Posted by Fran Korotzer - November 21, 2010 | Film Review


Julia Bacha, Director/Producer, Addressing Audience
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On October 18th at the Quad Cinema in NY’s Greenwich Village there was a screening of the award-winning documentary, “Budrus”, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, Resistance Cinema and several other groups. The film is about a small Palestinian agricultural village on the West Bank which happens to be one of 6 villages that is about to be surrounded by the wall that Israel is building. The wall will separate the village of Budrus from 300 acres of their land and will destroy their olive trees.

As the film opens we are introduced to Ayed Morrar, a peaceful Palestinian activist who says, “We don’t have time for war. We want to raise our kids in peace and hope.” Morrar organizes the men in the village to peacefully protest the route the wall is to take. After the first few days his 15 year old daughter, Iletzam, tells her father that the women of the village should be included in the protest too. The men agree to this and the dynamic changes as the militant women, young and old, stand in the way of the bulldozers. Both Fatah and Hamas members work in unity, as the peaceful demonstrators are joined by justice-minded Israelis and International Solidarity Movement volunteers. The unity among all participants is extraordinary.

Eventually the Israelis become very violent, beating the demonstrators, firing live ammunition, occupying the village, but except for an occasional rock thrown by some of the village boys, the people of Budrus and their allies remain non-violent.

In the end, after 55 demonstrations in 10 months, and despite the words of an IDF spokesman who says that it will never happen, the route of the wall is changed.

As the lights were turned on in the full theater, Julia Bacha, the director, addressed the crowd. She said that the film was opening in many countries, including Israel, and that there would even be a showing in Gaza. She is planning to take the film from town to town across the West Bank in hope that villages that have been fighting the wall without success and have become discouraged will become revitalized after seeing the success in Budrus. She also said that she has often been asked why there is no Palestinian Gandhi. She pointed to Ayed Morrar as just such an example.

Joseph Dana wrote in Desertpeace.com (10/23/10) that over the past couple of days peaceful demonstrators tried to protest the occupation in Al Ma’asara and Nabi Saleh. The IDF responded with tear gas, sound bombs, shooting both with rubber coated bullets and live ammunition, and arrests. In Sheikh Jarrar former President Jimmy Carter joined an anti-occupation demonstration. With the IDF consistently responding violently to peaceful protests we have to wonder just how many other Palestinian Gandhis are behind the bars of Israeli prisons.

Posted by Fran Korotzer - October 6, 2010 | Film Review


Bob Carpenter of Veterans For Peace leafleting the movie
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On September 25 Veteran’s For Peace Chapter 34 sponsored a showing of the Emmy nominated documentary, The Good Soldier, at the Quad in NYC. The film, made by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys, is the story of five combat veterans who fought in World War II, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and the current war in Iraq. It begins with a quote from Dwight Eisenhower saying that he hates war, “As one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

First we learn why the men enlisted. There were economic reasons but they also thought about defending their country and fighting for freedom. They also describe how they felt when they first went into combat. Terrible fear eventually turned into a high after their first kill. In some it developed into a blood lust. That was not true of the oldest, the World War ll vet who fought in the “good war.” He was wounded in Europe a few months after he got there and was sent home. His story was very different. The experience, he said, ruined his life for decades. Revisiting the site where he was injured 40 years later proved to be very therapeutic for him.

As the other four vets told their stories with painful honesty, and described the things that they, as soldiers, had to do, it became very evident that the trauma of these experiences left a very deep scar. They had been taught to kill, that’s why they were there. But it all came back to haunt them and fill them with a deep sadness. It changed them as human beings, it changed their view of themselves, and it changed their understanding of the world.

The film concludes by describing how their experiences changed the veterans — and how they have used their new understanding, a true mental revolution, to change the world for the better.


Filmmakers and veterans discuss the movie
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

When the theater lights went on the filmmakers and two of the veterans, Perry Parks from North Carolina and Will Williams from Wisconsin, came forward to talk to the crowd and answer questions. Uys pointed out that some of the men changed immediately, right on the battlefield, while others took many years to reject war as a solution to anything. For Perry Parks it took a long time. He said that 15 years after the Vietnam War the Secretary of Defense admitted that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that brought the country into the war was based on a lie. No American ship was attacked there. Parks said that he realized then that the government “Doesn’t always tell the truth.” He said it is very hard to kill until one of your buddies is killed — then you want revenge. He is not opposed to soldiers, he is opposed to “The misuse of soldiers.” He added that he is a Christian and doing what he was taught to do as a soldier is against his religion.

Will Williams said he didn’t get involved in anti-war work until after 9/11 when he saw this country on the path to war again. After his own military service, his mind had been changing bit by bit. He learned that there was no attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, he read the Pentagon Papers released by Daniel Ellsberg, and he got angrier and angrier. On 9/11 he saw that “the seeds we had sown in that region had blossomed.” He quickly added that he was not justifying what happened and explained that he views terrorism as a way people fight by whatever means they have. “Because we drop bombs from 30,000 feet and don’t see the results, it doesn’t justify us doing it.” So after 9/11 he said, “This time I will speak out because I feel within my heart that it is the only thing that will save not only America but the world.” Further, “In a country that borrows as much money as it does to fund wars or to maintain bases throughout the world, if a portion of that money was spent in this country we wouldn’t have the social ills that we do have.”

He concluded, “One day we will have the greatest generation in this country, and that will be the generation that will refuse to go fight for corporate interests.”


A pie chart detailing U.S. military spending
(Image: GlobalIssues.org)

The Good Soldier is an excellent film that shows the true face of war, where everyone is a victim. It is also a story of redemption. One of the veterans, former marine Jimmy Massey, is shown standing alone on the street carrying a sign that reads, “I Killed Innocent Civilians For The Government”. The Good Soldier is the story of extraordinary people who refuse to remain victims. They empower themselves and join with others to become a potent force for peace.

Posted by TAG - August 7, 2009 | Film Review

“We can’t all be saints.”
– John Dillinger

Reprinted from Beyond Chron, August 3, 2009

John Herbert Dillinger, an Indiana farm boy known for his good manners, amiable demeanor and episodic delinquency, was imprisoned in 1924 — serving 8 years for his part in a botched armed robbery. Shortly after his parole from the Indiana state prison in Michigan City, he launched an infamous career that included numerous bank robberies, violent shootouts with police, narrow escapes, audacious jailbreaks and a bloody finale outside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre. A career that lasted a little over a year: from the first bank robbery on June 10, 1933 until Dillinger was shot to death by police and FBI agents on July 22, 1934.

Director Michael Mann’s most recent film, Public Enemies, chronicles Dillinger’s final 13 months. Mann directed and produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay, based on Bryan Burrough’s book. Dillinger is played with finesse by Johnny Depp — it is perhaps his best performance to date. The supporting cast is excellent as well and the cinematography is impressive. Dillinger’s whirlwind career, all the sound and fury of it, erupts from the big screen. And for the most part the events are depicted accurately — except where Mann has deliberately departed from history, combining events in an effort to streamline the story.

The film is currently in theaters and despite some reviews asserting it has more style than substance, it enjoys a very favorable rating (67 percent) on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the opening scene, after smuggling guns to friends still incarcerated in Michigan City, Dillinger participates in their jailbreak. This never happened. While Dillinger did smuggle weapons into the prison a month before the breakout — he literally tossed guns over the wall — he was not present at the jailbreak. He was, in fact, “inconvenienced” himself at the time and the men who escaped from Michigan City later broke Dillinger out of his jail cell in Lima, Ohio — killing a police officer in the process. The two jailbreaks, collapsed into one event by Mann, initiated one of the most infamous crime sprees in U.S. history — in typical Dillinger style. Very dramatic and highly improbable.

Dillinger’s string of bank robberies are depicted in Public Enemies much as they happened: the athletic Dillinger leaps over bank counters to get to safes and is kind to customers, at one point telling a farmer to put his money away. “We’re here for the bank’s money, not yours,” Dillinger tells the depositor. Despite the kindness shown a customer, Dillinger was not a Robin Hood — he didn’t give to the poor. But he did appeal to many who had no sympathy for the banks after the financial meltdown of 1929 that precipitated the Great Depression.

Dillinger the folk hero also had a dark side — captured in Public Enemies: he used bank employees as human shields during getaways and his gang was responsible for the deaths of several police officers.

An interesting fact not mentioned in the film is that some Depression-era banks apparently choreographed robberies or inflated losses. For example, the Central National Bank of Greencastle, Indiana, was robbed by Dillinger on October 23, 1933. The bank claimed it lost $75.000. Dillinger claimed his take was $32,000. In addition, police took 20 minutes to respond to the alarm, even though the police station was located across the street from the bank. Not surprisingly, insurance company investigators accused the bank of fraud.

***

“I don’t drink much and I smoke very little.
I guess my only bad habit is robbing banks.
Now you see, fellas, I ain’t such a bad guy at heart.”

– John Dillinger, talking to reporters at the Lake County Jail, February 1934

The celebrity surrounding Dillinger is well documented in the film. The Dillinger gang, including his “moll”, Evelyn “Billie” Frechette (played by Marion Cotillard), is arrested in Tucson after firefighters, battling a blaze in Dillinger’s hotel, recognize the now famous “Johnnie” and alert police. Dillinger is extradited to Indiana to stand trial for a bank robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting of a policeman. After landing at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the heavily guarded Dillinger is driven to Indiana. As he passes through Chicago, a throng of onlookers crowds the streets: smiling and waving at the outlaw. On arrival in Crown Point, Indiana, Dillinger is taken to the Lake County Jail where he answers reporters’ questions in an impromptu press conference. Mugging for a photo, Dillinger embraces prosecutor Robert Estill who smiles and throws his arm around the bandit. While the photo would enshrine Estill in history, it would ultimately cost him his job.

Some of the film’s best moments concern the events immediately following Dillinger’s extradition to Crown Point. Dillinger’s attorney, the very capable and very corrupt Louis Piquett, is played to perfection by Peter Gerety. Piquett tricks Crown Point sheriff Lillian Holley into arguing against her own demand to transfer Dillinger to the state prison at Michigan City. The judge rules against moving Dillinger and the gang leader uses the opportunity to break out of jail using a wooden gun — later stealing Sheriff Holley’s car to make his getaway. The audacity of Dillinger, ably captured in the film, contributed to his folk hero legend. (After the incident the jail received numerous letters addressed to “Clown Point” and “Wooden Gun, Indiana”). The theft of the sheriff’s car, however, violated the Dyer Act of 1919 (aka the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act) when Dillinger drove it across state lines. It was at this point that the (not yet “Federal”) Bureau of Investigation officially joined the manhunt.

Following the Crown Point jailbreak, Dillinger resumed robbing banks, stealing weapons from police stations, eluding pursuers and narrowly escaping FBI traps. Until one day in July, 1934, when — after seeing a gangster film called Manhattan Melodrama — Dillinger was shot to death on the streets of Chicago.

***

The film’s rapid pace keeps the story moving but the docudrama approach results in some noteworthy omissions and misrepresentations.

Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a contemporary of Dillinger, was very much a Robin Hood. The Oklahoma bandit took great pains to destroy bank loan records when robbing financial institutions. Early in the film, FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) tracks and shoots Floyd (played by Channing Tatum) as the bandit flees through an Ohio field. Later, Dillinger calls Purvis “the man who killed Pretty Boy Floyd”. This is a bit of poetic license. In fact, Floyd outlived Dillinger. He was shot to death in East Liverpool, Ohio in the fall of 1934. And according to a retired East Liverpool police captain named Chester Smith, who told his story to Time Magazine in 1979, the wounded Floyd was executed by the FBI after he refused to answer Special Agent Purvis’ questions. According to Smith, an angry Purvis ordered another FBI agent to shoot Floyd at close range. This was not the first time Purvis was involved in a questionable shooting.

Dillinger was shot in the back of the head outside the Biograph theater on July 22, 1934 — exactly three months before Floyd’s death. Dillinger had a pistol on him at the time of his shooting, but according to Purvis, the hammer of the gun snagged on Dillinger’s pants pocket which is why he did not fire on his attackers. The problem with this explanation is that Dillinger used a .380 Colt “hammerless” pistol and had some familiarity with removing it from his pocket quickly. Also complicating the story: present at the Biograph was one Detective Sergeant Martin Zarkovich (played by John Michael Bolger), of the East Chicago Police Department. Zarkovich had personal reasons for not wanting Dillinger to answer any FBI questions. Zarkovich was well connected with a number of East Chicago crime bosses and was a friend of Anna Sage (Branka Katic) – the infamous “woman in red” who betrayed Dillinger. None of these complexities made it into the film version of the shooting.

In Public Enemies, Special Agent Melvin Purvis is portrayed as sensitive, competent and roughly the same height and build as Dillinger. In reality, he was barely five feet tall, brutal, and responsible for a number of errors in the hunt for Johnnie Dillinger — which is why Hoover placed Special Agent Samuel P. Cowley in charge of the Dillinger case after the disastrous “Little Bohemia” shootout.

The shootout at Little Bohemia is portrayed in the film as being a largely successful effort — FBI agents, led by Purvis, raid a Wisconsin lodge where the Dillinger gang is holed up. In the firefight the FBI manages to mortally wound “Red” Hamilton, a member of Dillinger’s gang. “Baby Face” Nelson is shot to death by FBI agents while trying to escape. Miraculously, Dillinger manages to elude the well designed dragnet.

It is a very dramatic scene. And completely fictional.

The FBI’s Little Bohemia raid of April 23, 1934 was hastily organized, badly executed and a fiasco that caused a public outcry. Dillinger and Red Hamilton escaped the trap without injury (Hamilton was badly wounded in a later shootout, in St. Paul). Baby Face Nelson killed an FBI agent and then escaped unharmed. The FBI shooters wounded two innocent bystanders and killed a third. The failed raid was an acutely embarrassing moment for the Bureau. Worse yet, as the raid was being planned, J. Edgar Hoover called a press conference to celebrate the capture of Dillinger by the Bureau of Investigation. This would be the last press conference called before a raid — one of several lessons the Director learned the hard way at Little Bohemia.

“I think it depends on what we perceive as the bad guy.
If I were given the choice to be in a room with either John Dillinger
or J. Edgar Hoover and I had to have my back to them,
I would choose Dillinger.”

– Johnny Depp, talking to a reporter from The Age, July 24, 2009.

***

Public Enemies ends with the betrayal of Dillinger by the woman in red — who actually wore orange — and the gangster’s violent death outside the Biograph. The film credits indicate that Melvin Purvis quit the FBI in 1935 — he was hounded out of the Bureau by Hoover, who resented the publicity Purvis received as “the man who got Dillinger”. Purvis committed suicide in 1960, using a Colt pistol he had received as a going away gift from his FBI colleagues. An interesting endnote to a fascinating tale.

The film runs approximately two and a half hours but it goes by very quickly. It’s well written and well acted, and offers a fascinating, if fictionalized, portrait of a mythic figure, a folk hero, a trickster. Ultimately, John Dillinger, a womanizer and killer, resembled Mack the Knife far more than he resembled Robin Hood. And so perhaps the legend, and Mann’s film, resonates for the same reasons Threepenny Opera reached people. In its own way, it raises the question first posed by Bertolt Brecht: “Which is the greater crime – to rob a bank or to own one?”