It was an incredibly busy and rewarding time last week at Netroots Nation in Detroit. Sifting mentally through the countless conversations, workshops, speeches, text messages, Tweets, business cards and campaign “swag” I’ve accumulated, I struggled to find a common thread.
Then I visited the Detroit Industry Murals — one of Diego Rivera’s most famous works of art. Rivera’s amazing fresco murals reflect ideas of duality: contrasting managers and workers, mechanized industry and the natural world, and the positive and destructive potential of science and technology. Rivera beautifully illustrated these concepts between 1932 and 1933 by painting images of biochemical weapons and passenger planes, female fertility figures with South and North American characteristics, doves and hawks, orderly production lines and fiery furnaces.
Then, it clicked. For me, Netroots Nation 2014 has been about the duality of art and war.
Talk about a big tent: Carolyn Finney’s new book looks at some important but unexplored terrain in our national parks and conservation movements – the relative absence of African Americans. Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans draws upon the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, pop culture and the environmental justice movement to pose some provocative questions about the racialization of nature.
Was it a coincidence that Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964 – the same year as the signing of the Civil Rights Act? Why have environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Audubon Society remained overwhelmingly white in their memberships? How are African Americans changing the dynamics of environmental preservation?
Finney, an assistant professor with U.C. Berkeley’s Environmental Science Department, will discuss her book and its findings on Tuesday, July 22, 7 p.m., at a signing at Eso Won Books,
If you are even a semi-serious lover of film, then you probably have seen at least a few of Marlon Brando’s indelible performances in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, to name only a few. You probably also are familiar with Brando’s legendary appetites for women and food, the tragic arc of his family life and perhaps his controversial political stands.
What you likely don’t know – few do — is that the man widely regarded to be the greatest American actor of the 20th century had a brilliant, restless mind to go with his innate talent and stunning looks. No, Brando was not merely a hunk with a mysterious intuitive genius — he was a student of history and the human condition who read voraciously and wrote some of the most famous lines from his epic performances.
One hundred twenty truck drivers who haul freight to and from the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike Monday against the three companies they work for. The work stoppage, which has no announced end date, was called to protest alleged retaliation by Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation, as well as the drivers’ long hours and low wages. Perhaps more important, the strikers are motivated by their determination to end the companies’ practice of classifying drivers as “independent contractors” – a status that allows the firms to treat their workers as second-class citizens and to avoid contributing payroll taxes to the state and federal governments.
On Wednesday rock-and-protest icon Tom Morello showed up on Terminal Island to support the strikers. The Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Watchman singer strummed a guitar labeled “Black Spartacus”
Film director Randall Miller (Bottle Shock), along with Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish, the producers of the ill-fated Gregg Allman biopic, Midnight Rider, have been indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass, the Hollywood Reporter and other sources reported Thursday morning. The charges were filed in a superior court in the state of Georgia, where a February 20 accident killed camera assistant Sarah Jones.
The 27-year-old Jones’ death occurred when a freight train unexpectedly rolled through a scene being staged on railroad tracks in the small town of Doctortown Landing. Her death, which became a cause celebre among Hollywood safety activists, threw a spotlight on the dangers faced by below-the-line crew members as production companies large and small have taken shortcuts to keep down costs. With producers – particularly those involved in reality TV shows –increasingly adopting an accidents-will-happen attitude toward the safety of their crews,
“The enemy of the actor is the mind,” Marlon Brando once wrote in notes he compiled for a 2001 series of acting seminars that he planned to film and distribute under the title, “Lying for a Living.”
Brando, of course, meant that in performance, acting is an emotional rather than intellectual activity. But according to Brando’s Smile: His Life, Thought, and Work, Susan Mizruchi’s engaging, insightful and rigorously researched new biography of the man universally acclaimed as the 20th century’s greatest actor, understanding the often antagonistic dichotomy between a capacious intellect and a vast, intuitive talent goes a long way to cracking the enduring enigma that is Marlon Brando.
“He modeled,” Mizruchi tells Capital & Main, “a kind of social activism – the idea that actors were obligated in some sense to use their fame to help others.”
By the late ’60s, however, the actor’s reputation was in decline.
Trouble Down the Road
At the flat top grill, he was all business,
flung raw eggs dead center into the corned beef
hash like a strapping southpaw.
In the alley, with me, he was all ideas.
Said he’d be leaving soon, had a shot back east—
a tryout for the big leagues.
Said his sister would loan him a Buick convertible,
and he’d fill it with malt beer and tuna.
All he needed was a woman to hold
his cat while he drove.
I like animals, I told him. Then I dropped
my cigarette into the dusty clay,
ground it out, slow,
felt the road under my foot.
Source: Luvina, Issue 57 (December 2009).
Cece Peri’s poems have appeared in journals and magazines, including Luvina: Writers of Los Angeles Issue (University of Guadalajara),
Bill Moyers, who turned 80 on Thursday, has been one of the most prolific and influential figures in American journalism. Not content just to diagnose and document corporate and political malpractice, Moyers has regularly taken his cameras and microphones to cities and towns where unions, community organizations, environmental groups, tenants rights activists and others were waging grassroots campaigns for change. Moyers has given them a voice. He has used TV as a tool to expose political and corporate wrongdoing and to tell stories about ordinary people working together for justice.
He has introduced America to great thinkers, activists and everyday heroes typically ignored by mainstream media. He has produced dozens of hard-hitting investigative documentaries uncovering corporate abuse of workers and consumers, the corrupting influence of money in politics, the dangers of the Religious Right, conservatives’ attacks on scientists over global warming and many other topics. A gifted storyteller, Moyers’ TV shows, speeches and magazine articles have roared with a combination of outrage and decency,
Read the Writing
Read the writing on the cinder block wall:
Joker, Jasper, Dopey, Termite, Tokes, Crow.
It’s not an “is it art?” debate, at all;
these are the monochromatic zip codes
of my gangster, tattooed, sharp-creased cousins.
Scribbled in black on a bus bench, strangled
names crossed out, over names crossed out again,
red under yellow under green tangled
like wire. Memo, Cowboy, Flyboy, Topper.
Neil Armstrong planted a flag on the moon;
it can’t be seen from their clearly marked world
where, if you don’t live there, you better run.
Tight fence of paint, like barbed wire that’s hidden.
Trespassed borders end lives, I’m not kidding.
Source: My Name on Top of Yours (2013),
A revamped Hollywood Film Festival aims to bring cinema and activism together in L.A.
Activists, filmmakers and audiences alike have a reason to be excited about the 2014 Hollywood Film Festival that unspools this October. Under new management, the festival, which was founded in 1997, is shifting its focus to the socially engaged side of cinema and turning the spotlight on films with a message.
Jon Fitzgerald, who first managed the Hollywood Film Festival in 2013 and has experience putting on similar festivals around the globe, will return as the event’s organizer. This year, however, a separate organization he heads, CineCause, has acquired the festival and plans to give it a decidedly different tone.
Speaking to Capital and Main by phone from a documentary shoot in Florida, Fitzgerald said CineCause plans to remake the festival into a showcase for filmmakers who want to make a change.
In the most recent Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, the protagonist — a struggling Greenwich Village folksinger in 1961 — is based, very loosely, on Dave Van Ronk, a little-known (outside folk music circles) but influential folk-singer who helped define the folk music revival of the late fifties, and mentored the young Bob Dylan and others during the early 1960s when what Van Ronk called the “great folk scare” took off. To understand the atmosphere of that music scene, the Coens relied on Van Ronk’s memoir (coauthored with Elijah Wald), The Mayor of McDougall Street. Van Ronk recounts his serious involvement with various left-wing factions of the period.
Little of Inside Llewyn Davis refers to the political atmosphere that permeated the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. The film is filled with despair and loneliness, but the folk music world of that period was filled with hope and engagement.
This week a DVD of The Abbott and Costello Show‘s 1953-54 season was released amid nostalgic fanfare. The old comedy team is mostly remembered today because of its immortal “Who’s on First” baseball routine – an almost Beckettian example of miscommunication that’s been enshrined in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame. However, the two Jersey boys also enjoy an afterlife in conservative circles through a very similar sketch, “The Loafers Union,” in which straight man Bud Abbott proudly announces to sidekick Lou Costello that he has landed a “loafing” job at a bakery. From this spare description, fans of “Who’s on First” can pretty much guess the kind of linguistic linguine the two former Vaudevillians will make of this double entendre:
Abbott: I got a job at a bakery.
Costello: Good! What’re you doing there?
People who hate government get a lot of aid and comfort from America’s news media, which tend to give big business a party pass when it comes to incompetence and corruption. While any government agency – from Congress to your local school board – is fair game for attacks, business institutions usually come under an investigative spotlight only if the news story has already generated a lot of public heat.
For example, when the government released its report on Shell’s behavior in the Arctic, newspapers put it among the top news stories. Similarly, when the City of Los Angeles brought suits against a couple of the nation’s biggest banks for systematic lending abuses, this made the front section, although not the front page. Likewise, when an oil company paid $5.15 billion to clean up environmental contamination, it was big news.
For the not-so-big stories about corporate screw-ups,
What you are about to read is about the FCC and “net neutrality.” But not really.
As you probably know, the Federal Communications Commission is in the process of revising its rules and regulations for the Internet. It’s tried twice before and both times the telecommunications industry has (successfully) gone to court to get the rules tossed out.
One of the hottest topics is net neutrality – the idea that your Internet service provider has to treat equally whatever content is flowing through its tubes. This is important, because without net neutrality your ISP could strike separate deals with different content providers, allowing, say, Hulu to flow freely, but letting Netflix drip through at a slower pace. Or loading the Drudge Report quickly, but throttling Left Business Observer.
A secondary effect of ending net neutrality concerns what you pay to Time Warner (or AT&T or Verizon or Comcast) —
The 1970s are often regarded as a time of false promise (the great broom of Watergate merely clearing the way for Ronald Reagan) or hideous excess (leisure suits, disco, Chrysler LeBarons). Sports writer Dan Epstein sees the Bicentennial decade differently, however. To the author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass, they were nothing less than the end of professional baseball’s innocence. Epstein puts his finger on one year in particular as the turning point for both America’s Pastime and America itself. His new book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76, conjures a time and a place where greed, injustice and American piety collided.
Against the backdrop of a newly resurgent New York Yankees team and the juggernaut known as the Big Red Machine, Epstein examines how an increasingly militant baseball players union fought for free agency – a fight that would lead to far-reaching consequences for the game.
After more than a month of unsuccessful attempts to reach Lionsgate Entertainment CEO Jon Feltheimer through letters and phone calls, it was time to pay him a visit. Rank-and-file musicians wanted to discuss Lionsgate’s practice of offshoring its musical scoring to distant countries – something that limits local musicians’ ability to earn a living and deprives our communities of tax revenue.
On Tuesday union members and supporters of the American Federation of Musicians’ Listen Up! campaign — including professional musicians, labor allies, faith and community leaders — gathered in Santa Monica’s Stewart Street Park for a rally. The spirited event included AFM Local 47’s executive board and a supportive crowd of musicians representing members from across our union. We were joined in song by our fellow AFM members and Grammy nominees Lisa Haley and the Zydakats. We heard moving speeches from Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown and other friends,
A bag of oranges
to be heavy
but hold one
yourself and count
cars driving by.
As she stands between
the stack of salty
peanuts and dusty
grapes, the bag
gets heavier and it
retains that heaviness
when it’s passed through
the window; and the driver,
hoisting it onto
the passenger’s seat,
thinks, this is a lot of
fruit for two dollars.
Source: “Complexities” first appeared in CQ: California State Poetry Quarterly, Winter 1986-1987; Volume 13, Number 4. It was subsequently selected as one of the poems for the 1988 SMARTS (Santa Monica Arts) Poetry on the Bus project. It also appeared as a spoken word track on Vehemence (New Alliance Records, 1993).
Bill Mohr is an associate professor in the Department of English at California State University,
Photographer Vivian Maier spent her last months on a park bench overlooking Lake Michigan, her secret life boxed up in storage units around Chicago. Her tens of thousands of negatives, 16mm films and voice recordings (not to mention newspaper clippings, receipts, unopened IRS refunds, blouses and hats) could easily have disappeared into obscurity if it weren’t for a young real estate agent and amateur local historian, John Maloof, who has a penchant for auctions and flea markets.
If you enjoy photography and the unpredictability of human existence you’ll enjoy Maloof’s film, Finding Vivian Maier. The documentary describes an eclectic journey to unearth the life and motivations of an eccentric subject, an artist who never sought to have her pictures displayed or published.
Maier seemed to have trouble making close human connections, but with her camera she was uncanny in creating intimacy with the widely diverse life on the streets of Chicago and New York.
You’ve heard him sing Ol’ Man River, but you may not know his name or that he was a left-wing activist. As mentioned in the program notes for the one-man show The Tallest Tree in the Forest, now playing at the Mark Taper Theater, “the most extraordinary thing about Paul Robeson’s life is that more people don’t know about it.”
For that we can thank the House Un-American Activities Committee that questioned Robeson’s loyalty and effectively destroyed his career, along with the careers of hundreds of other American radicals of the 1940s and 50s. And what a career it was. The son of a father born into slavery, Robeson excelled in collegiate sports and academics and, after earning a law degree from Columbia University, joined the Harlem Renaissance and became a brilliant stage and music performer. Robeson developed a worldwide following with his powerful renditions of Negro spirituals and later with his performance of Othello in New York,