film, politics


Dear Zmierzch: Przed świtem; Część 1,

I would definitely not recommend seeing you to any women who have had, might someday have, or know anyone who has ever had a baby, a difficult pregnancy, complications, a miscarriage, or an abortion. In summary, memorable: yes; enjoyable: no. By turns dreary and sickening. If you want to hear a lot more about what I thought about the film, and why it’s so awful, read on; if you don’t, don’t.

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film, Poland, politics

Last night,

after buying a train ticket for my trip to Wrocław tomorrow, I went to the first evening of the Warsaw Film Festival, at the Kinoteka in the Pałac Kultury i Nauki, and saw the European premiere of an incredible documentary, “A Bitter Taste of Freedom,” about the career and murder of journalist Anna Politovskaya.

She was killed, in all likelihood (her murder is still very much unsolved) as retaliation for her conducting hard-hitting investigative journalism, about Chechnya and refugee issues within Russia. Her writing was heavily critical of the Russian government.

Yesterday’s date (10/8/11) was the five-year anniversary of the attack on Politovskaya, and her death. The film had been screened earlier that day for an audience of her family members in Russia.

The producer, Malcolm Dixelius, was present for a Q&A with the audience afterwards.

Here’s more about the film, from an August Variety review:

Profoundly moving, politically provocative and apt to provoke moral outrage in anyone short of Vladimir Putin, “A Bitter Taste of Freedom” is acclaimed documentarian Maria Goldovskaya’s portrait of her longtime friend Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading Russian journalist whose still-unsolved 2006 murder remains a symbol of the national corruption she tried to expose. Goldovskaya does not concern herself with the killing as much as with Politkovskaya’s character and the conflicts in Chechnya she covered so doggedly, presumably leading to her death. Festival play and likely ecstatic word of mouth should lead to a specialty run beyond the pic’s Oscar-qualifying DocuWeeks berth.

Pic reps a very personal follow-up to Goldovskaya’s 1991 docu “A Taste of Freedom,” in which Politkovskaya and her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Russian TV personality Sasha, were subjects. That film was made during Russia’s honeymoon with democracy; that things haven’t quite worked out is clear from the title of the new pic, which was originally intended to be a sequel set in the post-Putin era.

In preparation for a film that would have reassessed the course of Russian history since the fall of communism, Goldovskaya interviewed Politkovskaya extensively, yielding the powerful, poignant conversations that are at the heart of “A Bitter Taste of Freedom.” Politkovskaya, whose public persona seemed rather severe (especially to Westerners who saw her only in still photographs), is heartbreakingly lovely here, not just physically, but artistically: From the resolve she brings to her work, she seems to know she’s sealing her own fate.

books, politics, quotes

a serious man with a sense of humor

So, if you actually did examine my bookshelves you could probably reach some reasonably accurate conclusions about my age, class, nationality, sexuality and so on. You would see that I’m not some dangerous, volatile, politically extreme nut job. Rather, you would decide that I’m a bookish, cosmopolitan sophisticate, with broad, quirky and unpredictable interests, a taste for literary experimentation, a sense of history, a serious man with a sense of humor and a wide range of sympathies. At any rate, that’s what I’d like you to think.

– Geoff Nicholson, “The Perils of Literary Profiling,” NYT

israel, politics

“British director Mike Leigh canceled his scheduled visit to Israel yesterday in the wake of the cabinet’s controversial decision to approve an amendment to the Citizenship Law last week requiring non-Jews to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”

Haaretz. Via AJ.


until the law catches up to the culture

“Dramatically enough, “Glee” generated an unexpected real-life story last weekend to match its fictional plots. The Times’s Sunday wedding pages chronicled the Massachusetts same-sex marriage of Jane Lynch, the actress who steals the show as Sue Sylvester, the cheerleading coach who is the students’ comic nemesis. It’s a sunny article until you read that Lynch’s spouse, a clinical psychologist named Lara Embry, had to fight a legal battle to gain visitation rights with her 10-year-old adoptive daughter from a previous relationship. That battle, which Dr. Embry ultimately won, was required by Florida’s draconian laws against gay adoption — laws that were enacted during Anita Bryant’s homophobic crusades of the 1970s and more recently defended in court, for an expert witness fee of $120,000, by the Rev. Rekers of renown.

We’ve come a long way in a short time, but as the Embry case exemplifies, glee for gay people in America still does not match “Glee” on Fox. Until the law catches up to the culture, the collective American soul should find even June’s wedding Champagne a bit flat.”

– Frank Rich in the NYT

books, politics

Happy July 21st, D. H. Lawrence!

TODAY is the 50th anniversary of the court ruling that overturned America’s obscenity laws, setting off an explosion of free speech…
The historic case began on May 15, 1959, when Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press, sued the Post Office for confiscating copies of the uncensored version of D. H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” which had long been banned for its graphic sex scenes.

– Fred Kaplan, “The Day Obscenity Became Art,” NYT. It’s a great article.


homeward bound

As a reminder of the world we are returning to, as opposed to the world we are leaving, we are discussing the dearth of health care in the United States – telling horror stories about hospitalizations and bills, and qualifying for Medicaid on freelance income, and doctor shortages in TX and MA. America, America. See you soon.

chicago, politics

Feels like summer!

My mother has a tradition of not watching or paying attention to the Cal football team, because she says that if she does, they lose. Sometimes she even tries not to hear the scores.

In this vein, during the ceremony and the speech, when everyone in the country was watching, I was wandering on foot on Madison from Michigan to Wacker, crossing the river, crossing the freeway, staring at the sky, which got bluer the longer I walked.

Through a humorous but very Dara sequence of events and a misplaced bus pass, I ended up walking home, all the way from downtown to Humboldt Park, which isn’t that far, really – less than five miles. I walked very slowly. I walked on Milwaukee and Division, all the way home. The city was subdued. I was subdued.

On the way home, because I was walking, I stopped into the office of an organization I’ve been thinking about stopping in on for six months, and had a good talk with them. It seemed like a day when anything could happen, and something did.

At night, I went to yoga class. The teacher said she expected to find us dancing when she came in, but we were sitting there, quiet as schoolchildren, ten mice on yoga mats. The real work begins now, doesn’t it? This is where we figure out who we, as a country, are – and if we can deal with the enormous problems that lie ahead of us.

I still didn’t believe it, not really, when I went to bed. It was too quiet.

Finally, this morning, I finally let myself go online and start to believe that it had really happened – that Barack Obama is our President. I let myself Google Michelle’s dress and Barack’s speech and a glorious photo montage of all his advisors and cabinet staff. I typed “” into my browser and saw that his Web aesthetic has overtaken even that stentorian site.

It’s real. Barack Obama is our President.

Yesterday and today, as if the sun came out to celebrate with us, it’s been two glorious beautiful days in Chicago, with positively liveable temperatures, and people on the streets are laughing and shouting “Feels like summer!” at each other.

So it does.

chicago, politics

talking to strangers

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States of America.

Last night, at a Bucktown bar and a Bucktown taqueria that reminded me of the Mission, a friend and I got into a 1 am discussion with a pair of opinionated Chicago strangers. We disagreed with each other on every point in the playbook* – Steelers vs. Cardinals, voter registration, economic policy, the bailout, Obama’s merits. It was a reminder to me, from within my pro-Barack haze of euphoria, that there are many, many people in this country for whom the jury is still out.

What further argument can you pursue when one person thinks everything works through the “trickle-down” economic principle and the other thinks nothing does? Still, I like it when discussions happen between strangers, especially with opposing viewpoints. One of them at least conceded that Obama had a chance to be better than Bush, and that the Steelers were probably the favorites (but not, in both cases, by how much!)

One of the main reasons I like Obama’s chances as a President so much is his ability to engage in debate and discussion across the aisle, with respect. We need that so much, especially in times like these. Although our Republican taqueria stranger wasn’t willing to give us even that, I’ll give you a six-point spread – hell, six and a half – that he is going to keep on trying to work with the Republicans every single day of his term.

Here’s to an era of American politics where we all talk to a lot more strangers.

* except Iraq. This man was one of the most Republican Republicans I’ve ever spoken to, and he agreed that we had no good reason to be in that war.

chicago, politics

that our flag was still there

Tonight, 24 hours before the inaguration, the American flag flying at the corner of 47th and Drexel in Hyde Park, Chicago, was waving in the falling snow with proud, slow, deliberate ripples. Like it wanted to be at the front of a Presidential motorcade.

I stood at the corner, full of Eileen and Danny’s pasta, shuffling my boots in the snow, waiting for the 47 bus, and watching pointillist snowflakes sparkle in the night around the flagpole.

Watch me, said the flag. Watch me.
Watch me.

I hope I never forget what it feels like to be this proud of my country.