“Spotlight” At Telluride 2015

My last Telluride Film Festival review

September 11, 2015 in T-ride Film Fest | Comments (6)

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September: Telluride

 

By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

NEWSPAPERS, the first drafts of history, also used to write the loglines of movies. The logline for “Spotlight,” debuted at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and my hope for a lot of awards, goes like this: A quartet of Boston Globe investigators, publishing under a “Spotlight” logo, shames the Catholic Church, the legal profession and journalism itself in a year of stories about the systematic burying of cases of sexual abuse of children by parish priests. The 2003 Pulitzer Prize panel called the work “courageous,” and the screenplay by director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) and Josh Singer portrays that courage with artful intelligence.

We all know the general story, but this telling is new. It unfolds like a thriller. The reporters discovered a pattern of concerted reaction in contradiction of the “just a few rotten apples” p.r. strategy of the Church. When an activist group supporting the victims, mostly kids from poor Boston parishes, would manage to get a case to court, a conspiracy of silence descended like a dark curtain. A pedophile priest would get some time off and a transfer. The family of the child or children would get a patronizing visit by the archbishop and $20,000 (a limit set by a strange Massachusetts statute). The case would then be officially sealed and the victims, not the defendants, would be abandoned to live in shame.

The Spotlight reporters led by Walter Robinson saw the pattern and were the first to expose it after diligent research. Robinson is played by Michael Keaton, who is not the star because the ensemble including him, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian James is the true star. They repeatedly attempt to interview lawyers who say they can’t talk because they would be disbarred for violation legal ethics. When Robinson ridicules this, a lawyer responds that he was just doing his job. Robinson asks, then, whose job was it to look after the victims?

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Get Cam, Find Cab, Make Film

Documentary Films At Telluride

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

To get started on a documentary film you don’t need documents or film. Just take a camera – it doesn’t have to be expensive – to an interesting situation and the world will provide, if you wait long enough. The devil is in the editing. These new possibilities for non-fiction production were delightfully demonstrated in Jafa Panahi’s “Taxi” at the Telluride Film Festival.

He was in big trouble with Iranian security, and if he was seen filming he would be arrested. So he came up with a plan. Masquerading as a taxi driver, he rigged a cab with small cameras and hit the streets of Tehran. The resulting ride is, well, great taxi theatre. We see the actual humor and humanity of a country depicted by our politicians, who have never been there, as a bleak and dangerous enemy.

A loudmouth passenger sits in front complaining that a neighbor in a hurry hopped in his car and it would not go. Then the guy saw all the wheels were gone and it was sitting on blocks. If a couple of these thieves were hanged in public that would stop this car stripping, he says. A diminutive passenger in the back seat, a teacher dressed in black and covered, says, “I can’t believe what I just heard.” An argument ensues at a pitch that would make an American talk show host proud, and the loudmouth gets so mad he orders Panahi to stop and let him off.

And that’s just the first scene. There is a smuggler with a selection of DVD movies, another with banned CD albums. The taxi is flagged down at a traffic accident and Panahi rushes him to the hospital. A film student argues about the rules against depicting reality. A flower lady is going to visit political prisoners. A mugging victim spots his mugger but declines to do anything that would subject him to police interrogation. . . . If you film it, they will come.

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A Long Time On The Colorado Plateau

What happened there anyway?

July 27, 2015 in El Turista,JOURNEYS,Rio Grande West | Comments (1)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

                            

Anasazi,

Anasazi,            

tucked up in clefts in the cliffs

 growing strict fields of corn and beans

 sinking deeper and deeper in earth

 up to your hips in Gods. . . .

 

–Gary Snyder

 

They are long gone, of course, eight centuries gone, but I always think they still own those crooked canyons and sunny alcoves where they built in sandstone and wrote on walls and signed their strange writs with hand prints. After the summer heat we drove to the Colorado Plateau looking for the goners, the absentee owners. We walked their intermittent ways in the sun and sat and read or talked by the lantern in the moon. Like good journalists and good tourists we came back with stories and pictures. There was a house on fire.

 

House on Fire Ruin, Mule Canyon

As if something still raged. As if it were telling us something.

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Singapore And Lee Kwan Yew

He died March 23 at age 91

March 23, 2015 in Strait of Malaca | Comments (1)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

Some Singaporeans can ride the Mass Rapid Transit trains without holding on. They can stand there texting or reading or even napping, confident they will not be toppled. It’s a matter of experience-based trust. They know the ride will be smooth, no jolting, just as they know the doors will open precisely on the platform marks and the electronic MRT cards will debit accurately according to time traveled.

So I tried it, standing without holding on, but lacked the faith (too many rides on the New York subways). I compromised by leaning casually against a silver pole and reading. I chose something that did not require turning a lot of pages, “The World in Pieces,” an essay by the late great global anthropologist Clifford Geertz.

Leaving the Outram Park station on the East-West line:

“Since 1945 we have gone from a situation in which there were perhaps 50 or so generally recognized countries, the rest of the world being distributed into colonies, protectorates, dependencies, and the like, to one in which there are nearly 200, and almost certainly more to come. The difference, of course, is the decolonization revolution.”

Approaching Tanjong Pagar, the enclave of Chinese migrant workers between the docks and the town in colonial days, later the constituency of Lee Kwan Yew:

“The revolution has been generally understood. . . as liberation from foreign domination. . . the last wave of a global thrust toward self-determination, the rule of like over like, the modernization of governance, the unification of state and culture, or whatever. . . “

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Looking For Culture In The Malls Of Singapore

Suppose the Asian city-state is the experiment that will survive

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

Shopping for cameras in Singapore would be a cultural experience, I thought, a story to take home like eating in a hawker market or posing among the eerie manikins depicting the Japanese surrender in 1945. I thought I might discover that salesmanship is a cultural thing, that sales techniques vary with cultural diversity, if there is any such thing in global merchandising. All this helped me rationalize the intention to resist buying a fine Lumix camera made in Japan.

Our first stop was luxurious Orchard Road, where the Ion complex features designer franchises (Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, Armani) with men in black suits at the doors and Takashimaya, a Japanese department store with a fine expansive international book store. The cameras were across Orchard in the many small shops of Lucky Plaza, a less exclusive mall, where salesmen in white shirts watched professionally for, I suppose, a telltale gleam in the eye of a wandering tourist. They were team players, quick to display the merchandise and ask opportunistic questions – How long you been in Singapore? This your first visit? How long you going stay? – tests of naiveté and finality of purchase. These places were too like Times Square in New York, I thought, no ethnological material here.

But now I was in the Jurong area on the southwest part of the island at the camera counter of a big retailer that served local people (it has its own rapid rail station, a bus terminal, and expressway access, against a backdrop of high colorful new residential buildings. The amiable and studious young sales clerk watched helpfully as I toyed with the camera. Her name tag said (probably) Ling Hong. She was Chinese.

Chinese? Singapore, off the tip of the Malay peninsula and across from Sumatra, is not anywhere near China and Ling was speaking English, not Mandarin. Identifying her with cultural certainty would require knowing “whatever it is that defines identity in borderless capitalism and the global village.” These were the words of the late Clifford Geertz of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, an alarming cultural anthropologist whose essay, “The World In Pieces,” I had been studying. If he didn’t know, after a lifetime of study, what defines culture, how in the world could I? Still, if you study history rather than anthropology it’s clear that discrimination came easy for Singapore strangers, among them:

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