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Thursday, Sep 13, 2007

Try as you might, you cannot shake The Brave One. It sticks with you, digging down into your own scarred psyche and touching on every pain, problem, and possibility your current life holds. Calling it an estrogen-laced Taxi Driver or a female fashioned Death Wish misses the point. Certainly, there is vigilantism and the immediate, ill-considered impact of such street style justice. But there is something much deeper here, something that goes to the very nature of being human. When confronted with the possibility of letting those obviously guilty to instantaneously pay for their actions, or to simply go free, which way does your moral compass point? This movie not only asks the question of what would you do, it then goes a step further to question whether you can live with yourself, and what you’ve become, afterward.

With a title that suggests the start of an epic poem or perhaps a fairy tale, The Brave One is a startling achievement for stars Jodie Foster and Terrance Howard, and yet another notch in the growing artistic oeuvre of Neil Jordan. On its surface, it’s a standard revenge flick, the story of a young woman torn apart by violence and loss. But it’s also much more than that. It’s an excuse for empowerment in a post 9/11, Red State/Blue State, Yellow Alert existence. It’s Bernard Goetz bobbed up and beautified. It’s every bad cliché about the criminal element crammed into a single symbol of white flight disgust. Compare it to Foster’s first Oscar nominated effort or the shallowest of Charles Bronson’s deathly designs, but the final statement argues for our identification as an audience and our sense of satisfaction as a citizenry. That’s why it’s manipulative and ethically unstable. It’s also why this becomes one of the best, most deep and disarming films of the year.

At the heartbroken center of this story is Erica, a maturing Manhattan gal who spends her days “walking the city”. As part of her public radio show, our heroine captures the tantalizing tone poems that make up her frequently baffling burg, and she translates them into thoughts of endearment, of specialness, and space. She’s madly in love with her doctor boyfriend David, and the two share a kind of intimate peace that veils them in a shroud of sensed security. All of that changes one fateful evening. David is beaten to death by a nameless gang of thugs, and Erica is left in a coma. Once she awakens, she’s unable to cope with her loss. Days are spent drifting from dawn to darkness. Nights are lost in cold sweat visions of her violation. Deciding the only way to reclaim her life is via personal protection, Erica buys a gun.

Thus begins her decent into a kind of unfathomable urban madness. A freak use of the weapon creates a combination of physical unease and psychological satisfaction. Another use and Erica begins to change. Jordan’s main theme here is the notion of transformation. He uses the character to explore dozens of life altering events. Within the span of a few short weeks, our heroine loses her lover, her impending marriage, her inherited in-laws, her plans for the future, her stability within her insular world, the career she counted on (it’s still there, but in fragments), her physiological wholeness, her freedom, her faith in her fellow man, her naiveté, her understanding – and last but certainly not least – her principles. When she pulls out her handgun for the first time, it’s as if a foul force of nature has taken over. By the end of the movie, such an action becomes disturbingly instinctual.

Mirroring this fate in flux conceit is Erica’s “nemesis” – the cop on the beat who intends to take down this vigilante scourge. The tender Terrence Howard seems, at first, an odd choice for the role. He doesn’t bring his bad mother trucker game from Hustle and Flow, nor is he trying to be a basic by the book policeman. Instead, we sense a similar emptiness in him, a hollowed out place where his ex-wife, his career, and his belief in justice used to be. When he lies to Erica (they meet several times throughout the course of the narrative) he feigns a more or less mild interest in what she does. Eventually we learn he is a true fan, someone who bought into every fanciful facet of her New York as Neverland experience. In many ways, The Brave One is a film about growing up. It’s about learning that the boogeyman really exists, and that in almost every situation you can imagine, it’s impossible to completely avoid his tainting touch.

Though it sounds slightly sexist to say it, The Brave One then becomes a movie about “manning up”, about taking the responsibility for your own being on your less than established shoulders.  The reasons why the performances here are so flawless (Foster alone deserves another Oscar, especially since she’s better here than in either of her previous award winning turns) is that Jordan makes his heroes all too humble. Even when she’s sensing the building bravado of pointing a loaded pistol at a sleazy pervert, or reclaiming a small part of her past by tracking down her original assailants, Erica is not a champion. Indeed, in Foster’s fascinating way, we realize how desperate and destructive each act of reciprocal violence is. When shown, the killings are bloody and very brutal, overemphasized stylistically with amplified sound and slow motion fervor. Jordan is announcing the importance of each act, signifying how they will come to mold our lead, as well as underscore every event that comes afterword. Erica’s actions are not without consequences. Whether they’re ever linked to her is another story all together.

Howard is also looking to connect, and the lack of fairness in this – or any other – world is what binds him so solidly to these crimes. In some ways, he’s as much an enabler as someone trying to stop the spree. His conversations with Foster are filled with emotional fissures, gaping holes of humanity looking for emotional mortar to fill them. We see the union building between the pair, the sheepish grins they share in each other’s presence, the critical game of cat and mouse they play as hunter/prey and victim/vindicator. Some will miss all this subtle subtext, viewing the relationship between Erica and Mercer as a RomCon conceit without the bravery to take it to the next level. Others will see it as service to a story that doesn’t want to turn Jodie Foster into a cosmopolitan version of Henry Lee Lucas. But the fact is, we are dealing with a bond built on vicarious role reversal. Erica is doing what Mercer can’t. He’s finding the meaning his now joyless job once held. Similarly, she’s wielding the power a policeman holds. It can’t replace David, but perhaps, the sense of strength and purpose can begin to close the wound.

This is monumental, moving stuff, the kind of film that folds you into it cinematic sphere of influence and never lets go for the entire running time. Long after it’s over, the circumstances and situations keep playing over and over in your head. Indeed, if you really want to see the difference between mere professional filmmaking and a near masterwork, just check out James Wan’s journeyman take on similar subject matter, Death Sentence. There, Kevin Bacon turns into a skin-headed psycho, a man so overwhelmed with gratuitous grief (his entire family is slaughtered) that he turns to wrath as a means of marking time. But when Foster fires her weapon, and feels the release and the revitalization that occurs, we are seeing something more than just payback. We are witnessing the awakening of something dark and disturbing. Once unleashed, however, it can never be contained. Perhaps that’s why bravery is required – both to live with it, and through it.


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Thursday, Sep 13, 2007
Magazine article from 1940 on the New York Worlds Fair

Magazine article from 1940 on the New York Worlds Fair


In July Ken Silverstein of Harpers Magazine went undercover as a vaguely defined marketing figure asking lobbying companies for briefs on sprucing up the image of Turkmenistan.

I would have difficulty passing for Turkmen, I knew, so rather than approaching the firms as a representative of the government itself, I instead would be a consultant for “The Maldon Group,” a mysterious (and fictitious) firm that claimed to have a financial stake in improving Turkmenistan’s public image. We were, my story ran, a group of private investors involved in the export of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Ukrainian and other Eastern European markets. We felt it would strengthen our business position in Turkmenistan if we could convey to American policymakers and journalists just how heady were the reforms being plotted by the Berdymukhamedov government.

If flacking for Turkmenistan did not in itself trouble the lobbying firms, my description of The Maldon Group was designed to raise a number of bright red flags. Turkmenistan has vast reserves of natural gas, from which it earns about $2 billion per year in export revenues, but the whole business has been marked by flagrant corruption—as can be ascertained very quickly by anyone who cares to perform a Google search. A 2006 study by London-based Global Witness reported that Niyazov kept billions of dollars in gas revenues under his effective control in overseas accounts. “Perhaps the murkiest and most complex aspect of the Turkmen-Ukraine gas trade,” the report went on to say, is the role of the intermediary companies that have inserted themselves for more than a decade between Turkmenistan, Russia, Ukraine and Europe. These companies have often come out of nowhere, parlaying tiny amounts of start-up capital into billion-dollar deals. Their ultimate beneficial ownership has been hidden behind complex networks of trusts, holding companies and nominee directors and there is almost no public information about where their profits go.

By going undercover and creating a false identity he was attacked by members of the media in op-ed pages. An ironic twist in that one of the strategies the lobbyists mentioned was using the op-ed pages of credible news organizations to put forward a shinier, friendlier images of monstrous figures.

In addition to influencing news reports, Downen added, the firm could drum up positive op-eds in newspapers. “We can utilize some of the think-tank experts who would say, ‘On the one hand this and the other hand that,’ and we place it as a guest editorial.” Indeed, Schumacher said, APCO had someone on staff who “does nothing but that” and had succeeded in placing thousands of opinion pieces.


The new Monocle magazine has taken the re-positioning notion a step further, in an issue devoted to how nations can change how they’re perceived. “With corporate brands more powerful than country brands, there’s a lot of work out there for agencies keen to rethink a nation’s identity. Monocle looks at the construct of countries.” For example, Monocle muses, Liguria and Monaco could merge under the new brand/nation name “Costazurra”. “A failed Italy and a Grimaldi household in shambles presents the perfect opportunity for a marriage of convenience between Liguria and Monaco in 2014. If it sounds like a storyline from our manga series, it might well be, but it also gave us a starting point to do a bit of nation branding of our own. Welcome to Costazzurra - the hub of the Mediterranean.” Monocle gives tips on how a country might make a favorable impression: having an excellent airline, a snappy visual on a flag, don’t release too many postage stamps (this annoys collectors).


The communist era created powerful, visually sensational graphics and obscenely empty slogans but behind the shiny hoardings were dark secrets and deeds. In the post cold-war world it seems that Russia is trying to promote openness by being all message, no marketing. In a speech re-printed in the quaint and visually sombre (no colour, no images, no graphics, no website) INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: A Russian Journal of World Politics, Diplomacy and International Relations.[Issue Number 3. 2007] Russian leader Vladimir Putin says, in the ‘state of the union’ like address to the people instituted by Boris Yeltsin in 1993:

“The protracted economic crisis the country has gone through has had severe consequences for our country’s intelligentsia, for the situation in the arts and literature, for our people’s culture and creativity. To be honest, these difficulties have all but led to the disappearance of many of our spiritual and moral traditions. And yet, the absence of cultural beacons of our own,a dn blindly copying foreign models, will inevitably lead to us losing our national identity. As Dmitry Likhachev wrote, “State sovereignty is also defined by cultural criteria.” Having a unique cultural and spiritual identity has never stopped anyone from building a country open to the world. Russia has made a tremendous contribution to the formation of European and world culture. Our country has historically developed as a union of many peoples and cultures and the idea of a common community, a community in which people of different nationalities and religions live together, has been at the foundation of the Russian people’s spiritual outlook for many centuries now.”


In its July issue, Fast Company magazine profiled Al Gore’s media company and business interests. He’s created a new model for using business and catching the incoming wave of new media trends to create the kind of stewardship usually created by figures in government.

After the 2000 election, Joel Hyatt began talking with Gore about the sorry state of television and the role that the broadcast media play in the public sphere. “The line between news and entertainment is blurred,” as Gore now puts it. “Much of TV is mind deadening. It’s a one-way conduit of knowledge.” The two men discussed what Hyatt calls “an utter lack of innovation in the media industry”—a barely disguised oligopoly, as they saw it, controlling both content and competition. “We decided that we wanted to build a new kind of media company to democratize—small d—television first and the media industry generally,” Hyatt says. They would give viewers from 18 to 34 the means to create and control what went on the air—a user-generated model now familiar thanks to the likes of YouTube and MySpace, but a shot in the dark for TV back in 2002. [This became the company Current TV.]

...Gore sees no reason to apologize for not wanting to jump into the electoral fray. As a businessman, he can speak with a candor few successful politicians can maintain. He has made an enormous amount of money and achieved positions of influence from technology to financial services to media. He and Tipper are even setting themselves up as angel investors for a few early-stage tech companies they believe in. In doing one end run after another around the status quo, he has created a new life: a perfect amalgam of environmental activism and a new type of capitalism in which there is more than one bottom line to consider, more than one master to serve.

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Thursday, Sep 13, 2007

The excellent Soul Patrol site/network has two great round-tables recently posted that are definitely worth your time to listen to, both from their Philadelphia convention on May 27, 2007

Black Music Cultural/Social Impact: Moderator: Darrell McNeil- BRC, Patricia Wilson Aden- Exec. Dir. R&B Foundation, Mark Anthony Neal- Author/Educator, Dr. Ric Wilson- Artist, Jimmy Castor - Artist, Charles Wright- Artist

Jazz Panel: Moderator: Tee Watts- Broadcaster/Journalist, Geri Allen- Artist/Activist, Kayte Connelly- Former Berks Jazz Fest Exec Dir, Kenny Mead- Jazz Producer, TS Monk- Artist/Activist, Onaje Allan Gumbs- Artist/Activist

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Thursday, Sep 13, 2007

… And I’m never going back to my old school

Steely Dan, circa 1974

It’s not, as Thomas Wolfe would have it, that you can’t go home again, it is more like: why would you want to? Me? I was of the Fleetwood Mac generation, so on the subject of return my view was always more resolute, more defiant, possibly even more – dare I say it? – philosophical. More like Lindsay Buckingham, vowing:

been down one time
been down two times
and I’m never going back again

Of course, words are cheap. It is deeds that are determinative. And, caught now in the midst of a deedly act: here was I in the flesh, with a carload of baggage. History incarnate—in the form of a couple of blooming kids—and the woman who had helped me make them (!)—their mom by my side. The woman I had met, two decades or more, right


– right outside this very front windshield. Inside


building . . .


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Thursday, Sep 13, 2007

Naomi Klein, of No Logo has a new book coming out, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Judging by the blurb, (and this well-made agitprop video, directed by Alfonso Cuaron) it seems a bit clever, in the manner of a new historicist cultural studies thesis: close reading disparate texts in unlikely juxtapositions to yield surprising analogies. Capitalism is really a post-traumatic stress disorder! Milton Friedman didn’t write economics; he wrote cleverly disguised torture manuals!These then reassure readers of their perceptiveness and (in this case) convince them that they are transcending the dirty business of capitalism through sheer intellect. (They are not the gullible citizens who are in a state of shock.)

Just because the connection can be made and parallels drawn doesn’t mean the argument has empirical force. And 9/11 aside, I am wary of the idea that the social body can collectively go into a susceptible state of shock. Also, Milton Friedman’s wanting to seize opportunities to force political change is not a doctrine limited to the free marketeers—it’s essentially a principle of instigating revolutions, seizing opportunity as Lenin and the bolsheviks did in October 1917.

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