Climate Change at the Movies

Here are some movies and videos about climate change and human society, which I found interesting and recommend.

I think you all would enjoy the short movie, “Mazz Alone,” by Ken Avidor. This fictional story is about a man’s survival through an abrupt climate change of runaway heating. The style of presentation is a slideshow (a sequence of still images) each drawn and colored by the filmmaker, and with a running narration of the plot. It is a clever 23-and-a-half minute production that is both factually rich, entertaining, and thought-provoking. It is easy enough to image a big-budget Hollywood version of this movie, but Ken Avidor has already produced the essential work, so there’s really no need for wasting a big carbon footprint for a Hollywood extravaganza on this story.

Mazz Alone
[23:35]
https://vimeo.com/319602435

A movie I thought was really clever as regards the whole overpopulation/climate change conundrum was “Downsizing.” This film is the product of the fertile imaginations of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (and directed by Payne). “Downsizing” is a social satire with extravagant special effects, but as it was a very subtle and – by American standards – an intellectual movie, it lost money ($65+M invested, $58M take). The comic book mentality of sci-fi movie viewers did not appreciate the insufficiency of whiz-bang action, and the “boring” slide into explorations of human emotions and struggles with adaptation to extinction-avoidance. To my mind the last scene of this movie is a very powerful and poignant expression of what I think is the essential truth about personally dealing with extinction/climate change — and life in general — should be: be good to the ones you love, and expand on that as you are willing. I suspect any decent Hollywood movie these days has to be a failure.

Downsizing (2017) – Official Trailer – Paramount Pictures
[2:31]
https://youtu.be/UCrBICYM0yM

Here are a few more, but all of the following are documentaries, not fictional-plot entertainment as are “Mazz Alone” and “Downsizing.”

The Age of Stupid” is a marvelous and ahead-of-its-time (for a behind-the-times-and-unaware-of-reality mass consciousness) documentary from 2009 (made during 2005 to 2009, the years of the second G. W. Bush Administration). It presents itself as a “look back” from 2055 at the stupid lack of recognition and action by the people of 2005-2009 to the climate catastrophe that was soon to engulf them. A wonderfully factual and nicely paced film, deliciously critical of the NIMBY attitude toward wind-power and by extension green energy efforts generally, and British, so it has that patina of accessible sophistication that American audiences love about their imported PBS shows. Because of societal inertia “The Age of Stupid” has not aged (we’ve done nothing about climate change; just ask Greta), but even so a 10 year retrospective was produced by The Guardian newspaper, and it too is interesting.

The Age of Stupid
2009
[1:28:44]
https://youtu.be/awVbLg59tR8

The Age of Stupid revisited: what’s changed on climate change?
15 March 2019
[11:04]
https://youtu.be/GqHKYwxEIRA

A succinct and yet richly detailed summary of “where we are today” on climate change trends, and why COP25, like all such meetings, was a failure was very recently given by Dr. Peter Carter. This “movie” is really an interview that is nearly a monologue (which is a good thing). This has no plot and is not entertainment like a feature film, but it complements “The Age of Stupid” perfectly. This is one of those less-than-half-hour films that should be widely viewed and thought about, but, you know: sports fans and sci-fi fans couldn’t even begin to process it with its lack of comic book plot, explosions, and eye-popping CGI special effects. Human extinction is just boring.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
[23:11]
10 December 2019
https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s

For me, one of the most important videos I saw in 2019 was the presentation by Dr. Scott Wing on the scientific investigation of the global warming that occurred 56 million years ago, at the Paleocene-Eocene temporal boundary. I know this video would bore most people to tears — how unfortunately! — but it is the most wonderful and clear presentation of just exactly what happens on Earth when the global temperature (driven by massive CO2 injection) moves up 4°C, or 8°C, or more beyond today’s level. To make the information in this video more palatable to a wider audience, I made the effort to analyze this video in detail and “transcribe” its many detailed facts into my article “Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change,” which became my biggest “research paper” of the year. I think that if you are patient and watch Dr. Scott Wing’s entire presentation, you will be thoughtfully satisfied.

Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago, and What it Means For Us
30 January 2014
Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants,
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC
[1:44:12]
https://youtu.be/81Zb0pJa3Hg

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
15 July 2019
[text to accompany the above video]
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

Finally, a “fast food” or “quickie” complement to Dr. Scott Wing’s video-recorded presentation on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is the following 11 minute video produced for PBS. Enjoy it, certainly, but don’t take it as an adequate substitute to the real thing, above.

The Last Time The Globe Warmed (PETM)
PBS Eons [10:53]
4 December 2017
https://youtu.be/ldLBoErAhz4

I have not included sci-fi disaster-action-drama movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” here, because I don’t see them offering any useful thoughts about actual climate change (and population growth). Their entertainment takes you away from thinking, not into it.

Maybe some filmmaker will succeed next year, or later, in producing a Hollywood-style climate change urgency/doom movie that combines the factually-rich and dramatic narrative punch for Ken Avidor’s art film “Mazz Alone,” with the screen-writing polish and high production values of “Downsizing.” But, this may be as likely as our governments actually addressing climate change as the monumental emergency it really is.

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Criminalated Warmongers

Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn (20 June 1909 – 14 October 1959)

The Dawn Patrol is a 1938 film about British World War I fighter pilots, roistering and dying in an aerial war of attrition in France with their German counterparts. It was directed by Edmund Goulding from a screenplay written by Seton I. Miller and Dan Totheroh, which was adapted from a story by John Monk Saunders. The film starred Errol Flynn (Captain Courtney), Basil Rathbone (Major Brand), David Niven (Scott), Donald Crisp (Phipps), and Morton Lowry (Donnie Scott), and was produced by the Warner Brothers Studio as a remake of their earlier 1930 film of the same story.

The film features wonderful aerial combat sequences, filmed in 1930 with real and old World War I fighter planes, and with additional realistic scenes of action in the air and on the ground filmed in 1938. This film has no female characters at all, which was also true of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, also a World War I spectacle.

While ostensibly an action picture set in wartime, with the riotous camaraderie among young, enthusiastic, free-spirited, gung-ho, fun-loving and serially drunk air aces, The Dawn Patrol unfolds as an increasingly grim and unrelenting Greek tragedy of the loss of human connections and human lives into the maw of a vast industrialized plague of mechanized warfare. I think this film reflected the end of the period of unanimous American antiwar isolationist sentiment prior to World War II (1939-1945), which was most vividly reflected by the 1930 film All Quiet On The Western Front, which was based on Erich Maria Remarque’s incredible and timeless 1929 book of that title.

The Dawn Patrol is an excellently made film, it never drags as the sequence of scenes, whether action-packed, comedic, tense or reflective, flow smoothly across the viewing screen to present us with the braided threads of the story.

To my mind the gem among these scenes is one where Errol Flynn, as Squadron Commander Captain Courtney, is speaking privately with a fresh replacement pilot with no combat experience, Lieutenant Donnie Scott, played by Morton Lowry. Captain Courtney is welcoming this new man into the squadron, and giving him a feeling of full inclusion into the camaraderie of his fighter pilot group, before Donnie Scott’s first mission the next day, which will also sadly be Donnie’s last as we learn later. Courtney’s little speech is quiet, warm, personal, friend-to-friend and bracingly honest about the war, instead of being officious, patriotic and militaristic, from a superior to a junior officer. Courtney tells Donnie that:

The war is “a great big noisy rather stupid game that doesn’t make any sense at all. None of us know what it’s all about or why. Here we are going at it hammer and tongs, and I bet you those fellows over there feel exactly the same way about it, the enemy… Then one day I suppose it will all end as suddenly as it began. We’ll go home till some other bunch of criminalated sitting around a large table shoves us into another war and we go at it again… Do you remember my father used to be a professor of biology at Queen’s? He always used to say: man is a savage animal who periodically to relieve his nervous tension tries to destroy himself.”

When I first heard this monologue, I heard “criminal idiots” for “criminalated.” But over many repeated listenings to the recorded monologue, I could only hear 5 syllables as in “criminalated” and not 6 as in “criminal idiots.” Is “criminalated” an English word that has fallen into disuse, or is perhaps archaic?

In the trailer to The Dawn Patrol, which includes a part of this scene, one clearly hears “criminal fools,” which would be logically appropriate but is only 4 syllables. In the actual film itself the recorded speech of that scene contains the 5 syllable word which I can only decode as “criminalated.” This is true on 2 separate DVDs issued by Warner Brothers, one of the complete movie, The Dawn Patrol, and one of a documentary on Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Errol Flynn, which includes this entire scene.

Through the wonders of the Internet I learned that “criminalated” appears in the text of The Enchanceried House, a short story for juvenile readers written by Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), and included in her 1905 book Oswald Bastable and Others. One of the features of Nesbit’s stories was the misconstruction of words spoken seriously by the fictional boy Oswald Bastable, for a comedic effect on the reader. “Criminalated” appears as follows:

“No English gentleman tells a lie — Oswald knows that, of course. But an English gentleman is not obliged to criminalate himself. The rules of honor and the laws of your country are very puzzling and contradictory.”

We can imagine that Donnie Scott was born in 1897, and as an 8-year-old in 1905 read The Enchanceried House. So, in 1915 as an 18-year-old hearing from superior officer Captain Courtney, probably four years older at 22, about the meaning of World War I, that Courtney would characterize the criminality of the perpetrators of the catastrophe that would engulf them both, by using a childhood and childish reference — “criminalated” — to belittle the remote statesmen who blundered Europe into that early 20th century effort of man to destroy himself.

Men and women filmgoers in their 40s in 1938, who had read and remembered Oswald Bastable stories, could easily have recognized the “criminalated” reference in Captain Courtney’s monologue to Donnie Scott. If so, it would have given the scene added poignancy for them, since it would cast the tragedy of World War I fighter pilot deaths as a meaningless sacrifice of children.

In 1938, when Errol Flynn gave one of his best performances in The Dawn Patrol, his biologist father, Theodore Thomson Flynn, served as the Chair of Zoology at Queen’s University of Belfast. It seems Flynn’s script included a reference to his real father-son relationship, as an inside joke.

Regardless of whether one hears “criminalated,” “criminal fools” or “criminal idiots,” the accuracy of Captain Courtney’s description of the futility and criminality of World War I is indisputable. This is a gem of antiwar expression that remains relevant to the present day, within a fundamentally antiwar film that connects with its mass audience as an exciting aviation action cinema entertainment.

World War I, “the war to end all wars” lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. It ended 101 years ago today.

The Dawn Patrol (1938 film)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dawn_Patrol_%281938_film%29

The Dawn Patrol (1938)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030044/

The Dawn Patrol — Trailer
https://youtu.be/RGQYpP60J70

“But an English gentleman is not obliged to criminalate himself.”
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Oswald_Bastable_and_Others_-_Nesbit.djvu/141

High Germany
25 February 2018
https://youtu.be/2QybAQVv6jE

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See “Official Secrets”

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See “Official Secrets”

The movie Official Secrets, which is just out, is about Katharine Teresa Gun, the British translator in the U.K. government’s equivalent to the U.S.’s NSA, who leaked a top secret memo in an effort to prevent the Iraq War (in which up to 1 million Iraqis and over 35 thousand U.S. and U.K soldiers died, and many hundreds of thousands of others were injured).

That war was entirely illegal because: 1, Saddam Hussein (Iraq’s dictator in 2003) did not have weapons of mass destruction — as G.W.Bush and Tony Blair lyingly claimed, so there was no “necessity” of preemptive war as an act of self defense by the U.S. and U.K; and 2, because the U.S. and U.K. did not get a U.N. Security Council resolution to go to war against Iraq, because the world body did not see Iraq as a threat to the rest of the world. The failure to get that U.N. resolution was a result of the publication of Katharine Gun’s leaked information.

The memo Katharine Gun exposed was from a “Frank Koza” at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the U.K.’s NSA equivalent) asking the Brits to help bug the communications of other members of the U.N. Security Council (the non-permanent members at the time) to dig up dirt to be used to blackmail them into voting for war as Bush and Blair wanted — despite the lack of evidence (no WMDs) that war was justified.

Gun’s information eventually made it to the public, and caused such embarrassment to the British Government that after a year of terrifying harassment of Gun (including almost deporting her Turkish Kurdish husband), and taking her to trial (with a long sentence if found guilty of “treason,” and she had confessed), they dropped the case rather than reveal the government documents requested as evidence by the defense, because those documents (findings on the question of the legality of the proposed war, by Lord Goldstone, the U.K. attorney general) in fact explicitly stated that the war was illegal and Bush and Blair were fabricating fake intelligence to try and pull the wool over the eyes of the U.N. and the American and British public.

Katharine Gun (and the reporters and attorneys who worked to expose the government lies and defend Katharine) were exonerated, and she is a real-life heroine of historical significance — Daniel Ellsberg stated that her actions were more significant than his! Bush, Blair and their government associates, who perpetrated the massive Iraq War Crime (20 March 2003) — whose massively bloody and tragic consequences continue to this very moment — remain free, wealthy, untroubled by even a hint of Nuremberg style prosecutions, and are now even nostalgically “rehabilitated” (in the media stories aimed at the gum-chewing ADHD public, as by a sweet-smiling Michelle Obama cozying up to “oh gosh” Georgie Porgie) by comparisons to Trump today.

Once again, America managed to destroy a country, Iraq, and consume monumental amounts of American national treasure, and sacrifice thousands of American lives (as well as thousands of British lives, and hundreds of thousands to perhaps a million Iraqi lives) to lose a war — “lose” since it had no value to the public from the get-go — a war of choice, and an illegal war of aggression (just like Hitler’s war in Poland on 1 September 1939) which our highly privileged war criminals perpetrated. But, they got away with it.

America as a nation failed again (remember Vietnam?). The United Kingdom as a nation failed. To the extent that the American people and the UKanian people do not remember all this, and apply the tragic lesson of the Iraq War — and the Vietnam War — today to prevent the new called-for wars: on Iran, or in Yemen (to help the war criminal Saudis? to help the war criminal Israelis?, really?) and elsewhere that our highly privileged war criminals think they can make a buck and puff up their Wall Street portfolios; to the extent that these publics are so out of touch that they have no flaming anti-war consciousness, they and their nations are failing miserably. Failure is paid for in oceans of blood shed by innocent, naïve, common people, both foreign and domestic.

So I urge you to see the movie Official Secrets. It is well-made, well-played, literate, intelligent, riveting, honest. By doing so you can thank and honor an incredibly brave woman of inspiringly solid moral principle — Katharine Teresa Gun — as well as the journalists and lawyers who made their best efforts to prevent an illegal and unnecessary war; and you can use that viewing experience to help invigorate you own convictions to become aware of truth and not be lulled by indolent comfort or stupid bigotry into acquiescing to the war crime schemes (and the theft from the public commons schemes) of our all-too immune highly privileged war criminals, past and present.

By the way, a kid in my high school class (1968) was called “Frank Koza.” Don’t know if he’s the same one.

Here is the trailer to “Official Secrets”
https://youtu.be/V3vIYy38Fys

Here are the two parts of a round table interview of Katharine Gun, conducted by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!; as well as of the movie’s director, and the two key journalists who broke the story using Katharine’s information.

PART 1:
This U.K. Whistleblower Almost Stopped the Iraq Invasion. A New Film Tells Her Story
July 19, 2019
https://youtu.be/u6n1VFDJ3CY

PART 2:
15 Years Later: How U.K. Whistleblower Katharine Gun Risked Everything to Leak Damning Iraq War Memo
July 19, 2019
https://youtu.be/CWtIu7mbnbM

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For more about my photo taken at the Iraq War protest in San Francisco, in 2003, see:

https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/04/10/iraq-war-protest-sf-2003/

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Cinema Art From 1968 For Today

For me, 1968 was the most consequential year in American history since the end of World War Two. It was a year filled with uplifting superlatives like: the explosion of fierce creativity and variety in popular music and the arts generally, including the premier of that revolutionary television program for as yet unconditioned humans, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; and it was a year filled with disastrous superlatives like: the meat-grinder crescendo of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and the urban riots sparked by anger over King’s murder and America’s stubbornly embedded racism.

I think that in the fifty years since, the U.S. has regressed socially, culturally and intellectually (except in a few important areas regarding the treatment of women and LGTB people) while simultaneously advancing technologically. But, so much of that technological advancement has been skewed and debased with wasteful profit-seeking and idiotic consumerism. We are a country of lowered imagination, aspirations, expectations, hopes and economic opportunities, awash in highly advanced electronic technologies diffusing stupidity and disinformation for continuous mass distraction and disempowerment.

So, I found it bracing and reinvigorating to recently see three movies — playing in theaters this summer of 2018 — that are each masterpieces of or about that time half a century ago, and remain fresh and compelling today.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, a superb and touching documentary about Fred Rogers and his long-running and revolutionary children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is actually a film of 2018. Its very existence begs the question: why is such television programming no longer being broadcast daily as a government-funded public service? (I know, commercialism über alles). Among the many amazing stories in this film is that of the overt and explicit anti-war message of Fred Rogers’ TV show in its first week of broadcast, in February 1968, which was during the height of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War and also the month of the highest rate of fatalities of US soldiers in that war (it was far worse for the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians all the time).

Remember, Fred Rogers aimed his messages against war, against bigotry, about facing death, about dealing with your parents’ divorce, and about many other real world experiences both big and small, to children in the toddler, pre-school, kindergarten and very early grammar school years; amazing!

In being free of the macho insecurities so closely guarded and secreted by so many of America’s outwardly manly men, and with his strength of character and absolute commitment to love and to the respect of children, he remains for me “the strongest man in America.”

“Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously reprinted as a 70mm six channel soundtrack Cinerama spectacular, and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it today (17 August 2018). Not only is this a movie masterpiece, it is one of the great works of art of the 20th century, and it remains an advanced work of conceptual, philosophical and cinema art today, and is likely to remain as such for quite some time to come.

This film conveys a visceral experience of encountering utterly alien intelligence in the unbounded expanse of unworldly space-time, by use of expansive and profound visual imagery combined with lush, majestic and enveloping music — classical music! — and by the use of deep silences and grandly unhurried pacing, which is so alien to our cacophonous myopic zero attention span hamster wheel earthly circus.

This movie rewards whatever exercising of your intellect you engage in as a result, by resonating with your own pondering and speculations on ultimate questions. It was grand immersing myself in this masterpiece again, on the big screen with the big sound, my eyes filled with wonder, my mind abuzz with transcendence.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_e9y-bka0

YELLOW SUBMARINE premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously restored and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it last month, a wonderful experience. See it if you can, on the big screen with the big sound: Beatles music with imaginatively unrivaled animated imagery.

Now more than ever we need the spirit of Yellow Submarine to permeate the populace, because the Blue Meanies are out there in force devastating our world with their dour dumbfounding deadly doofusness. Revolution is first and foremost a matter of heart — many revolutionary good, strong and happy hearts — and this movie has a lot of heart. It also remains an advanced work of art, given the sad reality of our decayed, stagnant and backward culture.

“All you need is love.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOlwwoZLoKE

I don’t want to come across as an old fogy disparaging today’s youth by complaining that “things were better when I was a kid than they are today.” What I do wish to encourage is that people look back with appreciation to the real gems of the not-that-distant past, to both learn from and be heartened by them, and to help today’s vibrant (young!) people to infuse their now-time with heart, love and revolution, and thus help create both artistic and material advances of real human value to our shared national and world societies.

Enjoy!

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to Climate Change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero-carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.

The problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

The “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.
I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.
I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizing were the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu, and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction
30 April 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/

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Of related interest:

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci43.html

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Superheroes Require Mega-Victims

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Superheroes Require Mega-Victims

During the Roman Empire
crowds flocked to the Colosseum to see
their favorite gladiators kill many disposable victims,
so these fervent fans could experience
an ecstasy of entertainment
and fantasize about being would-be heroes
of glorious combat followed by popular acclaim.

In the American Empire
crowds flock to the big-screen Colosseums to see
their comic-book superheroes kill mega-evil super-villains
who kill many disposable victims,
so these fervent fans can experience
an ecstasy of entertainment
and fantasize about being would-be heroes
of glorious combat followed by popular acclaim.

Our bipolar dualities of superheroes and super-villains
require the mega-deaths of innocent mega-victims
– both real and imagined –
so our patriotic gunmen,
whether in police, the NRA, militias, or just lone sociopaths
– all in their closeted secret fears –
can fantasize about being would-be heroes
who will one day kill a bad guy and blaze to glory
to the ecstatic popular acclaim
of the telescreen-mesmerized masses
jammed into our handheld and big-screen Colosseums.

The reason we have so many guns in America
is because we have so many frustrated ignorant people.

21 February 2018

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Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies

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Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies

On 24 November 2017, Amanda Almanac McIllmurry posted a request for: “Any suggestions for ‘socialist’ psychology books that are easily digestible [for a young student interested in becoming a psychology major]? Also, any suggestions for books with a leftist analysis of the military, which a teenage boy that’s super into the idea of joining the Army could read” [and reconsider such a choice.]?

Here, I have pasted together my various answers (from 27 November 2017 and 22 January 2018) to Amanda’s query (which I think is very important).

ANTI-WAR:

“Dispatches” (1977) by Michael Herr. This book was called the best “to have been written about the Vietnam War” by The New York Times Book Review; novelist John le Carré called it “the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time.” Michael Herr co-wrote the screenplay to the movie “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) by Stanley Kubrick. (See the wikipedia article on “Michael Herr”). I would also recommend the movie “Sir, No Sir!” (2005) about the anti-war movement (resistance!) within the armed forces during Vietnam War. You can find it on-line. The ultimate anti-war movie of my lifetime is “Hearts and Minds,” (1974), which is a masterpiece by Peter Davis (and won an Academy Award in 1975!). You could ramble through my huge web-page called “Haunted by the Vietnam War,” which is on my blog (manuelgarciajr.com), and which lists many links to books and videos (and probably gives links to the movies mentioned here).

“All Quiet On The Western Front,” a classic of 20th century world literature, and also made into a great movie, starring Lew Ayres (a pacifist). Another world-treasure movie to put you off war is Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion.” Both these movies are from the 1930s, when the bitter memories of WWI were still very fresh. Since both are masterpieces, they have been restored in recent times, and look and sound good (and on DVD). Modern movies that could put you off war are MASH (1970), but it has so much humor that some might miss the anti-war basis of the film (I sure didn’t in 1970!); and “Full Metal Jacket” by Stanley Kubrick (about the Vietnam War), but the violence in it might be a bit too much for the young. For Americans today, I think the all-time best anti-war film is the documentary “Hearts and Minds.” It is THE BEST film about the Vietnam War, and was released in 1974, while the war was still in progress. I just saw it again a few weeks ago; incredible. What is so compelling about it is that almost all of it is the telling of first hand experiences of soldiers who survived (not always intact). It just so happens I took a Vietnam Vet friend of mine to the V.A. hospital today, for a pre-op medical visit. There were numerous patched-up survivors of military “service” (use) in the hallways. For a combination of humanizing psychology and overt anti-war basis, see the movie “Captain Newman, M.D.,” (1962) which stars Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, Eddie Albert, Tony Curtis, and Bobby Darin (in an amazing performance). Capt. Newman tries to heal soldiers from PTSD, and he hears about what gave them PTSD. Once “cured,” they’re shipped back out into action. This is a great film, a total anti-Rambo.

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SOCIALIST-PSYCHOLOGY (E-Z):

This is harder for me to find. Reading numerous titles by Chomsky, Balzac, Alan Watts, Hannah Arendt and C. G. Jung would be a bit much for a teenager or young college student. I would suggest “Man’s Search For Meaning” (1946) by Viktor E. Frankl, one of the supremely inspiring books of the 20th century – easy to read, yet causes much thinking; written by a psychiatrist based on his personal experiences in survival. I wrote an essay on this idea of “socialist psychology” and survival, called “Epiphany On The Glacier,” which is also posted on my blog. I give references to a number of books (including Frankl’s) that helped me present the main concept. My essay is presented as an adventure story of survival in the snowy wild.

The psychology book I enjoyed most is more of a philosophy-autobiography book, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” by Carl Gustav Jung. It’s not hard to read, nor too long, nor preachy nor text-booky, and it has the virtue of being quite different than the usual orthodox psychology books. But I can’t say it’s overtly leftist, though it is intended to be very humanizing. I, personally, found it fascinating and have read it several times. With Jung, it helps a lot if you also have a very strong interest in Taoism and Buddhism (and Asian philosophies, generally).

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The photo is of John F. Kennedy’s grave in 1964. I took this photo while on a class (school) trip.

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ADDENDUM (17 June 2018):

ANTI-WAR FILMS:

What are your favorite anti-war films? Such movies are focused on showing the harm, damage (physical and psychological) and stupidity of war, and are intent to deglorify war, and turn the audience against blind patriotism and war-making as “solutions” to political and international conflicts.

Anti-war movies are NOT movies that use war situations JUST TO:

(1) present stories of adventure and heroic personal actions (almost exclusively of violence) by attractive, sympathetic and “patriotic” characters;

(2) show dramatic and exciting stories of admirable personal endurance, survival and self-sacrifice by individuals trapped in situations of overwhelming danger (though this particular variety of war movie can approach being fully and openly anti-war);

(3) be patriotic morale-boosters for “your side” during a war (or before an anticipated war);

(4) entirely be comedies that use war situations as the settings and backdrop.

Anti-war movies CAN have elements of: adventure, heroism, “exciting’ violence, stories of personal endurance and self-sacrifice, and comedy, but they cannot be conventionally patriotic, and the center-of-gravity of these films must be fully and overtly the anti-war intent. All war films use war in an effort to make commercially successful mass entertainment, but true anti-war films are intentionally using film-making art to motivate a mass audience to be deeply anti-war, anti-violence, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy, and to divorce patriotism from unthinking jingoism, belligerence, violence and obedience to militarism.

The following is a list of movies I see as anti-war (18+, listed chronologically). They vary, some being very grim while others are very comedic, yet all are full-fledged anti-war films (to my way of thinking). I recommend them all and would be interested in your comments about them, and also about other films you would nominate as committed anti-war movies.

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)

La Grande Illusion (1937)

Lost Horizon (1937)

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Paths Of Glory (1957)

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

On The Beach (1959)

Captain Newman, M.D. (1962)

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966)

Catch-22 (1970)

MASH (1970)

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Hearts And Minds (1974)

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
[“Redux” is an expanded version, and I prefer it.]

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Sir, No Sir! (2005)

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“On The Beach” is a post-apocalyptic (nuclear war), end-of-the-world novel written by British-Australian author Nevil Shute after he emigrated to Australia. It was published in 1957. The novel was adapted for the screenplay of this 1959 film featuring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire.

The “answer” for the best way to face certain doom is the same answer for how to gain a fulfilling life and create a good society: helping and comforting one another, and having compassion for all. Because this movie shows this clearly, it has not aged even by 1 second – we could learn from it now. SEE IT!!

https: // www. youtube. com / watch? v= EMzEWpKKOZs
[close the spaces to spell out the functional web-link]

 

 

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