All the President’s Men

1976 classic. Oscar winner, great dramatisation of the best journalistic adventure of the 20th century.

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein respectively, two young and hungry Washington Post reporters who chased the Watergate story before anyone was interested.

From odd things like the burglars of the Democratic National Committee head quarters at the Watergate building having their own lawyers present at their court arraignment the next day without one of them making so much as a phone call, to employees of the Committee to Re-elect the President (Nixon) being suspiciously coy and afraid, the story was pulled out by it’s toes and exposed.

This is a great film to watch now because in the forty years since the depicted events the entire thing has been warped and twisted. It might be news to some that the film makes no mention of a secret taping system at the White House. That is something that dominates the story now, in part due to films like Frost Nixon.Before the tapes gave the wider media something to focus on it was up to Woodward and Bernstein to pursue the story past dead ends and loops. Most people didn’t want to talk about it.

Someone who did want to talk was Woodward’s shadowy source Deep Throat, who in 2005 was revealed to be Mark Felt the assistant director of the FBI. He guided the young reporters to the real story, that Watergate was a blunder by a few not-so-smart guys — but it revealed a larger ugliness. A vast intelligence gathering operation engulfing the entire government intelligence apparatus.

Later developments slotted into the picture and gave depth to the claim. A secret taping system at the Whitehouse, reflecting the paranoia and inward approach of the Nixon Administration (and earlier administrations). The disgusting activity of Henry Kissenger, who as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, chaired the committee of forty which controlled covert activity. He colluded with the army in Chile to violently overthrow the Allande Socialist government and impose General Pinochet and years of dissapearances and repression. He cooperated with the Indonesions in their violdent atrocities committed against the people of East Timor. And under his policies vile dictators around the world were supported for being anti-communist.

This film is a sober reminder to keep ones attention on the activities of powerful people, and that it is possible to fight back. Many people have lamented the death of journalism with the decline of print media, and transmutation of broadcast media into black holes of souless entertainment. But journalism has not died, it has adapted. I am a blogger, at times my work is journalistic enough to warrant the badge. I am one of millions. We are decentralised, in many contries, and can consume and disemminate information at such high speed that scoop has become a forgotten term.

There is so much surveillance in the world today. Naked pictures of us swirl around the web until long after we are dead, our every move, every purchase, every swipe on our phones is recorded and stored. But that’s not just the case for us, it is everyone. You can turn your cameras on governents and subject them to the same surveillance. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear? Something tells me the Government is very fearful.

See the film if you haven’t yet, it is great. Redford reminds me so much of Brad Pitt it is quite remarkable. Hal Holbrooke is Deep Throat, which is great to see when all you’ve seen of Hal is the benign and dottery old men he plays in Lincolnand Into the Wild.His thin face is sinister in the shadows, and his eyes are icy. It’s an excellent performance.

If I had to give stars I would give five.

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Lame Duck’s Quacking

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/obama-iowa-2016-sanders-off-message-218166

President Obama has leaned into the democratic nomination contest for president by praising Hillary Clinton and calling Senator Bernie Sanders a “long-shot”.

Not quite as long a shot as Obama getting anything substantial done in his last twelve months in office, so it could just be spite. He may feel threatened by the candidate with the strongest policy platform, given his own temerity in the White House.

Whatever his motivations the act of speaking on an election he cannot be involved in beyond voting as a regular citizen, is classless. George W. Bush stayed out of the 2008 election, and has stood clear of commenting on Obama ever since leaving the Oval Office. He doesn’t believe it’s helpful to have an ex-president getting stuck into politics, and did not appreciate Jimmy Carter criticising him during the Iraq War.

Once a president reaches their last year in the job they become a lame duck, meaning that their limited time constricts their ability to make promises. Even executive orders are affected because the next president can sign their repeal from the moment they take office. Foreign leaders stop taking them seriously, and have less reason to form a relationship with the administration that is busy updating resumes.

Of course, all this quacking could be because Obama fears for the future of his legacy if a Republican gets in and tears it up. He doesn’t want them to line his ducks against the wall and pick them off with the high powered firearm they are licensed to carry. A legitimate fear, but I would refer him to a Senator from Illinois who in 2008 convinced a nation to embrace the audacity of hope. Drink your own cool-aid Mr President, and stop with the quacking.

Touring the Kevin Smith filmography

Kevin Smith is the filmmaker and podcaster behind Clerks, Zack and Miri make a Porno, and Red State.

Silent Bob. If you don’t know him by that then chances are you won’t recognise him at all. He is a master of filth, and sticks to making films for himself, rather than an audience. He has not been significantly commercially successful in his career beyond being successful enough to keep making movies.

Jay and Silent Bob.

I hadn’t seen any of his flicks aside from Zack and Miri make a Porno. After that film Smith feared he had killed Seth Rogan’s career, and gave up making movies a few years later. He returned in 2014 with the panned Canadian horror film Tusk. The film flopped but reignited his desire to make movies, and take no notice of critics. That allowed him to make a horror film about a psychopath who kidnaps people and surgically turns them into walruses. Ku ku kachoo! (Trailer below)

I got interested in his work again after happening across his latest Fatman on Batman podcast on YouTube. It was a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it was fantastic. So entertaining. I post the link below if you want to check it out.

Smith is a prolific podcaster, and a big talker in general. He often does on-stage q&a sessions which are more like impromptu stand up comedy gigs. He tells wildly funny stories.

After watching a few I got curious to see his filmography, and went right to the beginning with Clerks. Made in 1994 for $27k worth of credit card debt, Clerks went to the Sundance Film Festival back when it was possible to submit an indie flick with a decent shot at being accepted, and make a break into the film industry. Now it is much too saturated. Films with outstanding production value get skipped over so that festivals can screen the non-Hollywood excursions of Hollywood actors.
The great unknown films must break in another way, and many are distributed independently online.

So I watched Clerks. Loved it. I followed it with Clerks 2, and then 1995’s Mallrats. These are the hilarious screwball comedies, where Jay and Silent Bob feature as supporting characters that rightly became cult heroes. The cinematic style is basic (Clerks was shot on grainy black and white 16mm film and the camera was pretty much static the whole time), but the writing is brilliant. Smith said in an interview that the difference between now and then is he got better as a filmmaker, and the style improved hugely, but the content got weaker. Whether the last part is true or not I cannot say, but the first part certainly is.

I went from Mallrats to Smith’s 2011 horror Red State,which is a genre mash-up about an evangelical Christian family modelled on the Westboro Baptist Church, but with murder and an arsenal of automatic weapons thrown in. Jumping fifteen years draws out the contrast between the sides of Smith’s career. Plus I don’t like Ben Affleck and I would have had to endure more of him in Smith’s films Chasing Amy, and Dogma. I’ll get to them eventually.

Red State is a brilliant twist in the road. There are some stellar performances from the cast, which features John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, and Michael Angarano. In particular the first scene Michael Parks as Pastor Cooper is chilling. He delivers a crazed sermon about the evils of homosexuality and the sin of America in the family church, while a gay man they’ve captured is gagged and strapped to the large cross before the altar. The sermon continues while the older adults smile and nod in agreement, and the little children watch on enraptured. It’s chilling. The whole film is worth it for that one scene. The trailer is below.

This doesn’t explain my sudden rush of Smith fever. The reason is simple. He’s the most encouraging person in the film business. He stepped back into filmmaking having decided to ignore the critics and any naysayer from then on and forever, and every chance he gets he encourages people to explore their creativity. No one else has your particular creative insight so it is the only valuable thing that cannot be matched by anyone else. Reinforcing the message is his confession that he is not at all naturally talented, that there are many people considerably more skilled than he is, yet he could still make the art that matters to him. So we all can do it too. Cast your self expression into the world, to use Smith’s language; on the world’s face, neck, and chest.

The following clip was taken from YouTube, during one of Kevin’s q&a nights he was talking about the death of his father. The mood shifted for a few minutes as the crowd listened to an extremely poignant rousing call for people to live their dreams. It has some profanity, but that’s mild compared to the story about anal fissures that followed. Please watch it.

If you are still reading this then maybe you’ve been fondled by the devil of inspiration like I have. I hope so. I am going to give filmmaking another shot, on my own terms this time. Where I am right now is pretty good, a solid job and the beginnings of an independent life, but I am not living my dream. I know exactly what I’ve got to do and if Kevin Smith knew me at all I am sure he would have my back. Sweet encouragement, that is what this world needs more of, and art that’s not pre-calibrated to a particular audience but exists in its own right, for the artist first. Anyone can find it, reject it or embrace it. That freedom is what makes it worth doing.

Goodbye David Bowie

I had something else to write last night, but when I learned the news I just couldn’t do it. David Bowie dying seems so strange. He was a figment of pure fantasy, something other, something more than human; if he was human at all. If he could die then everything is truly on the table.

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I don’t want to babble out a eulogy that will just join the thousands being ejaculated onto the internet by fans. Those that knew him well write more tenderly than I can manage, and in pushing vanity by scribbling thoughts of grief I may fall into the trap I have already seen collect others. That is the tribute being more about the writer than the subject. Kanye West has said that Bowie was one of his biggest influences. Instead of nesting like a parasite in the legacy of the truly great — like Bowie’s spirit should be pleased that he affected the mind of the omnipotent West — Kanye should look up the word iconoclasm and apply it to himself.

Bowie created characters that wowed, then slew them with ruthless efficiency. I was glad to see an exhibition of his costumes, memorabilia, and music at the Melbourne art gallery last year, and it was fascinating to track the progression of his art. Bowie as artist is how I prefer to define him. The legendary stage performances of the 1970s and 1980s were explorations of isolation, identity, paranoia, passion, the themes which never really changed, but were constantly looked at from another angle; through another prism. He largely left live performance in the 1990s and 2000s, saying in an interview that he didn’t really like it. It was always an exploration, a field he tended and harvested until it was barren and he moved on. Bowie the stage performer was just another character to kill.

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There had been rumours over the last 18 months that Bowie was not well, and he had been reclusive in the last decade. Every now and then he would flash out from the shadows, like he did in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige in 2006, or in music in 2013, and just a few days ago with Blackstar, his final album. He had been working hard on it while he had cancer, and his producer said it was his final gift to mark the end of his life. A true artist, he turned his final months into another exploration of the ultimate isolation.

I will take some time to listen to the album and quietly ponder the life of David Bowie. With so many people saying they love him very much, I’m sure he knows. But now his circuits dead, there’s something wrong. This week life itself is blue, and there’s nothing we can do.