The Electric Commentary

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Wisconsin Film Festival

I attended the Wisconsin Film Festival this weekend, and managed to squeeze in three movies.

The first was Dandelion, a coming of age story about a kid named Mason who lives in a farm community. His family (and really, every family in the area) seems very dysfunctional, as does Mason himself, until he spends two years in a juvenile detention facility for a crime he did not commit. He comes out a better person, and has a positive impact on everyone around him. He manages to dodge the rampant drug use in the community, and to pick up a steady girlfriend. Telling anymore will give away too much, but overall, it's worth seeing.

At times, it hits you over the head with dysfunction. Mason's mother is quickly established as an alcoholic, as she pours a glass of vodka for herself at the slightest hint of conflict. However, over time it seems like she is never without a full glass, even though she shows few signs of intoxication. While I'm sure that rural areas have their share of problems, this particular farming community had a bigger drug problem than my Chicago neighborhood. This seems unlikely.

Still, it is beautifully filmed, and the two leads Vincent Kartheiser and Taryn Manning are very good. It reminded me a bit of American History X, and The Shawshank Redemption, crossed with American Beauty, set in the boonies.

The second film was Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth. This is a documentary on the life, and the contributions to music, of Bernie Worrell, the electronic keyboard player of Parliament and the Talking Heads. The movie focuses on the rock stars that have worked with Bernie (David Byrne, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Tina Weymouth, Mos Def, etc.), and they all agree on three things:

1. Bernie is extremely talented. And indeed, this seems to be the case. He was a classically trained phenom in his youth who would sneak out to jam with Parliament at their barbershop. His signature sound gives P-Funk that Mothershiply goodness. Where Phil Spector came up with the "wall of sound," Bernie seems to have produced the wall of strangely appropriate psychedelic white noise. There would also be no Snoop or Dr. Dre songs without Bernie. They sample him liberally.

2. Bernie is nuts. He speaks nonsense, when you can understand him at all. They all say that he's great to work with, and maybe he is, but you can tell that his mind is somewhere else.

3. Bernie got screwed. Of course, a lot of recording artists were screwed, forced to sign away their rights. Bernie was one of them. In spite of co-authoring several P-funk hits he sees no residuals. Consequently he lives in a Motel Six.

An interesting short film at only 39 minutes, although youÂ’re left wondering why Bernie remains so poor if David Byrne and George Clinton are so concerned about him.

The last movie I took in was also the worst. It's called War I$ $ell, and it is allegedly a documentary about government propaganda. It is, in fact, a rather heavy-handed screed against the war in Iraq. Given that fact, it is a terribly ironic movie.

I find Nazi propaganda, its unique style, and its startling potency, fascinating, and I expected this movie to cover the topic at least a bit. The Nazis are barely mentioned.

The gist of it is that current American propaganda is similar to that used by Woodrow Wilson during World War One. That the Nazis are barely mentioned is a stunning omission, and it is only one of several stunning omissions. Many hacks are interviewed claiming that Americans, in general, have been brainwashed. The members of the Bush Administration come across as brilliant manipulators, which, as you know, they are not. We learn shocking things like:

1. The government has an agenda, and attempts to push that agenda. (I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!)
2. The government will sometimes lie to you!
3. When the country is at war, the government will attempt to rouse support for that war.
4. The Nazi's learned propaganda from the US and England. Propaganda was apparently invented circa 1900 in one of these countries.

The film fails by failing to distinguish good wars from bad wars. War is itself evil. While it is fair to question American involvement in any number of wars, the idea that our involvement in WWII was somehow wrong is despicable. The film repeatedly states that people are not naturally warlike and that something must persuade them to go to war. The West is blamed for every evil in existence, and it's populace are treated as sheep.

At least when you see a Michael Moore film, Moore is up front about his topic. Obviously F-911 was going to be an antiwar film ridiculing the Bush administration. Nothing wrong with that, this is America. This film pretends to be a scholarly, sober documentary. I won't go into every little detail here, but if you want a fun night of nit-picking poor arguments, it may be worth a rental. If you're already against the war in Iraq, just rent F-911 again. If you're for it or in the middle somewhere, you will probably feel insulted. This movie, like all propaganda, has nothing but contempt for its audience.


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