Stephen Colbert will be guest editing the June 8th issue of Newsweek. This kind of reminds me of the time that Jon Stewart went onto Crossfire to tell the “journalists” that they were hurting our country (this event spelled the end of the program) or the fact that ex-SNL funny man Al Franken is still embattled over a Senatorial seat in Minnesota. Perhaps comedians have some of the best perspectives on news and politics because they also have a sense of humor.

 

Today is Barack Obama’s sixtieth day in office as the President of the United States of America. He is doing the most impossible job at what may be the most impossible time. I was surprised to see how quickly he addressed many of my concerns ranging from Guantanamo Bay and the War in Iraq to issues of social change. Of course, the big topic is the economy. His proposed budget is an extremely progressive sign of landmark change. I suppose it’s fair to say that we all have mixed emotions about the economic crisis as we should, our President included. Putting all of this aside, Barack made history yesterday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as the first sitting US President to appear as a guest on a late night talk show. It feels really good to have a president that makes me laugh and smile. I simply can’t think of another Head of State known for his character and affability to Barack’s tune, and this is no small thing in leadership at times like these.

With the devastation our interconnected global economy here, it may be time to start considering salvagepunk and use cinema as a guide of what to be wary of.

The promise beneath this? Keep the technology, keep consumption, but make it “thoughtful”, make it conscious, make it responsible. Gild your laptop, hammer some bronze, and think of the slow dance of the new wind-turbines on the horizon.

Crips & Bloods: Made in America is a forthcoming documentary on the history of the the two rival gangs. The films’s director, Stacy Peralta posted a statement on the project’s website addressing why he wanted to address the subject.

I set out to make Crips & Bloods: Made in American to answer the following questions: if affluent, middle-class white American teenagers were forming gangs, arming themselves with automatic weapons and killing one another, how would our country respond? Would our government step in to investigate the crisis, counsel the victims, heal the community, and direct funds towards a lasting solution? Or would our government allow this violence to continue unabated, decade after decade after decade?

 

I thought I’d share two worthwhile programs that I watched on PBS this week. The Lobotomist is a documentary that tells the story of Dr. Walter Freeman’s rise and fall in medicine. He was the creator of a surgical procedure that was once used for a wide array of psychological conditions, known as a transorbital lobotomy. While some questioned his methods, Freeman’s treatment became so common and easy to perform that many thousands of patients underwent it. In fact, he once personally performed twenty five transorbital labotomies in one day, while another physician outdid him with seventy five in a single day. The arch of Freeman’s career truly is fascinating.

Now we move from science to the economy. The Frontline program produced an insightful episode on how Wall Street and our credit markets collapsed a few months ago like a house of cards. Inside the Meltdown is a gaze into the current economic disaster, beginning with the Bear Stearns bailout last spring. The documentary paints a terrifying portrait in a language that allows for anyone not familiar with the banking industry to understand what happened, why and who the major players were. Unfortunately, this is just the first chapter in a story that is far from over.

 

Michael Winterbottom is one of the most unique and prolific filmmakers in cinema today. With each project he ventures into new territory sliding in and out of genres with ease. What I have found to be so particularly alluring about his work, is that there is a clear voice that is always looking for new ways to use the medium of film. In the last few years, he has experimented with blurring documentary into more traditional forms of story telling, resulting in a seemingly new language. Now, he has taken on Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine as a point of departure. The pairing of Winterbottom and Klein is sure to make for an intense film.

 

There is an inherent responsibility that comes with directing a documentary film. With each edit, the director is given the choice to show or not show, and ultimately influence an audience with their version of the “truth” on a given subject. In the last year, there were two particularly important documentaries that saw theatrical release. Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure is arguably one of the most important documentaries ever made, simply because of the questions it raises about “truth,” “documentation,” and “responsibility.” This film is not only challenging for the filmmaker, but the viewer as well. It asks us to step outside of a more comfortable place and forgo the idea of film as entertainment entirely.

The other film that I am thinking of which treads in territory that is both treacherous and necessary comes from the controversial filmmaker, Tony Kaye. After conquering the world of advertising with his own genre defining style, Kaye found the spotlight in Hollywood with his heavily criticized film American History X. The story behind the film’s creation had perhaps become more contentious than the movie itself, leaving Kaye on the outside of a studio run system. He returned to commercials and music videos where his career had begun. All the while, Kaye was allocating his profits into a self-financed documentary project that would take well over a decade to complete. With Lake of Fire, Kaye charges head-on towards one of the most difficult topics of social consequence facing this nation, a woman’s right to choose. Throughout the film, Kaye manages to stay unbelievably unswayed and focuses his efforts on trying to understand what is shaping the argument on both sides. The film is exceptionally hard; there is no question about that. It is also exceptionally important. Kaye did an admirable thing and it’s up to us, the viewer to face it.

Here is an interview with Tony Kaye in which he discusses his experience with Lake of Fire.

At today’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, the benediction speech was given by civil rights leader Rev. Jospeh Echols Lowery. The closing moments of his speech were just so perfectly uplifting at a moment like this.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around (laughter). When yellow will be mellow (laughter). When the red man can get ahead, man (laughter), and when white will embrace what is right.
Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

Audience: Amen!

Rev Lowery: Say amen

Audience: Amen!

Rev. Lowery: and amen.

Audience: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)

I’m kind of lost for words to describe this moment in American history. The joy that came last night when Barack Obama was announced the 44th President of the US was followed by a bit of disbelief as I got out of bed. After voting very early in the morning, I travelled to Chester, Pennsylvania to aid Obama’s ground operations in an effort to get out the vote. I had been to Chester a month earlier to sign up unregistered voters as the deadline drew near. Both of my experiences in this town were moving to say the least. It really isn’t until one engages with the people of a community quite so eonomically different from their own, that one can really even begin to understand what it’s like for them.

The city of Chester has great American history. It was first settled in 1645. The oldest public building still in use in this country is actually in Chester. Obama’s town headquarters is located directly opposite this building. It’s surreal to take a good look around and see what has happened. These structures have all the familiar feel of the colonial buildings that I grew up around in Philadelphia. The difference is that these buildings feel like they belong to the set of a post-apocalyptic sc-fi film in which people have been suddenly evacuated. The vibe is almost like an urban area 51. This was as picturesque as Chester got. Chester seems to be a place that utterly lacks opportunity. The average house hold lives well below what is considered the poverty level. Almost all of the factory doors that once provided jobs have long been closed. There are simply no opportunities. The town has been plagued with understandable drug and violence issues that come as a result of this kind of economic loss.

I went door to door in areas in which only two out of ten houses on a block might be inhabited. The vast majority of the population here is African American. I saw and I heard things that I have only read about or seen in passing. One person shouted out their window, telling me that they weren’t allowed to vote because they had been a recently released felon. My heart sank a little bit when I told him that he absolutely was allowed to vote, and that it was his right in the state of PA. Another person had asked me if they could vote, because they hadn’t participated in the primary. And yet another questioned whether or not they were allowed to vote for a Democrat because they were a registered Republican. This kind of disinformation is hard to understand. I saw children in diapers answering the front door when I knocked. I met children who looked at me with complete suspicion about my being in their neighborhood. I saw several graffiti murals dedicated to the young life of a fallen fellow gang member. I saw boarded up home after home after home. There were stray animals walking around looking for scraps.

And though I had been reminded by a few people that I certainly hadn’t put myself in the safest of positions, I had the power of one word on my side, “Obama.” The goal was to register voters and then get them to the polls. People who would otherwise have no reason to believe in government or even the democratic right to vote often smiled and thanked me for knocking on their door. They came out in record numbers and that is truly worth something. For the most part, I felt that my two days spent in Chester were color blind in how my fellow person interacted with me. I don’t know if tomorrow or the day after would be the same. Perhaps I would be less welcome. The entire experience makes me very aware that we do not have racial equality in this country. There will almost certainly be those who use this great victory to call the playing field equal, I do not believe it is.

Though we did make history. Now we know that we can do more than “hope”. We have reason to believe. Not just for the color of his skin but also for his honorable tireless campaign that has worked to unify us all, I am proud to call Barack Obama our next president. And furthermore, I believe last night was probably the most patriotic evening I’ll ever know; one in which I can proudly say I am glad to be an American. Yes we did.