meet jeff dowd. he was a member of the ‘seattle seven’ during the vietnam protester days. more recently he’s been a movie producer and helps get independent films distributed.
he really hasn’t produced anything super interesting, but jeff has a lot of friends in the entertainment business. he’s an easy going party guy, but he won’t go down in history as a great movie producer.
but he will go down in history as the basis for jeff bridges’ character ‘jeff lebowski’ in the coen brothers comedy the big lebowski.
the big lebowski didn’t do a lot of box office and opened to mixed reviews. at the time it came out, i was managing a 5 screen movie theater and i was excited to have the movie show at my theater.
i watched it several times and i downright hated it at first. then it grew on me.
it’s like raymond chandler meets cheech and chong. it’s a funny mix of crime drama, bowling, intrigue, sex (or coitus, if you will) and the most fully formed but nonetheless one-dimensional characters ever assembled.
the point of this blog is to show the full length documentary about jeff dowd, that was directed by jeff feuerzeig. watch it below.
it’s halloween time. that part of the year where we all flirt with, confront and indulge in a little darkness, a little fake danger, a little harmless faux-monstrousness.
it’s also the time of haunted houses – places set up to frighten you. and people pay a lot of money to be deliberately and repeatedly scared as much as possible by actors covered in fake blood or wielding chainsaws with no chains.
but there are some haunted houses, which are put on by christian organizations, which take it to the next level.
they are called ‘hell houses’ and they show what happens to people who commit certain sins or who abandon god. it’s really funny, actually.
kids who do drugs, people who have just about any kind of sex, people who worship satan or those who have forsaken god, are all depicted in the worst possible way and getting the worst possible punishment for their crimes.
i believe i went to a hell house when i was very little. it was in palmetto, florida, in a creepy old house that’s behind a car dealer that was still there the last time i visited florida. the only part i remember was a girl who was having a ‘back door’ abortion. i remember her , behind glass, crying and yelling. from the neck down she was all prothesis. a big, bloated belly, with blood all over it. there was a person who looked like a zombie with some apparatus at work between her legs. this was obscured by our access (which is why i think this particular exhibit was behind glass, so we couldn’t cheat the angle), and the girl howled in agony about how sorry she was.
outside the building they handed out religious tracts. i remember being really scared – so scared i wouldn’t even take the literature. i might have told my aunt ‘i never want an abortion’ or something silly, because i remember everyone laughing and laughing at my unintentional funny. i was probably in 2nd grade.
that hell house was only put on the one year, i think. i remember we’d ride our bikes by months later and wonder aloud what was going on in there now. we all had diabolical theories of the evil that must still be going on. i never saw that building used for any other purpose, ever.
anyways – all this is in service to introducing the documentary hell house to those who are unaware.
it’s a simple film, with no real point of view. there’s not an intense narration informing how you should think or feel about what you are seeing. events and people are portrayed just as they seem to be, and you are allowed to make your own inferences.
it follows the buildup to putting on the annual hell house in cedar hill, texas by the trinity church/assembly of god.
no part of the process is spared. from confessional type interviews which are starkly revealing, to the actual working of the hell house itself: writing, casting, staging, building sets, and all the squabbles and drama that would go into putting on any show, religious based or not.
hell house is an important and beautiful documentary, not so much because of it’s look or anything artistic – but simply because of it’s honest portrayal of it’s well meaning, earnest subjects.
it’s something that everyone should see, whether you are religious or not. it was made in 2001 but it’s always been in my top 10 of all documentaries.
the sage continues. last year they released part 1, and that review is here. at the time, i thought they wouldn’t continue the trilogy because the first was so bad and as it turns out, it made very little at the box office.
but here we are with part 2, although the lead character dagny taggart is played by an older, different actress. actually most of the major roles are now different people. it’s also a different director, but it all feels the same as the first film did.
using so much of rand’s original dialogue from the books make it feel stilted and odd. the acting style still feels likea soap opera, although it is improved since part 1. i think a lot of the acting issues in part 1 were a problem with the direction. in this version, it’s quite the same i think, in addition to the clunky script. the staging is executed well enough, although the special effects employed are downright cheesy.
i don’t re-read the stuff i post here, except to find a spelling error when someone emails me to point one out, but i went back and re-read my first review and most of my complaints stand.
ayn rand advanced a philosophy called objectivism. she was born in russia. when she was about 20, after finishing college there and deciding on becoming a writer she visited the united states and decided to stay.
after falling in love with american movies she sets out to los angeles to try to become a screenwriter.
she finds success after time with novels. atlas shrugged was one of these.
it is more than just a mere novel, in fact, given it’s length of over 1000 pages, it’s perhaps more than a mere novel ought to be. but atlas shrugged is more than a story to read, it is a treatise for a school of philosophy.
the philosophy is characterized by a group of high minded, elite business people who the country ‘depends on’ because their companies are so vital (reminiscent of too big to fail).
in the film, the portrayal is so stiff that one gets the idea that only business men can have principles. that some people know better than everyone else how the world ought to be. therefore, how they set and achieve their aims and goals is no one’s damn business and it’s evil to stand in their way. additionally, the idea that government exists only to stifle the creativity and progress of these great individuals is prevalent throughout.
this being part 2, it covers ‘the strike’, where the elite business folks start to disappear, at the urging of the as-of-yet-unveiled character john galt. you see, they are going to teach society a lesson.
there are protestors in almost every exterior scene, reminiscent of the recent and wholly feckless occupy movement. they are lobbying for the ‘fair share law’, which aims to gut laissez-faire capitalism in favor of more communist ideals.
in one scene, while in her limo, danny taggart looks at them and some down trodden people peddling gas and riding bicycles with flat tires on the street. her wordless expression gives no real insight into what she was thinking. i imagined some people would look at those people and think ‘what are there concerns? what do they want, what do they need, what are they arguing for?’, but i imagined dagny taggart to look at them, thinking ‘those people just haven’t committed themselves to success and excellence, or they just aren’t capable of it and therefore, their concerns aren’t worth addressing’, or something similar.
what i find funny about some of these scenes is that these people are in business. they are in the business of providing goods and services to others. but the film (and often, the book) sets it up like it’s business versus consumers. it posits that business would drive the world in the proper, honest direction if only it weren’t for the dreams, needs and concerns of those pesky customers they require to keep them in business.
putting atlas shrugged in context, you have ayn rand, who went from russia in the 20s to new york city. and when she wrote the book, the world was in the middle of the cold war – the middle to late 1950s. fear of communism was rampant. she came here, made a liberated, creative life for herself and here’s this demon of her childhood that seems to be encroaching. so a lot of her extreme anti-socialist ideals can be understood in this context. but her book (and this film) go so far.
what’s curious about ayn rand is that many of her admirers are devoutly religious people. for them the ‘magic of the marketplace’ is as pure and unquestionable as the word of god. there is no allowance in objectivism for this type of thought, and rand was fervently anti-religious, because it didn’t meet the stringent requirements of reason. maybe that’s a small matter.
atlas shrugged is filled with idealized business people who are moral and just. they are still idealistic themselves. they are honest, they want the best. they collude, but not in any real criminal way. they believe wholeheartedly in the market and they run the show. they do so passionately and honestly. and all under the veil of the virtue of selfishness.
this is all very nice, but this is not the way business really is. business seems largely cynical. it’s about profit. and more and more in this corporate culture (a global corporate culture in fact, that i don’t think ayn rand lived long enough to be able to appreciate) it’s about giving the customer as little as possible while charging him more and more for it, all the while selling the process to him as though he’s the one getting ‘value’. it’s not just that business maximizes profits, but also that the individual is left with merely the illusion of choice, fewer actual options and he is conned into constantly arguing for and wanting things that are against his own self interest.
and self interest is really at the heart of any rand’s philosophy. this negative outcome of business i’ve put forth seems to negate a lot of ayn rand’s thinking. in an individual, selfishness can provide an advantage, and help some achieve a kind of happiness (because it’s all about how you ‘feel’ about it in most modern philosophies, anyways). but on a societal level, it seems to lead to decay, destruction or stagnation.
in atlas shrugged, the steel magnate henry rearden has a monopoly, because of a new, secret formulated metal that only he can manufacture. the government is uncomfortable with him having a monopoly. they target him and try to destroy him. in today’s reality, monopolies are senseless – pointless, even. instead, what we have now is more like a partnership of a few corporations all selling their version of essentially the exact same product. instead of a monopoly in any one area, they just split the take of just about everything major we purchase – whether it’s insurance, cell phones and service, cars, cable/satellite tv, etc – all the things most of us use and consume.
and that’s another thing about ayn rand. in her idealized business world, the people are all so brilliant that they invent things that do not exist or can not exist: a strange ‘new’ metal and a ‘motor’ that works off of static electricity. it’s always something fantastical. they aren’t just business people competing against other business people. almost all of them have monarchical control over their respective industries. it’s just silly.
and the government is there, trying to regulate and control these brilliant minds. but again, rand wrote this in a time when the president, upon resigning, warned the nation against the military-industrial complex. to her it might have seemed like government could get too big and would interfere with business and the market. but that hasn’t turned out to be the case so far.
instead, what has transpired is that it’s now a conspiracy where the two work together, with each often doing the other’s bidding.
this being part two of atlas shrugged, we reach the point where the president signs the executive order 10-289. it is drafted to stop the economy from further collapsing, but has the opposite effect, of course. i will post it in it’s entirety from the book here:
In the name of the general welfare, to protect the people’s security, to achieve full equality and total stability, it is decreed for the duration of the national emergency that:
Point One. All workers, wage earners and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs and shall not leave nor be dismissed nor change employment, under penalty of a term in jail. The penalty shall be determined by the Unification Board, such Board to be appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. All persons reaching the age of twenty-one shall report to the Unification Board, which shall assign them to where, in its opinion, their services will best serve the interests of the nation.
Point Two. All industrial, commercial, manufacturing and business establishments of any nature whatsoever shall henceforth remain in operation, and the owners of such establishments shall not quit nor leave nor retire, nor close, sell or transfer their business, under penalty of the nationalization of their establishment and of any and all of their property.
Point Three. All patents and copyrights, pertaining to any devices, inventions, formulas, processes and works of any nature whatsoever, shall be turned over to the nation as a patriotic emergency gift by means of Gift Certificates to be signed voluntarily by the owners of all such patents and copyrights. The Unification Board shall then license the use of such patents and copyrights to all applicants, equally and without discrimination, for the purpose of eliminating monopolistic practices, discarding obsolete products and making the best available to the whole nation. No trademarks, brand names or copyrighted titles shall be used. Every formerly patented product shall be known by a new name and sold by all manufacturers under the same name, such name to be selected by the Unification Board. All private trademarks and brand names are hereby abolished.
Point Four. No new devices, inventions, products, or goods of any nature whatsoever, not now on the market, shall be produced, invented, manufactured or sold after the date of this directive. The Office of Patents and Copyrights is hereby suspended.
Point Five. Every establishment, concern, corporation or person engaged in production of any nature whatsoever shall henceforth produce the same amount of goods per year as it, they or he produced during the Basic Year, no more and no less. The year to be known as the Basic or Yardstick Year is to be the year ending on the date of this directive. Over or under production shall be fined, such fines to be determined by the Unification Board.
Point Six. Every person of any age, sex, class or income, shall henceforth spend the same amount of money on the purchase of goods per year as he or she spent during the Basic Year, no more and no less. Over or under purchasing shall be fined, such fines to be determined by the Unification Board.
Point Seven. All wages, prices, salaries, dividends, profits, interest rates and forms of income of any nature whatsoever, shall be frozen at their present figures, as of the date of this directive.
Point Eight. All cases arising from and rules not specifically provided for in this directive, shall be settled and determined by the Unification Board, whose decisions will be final.
when the great ray wise (head of state thomson) reads it in the film i started to laugh my ass off. it isn’t funny, and wise is good as a blustery politician reading them, but the premise itself just made me break up.
i don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that some people on the far right actually think that some of these points would be the ultimate aims of some on the left. the psychology is something like: they’re out to get me, and i’m very worth getting so we’d better protect ourselves.
at one point near the end, after a railroad disaster, dagny asks after a few men whose work and integrity she trusts. they’ve all already disappeared into the strike with john galt. she looks at a room full of people and asks ‘do we have any of our quality people left?’. one actor is made to pantomime an expression that reads like ‘no ma’am, just us dumb, entitled assholes here…’. it’s downright awful.
business people are not atlas. they do not bear the world on their shoulders. they are in that world, with everyone else. in real life, if men even remotely like these idealized, stone faced men ayn rand puts forth would bow out, there’d be another man just as good (maybe even better) to take their place. the motor of the world would not stop. but that’s what ayn rand’s fantasy insists upon.
no – no one is replaceable…and yet someone else can always step in and fill your shoes, at least in business.
on a lighter note, for some unknown reason, teller (of penn and teller fame) has a small speaking role as a security guard. he says something like ‘i wouldn’t go out there dagny’ and the camera pushes in for a goofy closeup. i think he was putting something over on someone. just my opinion.
his weakness is that he thinks he’s not vulnerable
searching for sugar man is a great documentary on a perfect subject. jesus ‘sixto’ rodriguez is a mexican-american singer/songwriter from detroit.
he was a kind of day laborer and street angel who left an indelible effect on just about every person he ever came in contact with. his music was like a hybrid of bob dylan and van morrison. deep lyrics. smooth, sweet singing style. melodies that stay with you, haunt you even. messages that impact you.
he got the attention of a couple of motown-related producers (it being detroit, after all) and got a record deal. he put out a couple of albums in 1970-1971. they didn’t sell and he was dropped from the label.
he went back to mostly working and largely forgot about music as a vocation.
but some bootlegs of his music made it to south africa, where in the brewing anti-apartheid era his songs helped usher in a generation of young people ready for change.
some record companies there begin to license his music from impresario clarence avant, who had signed rodriguez to his record deal in the first place. over the years, it’s estimated that he sold over 500,000 records in south africa alone. this all happened without rodriguez knowing because, well, it’s the music business. they just kept the money and rodriguez had no idea of his overseas fame.
and about 25 years later, some of these young people are now journalists and professional adults. they have heard rumors from the beginning of their exposure to him of his death, his suicide even. they resolve to find out who their hero was and what happened to him.
what they find is an amazing talent with an angelic, shy temperament. the story unfolds in a deliberate fashion, building to a most satisfying and endearing conclusion.
this is a great documentary. not because i adore and identify with it’s subject, though i do. it’s great because, using very little set design or anything fancy, save for a couple of brief animations, they create a film that is not just in love with rodriguez, but in love with film, itself. through the editing, the positioning of the interviews, the few file photos they have to work with and the interspersing of sixto’s great songs, film maker malik bendjelloul has created a labor of love that is a perfect work of art all it’s own.
it’s hard to believe that this is his first film, his first real….anything cinematic. adoration of his subject and simple, honest film making techniques create a narrative that is compelling and irresistible.
i’ve been listening to rodriguez constantly for about a month now. at least once a day i listen to all of cold fact. i knew the story inside and out already and yet the film was a revelation. the impact of this film on people who aren’t familiar with him is even greater.
when the film reached it’s conclusion, in a theater with about 40 attendees, almost no one moved until the very end of the credits – always a good sign.
in a small way, i can relate to rodriguez. like a lot of people, i have these high minded ideas and art i want to pursue. some of it is actually finished, and behind me. some is right here on this computer. not many have paid attention, and maybe i mostly think it’s not that good. i’ve worked mostly manual labor my whole life, harboring this part of me, expressing it when i can and doing it when time and energy permits.
i don’t know that i’d deal with people tracking me down, a quarter century later, to tell me i was ‘more famous than elvis’ in their country because of my work as admirably as rodriguez did. can you imagine?
after his brief music career, he just moved on with his life. went to college. worked. raised three daughters.
i don’t think rodriguez ever expected anyone to come looking for him. i don’t think he cared. obviously the money wasn’t important to him. but he did enjoy the recognition, after all that time.
i think some part of this film will touch so many so deeply because they, too will see themself in his story: earnest, poetic, genuine, worthwhile, unappreciated. having the world shake you by the collar and remind you that you are adored and acknowledged reaches into the quietest part of even the most restrained ego.
his story speaks to a true love of art and craft. his honesty and idealism make him appear somehow holy. he’s this gentle soul, with loving daughters, whose wistful self expression will linger on your mind like one of his beautiful songs.
below, listen to his song forget it:
and then, listen to the very catchy song i wonder: