At the Movies

An open thread review of current political movies!

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My Open Thread is basically me wandering around looking for political movies and tv shows that are worth a damn--and, occasionally, debunking political movies that are essentially wolves in sheep's clothing, like the execrable Up In the Air.

I'll be giving y'all a review, and rating the movies on a scale of 1 to 5 Savios.

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A no-Savio movie is working for the machine: destructive to truth, human rights, or continued life on this planet. A five-Savio movie is indispensable to anyone fighting the machine.
If anybody has a movie they want me to bring to the attention of the community, please send me a private message and I'll review it.

Today I'm going to review a five-Savio movie.

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Meet Norma Rae.

This movie, and this famous scene in particular, is in the category of manna for me: sustaining holy bread that you carry in your pack through the desert. Or perhaps a better allegory would be Tolkien's lembas bread:

Eat little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall men of Minas Tirith.

One of the many reasons the Enemy (the establishment, the oligarchy, the 1%, the military industrial complex, etc.) controls the media is to deny us such sustenance. The idea, as far as I can see, is to spread despair, and false hope, and lies, as far as possible.

I think it's supposed to work something like this:

But movies like Norma Rae are of great value not only because they keep your spirit alive, but because they also suggest things you might do with your life that could improve the lives of others.

For those of you who don't know, Norma Rae is a movie from 1979, directed by Martin Ritt, starring Sally Field (who received an Oscar for her performance). It is loosely based on the real-life story of this woman:

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This is Crystal Lee Sutton, who lost her job in an ultimately successful attempt to organize a union in a J.P. Stevens textile mill in Roanoke Rapids, NC. I can't give you a better account of her life than the one on the American Postal Workers' Union site:

Early On May 30, 1973, the J.P. Stevens textile mill in Roanoke Rapids, NC, fired 32-year-old Crystal Lee Sutton. Before Sutton left the plant, she climbed atop a table on the shop floor and raised above her head a piece of cardboard with the word “UNION” scrawled on it, turning slowly in a circle so that all of her co-workers could read the sign.

If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it was the basis for the most memorable moment of the Academy Award winning 1979 movie, Norma Rae. Based loosely on Henry Leifermann’s 1975 biography of Sutton, Crystal Lee, A Woman of Inheritance, the movie was a fictionalized account of the textile workers union’s campaign to unionize the J.P. Stevens textile mills.

For decades, J.P. Stevens called the shots in Roanoke Rapids, paying poverty wages and offering deplorably unsafe working conditions. Workers routinely lost fingers, inhaled cotton dust, and lost their hearing due to the deafening clatter of machinery. J.P. Stevens was so vehemently anti-union that it systematically purchased small unionized textile mills throughout the south just to close them down. But as determined as J.P. Stevens was to keep its workers down, Crystal Lee Sutton was even more determined to lift them up and bring in a union.

The catalyzing event for her firing--and ultimately her arrest--was copying down a letter posted by management in the mill, which told the workers that the union was a front for a Black power movement that would take over the mill and the town if workers went along with it. The mill owners didn't want her to copy it down, because it would get them into trouble with the National Labor Relations Board (you're not supposed to post racially inflammatory material in order to squelch efforts to unionize).

I guess the racial divide is the gift that keeps on giving for the bosses. And people wonder why politicians from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump keep using it.

The rest of Crystal Lee Sutton's story is here: http://www.apwu.org/labor-history-articles/real-norma-rae

For those who don't want to follow the link, J.P. Stevens was eventually charged with 122 unfair labor practice rulings, their plant unionized, and Crystal Lee Sutton was eventually given her job back and awarded back wages (man, things were different in the 70s, weren't they?). However, she had already moved out of the area, so she went back to work for 2 days, and then quit for good.

It's not often I compare a movie to life-giving sustenance, or holy bread, so let me take Martin Ritt's work down off the pedestal a bit--gently, so it doesn't break. As valuable as his work is, he makes some choices that will probably surprise you--they did me--and some of those choices made Crystal Lee Sutton herself uncomfortable.

Ritt does start his movie with the textile mill machines working, with no workers in the shot. Then you begin to see one worker at a time, alone amidst the machines, moving about their work and giving the strong sense of how a worker in a factory is moving within an automated environment that basically dominates them (this makes the later scene, when the workers turn off their machines, all the more powerful). At the same time, his camera dwells with respect on the workers when they do appear. What he shows is that they are maintaining their humanity in the context of inhuman forces. All this is to the good. But what's jolting to me, now as when I first saw it, is his juxtaposition of photographs of Norma Rae, beginning with baby pictures, with the factory. I think I can see what he's doing: he's trying to show how you are born into the world of the mill, a world dominated by the mill, at the same time that he's personalizing the workers' struggle by making it individual.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/490490/Norma-Rae-Movie-Clip-It-Goes-L...

And that's the problem, or at least the main problem, Crystal Lee Sutton had with it. Some people said that she had a problem with being outed by the movie as having sex, and, indeed, babies, with more than one man. (There's an amazing scene in the movie in which Norma Rae, knowing she is about to face character assassination, gets her three kids out of bed and explains to them who their respective fathers were, the gossip they will hear about her soon, and that she and her new husband love them and will be there for them no matter what). However, in an interview with People Sutton said:

Crystal Lee is giving thought to a lawsuit. But her real objection is less that the film invades her privacy than that it evades her ideology. “I’m not worried about them knowing about the sex and all back then,” as she puts it in her Piedmont drawl. “The thing is, I wanted it to be a movie that was right—about the union, about what we went through. In the movie they make like it’s only me that’s important, and there were so many others.”

Ritt individualizes the movie. In a very sad result, he and Sutton fought in the press, with Sutton bringing up--correctly--that Ritt's movie focused solely on her, while Ritt said Sutton had become "a middle-class bourgeois woman who doesn't want anyone to know about her life."

I hate it when people who ought to be on the same side fight.

I can understand why Ritt was hurt--it wasn't exactly easy for him to convince Hollywood to make Norma Rae, and he arguably spent his career trying to tell the story of the little guy--and never sought glory or big box office money:

http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/martin-ritt-focused-on-social-issues

In other words, if he was an individualist, it wasn't his individuality he was interested in, except inasmuch as his directorial choices were driven by issues he found important.

But Crystal Sutton's point is well-taken. Reducing the story of those mill workers to the story of one woman--in fact, naming the movie after her fictionalized character--might not have been the greatest choice. American culture is far too ready to reduce everything to individual character--in fact, that's one of the curses that is plaguing us right now. How many people think what is wrong with this country can be summed up by the character of Donald Trump? How many people think that if we remove a particular individual or individuals of bad character from office--whether they be Democrats or Republicans--we will fix things? America has a strong disinclination--or at least it has since the 1950s--to examine collective truths, to analyze things systematically, to consider interrelations. We always need a white hat fighting a black hat, and the biggest problem with that formulation is not always the fact that the world often exists in shades of gray. All too often, the biggest problem with white hat vs black hat is that white hat and black hat exist in a framework, a complex system, which encourages power to concentrate in certain people's hands and to express itself in certain ways--ways which engrave themselves into habit and history like water running out of a drainpipe makes gullies.

That said, I love this movie; it falls, as I said before, into the category of spiritual sustenance. I hold both Martin Ritt's work, and Crystal Lee Sutton's work, in memory, and use it to help keep me alive in this desert. Ritt died in 1990; Sutton in 2009, of cancer, after a battle with an insurance company which delayed covering her treatments. How she wished to be remembered?

It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world.

Or, in other words,

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar:
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar.

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This movie gets five Savios.
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13 users have voted.

Comments

dkmich's picture

Your OT is anything you want it to be. I picked a magazine format when I was doing mine. One or two topics of interest, some nice shiny pictures, and a paragraph or two covered it all. I am currently wandering around Netflix trying to fix a show or two to watch. So far nothing that comes even close to The Killing and Broadcloth. We gave The Returners a shot, but it is in French with subtitle. My husband is not a fan of subtitles. He doesn't like having to share watching the picture with reading. Depending on how good the series is, I sometimes share it with my computer. I listen to the TV and read the computer. Can't do that with subtitles.

Is anyone watching something on Netflix they would recommend? Hinterland is dark, dreary and depressing. I walk on my treadmill with Supernatural, a predictable lightweight.

Have a good day and thanks for the OT. I did watch Normal Rae long ago. A movie I absolutely hated and walked out on was Clockwork Orange. I can handle guts and gore, but I don't do sadistic terror.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@dkmich I'm currently watching Shetland. Liking it a lot.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396135/

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Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

dkmich's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

Hinterland has been as dark, gloomy, dreary, decrepit, and isolated as I can stand.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@dkmich Yeah, Hinterland is a tough one. I find Wallander a bit ponderous too, while Midsomer Mysteries has gone a little too conservative for my tastes. I've liked what I've seen of Broadchurch. I'm a David Tennant fan, though.

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0 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

Lookout's picture

and was sanitized in the movie although conditions are much better today (with air filters and air conditioning). For the most part the mills have off-shored. Nearby me is one of the last large mills in Trion, GA...operating since the 1850's.

In the time of Norma Rae, the cotton lint was so thick in the air of the mill that those nice scenes in the movie would have look like a snow storm. When the workers came out there was an air hose to blow some of the lint off. Locals called them lint heads.

And yes Norma was the hero, but if it hadn't been for the "yankee" organizer it wouldn't have happened. It was (and is) quite dangerous to come into the South and try to organize a union. These folks are heroes too.

Mr. and Ms. Google's algorithm brought these up the other day for me. It is easy to see why they blacklisted Chaplin after watching these clips. (4.5 min and 4 min respectively)

This reminds me of teaching middle school...

Thanks for the OT and the Norma background!

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8 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Lookout @Lookout Well, to be fair to Mr. Ritt, there wouldn't have been any way to film under those conditions. Agreed about the union organizer; he could have died, easily, especially if enough of the workers had decided that the company was right and he was trying to organize a black power movement or something.

Apparently the workers, both those who wanted the union and those who didn't, were too smart to fall for that shit.

Not trying to imply that the company couldn't have killed him on their own; but it would have been a lot easier for them if the workers had done it for them. No soap, I guess.

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7 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

Lookout's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

You're right it would have been a disaster to film in cotton lint. I bet Ms. Sutton's cancer is related...brown lung. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byssinosis

Most commonly young girls working in mills or other textile factories would be afflicted with this disease. In the United States, from 1996 to 2005, North Carolina accounted for about 37% of all deaths caused by byssinosis

All the best!

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7 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Lookout God damn it. And then there's the insurance "delaying" her coverage.

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5 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Lookout And you're welcome!

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4 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Lookout Excellent Chaplin.

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3 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

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5 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

giving for the oligarchs, look at what my boyfriend just found on Salon:

http://www.salon.com/

For those who don't want to give Salon the clicks, the headline of Amanda Marcotte's article is:

Economic Anxiety? No, Race.

My boyfriend said: "I don't even have to read the article!"

Personally, I preferred it when the oligarchs and their employees were using the other side of the racial divide to get their way. This new version, where they're talking like they're Fannie Lou Hamer, is really disgusting.

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5 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

riverlover's picture

at the Only Hospital in the County of 100k. My daughter is a RN there, union would be OK with her. Ithaca, NY, home of the Cornell School of Labor Relations and blue, blue.

NLRB was called in for hearings after two nurses were fired for not following standard practice for doing transfusions. Who knows? But they happened to be the most vocal pro-union organizers. NLRB ruled in their favor and they were ordered re-hired. Nurses at the hospital are split, some units (maternity,eg.) are anti-union. How is it to walk back into a hospital that fumes dislike? I have yet to hear gossip second-hand.

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Hey! my dear friends or soon-to-be's, JtC could use the donations to keep this site functioning for those of us who can still see the life preserver or flotsam in the water.

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@riverlover So far the Nurses' union is one of the bravest and most honest--along with the communications workers.

They kick ass.

I hope your daughter's hospital gets unionized. Good luck to them.

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6 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

enhydra lutris's picture

country nw has "right to work" laws in place, and unions are pretty weak where they do exist. The ability of the duopoly to crush any potential labor parties, and then the labor movement itself is very much the fabric of the recent history of this country. In Eurpe, labor has often been and still somewhat is a force for change and progress. Here, massively less so.

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5 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

EyeRound's picture

were released within a year of each other (NR 1979, HG 1980). Both movies were based on real uprisings in American history, but NR was well-received while HG was viciously panned.
Each movie is really good in its own way. Each director was probably trying to swim against the tide of the coming "Reagan" revolution.
"Heaven's Gate" depicts the Johnson County Wars in western Wyoming at the end of the 19th century. Again, the movie was viciously panned when released. But today it's being re-evaluated as a masterpiece
I think that the filming was actually done in the Mission Valley of western Montana, not in Wyoming. I knew some of the people who were extras, it was a massive community effort and celebration. It appeals to me that Cimino--director of Heaven's Gate--said FY to the funders and wildly overspent.
The famous roller-skating scene is one of a series of "circlings" that recur in the movie:

Why was this political movie so bitterly disliked? Perhaps the answer has to do with its central message: that even the American the monied classes have no compunction whatsoever about butchering innocents when those innocents get in their way. Here's the trailer:

The individual or the group? Thank you, CStMS, for your informative review of Norma Rae and for broaching this question!

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3 users have voted.
eyo's picture

Thinking about 420 yesterday, and where did all the activists go? Hollywood? Hello? Jimmy Dore is like an island of sanity in a sea of bad actors. Anyway, please consider reviewing the movie US vs. John Lennon, I think it is off-the-charts Savio. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_U.S._vs._John_Lennon

420 and John Sinclair are stuck in my lint trap together. John reminds me of Bernie in this clip, "... so the (last protest tactic) didn't work, so what? We start again." Eternal optimist.

It feels good to have finally dumped Netflix, after Debra Mesinger (original? content?) getting pwned by Susan Sarandon on the social media distraction machine. No more support for the empty-heads from me, they have no new ideas either, just more sequels, more templates. Sounds familiar. I'm saving to buy Sarandon's DVDs instead (real property) and then doing wtf I feel like with it. Rip it, share it, loan it, re-sell it when done, whatever. Middle finger to Chris Dodd, R/MPIA lobbyists and their crony intellectual property rentier racket. Not going to pay rent on the same content over and over, that's stupid. I'll happily pay the cost of my digital backups, what is it 4 cents? 5? Where do I send the check? lol

Thanks

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1 user has voted.

On a blog.

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@eyo I will look into US vs John Lennon and Heaven's Gate.

I'm not gonna do At the Movies every week anymore, but when I find something cool, I'll write up a review, and those two sound good.

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0 users have voted.

Who does all the planning?/Who does all the work?/Who gets no vacation/Not one pay raise, not one perk?/Whose third-rate insurance comes without a dental plan?/Your average, humble squire/Not the meathead in the can.
--Galavant

eyo's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal I kept flashing back to a sign I first saw at a Judi Bari protest, "Abolish the FBI" that startled me at the time, thought it was so radical. lol Then I saw US vs John Lennon, the DVD had a bunch of extra discussion too. Now I say yeah go on, abolish the FBI. Toward a more perfect union, why not. Thanks!

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0 users have voted.

On a blog.