Friday, October 13, 2006

Recommended films 10-13-10/19


APOLOGIES TO THE three regular readers of this space. Yes, I'm terribly late this week. Not that it makes any difference, but I've been immersed in writing a somewhat scholarly (I actually use the word “performativity”!) paper on Argentine filmmaker Maria Luisá Bemberg's final film De eso no se habla (1993), studying for a mid-term exam, trying to nail down the details of my final thesis statement, and trying to log and transcribe three hours of footage I've done for a documentary proposal prior to handing it off to an editor (Hi, Laura!). I missed Special Agent LC's birthday celebration at The Girl Can't Help It! this past Wednesday, although I did manage to catch the movie on Tuesday—one of the more enjoyable viewing experiences I've had recently, thanks to the presence of Special Agents ES and GH, not to mention the spectral presence of the always delightful Julie London.

Let's just get right to this week's recommendations:


THE EVENT of the week is
Rick Prelinger's presentation of industrial shorts, Spinning Up, Slowing Down: Industry Celebrates the Machine at the Pacific Film Archive Thursday, 10/19, 7 p.m. Prelinger is a San Franciscan who amassed a large collection of “mental hygiene” and industrial training and promotional films, creating what is now called the Prelinger Archive. The folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 frequently tapped the archive for mid-20th century short gems like Jam Handy's Hired! (for General Motors, 1940), Kling Films' Mr. B Natural (for Conn, Ltd., 1957), and the unintentionally creepy Simmel-Meservey classroom instructional short A Date With Your Family (for Encyclopedia Britannica, 1950). These films are an unheralded treasure trove of history, providing a surprisingly frank view of how Americans of the 1940s through the 1960s viewed themselves—not as they were, but as they might be if they could shape their society to their wishes. Ken Smith assembled a monumental catalog of these films, with insightful commentary, Mental Hygiene (Blast Books, 1999).




As part of PFA's The Mechanical Age, Prelinger presents six short films about the United States' relationship with industrial machinery:

(Adapted from Prelinger's notes.) Precisely So (
Jam Handy Organization for Chevrolet, 1937, 2 mins, closing segment, Beta SP) is a stop-motion paean to precision.

Mechanical puppets offer a lesson in free enterprise in Round and Round (
Jam Handy for GM Public Relations Staff, 1939, 6 mins, Beta SP).

Pennsylvania steel mills shut down in Valley Town (Willard Van Dyke for Educational Film Institute of NYU and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 1940, 24 mins, Beta SP), leaving behind a bleak post-industrial landscape filled with human detritus.


Conquer by the Clock (Slavko Vorkapich for RKO-Pathé, 1943, 11 mins, 16mm) shows World War II production in full swing just three years later, with workers and fighters rhythmically coordinated minute-by-minute in a prefiguration of today's Internet-synchronized world.

We end with
Jam Handy's industrial symphony and tour de force Master Hands (for Chevrolet, 1936, 33 mins, 35mm), a newly preserved Wagnerian epic showing the making of Chevrolets from foundry to final assembly.

This is, hands down, my top pick of this week.

WHEN TELEVISION reduced attendance at motion picture theaters during the 1950s, Hollywood responded with technology: stereo sound, different widescreen formats, and
3-D—the illusion of depth produced by viewing two similar images through polarized lenses. There was cheap 3-D, using one strip of double-exposed film and red-blue glasses, which produced headaches and rarely worked. There was expensive 3-D, using two different strips of film projected simultaneously, and transparent, polarized lenses, which produced fewer headaches, and worked more often than the cheap version. 3-D never really caught on, despite frequent attempts to revive it (last summer's fluffy popcorn confection, Superman Returns, had a 3-D sequence inserted for screenings at IMAX theaters).

A few years back, the
Castro Theatre installed the equipment required to project the expensive, dual-strip 3-D process, and they're presenting some genuine and ironic classics this week:



Saturday, 10/14: The Creature From the Black Lagoon trilogy! With Creature-bait Julie Adams and the man-in-the-suit himself, Ben Chapman, in person for both the matinee and evening shows. It all starts at noon for the daytime event, and at 7 p.m. for those who like it darker outside. Unfortunately, the third picture, The Creature Walks Among Us, will be presented from a digital source, and will not be in 3-D. But the first two (which are much better films anyway) are in glorious dual-system 3-D and black-and-white!

Sunday, 10/15: One of the most fun, cheesy 3-D horror flicks of all time, Andre de Toth's House of Wax (1953), with Vincent Price at the top of his scenery-chewing form, at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. With the lesser but still fun Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), directed by Roy Del Ruth, with Karl Malden's nose leaping from the screen into your lap, at 4:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.


Tuesday, 10/17: Tonight's menu features lots of sliced American cheese. Gorilla at Large (1954) features Lee J. Cobb investigating brutal murders at a circus where the gorilla is the chief suspect. It also features Raymond Burr and Lee Marvin. In eye-popping Technicolor, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. With one of the most disturbing 1950s sci-fi flicks aimed at kids ever made: Robot Monster (1953). This one has to be seen to be disbelieved. If the bizarrely incestuous bondage sequences disturb you, just reflect on the wondrous spectacle of the 3-D bubble machine. A-wunnerful, a-wunnerful! In shamefully grainy black-and-white at 8:40 p.m.

Wednesday, 10/18: Cheesy sci-fi and horror take a backseat to the cheesecake of Ann Miller in the MGM musical Kiss Me Kate (1953). Incorporating and spinning off Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, this is a breathtaking spectacle in 3-D Ansocolor. With the Three Stooges' 3-D short, Pardon My Backfire (1953), both at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.


Thursday, 10/19: The 3-D series ends with a sci-fi classic, It Came From Outer Space (1953), at 7 p.m. With the sci-fi “klassic” Cat-Women of the Moon, featuring Sonny Tufts and film noir icon Marie Windsor.

MORE HALLOWEEN season cheese is available at Oakland's
Parkway Theater, Thursday, 10/19, 7:30 p.m., as Will the Thrill and Monica Tiki Goddess introduce the splendidly awful Spanish-German co-production La Noche de Walpurgis (Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women, 1971) and the wonderfully wretched Filipino abomination Beast of the Yellow Night (1971). With apperances by Mister Lobo and The Devil-Ettes.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Recommended Films 10/5 - 10/12


MY ROOTS AS a cinephile could be traced to a 16mm print of Casablanca (1942) shown at the University of Connecticut in 1978, a 1974 screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) at Loew's College Theater in New Haven, or my earliest cinematic memory: Sean Connery and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, seen at a drive-in with my entire family when I was seven years old. More likely, my interest in the movies began at home, on the cathode ray tube. Before I was even allowed to take the bus downtown by myself, I was a regular viewer of Creature Features on WNEW-TV, channel 5 from New York City. The pre-cable poor reception often resulted in a snowy, wavy picture, adding to the mystery as black-and-white ghosts of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, Elsa Lanchester, and Lon Chaney, Jr. wandered through Hollywood's figment of Mitteleuropa. Unconsciously and unintentionally, I was introduced to German Expressionism, gothic literature and architecture through the work of directors Tod Browning, Edgar G. Ulmer, and James Whale, cinematographers Karl Freund and John J. Mescall, and designers Charles Hall and Jack Otterson, although it would be years before I knew their names.

In the post-video age, there are no more Creature Features. TV channels are targeted to specific genres and marketing demographics: channel surfing 10-year-olds won't stumble across Dwight Frye's delirious “Rats! Millions of rats!” speech from Dracula (1931), because the only channel likely to screen it today is Turner Classic Movies, which no self-respecting kid would be caught dead watching.

October brings with it Halloween, the most important holiday on San Francisco's calendars. And Halloween brings with it a raft of horror films to theaters. Sadly, none (that I know of—please correct me if I'm wrong) appear to be screening the classics from Universal's golden age, but there are a few delightfully fun examples from the post-atomic era on the horizon.


STRANGE AS IT seems today, Brian DePalma was once part of a “new direction” in American cinema. Along with Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, DePalma was part of the first generation of American film directors to come from film schools rather than the studio system. His early films, like Dionysus in '69, Sisters, Greetings (the first film to receive an X from the MPAA) and Sisters, were considered part of an American “new wave.” DePalma's trademark was his use of homage which reflected his cinematic influences. Chief among these was Alfred Hitchcock. Beginning with Dressed to Kill (1980), DePalma's Hitchcockian touches started to seem like ill-considered parodies. By the time he hollowly restaged the Odessa steps sequence from Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin in The Untouchables (1987), it was apparent that any art that was once present in DePalma's work had been replaced by artifice. Now he shepherds the latest generation of brat packers through focus group-produced pastiches like Mission to Mars (2000) and The Black Dahlia (2006).


The early, fun DePalma is on display at the Clay this weekend, with Phantom of the Paradise (1974). This savaging of the American pop music industry fell like a thud on its initial release. Promoted as a rock 'n' roll spectacle, it failed to dazzle the target audience of 16-25 year-olds who recognized it for what it was: a slap in the face of a consumer class who bought whatever tripe Rolling Stone told them to. (Among the biggest hits of 1974: “Mockingbird” by James Taylor and Carly Simon, “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede, “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks, and “You're Having My Baby” by Paul Anka.) It's since achieved cult status, buoyed by a fan base that was too young to appreciate it when it first came out. There's even a convention,
Phantompalooza. DePalma's use of homage is surprisingly restrained and even funny. His send-ups of the excesses of the 1970s music scene are priceless: The story combines Faust with The Phantom of the Opera in a portrayal of a naïve and pretentious songwriter who signs a bargain with the devil after the devil has already destroyed him. Beef, the glam-rock stand-in, says at one point: “I can tell drug real from real real!”



Flesh Muppet
Paul Williams, who composed all of the songs, which rain righteous ridicule on the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, KISS, Elton John, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and the '50s nostalgia craze, will appear at the screening. He portrays the chief villain, a Satanic boy band version of Dorian Gray. William Finley, DePalma's classmate at Sarah Lawrence College's theater school, plays the Phantom. The woefully underrated Jessica Harper provides a convincing portrayal of Phoenix, the grasping and somewhat slightly dazed wannabe singer, as well as an impressive singing voice. See it in a new 35mm print at the Clay Theatre at MIDNIGHT, Friday, 10/6. Goth-techno duo Evolution Rainbow provide a pre-show mini-concert. This is a co-presentation of Peaches Christ's Midnight Mass.



THE 1980s saw a lot of horror films, continuing a trend begun by the success of DePalma's Carrie (1976), John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and others. Return of the Living Dead (1985) is one of the funniest entries in the field. Based loosely on a screenplay by John Russo, George Romero's partner on the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), this parody makes brain-eating zombies funny while not sacrificing any of the gore. Director and writer Dan O'Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Alien (1979), delivers a delightfully implausible exploitation film that rips off punk music, cold war tensions, consumer society and medical science, that's more fun than you might think. Features the legendary line “send more cops,” and a wondrously gratuitous graveyard strip (minus the tease) by scream queen extraordinaire
Linnea Quigley. It's in a new 35mm print at the Castro Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Friday 10/6, as part of Jesse Ficks' Midnites for Maniacs, along with Alex Cox's loving portrait of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious, Sid and Nancy (1986) and John Carpenter's They Live (1988).



FOR YEARS NOW, I've been hearing that the obsolete and inflammable nitrate filmstock that was the base for all 35mm films up to about 1952 produced a sharper, more luminescent image on the silver screen than the acetate stock used since. The scarcity of nitrate prints, plus the even greater lack of projection booths equipped to show these potentially destructive films, means that I've had to take that statement on faith. Our chance is finally here.

The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, one of the few cinemas equipped with self-sealing, projectionist-dooming steel trap booths required for public safety while screening nitrate stock, is running several nitrate-based reels during their current series, from now through early December. Every Wednesday and Thursday, the 7:30 p.m. film will be projected from a nitrate print. Every Friday, at least one of the evening's two features will be seen in nitrate-based Technicolor. The series is dedicated overall to the films made by 20th Century Fox during Darryl Zanuck's tenure as studio chief.

Thursday, 10/4, Love is News (1937) is the nitrate feature at 7:30 p.m.
Tyrone Power, Loretta Young and Don Ameche star in the screwball comedy based at a newspaper. It plays with The Magnificent Dope (1942), with Ameche and Henry Fonda.

Friday, 10/6, catch the big and brassy musicals State Fair (1945) at 7:30 p.m. and Carousel (1956) at 5:10 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., at least one of which (probably State Fair) will be in glorious nitrate Technicolor.

Wednesday, 10/11 and Thursday, 10/12, see the nitrate print of In Old Chicago (1938) at 7:30 p.m.
Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Brian Donlevy and Andy Devine star in this historical spectacle about Chicago's O'Leary family—owners of Mrs. O'Leary's pyromaniac cow. Plays with Ladies in Love (1936), with Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young and Constance Bennett as three gals hunting men and an apartment in Budapest.

Next Friday, 10/13, set your calendar ahead for a nitrate print of Leave Her to Heaven (1946), a glorious deep woods Technicolor noir extravaganza (no, that is NOT a contradictory description) with the incomparable
Gene Tierney as one of the most psychotic femmes fatale of all time. Plays with Niagara (1953), another fabulous Technicolor noir with Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten.















ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has proven to be one of the more enduring 19th century gothic fables. Cinematic adaptations range from the sublime (Victor Fleming's 1941 version with Spencer Tracy) to the strange (Roy Ward Baker's Hammer 1971 extravaganza Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, with Bond girl Martine Beswick as the shapely beast) to the stupid (Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical featuring David Hasselhoff, from 2001). Among the best adaptations is the 1920 silent film from Famous Players-Lasky, featuring John Barrymore in the title roles. Barrymore gives a tour-de-force performance here, using minimal makeup tricks, embodying the monster through his own natural talents. See it at the Balboa Theater, Thursday, 10/12, with a new score by Massachussetts' Devil Music Ensemble.

THE MECHANICAL AGE series at the Pacific Film Archive continues Sunday, 10/8, with The Steel Beast at 3:30 p.m. and La Bête Humaine at 5:30 p.m. German photographer Willy Otto Zielke was commissioned by Hitler's government to make a film commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Nuremberg-Fürth railroad. The Steel Beast, the Surrealist, avant garde movie he submitted was a beautiful examination of the greatest machine of the 19th Century—the train—and a masterstroke worthy of Kino-Eye founder Dziga Vertov. It was also highly subversive in the eyes of the Nazis, who banned it as decadent. It plays with Shirley Clarke's Bridges Go Round (1958) and Joris Ivens' De Brug (The Bridge) (1928). La Bête Humaine (1938) is Jean Renoir's adaptation of Emil Zola's novel about a tortured railroad engineer. It established Jean Gabin as a star.



ANOTHER OF MY guilty pleasures is The Girl Can't Help It (1956), 20th Century Fox's big budget, Technicolor
Cinemascope entry into the then-scandalous arena of rock 'n' roll movies. Directed by former Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin, the story revolves around woebegone music promoter Tom Miller (Tom Ewell) who tries to make a singing star of tone deaf but pneumatic Jerri Jordon (Jayne Mansfield) at the insistence of mob boss Marty Murdock (Edmond O'Brien), all while pining for his lost love, torch singer Julie London (Julie London—a master stroke of casting). That's all great fun (and it really, really is), but the real reason for this film is to see some of the early rock 'n' roll stars in widescreen and Technicolor. Little Richard, The Platters, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino and Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps all give amazing performances. The Castro Theatre presents a glorious new 35mm anamorphic print of this widescreen extravaganza Tuesday, 10/10 at 7 p.m. and 9:05 p.m., and Wednesday, 10/11 at 2:30 p.m., 4:45 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9:05 p.m. Don't be square, Daddy-O.

Text copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Recommended Films 9/28-10/5


DAVID LYNCH'S new film, INLAND EMPIRE, makes its U.S. debut at the New York Film Festival on October 7. The film is ready for regular release throughout Europe and Japan, but there has still been no formal announcement of an agreement with a North American distributor. ComingSoon.net suggests that Magnolia Pictures will pick up the film, but no one knows for certain what will happen. Astonishing, given the success of his last release, Mulholland Drive (2001), which was all but abandoned by its U.S. distributor, Universal. Of course, U.S. viewers have been treated to Jackass Number 2, Beerfest and Talladega Nights. They can also look forward to another Harry Potter rehash, Flags of Our Fathers, another Batman, another Spider-Man, another X-Men. . . and probably another bit of pseudo-historical fluff based on a Jane Austen novel to satisfy that occasional date that demands something other than explosions.

Well, there's only four months left before the next
Noir City festival. >Sigh.<



THE ABSOLUTE coolest film series in the Bay Area right now is The Mechanical Age at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. These examinations of the romance of machinery as seen through the brilliant device of cinema offer a rare look at the greatest obsessions of the 20th century. Thursday, 9/28 brings David Francis, curator of the British National Film Archive for 16 years, and head of the Library of Congress' Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound division, until 2001, and Joss Marsh, Indiana University professor of Victorian Studies, with a collection of serial chapters from the silent era, starting at 7:30 p.m. The episodic film began long before TV came along. Movie-goers from the 'teens into the 1950s were accustomed to seeing weekly installments of adventure serials. Each chapter ended with the hero or heroine in mortal danger, and the next began with a miraculous rescue. Machinery, from automobiles to Zeppelins to giant robots, were frequently featured in these films, and Francis presents several of these chapters in archival 35mm prints, including The Perils of Pauline with Pearl White, The Exploits of Elaine, and Nick Carter, Detective. Judith Rosenberg plays the piano, thrillingly.



FRANCIS AND MARSH return to the
PFA on Saturday, 9/30 at 7 p.m. for an exploration of ur-cinema: the Magic Lantern. Before pictures moved, Victorian viewers were dazzled by images projected in sequence, accompanying storytellers recounting travels to exotic lands, stories of literature, fairy tales, and other narratives. This evening offers a very rare opportunity to see this progenitor of cinema. This one's a must, folks. Note that it occurs in the Berkeley Art Museum's Theater Gallery at 2621 Durant Avenue, not the usual PFA screening room.

THE MECHANICAL AGE continues at the PFA on Sunday, 10/1, at 2:30 p.m., with Adam Curtis' Pandora's Box, Episode One: The Engineer's Plot (1992). Curtis's series examines the 20th century's technophilia; this chapter examines the Soviet Union's fabled Five Year economic plans as an effort to mechanize systems of human interaction. It obviously offers lessons for today's “science” of “inevitable” globalization. It's followed at 4 p.m. by Sergei Eisenstein's The General Line (1929), the saga of a Soviet woman's efforts to create a collective farm, featuring a glorious montage poem to a cream separator. It's preceded by Ralph Steiner's and Jay Leyda's 1930 short Mechanical Principles (Gears in Motion and Design), a U.S.-produced prayer to the almighty machine.

ANOTHER GREAT series, Arrr, Mateys: Pirates and Piracy, continues at the PFA Wednesday, 10/4, 7:30 p.m., with A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), Alexander Mackendrick's saga of a buccaneer (Anthony Quinn) who finds himself the father figure of a shipful of lost children. The “piracy” half of the bill features Jim Gladman's and Negativland's No Business (2006), a mash-up of Ethel Merman and dog-only-knows-what-else. Viva fair use!

FRATRICIDE (2005) looks like an interesting film from Germany. Director Yilmaz Arslan focuses on an odd couple: a Kurdish teenager who takes a Turkish waif under his wing. As they try to eke out a living amid Germany's EU guest worker community, they find that their friendship may not be enough to transcend the expectations of Kurdish-Turkish antagonism. It plays at the Roxie Cinema, through Wednesday, 10/4.



MAYA DEREN'S films transgressed on at least two levels: they were avant garde, often surreal, and they were made by a woman working in a form and style dominated by men. Her first, and best-known, is Meshes in the Afternoon, in which lovers become killers. Her second film, At Land (1944), explores presence, invisibility, and significance. Both screen at Artists Television Access Friday, 9/29, 8 p.m., with the premiere of new scores by Reel Change, who will also perform for experimental films by David Michalak.

MARTINA KUDLÁCEK gained attention with In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002), a documentary about the avant garde filmmaker. She's set her editing scissors to a new film about another woman experimental director in Notes on Marie Menken (2006), presented by the San Francisco Cinematheque at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday, 10/, 7:30 p.m. Menken was a denizen of Andy Warhol's Factory, where she appeared in a number of the films made there, as well as making her own, such as Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961) and Watts With Eggs (1967).

ROBERT GREENWALD continues his series of digital video guerilla documentaries [Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004), Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)] with
Iraq for Sale (2006), a hard-hitting exposé of the corporations getting very fat off of that ongoing abomination against all that is good and right. Like Greenwald always does, he's avoiding the regular theater circuit, and showing it in benefit screenings at various locations. It plays in San Francisco 10/8 at a screening sponsored by Box Dog Bikes, and 10/8 at CellSpace. Contact the hosts through their respective websites. There are other screenings coming up, check out the Iraq for Sale screenings website for details.




LONG BEFORE Terry Gilliam was preparing cut-out animations for Monty Python, Czech animator Karel Zeman put together an epic film of The Fabulous Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1961), based on the same fables and legends that Gilliam would mount in 1988. Combining live actors and sets with stop motion, puppetry and other cinematic tricks, Zeman crafted an unusual interpretation. See it at
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Wednesday, 10/4, 7:30 p.m.

OPENING SOMEWHERE in the Bay Area this week is The U.S. vs. John Lennon. See what I've already said about this film here. Heaven help us all if it roosts at the new Century abomination at what used to be the Emporium.

SET YOUR CALENDARS ahead for the 1920 film of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with John Barrymore in the title roles, featuring a new score by Boston's
Devil Music Ensemble. At the Balboa Theater, Thursday, 10/12.

Text copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

You Gotta Give 'em Hope


HARVEY MILK, the first openly gay man elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, made this famous declaration:
You gotta give 'em hope.
Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978—11 months after taking office—for his political views and his homosexuality. A small-minded and frustrated little man, threatened by inclusiveness and progressive thought, shot Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

The city erupted. Protests, both peaceful and violent, continued for months. The gay community, which had flocked to San Francisco's bohemian, laissez-faire nature, were not going to return to the closets they had escaped because a wretch with a gun thought he could gain power by killing.

Today, no one seems to bat an eye about gays in public office in San Francisco. In fact, it appears that heterosexuality is a liability for candidates running in Districts 5 and 8. Milk's death almost tore apart the city by the bay. Milk's life kept the city together. He gave people hope.


Israel started firing missiles into Lebanon on July 12 this past summer. They were responding to rockets fired by Hezbollah terrorists into Israel, as well as the seizure by Hezbollah of two Israeli soldiers (who may have been illegally in Lebanese territory). The rain of warheads into Lebanon continued for a month. Some
1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed. More than 3,000 were wounded. A million or more lost their homes. Israeli casualties numbered 162, mostly soldiers, dead.

In the rubble of Beirut, a seven-year-old film festival refuses to surrender.
Ayam Beirut Al Cinema'iya is underway with a reduced program of 40 films instead of the planned 100. Artistic director Eliane Rehab and festival director Hania Mroue have managed to get filmmakers into the shattered nation, and screenings will continue through Sunday, 9/24.

In an
interview with the BBC, Mroue talked about housing refugees in Beirut's only art house cinema, and the importance of presenting films as a defense against fear.

“People continued coming to the cinema the next day, even though war had started," [Mroue] says. “They came. I don't understand how and why they came even though Beirut was being bombed, but they came. And even the third day they kept coming.”—BBC News.


The festival includes features, documentaries, and shorts from around the world. Appropriately enough, Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1966) is included. The only film from the United States is James Longley's Iraq in Fragments (2006).

An
earthquake on May 7, 1976, killed nearly 600, injured 1,000 and displaced 800,000 in Italy's northern Friuli region. Without electricity, with food and water in short supply, people were shocked to see a couple of youngsters carrying a portable movie projector and several cans of 35mm film. Piera Patat and Livia Jacob had rescued their personal archives of silent film treasures. Recognizing the power of film to bring a community together in the face of crisis, they set up their projector at night, powered by car batteries or other generators, and showed classic films on the remaining walls. This became a ritual that continued after recovery began. It's now the Giornate del Cinema Muto, the largest and most important festival of silent films in the world.

Films give people hope. The courage of Rehab, Mroue and everyone associated with
Ayam Beirut Al Cinema'iya should inspire us all.

They've prepared a moving video letter to the world about their situation, and why they are continuing with not just the festival, but their lives as citizens of Beirut, a historically significant cultural capital. Folks with a broadband connection can link here. Dial-up users should use this link.
My hat is doffed to extra-super-special ginchy agent extaordinaire ES for the tip on this item.
From Beirut With Love directed by Wael Noureddine (Lebanon/France, 2005, 16mm).

Text copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

Recommended Films: 9/21-9/27

THE THREE greatest comedians of the silent film era are quite distinct from each other:

Charlie Chaplin was a brilliant stage performer whose artistry blossomed within the boundaries of the silver screen.


Harold Lloyd's sheepish onscreen persona gave more power to the extreme physicality of his performance. His “aw-shucks” style also concealed the heart of a ruthless businessman.

Buster Keaton, like Chaplin, was a veteran of the vaudeville stage. Unlike Chaplin, Keaton was a a consummate tinkerer fascinated by locomotives and mechanical processes. He began his movie career by dismantling a camera to see how it worked.

Keaton's understanding of filmmaking as a mechanical process is on display this Sunday, 9/24, in Sherlock, Jr. (1924) at the
Pacific Film Archive. One of the greatest reflexive exercises in cinematic history, Sherlock, Jr. features Keaton as a small-town movie projectionist whose fascination with detective fiction, combines with his spurned affection for the local beauty (Kathryn McGuire) to create a fantasy in which Keaton enters the action he projects onscreen. The film contains many of the gags used in the Keaton family vaudeville act, and is both a technical and humorous marvel. It's part of The Mechanical Age series at the PFA, and it's in 35mm, starting at 4 p.m. An added treat is Broken Down Film (1985), an animated short by Osamu Tezuka—creator of Kimba the White Lion and Tetsuwan Atom, better known in the U.S. as Astro Boy.


Screening right after Sherlock, Jr. is another astonishingly reflexive film of the silent era, The Man With a Movie Camera (1929). Director
Dziga Vertov was the champion of Kino-Eye, a Soviet filmmaking philosophy that decried narrative structure and emphasized montage. The Man With a Movie Camera is Vertov's best-remembered work, and it's a breathtaking example of what cinema, unfettered by theatrical or literary expectations, can achieve. This is one of my Film 101 essential movies. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, 9/24, in 35mm from the PFA Collection. Judith Rosenberg accompanies the films on piano.

PFA CONTINUES its examination of pirates and piracy with Craig Baldwin's Sonic Outlaws (1995), Wednesday, 9/27, 7:30 p.m. Opening with Negativland's defeat in a copyright infringement case brought by liberal-outside-my-backyard-band U2, Baldwin traces the early history of musical mash-ups as a series of battles for maintaining creators' rights to fair use. It's shown in 16mm, from Baldwin himself. It screens with Uso Justo (2004), Coleman Miller's transformation of a 1950s Mexican soap opera into an experiment in experimental filmmaking. In Beta SP, from Miller's collection.

MUDDY WATERS was unquestionably, one of the greatest, perhaps THE greatest, blues guitarists of all time. As part of the San Francisco Blues Festival, the Roxie Cinema presents Muddy Waters Can't Be Satisfied, a documentary from 2005 by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. It took six years to complete the movie, which concentrates on telling Water's story through his music and interviews with performers he inspired, including Keith Richards and Bonnie Raitt.

On the same bill is
Always for Pleasure, Les Blank's 1978 documentary of New Orleans. Blank is one of the most exciting documentary makers of all time (his 1982 Burden of Dreams remains my favorite film about making a film), and seeing his 28-year-old take on the Big Easy should be especially poignant today. For more on this film, check out the sensational entry from 2005 at Hell on Frisco Bay, one of the best blogs about films in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Both films play for one week at the
Roxie Cinema starting Friday, 9/22, with matinees Saturday, 9/23, and Sunday, 9/24.

PETER WHITEHEAD gained fame turning his camera on England's rock 'n' roll scene during the 1960s. He turned heads in 1965 when he directed a documentary of Peter Brooks' The Benefit of the Doubt, a then-controversial play that obliquely criticized Great Britain's support of the United States' military adventure in Vietnam, using then-new experimental and agit-prop theater techniques. Whitehead put much of the original Royal Shakespeare Company production on film in color, interspersed with interviews of the cast and crew in black-and-white. It plays with The Fall, Whitehead's 1969 meditation on violence and society, featuring Robert Kennedy, Tom Hayden, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Arthur Miller and other bookmarks of the 1960s. Neither of these films get screened often, and they aren't available on DVD or VHS. See them at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Wednesday, 9/27, at 7:30 p.m.


THE MADCAT International Women's Festival shifts into high gear for the final screenings of its tenth season. First up is Maquilapolis: City of Factories (2006), “a documentary about (and by) workers in Tijuana's assembly factories, the maquiladoras,” according to the film's website. Coordinated by filmmaker Vicky Funari, artist Sergio De La Torre and Grupo Factor X, a Mexican women's rights organization, the film has its subjects turn the cameras on themselves, allowing the underpaid women who assemble the cheap consumer goods that North America's consumer lifestyle revolves around to tell their own stories. Among the stories:

Carmen, a single mother and one of the more than one million Mexicans employed at the maquiladoras, works making television components six nights a week for six dollars a day. She comes home to a shack she built out of recycled garage doors, in a neighborhood with no sewage lines or electricity. At 29, she already suffers from kidney damage and lead poisoning from her years of exposure to toxic chemicals.
The film is still being shot, even as it's being screened at various festivals throughout the U.S. and Mexico. It looks like an exciting opportunity to see the real results of the
North American Free Trade Agreement. It screens with South of Ten (2006), Liza Johnson's ten-minute presentation of ten vignettes about New Orleans after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 9/21, at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. It's also shown at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 9/24, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.


MADCAT CONTINUES with Charming Augustine (2005), a 3-D surrealistic exercise based on photos and other records from a Parisian insane asylum of the 1880s. Filmmaker Zoe Beloff examines a case study of a Augustine, a 15-year-old suffering “hysterical paralysis,” drawing parallels between the illness and attempts to document it using the then-experimental techniques of moving pictures. It screens with Case History of a Multiple Personality (1923), a silent clinical film capturing the various personae of a patient attended by Dr. Cornelius C. Wholey, who made the film. See it Saturday, 9/23, 7:30 p.m., at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Tuesday, 9/26 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

AND DON'T FORGET to cast your
vote for the Roxie Cinema in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's version of American Idol: The Architectural Face-off.

Text copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Preserve the Roxie Cinema! Vote Now! Vote Often!

The Roxie Cinema San Francisco's slightly tarnished little jewel of a theater is competing for preservation funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and it needs your help to succeed.

As part of a strange reality-TV-inspired exercise, 25 structures throughout the Bay Area have been chosen as finalists in a vote-off to see which will get funding from the National Trust. It's Survivor: Historic Landmarks. I promise to return for a rant about the arrogant cupidity of such an exercise at another time. Right now, I want to ask you to support the Roxie Cinema.

For years, the Roxie Cinema has been THE place for the under-loved and under-appreciated movies and film-goers. It pretty much singlehandedly made successes of films like Rivers and Tides (2001) and Red Rock West (1992). It's currently operated in concert with the New College of California, and as such is probably the most progressive movie theater in the country.

Unfortunately, for years the Roxie Cinema has also been beset by money woes. Maintenance has frequently been deferred, and the building could stand some serious architectural love. Funds from the National Trust would go a long way to helping the building match the quality of the films and the top-notch presentation provided by the hard-working Roxie staff.

Voting often is encouraged in this plebiscite—you're allowed one vote per day, right up to October 31, when the contest ends. Registration is required, but that's a small price to pay to help ensure the future of one of the last truly independent movie houses left. The Roxie is up against some tough (and also deserving) competition, making it even more important for the Bay Area film community to stuff the ballot box!

Go to www.partnersinpreservation.com , register, and vote. Then get all of your friends to vote. Then get all of your friends to get their friends to vote for the Roxie. Rinse and repeat. And vote every day through Halloween. You'll feel better. Really.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Recommended Films 9/13-9/21

Hollywood's Production Code had been moribund for a decade, dead for at least a year, when the film industry established the letter-based rating system in 1968. Intended to allow filmmakers greater freedom in representing adult subject matter while allowing parents to shield children from undesirable content, the system was implemented by former Lyndon Johnson sycophant Jack Valenti, who became president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 1966.

Films approved for release by the MPAA are assigned a letter rating, advising theater operators and parents which movies were appropriate for different age groups. Valenti himself explains the system in
this clip from the fondly remembered Amblin-Warner Brothers cartoon show Freakazoid.

Originally, the “adults-only” designation was given the letter “X.” Films like Midnight Cowboy (winner of the 1970 best picture Oscar) and A Clockwork Orange received “X” ratings. Producers of pornographic films—which exploded in popularity during the 1970s —rarely submitted their films to the MPAA, but adopted the “X” designation as a marketing tool, trebling its impact by inventing the “XXX” rating. The moral backlash that began in the 1980s made it difficult for studios to book the rare legitimate “X”-rated films into theaters. Brian DePalma re-edited Scarface (1983) twice, hoping to get the MPAA to reduce its rating to R. After Abel Ferrara's King of New York (1990) was rated “X,” pressure groups convinced the MPAA to surrender the “X” rating to the pornographers. The new “scarlet letter” was the “NC-17” designation, which proved to be just as damning as the original “X.” Film directors are often bound by a studio contract that demands they deliver a film that receives a rating no higher than “R.” David Lynch made extensive cuts to Wild at Heart to get an “R” rating. (Europeans saw the film as the filmmaker intended it—you can see it that way at the Clay October 20 and 21 at midnight). After Stanley Kubrick's death, Warner Brothers used digital manipulation to obscure elements of an orgy scene in his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, to keep from getting an “NC-17” mark. (Again, Europeans saw the original film.)

The rules the MPAA use for determining these ratings are obscure. The individuals who make these calls are also hidden from view. Hence this week's top film recommendation: an in-their-face documentary called
This Film is Not Yet Rated. Director Kirby Dick borrows heavily from Michael Moore's playbook, chasing the anonymous members of the MPAA's rating board through Los Angeles, but the Illuminati-like secrecy of the MPAA all but demands this confrontational approach. Dick hired a private investigator to uncover the identities of the nation's censors, and the trailer shows that Dick spoke with at least two of them, and interviewed one on camera.

This Film is Not Yet Rated plays for one week at the
Lumiere Theatre, starting Friday, 9/15.

The gorgeous Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto provides a double dose of Howard Hawks films starring Cary Grant this weekend. The screwball classic Bringing Up Baby (RKO, 1938) features Grant and Katharine Hepburn playing against type; he as a dotty paleontologist, she as a scatter-brained heiress. “Baby” is a pet leopard, on the loose in Connecticut. Only Angels Have Wings (Columbia, 1939) is a South American adventure film, with Grant as a daredevil mail pilot, Jean Arthur as a New York showgirl far from her concrete jungle, and a 21-year-old Rita Hayworth as Grant's ex-girlfriend. Bringing Up Baby plays at 5:35 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. Friday, 9/15, through Monday, 9/18. Only Angels Have Wings plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 9/15, through Monday, 9/18, plus 3:15 p.m. Saturday, 9/16, and Sunday, 9/17.

Midnight Mass may be dormant, awaiting its annual resurrection, but
Peaches Christ still walks the earth, and she's been helping the Clay Theatre program their series of midnight movies. This week, Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez star in one of best of the the midnight films produced during the 1980s—the last and possibly the best decade of the midnight movie era—Repo Man (Edge City/Universal, 1984). Estevez plays a punk kid whose larcenous nature leads him to an entry-level position reclaiming cars from bad debtors. Stanton's his mentor. It's the sophomore effort for director Alex Cox, who gave the world Sid & Nancy two years later. Deep behind the scenes of this classic is Michael Nesmith, the only real musician in the Monkees, and the real inventor of the MTV-style music video format, with his legendary Elephant Parts (Pacific Arts, 1981). Repo Man plays at midnight Friday, 9/15 and Saturday, 9/16.

The tenth Madcat International Women's Film Festival continues with three screenings this week. Friday, 9/15, two documentaries explore Rural Women: Finding Independence. First is the U.S. premiere of Water and Atefeh, a 2001 mini-dv documentary from Iran about the struggles of a solitary woman, Atefeh, to maintain her small farm during a prolonged drought. Producer/director Nahid Rezaei studied film in Paris, and was once the director of the Iranian Documentary Filmmakers Society. Next is The Angelmakers, a 2005 Beta SP documentary from Hungary that probes the history of the village of Nagyrev. Astrid Bussink gets the residents to open up about a notorious event from 1929, when several women used arsenic to murder their husbands. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at Artists Television Access.

Tuesday, 9/19,
Madcat offers Motion Stopped: An Evening of Animation. The program is comprised of several short films, but the most intriguing is probably McLaren's Negatives (2006) by Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre. The film explores the nature of legendary Scottish abstract filmmaker Norman McLaren, using the same animation techniques that made his own films so distinctive. Québec native Saint-Pierre gained note with Post-Partum (2004) a documentary about the depression her mother experienced following her birth. Also noteworthy is Phantom Canyon (2006), animated from more than 4,000 separate collages, including images from Eadward Muybridge's Victorian-era photographic examination of human and animal motion, by Stacey Steers. The program starts at 8:30 p.m., pre-show barbecue at 6:30 p.m., at the El Rio.

Wednesday, 9/20,
Madcat presents Psycho Vision: 3D Hallucinations and the Vladmaster, a night of 3-D slides and 16mm movies. Claire and Don in Slumberland is a 30 minute combination of 3-D slides and 16mm film that explores the hyper-rationalism of the mid-20th century, using actual psychology films from 1949 to send two characters on a self-reflective 3-D journey of the soul. Created by Zoe Beloff, this experience looks very interesting. It's preceded by 16mm films from Beloff's own collection, including Dave Fleischer's Mysterious Mose, a 1930 Betty Boop cartoon, and Fleischer's Bubbles, a 1922 Koko the Clown exercise in surrealism. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., the barbecue at 6:30 p.m., at the El Rio.

An extremely rare silent film screens at the
Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Sunday, 9/17, at 5 p.m. The Sentimental Bloke (1919) is one of the few surviving silents from Australia. Based on a 1915 poem by Australian C. J. Dennis, the film follows a larrikin (ancient Australian for fun-loving guy) who vows to clean up his act when he falls for a fair damsel. This print is from a new negative combining elements from Australia and a negative found in the George Eastman House of Rochester, New York. Musical accompaniment is by Jon Anderson.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Galileo was a liberal

Today's entry proves that this blog is mostly about films: What follows has nothing to do with movies.

This is too easy. Iran's wingnut president,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called on his nation's students to identify, persecute and oust liberal professors from its universities. “A student must yell against liberal thoughts and the liberal economy,” Ahmadinejad said, in a quote reprinted by the BBC. No one should be surprised by provocative statements like that from a leader who has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and suggested that the Holocaust is a “myth.” What makes Ahmadinejad's call for a purge of intellectuals grist for the mill is how neatly it corresponds with one of the tactics of American neo-conservatives.

American wingnut
David Horowitz appears to be in agreement with Ahmadinejad's call for the harassment of liberal-minded educators. Horowitz has published a book called The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (Regnery Publishing, 2006), and he is one of the founders and backers of Students for Academic Freedom, an organization that attacks teachers who offend conservative students by expressing “liberal” viewpoints. Horowitz and Ahmadinejad are convinced that exposure to liberal ideas corrupts the youth of their respective nations. Here are their own words on the topic:

David Horowitz: “You see, beginning in the mid-1960s, the left made a concerted effort to take over our colleges and universities. The turmoil surrounding the Viet Nam war made our schools ripe for leftist pickings, and they did -- they methodically took over our campuses … now, four decades later, they have a stranglehold on hiring, teaching, and administering most of our schools in all 50 states!
“As they’ve taken control, they’ve trampled free speech, virtually banished conservative professors, and turned our schools into little more than huge megaphones for anti-American rhetoric from coast to coast.” (
http://www.frontpagemag.com/Content/read.asp?ID=10)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Today students should protest and shout at the president asking why some liberal and secular professors are still present in the universities. Our educational system has been under the influence of the secular system for 150 years. Colonialism is seeking the spread of its own secular system."

(http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,1865730,00.html)


Both men have correctly targeted the key threat to the authoritarian regimes in their nations: educated people equipped with knowledge and the ability to make their own decisions. It's not easy to control a population that question edicts like ensuring airline safety by confiscating toothpaste, or that the “crime” of converting to a different religion is punishable by death. This ability to question is at the heart of a liberal education, and has always been a threat to those who seek to wield power autocratically, be they on the right or the left of political spectrum.

One of the tropes of neo-conservatives is that questioning any of their viewpoints is equivalent with supporting the most extreme opposite position. To question the war in Iraq is to support Saddam Hussein, the “insurgents” or Osama bin-Laden. Asking what the war in Iraq has to do with the “war on terror” is akin to supporting the “terrorists.” Anyone wondering how free trade benefits the jobless must be a protectionist or a socialist. Use of playground taunting to prevent rational discussion is a brilliant use of the current means of communication: TV news and talk radio for the professionals; anonymous blogs and online discussion groups for the amateurs.

This tactic was adapted from the Yippies, the anarchist group of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was lead by Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner, Abbie Hoffman and Anita Hoffman, among others. The Yippies' prankish theatricalism revolved around extreme poltical polarity: Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey was as much a “fascist” to the Yippies as Republican Richard Nixon. The Yippies' inability to comprehend the definition of fascism, combined with their juvenile exhibitionism, caused befuddlement among mainstream newspapers and broadcasters, who still had managerial staff that took their public service responsibility seriously, and provided more than entertaining sound bites. The neo-conservative's adaptation of Yippie-style antics has been successful because its confrontationally binary approach makes for entertaining viewing in between the commercials that support the nine major companies that control most of the media today.

It's much easier to hold to a fixed idea than to consider alternatives. By looking at the horizon, a child learns that the world is flat; it takes effort to understand how this surface is part of a round planet. That same child sees the sun rise in the east, travel overhead, then set in the west. Much more effort is required to accept that the earth moves around the sun.

Of course, even more effort was required to develop this knowledge in the first place. Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician and philosopher, taught in the fifth century B.C. that the earth was spherical. The Greeks clung to a view of the universe that placed the earth at the center of the cosmos. As their knowledge of astronomy grew, they continued to adapt their new learning to this belief, resulting in the Ptolemy's geocentric model of the universe, which remained dominant for 1,500 years. In the 16th century A.D., Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus developed the first mathematical model that explained astronomical anomalies in the Ptolemaic view of the cosmos. Copernicus moved the earth out of its central position, placing it—along with several other planets—in orbit around the sun, which now occupied the center of the solar system. This model, which defined orbits as perfectly circular, failed to account for observational anomalies, e.g., the varying location of Mars in the sky. He refrained from publishing his theory until just before his death, afraid of persecution by the Roman Catholic Church, which invested much of its philosophy in an earth-centric world view.

The Copernican model defined orbital paths as circles, not ellipses, making it just as buggy as the Ptolemaic model. Refinements by Tycho Brahe of Denmark and Johannes Kepler of Germany improved Copernicus' model, but it took 17th-century observations of the heavens with the newly-invented telescope by Italian Galileo Galilei to verify not only that the earth orbited the sun, but that other objects orbited other planets, and that the stars were farther away and far more numerous than had been believed before. For this remarkable effort at adding to knowledge, a 70-year-old Galileo was brought before the Roman Catholic Inquisition (the Papal equivalent of Guantanamo) in 1633, and threatened with torture and death unless he declared that the earth was at the center of the cosmos.

Galileo was a liberal thinker. He observed the world, he studied the work of those who had come before him, he used the latest technology, and he trusted his observations and his knowledge more than his core beliefs—the geocentric view of the Roman Catholic Church—which were founded on nothing more than rote recitation.


Liberal thought is not the same as the “liberalism” defined by the nattering nabobs of Fox News and talk radio. Let's take a look at the definition of “liberal” from the American Heritage Dictionary:

Liberal. . . adj. . . 1. a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and toleration of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. c. Of relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
The Fox News definition of liberal is much the same as its definition of “Islamo-fascist” or the old uses of epithets like “commie,” “red,” “papist,” “bourgeois,” “heretic,” etc., i.e., “a person whose ideas we find threatening.” A true liberal thinker remains open to new ideas. I've known liberal-thinking Republicans and soldiers. I've known closed-minded Democrats and pacifists.

I think the reason folks like Horowitz and Ahmedinejad get their knickers in a twist about liberal thinkers is that it threatens their own tenuous picture of the world. Both men are erstwhile radicals. Horowitz was an editor at the leftist magazine
Ramparts. He was pals with Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton. Ahmedinejad was involved in the revolt that toppled Iranian Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1978, and was likely involved in the capture of American hostages in 1979, which lead to the election of Ronald Reagan as president of the U.S. in 1980. Both men found pathways to power, and found it easier to adopt an authoritarian philosophy that helps them maintain their position, than to cling to liberal thought, which is always fraught with uncertainty. In this way, Horowitz and Ahmedinejad have much in common with their respective bogeymen, like Bill and Hillary Clinton or Condoleeza Rice, all of whom surrendered any ideals they might once have had in favor of maintaining personal power and prestige.

Teresa Whitehurst, author of Jesus on Parenting (Baker Books, 2004), offered an interesting meditation on learning and liberalism in “Careful Not to Get Too Much Education...Or You Could Turn Liberal,” an
article at Third World Traveler. She recounted overhearing a conversation between two students at Lipscomb University, a Christian school in Nashville, Tennesee. The elder passed along to the younger advice he'd received from a professor. “You have to be careful not to get too much education, because you could lose your foundation, your core values.”

That statement neatly encapsulates the fear that leads reactionaries like Horowitz and Ahmedinejad to condemn “liberal professors.” Knowledge is dangerous, especially when it's shared among the masses. An educated populace that develops its own conclusions, individually and collectively, is equipped to question the pronouncements of its leaders. That's bad for the people in power, especially when they're in that position undeservedly.

I'm enrolled in college right now, completing a long-delayed bachelor's degree. I've had several professors and teachers, in subjects ranging from math to film history to astronomy. To date, my only experience of a closed-minded, opinionated and arrogant instructor was a tenured English professor who displayed his neo-conservative ideology at every opportunity. His lectures were peppered with expletives, designed to shock and enrage students. One student who challenged him respectfully, following a particularly corrosive tirade of obscenity, was told she should “take this class from somebody else, because I'm not going to change the way I am because it makes you uncomfortable.”

It seems to me that the problem with education today is not a preponderance of liberal thinkers, but the volume of whining from those threatened by free thought.

(Note: This entry is dedicated to extra super special agent M. "It's not too bad.")

Copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.