Monthly Archives: June 2013

It’s the pitch, not the message: No

Part Wag The Dog, part The Candidate, No shows how advertising how smiles and positivist drivel can force a military junta out of power. After nearly fifteen years of rule, the government of General Augusto Pinochet announced in 1988 that a plebiscite would determine whether he remain in power as president (a “yes” vote) or allow parliamentary and presidential elections in a year (“no,” the film’s title). Over twenty-seven nights leading up to the October vote, each side had fifteen minutes per night in which to present its point of view. The opposition hires René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), who’d specialized in soft drink and clothing advertising. Quickly he decides that airing Pinochet’s sins — the tortured, the imprisoned, the disappeared — would be powerful but ineffective. Chile, he reasons, wants to think of the future. A happy ad campaign, populated with dancers, performers, and artists singing merry songs would work best. The battered recidivist left recoils. “I don’t like to think of democracy as a ‘product,'” an earnest leftist says, while another counters, “I’ve always seen democracy as a fun thing.”

Interweaving clips from the rather ghastly campaign with fresh scenes shot in crappy magnetic reels to duplicate the look of eighties television, Pablo Larrain keeps the action hopping but it’s not clear if his film endorses Saavedra’s means as much as he does his ends. The No Campaign videos incorporate the rictus-grin communalism of “We Are The World” and “Hands Across America,” as if to suggest that Chileans can “combat” Pinochet as easily as USA For Africa did famine and Dionne and Friends did HIV, that choruses can replace picket lines. What is clear is the intellectual bankruptcy of the Pinochet gerontocracy; asking el general to wear civilian clothes while kissing babies is the best it can do. Intimidation is the next step. Attempts to “humanize” Saavedra with electric trains and concern about his tow-headed blond son just pad this modest film, whose intelligence is to document the absorption of social protest in a battered country into the capitalism that the rightist junta set in motion; the texture of No itself underscores its acceptance of “Mad Men” tactics. The parallels to The Candidate reify in the conclusion: when the shellshocked junta realizes it has lost by a wide margin and agrees to the democratic transfer of power, a dazed Saavedra wanders home, “What do we do now?” etched on his face.

The state with the prettiest name

Florida was swampland. Our elected officials have never stopped treating it as property, to be sold to the highest bidder. Rick Scott, at it again:

The nation’s largest outsourcing of prison medical care is finally underway in Florida with the state turning to a private company with a history of problems in other states

Corizon Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., plans to start work Aug. 1 after Florida won a two-year legal fight with a public employee union that accused the Legislature of illegally seeking to privatize health care in most prisons by steering the decision to a 14-member Legislative Budget Commission.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and a second union representing physicians and dentists won the first round in circuit court. The state prevailed in the First District Court of Appeal, where a three-judge panel upheld the right of the commission to approve a budget transfer for the project and ruled that the prison system has “broad authority” under law to contract for services.

The decision rescued Corizon’s $230 million contract and gives Gov. Rick Scott another opportunity to show how the state workforce continues to shrink on his watch.

Corrections Secretary Mike Crews has sent letters to 1,756 employees, notifying them that Corizon will take over all health care in prisons in north and central Florida.

“The position you currently occupy with the Department will no longer be available,” Crews wrote.

He added that all displaced workers have a right to job interviews with Corizon and said: “It is anticipated that Corizon will ultimately employ a majority of health services employees.”

Some will earn less money than before and they will no longer accrue pension benefits with the Florida Retirement System. A spokesman for Corizon, Brian Fulton, declined to discuss the compensation package being offered to Florida workers.

The last days of Orson Welles

Chief among the charms of This is Orson Welles are the star’s lapidary insights into contemporaries: Bunuel (“the most supremely religious director” in cinema), Sternberg (“a perfect, really an immense visual command over what is finally kitsch”), the pacing of a Capra film. Peter Biskind’s My Lunches with Orson promises similar delights. Richard Brody quotes Welles at the peak of his perfect, really immense command over what is finally self-pity:

Houseman has had twenty commercials on camera. I’ve had one. I’m in terrible financial trouble…. If Wesson Oil would let me say that Wesson Oil is good, instead of Houseman, I’d be delighted, but nobody will take me for a commercial…. A real mystery: why they prefer Houseman, with his petulant, arrogant, unpleasant manner…. It’s a very weird and terrible situation. I don’t know where to turn… If I got just one commercial, it would change my life!… There is no “meantime.” It’s the grocery bill. I haven’t got the money. It’s that urgent…. Get me on that fuckin’ screen and my life is changed.

Houseman is John, whom he loathed for most of his post-Citizen Kane life. Wesson oil is a commercial, shown often when I was in elementary school. Welles shouldn’t have sulked. Had he lived long enough he’d have seen his ancient rival in this scene, as oily as usual.

“In this modern civilization women have agency”

I’ve read it before but rarely in such plainspoken prose. Digby:

Biology makes pregnancy very easy for most women. Nature very strongly wants us to procreate and it has no care for the circumstances under which we do it. Women get pregnant in times of war and famine and regardless of their ability to raise the child. Left up to nature women die frequently in this process and many, many babies die in infancy. If we use the appeal of nature, that’s what we are really talking about.

But in this modern civilization in which women have agency, free will and lives that are not dictated by these “natural” events, that is pretty damned barbaric. Because of their role in human procreation, choices women make about reproduction are fundamental if they are to be able to function freely as equal citizens with the ability to fulfill their potential — and do the right thing by their families present and future.

New moms like Natasha, in good circumstances although tired and hurting, thrilled with her new baby are what we want for every family. And yet some women will give birth into bad circumstances and make the best of it. Others will endure the physical and emotional pain and give their child up for adoption. And many others will decide that doing either of those things is wrong for them and they will have an abortion. Also too, most of those women will have other children and have happy and fulfilling lives as mothers.

Singles 6/28

Several years and millions of dollars later, Ryan Tedder assembles the oddest track of his career; imagine Rob Thomas studying the Killers. Kelly Clarkson goes Shania, Action Bronson goes stupid, Ciara goes blank (with help), and Todd Terje goes sublime (as usual).

Click on links for full reviews.

Todd Terje – Strandbar (Disko) (7)
Angel Haze – No Bueno (7)
M.I.A. – Bring the Noize (6)
Kelly Clarkson – Tie It Up (6)
Sistar – Give it to Me (6)
Webbie – What I Do (6)
OneRepublic – Counting Stars (5)
CSS – Hangover (5)
Thomas Rhett – It Goes Like This (5)
Ciara ft. Nicki Minaj – I’m Out (4)
Action Bronson – Strictly 4 My Jeeps (4)
Eliza Doolittle – Big When I Was Little (4)

Glad you’re alive: Jason Isbell

41z19TONudL._SX300_Jason Isbell isn’t in the Drive-By Truckers anymore because he drinks. A recent New York Times Magazine profile reveals secrets and torments enough for a lifetime of songs. Southeastern, Isbell’s best solo album, boasts one exquisitely wrought tune after another, muffled by the staid arrangements of singer-songwriterdom. Tropes like doppelgangers (“Live Oak”) and the wages of sin on the highway (“Different Days”) would signify if Isbell showed a willingness to share them, which in this context means giving them the arena-ready Drive-By treatment. The beloved who’s buried below the water line in “Live Oak” requires a livelier sendoff, or, rather, a band around which Isbell’s finely wrought guitar solo can express its quiet despair. “The one thing that’s clear to me/no one dies with dignity” to which “Elephant” builds would pack the resonance of an insight if a full band had fleshed out its caustic couplets; in its current form it’s complacent, a miscellany of mordant putdowns like the worst of Elvis Costello. To his credit, he does rock — tentatively, as if afraid to awaken the corpses — on “Super 8,” and on “Relatively Easy,” as poignant as peak John Prine, the rue is inseparable from the wisdom; the guy who overdosed on Klonopin might get judged someday, but Isbell is no position to. Examining a catalog of wasted lives, he realizes that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.