got the time, too.  Bound by the world she’s set out to change, it’s a humid portrait of how hard work is, how hard life is, and how hard the struggle of winning is.  And how human.  Overcoming her supervisors’ attempt to buy her out, Norma is the center around which the struggle thrives.  It’s her house where the workers of the mill, scandalously integrated, start speaking out.  It’s her fury that inspires. Norma’ll be your new summer crush, and your new fire to be a rebel with a cause.

Offside

The movie takes place during the Iran-Bahrain game in 2006 with the winner going to the world cup.  In Iran, women are not allowed into the soccer stadium (sports is a man’s world, of course), but at every game many women dress as men and sneak in anyway.  If they are caught, then they go to the vice squad, and repeat offenders get sent to prison.

The film is a full frontal assault on the absurdity of patriarchal practice in Iran, and it’s done from a nationalist prospective too.  These women aren’t anti-Iranian, and neither is the filmmaker.  The women want to be equal participants in the celebration of their national pride.  There’s also interesting perspective on gender identity as well. One of the women is coded (at least to this western film watcher) as lesbian. She wants to join the army, and is tough as nails.  There are also some contradictions raised around city vs. countryside, and subtle class differences.

The movie was set to be released one month before Iran went to the world cup. (I’m not giving away the ending-you all know Iran was in the world cup in 2006 anyway, right?). It was banned.  The director released it on DVD all over the country, and it quickly became one of the most watched movies in over 15 years.  After the movie, women have begun to protest in front of soccer stadiums with white scarves.  They are called the “white scarf girls” or the “offside girls” and the largest gathering was several thousand strong.  The women set up TV screens outside the stadium where they watch the game, chant, and keep a subversive presence at the games.  An underground petition has been generated to FIFA to allow women to go to games or penalize Iran.  So far 140,000 Iranians have signed the petition because of this movie.  The Iranian military has started increased patrols outside of major games and have been allowing foreign women into games when Iran is playing another country. 

Quinceañera

Kicked out of the house because she’s pregnant, soon-to-be-fifteen Magdalena goes to live with her uncle in Echo Park, where her fine cousin Carlos has been exiled, too, for being gay.  Forging a life together with their neighborhood celebrity uncle, famous for his snack cart, the trio come up against the whitewashing monster: gentrification.  When a white gay couple buys the house that the three live in the back of, things are good enough until Carlos gets thoroughly objectified, seduced, and then kicked out by the bourgeois pair—along with Uncle Tomas and Magdalena.  The type of movie that can charm us with its truth about race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and our communities, Quinceañera is really about displacement.  Cultural are norms displaced in a world in which boundaries about sex—having it at all, and who you’re having it with—are being dissolved and rebuilt all at once.  Working people and people of color being displaced from their homes.  Youth are forcibly displaced from themselves and their homes.  It’s sweet, bitter—not bittersweet—and it’s really fucking real.  

Shrek 1

Back in the heyday of Pixar, before they were bought out by Disney, there was Shrek the First.  All of you revolutionary adults out there need to understand that revolutionaries should not only watch documentaries or historical films; you need to throw in a cartoon every once in awhile, too. It helps expand the imagination and bring out the visionary in you.  Plus, this is one you can share with your red diaper kid.  In Shrek, all the “undesirable” fairytale creatures are getting kicked out of the pristinely kept land of Duloc, complete with their own version of Starbucks on every corner.  Sound familiar? The ruler of the land, Lord Farquaad has even higher aspirations to become king.  The only way that Shrek an ogre can keep his swamp is to find princess Fiona for Lord Farquaad to marry.  Hmmmm, sounds like that foggy city on the bay to me. 

The Visitor

They say that every story is either about a person going on a journey or a stranger coming to town. Taken loosely, I’ve yet to find a book or movie that doesn’t adhere to this rule. The best stories combine both.  The Visitor is one of those films. In the beginning of the film, we meet Walter, a lonely borderline misanthrope sleepwalking through his job as a college professor. Through an odd turn of events, he meets Tarek, an immigrant from Syria, and his girlfriend Zainab, from Senegal. Tarek starts teaching Walter to play the djembe before he gets swept up by ICE and detained. That’s when we see Walter’s transformation into a real human being who cares about the new people in his life and the injustices that assault them in a world far less privileged than his. His moment of realization when he shouts, “It’s not fair!” at the detention center is both painful and awkward, like watching a child’s incredulous tantrum. This is a tender, heartbreaking, and very real film. It will piss you off, make you laugh, make you cry, and make you care about all of the characters who start off as strangers in someone else’s town and embark on their own journeys together.

Waltz with Bashir

It’s an Israeli animated film by Ari Folman. It’s an “absurdity of war” movie like Apocalypse Now or Platoon, but 1) it’s animated and 2) it’s true.  It’s based on Ari Folman’s time as a soldier during the sabra and shatila massacres in the Lebanon war of 1982.  In case you were wondering about the politics, Ari Folman is a peacenik and a socialist, and the politics of the film are both subtle and powerful.  Of course the film has been denounced by right-wing Zionists; all the more reason that you should see it.  It’s both humanist and haunting. 

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