Becoming The Subject: Secret Gardens – Women In Underground Film screening @ Church of Film; Clinton St. Theater, 8.21.19

feminist film reviews

Writing on the paradox of women’s subjectivity in cinema, film theorist Teresa de Laurentis quotes psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche on the necessity of seeing one’s self represented on the screen. 

“The questions of identification, self-definition, the modes or the very possibility of envisaging oneself as subject-which the male avant-garde artists and theorists have also been asking, on their part, for almost one hundred years, even as they work to subvert the dominant representations or to challenge their hegemony-are fundamental questions for feminism. If identification is “not simply one psychical mechanism among others, but the operation itself whereby the human subject is constituted,” as Laplanche and Pontalis describe it, then it must be all the more important, theoretically and politically, for women who have never before represented ourselves as subjects, and whose images and subjectivities-until very recently, if at all-have not been ours to shape, to portray, or to create.”

This is taken from the essay Rethinking Women’s Cinema, from de Lauretis’ Figures of ResistanceEssays in Feminist Theory. De Lauretis’ investigation asks us to redefine our notions of feminist cinema, going beyond the push-pull dichotomy of either “serious” documentary work of feminist causes and ideals as well as positive images of women and the other being a deconstruction of the film medium itself, being built around patriarchal ideals and distorted representations. 

To put it more succinctly, the movement of feminist film-making is twofold. One, is the depiction of feminine images and stories. The other is a new approach to film-making, a disruption of the subject/object dialectic, the viewer and the viewed. De Lauretis breaks it down into ‘feminine’ and ‘feminist’. Both are important. 

In another essay, Female Directors, Female Gaze: The Search for Female Subjectivity in Film, direction Rubayait Hossain quotes Agnes Varda about her visual vocabulary. “A woman’s vocabulary exists, linked to the feminine universe. I feel this occasionally in that I am inspired by a certain number of attractions, subjects which always draw me rather more than they would if I were a man…I don’t want to make feminist cinema either, just want to tell women’s stories about women.”

This push/pull, this feminist filmmaking rhetoric, as well as depictions of women’s experiences, served as the connecting thread for a particularly brilliant series of short films, curated by Church of Film‘s Muriel Lucas, screened at the Clinton Street Theater

Secret Gardens was comprised of 10 short films, from a wide array of brilliant women film-makers. Altogether, the collection showcased nearly every experimental film-making technique you could think of, as well as numerous innovative, imaginative ways of looking at their subject matter, not even to mention that many wouldn’t begin to think to look at these topics in the first place. 

It’s as de Lauretis comments in Rethinking Women’s Cinema, discussing a hooked rug in Sylvia Plath‘s The Bell Jar. Much of women’s experiences are perceived as “pre-aesthetic”, belonging to the domestic but not the artistic, despite the fact that these are the images and realities we inhabit most frequently. Take the brilliant Schmeerguntz by Swedish filmmaker Gunvor Nelson. Schmeerguntz peels back the surface of polite society, all the pristine packaging that makes this society turn, hiding the ugliness and filth from our everyday gaze. It’s done in a way that’s both sickening and hilarious, strange and sad. 

gunvor nelson schmeerguntz review

Schmeerguntz is also one example of why this kind of filmmaking is so vital. It helped inspire a protest of the 1968 Miss America contest. 

barbaras blindness wielandMontage was seen frequently throughout the evening, with many films using creative editing techniques to show hidden connections between images. Like the first film, Barbara’s Blindness, by Canadian directors Joyce Wieland and Betty Ferguson. Barbara’s Blindness cut up images of a little blind girl, eyes wrapped in gauze, with scenes from Silver Screen monster movies and romance/adventures, then degraded and manipulated in a variety of ways, usually involving analog film manipulation, such as painting or scratching the film. 

Film’s physical properties was another common technique found throughout a number of the films, such as the psychedelic visual poetry of Peyote Queen by Storm de Hirsch. Or the hypnotic strobing of My Name is Oona, also by Gunvor Nelson; a stark, dramatic depiction of Nelson’s daughter told in cutting black&white, made all the more trance-inducing with a minimalist soundtrack of only the film’s title looped and slurred throughout its 9-and-a-half minutes. 

Film’s physicality, both literally as well as subjectively, are fully on display in the evening’s finale, Fuses by Carolee Schneemann, my personal favourite “erotic” film of all time (which i also wrote an essay about for the fabulous Film & Fishnet webzine), as well as avant-garde and feminist. Fuses shows Carolee Schneemann having sex with her then-husband, the poet James Tenney, while being watched by her cat, Tench. 

carolee schneemann fuses review

Fuses is a riot of nearly every avant-garde filmmaking technique you could think of. Surreal, abstract montage, with images of the couple fucking giving way to fields of wheat, waves crashing on the shore. The film is painted on and scratched, in a style intentionally like that of Stan Brakhage.

Fuses was created as a response to Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving, depicting his wife giving birth. Schneemann sought to reclaim the female body from Brakhage’s male gaze. It worked. Beautifully. And poetically. Fuses is a window into the nearly mystical qualities of love and physicality, the way that times seem to stop, the languor. It shows the often illogical ways our minds wander, in a style much more honest and accurate than yr typical linear narrative plot. It lets you feel what it feels like to be in love, you can practically feel the breeze on your skin as the curtains billow on a sunny, endless afternoon. 

Secret Gardens offered an intimate, indispensable window into some women’s experiences and outlooks, in imaginative, thoughtful, and unique ways. Everything on display was also exquisitely beautiful, not that that’s necessary but always makes for a nice night out. Glimpse of the Garden (Marie Menken, 1957) is a 16mm symphony, a soft-focus whirl, “a very personal cinema without protagonists.” It’s like “the high art of the housewife,” which was used to describe another ridiculously gorgeous film on display, Water Sark, also by Joyce Wieland. Water Sark is “merely” a short film of Wieland’s kitchen table. It’s really an exposition of what can be done with a personal, handheld camera and everyday mirrors and prisms that surround us. Wieland creates a crystalline universe using water glasses and cut glass vases, using, as she puts it “no people, no outside world, no glamour, no money”

glimpse of the garden marie menken review

High art. Lowbrow. Narrative. Psychoanalytic. Joyful. Sexy. Sad. It was all here, all in attendance, on a drizzling Wednesday night at the Clinton Street Theater, as Portland slowly settles into early fall. More time for experimental films, that means. 

Church of Film will be screening Soviet Sci-Fi Animation on Sunday, 8.25.19, at Psychic Bar in North Portland. 

Complete List of Films Screened at Secret Gardens: Women in North American Underground Cinema (with program notes)

Barbara’s Blindness

Constructed from found and stock footage, Barbara’s Blindness is a meditation on vision and adversity, drawing humour and pathos from a moralising educational film. “We started out with a dull film about a little blind girl named Mary and ended up with something that made us get crazy.”

A Moment in Love

Clarke moves away from the strictly depictive perspective maintained in Dance in The sun and towards an expressive and interpretive use of the camera in A Moment in Love. As the dancers move, the camera not only follows them but exceeds and breaks their trajectories. It manipulates their perceptible movements to such an extent that the dancers appear to be gliding among the clouds, suspended in endless and even supernatural bliss. As Clarke explains: “I started choreographing the camera as well as the dancers in the frame”. With bright, lustrous tone, Clarke goes beyond subjective camera work to the point that her camera becomes subject itself.

Glimpse of the Garden

“[Menken’s] is a very personal cinema without protagonists. It searches to express the viewer’s emotional point-of-view to the limits of abstraction and rhythm” – Jon Gartenberg

Peyote Queen

A further exploration into the color of ritual, the color of thought; a journey through the underworld of sensory derangement.

Schmeerguntz

“Schmeerguntz” is one long raucous belch in the face of the American Home. A society which hides its animal functions beneath a shiny public surface deserves to have such films as Schmeerguntz shown everywhere – in every PTA, every Rotary Club, every club in the land. For it is brash enough, brazen enough and funny enough to purge the soul of every harried American married woman.”

Water Sark

“I wanted to make a self-sufficient film, photographing myself in those mirrors on the table with all that water and prisms, and glasses and cups. In a way I was saying I can do a film that needs no people, no outside world, no glamour, no money, and do it all in the kitchen.”

“I decided to make a film at my kitchen table, there is nothing like knowing my table. The high art of the housewife. You take prisms, glass, lights and myself to it. ‘The Housewife is High.’ Water Sark is a film sculpture, being made while you wait.”

My Name is Oona

An evocative film featuring a little girl, the artist’s daughter. The film is edited and rhythmically composed to accompany a simple spoken phrase that is repeated and looped in a minimalist pattern. My Name is Oona is a cinematic voyage between inner and outer worlds, between the safe and familiar and the frightening unknown.

“[it] captures in haunting, intensely lyrical images fragments of the coming to consciousness of a child girl. A series of extremely brief flashes of her moving through nightlit space or woods in sensuous negative, separated by rapid fades into blackness, burst upon us like a fairy-tale princess, with a late sun only partially outlining her and the animal in silvery filigree against the encroaching darkness; one of the most perfect recent examples of poetic cinema. Throughout the entire film, the girl, compulsively and as if in awe, repeats her name, until it becomes a magic incantation of self-realization.” – Amos Vogel

Lights

“Marie Menken’s Lights is a film of such joy, such pure sensual beauty, that it is breathtaking and overwhelming. In just seven minutes, with a breakneck sequence of abstract, colorful images of lights floating in a black nighttime field, Menken delivers an intoxicating visual experience. It’s an abstracted vision, like the work of Stan Brakhage, a celebration of light and color in which each frame is alive with furious scribbles of blurred light and tangled rainbow beams. It’s as though Menken is drawing with light by shaking her camera, unleashing small hash marks of white light and amber curlicues that twist around each other. Through Menken’s expressive stylization, the marks and lines of these lights become a form of handwriting, an abstract language inscribed in the twists and turns of motion-blurred neon, car brake lights and Christmas decorations. The film was assembled over the course of three years, during which Menken shot Christmas window displays and other seasonal decorations, working mostly late in the night, when she could be alone in the darkness with these vibrant beacons. ”

Take Off

Freaky and not a little transcendent, “Take Off” takes the strip tease well past its usual climax. By sprinkling a little Georges Melies magic over the peep show motif, Gunvor Nelson simultaneously revels in cinema’s earliest forms while exploding the medium’s customary reliance on (and objectification of) the female body.

“Ellion Ness, a thoroughly professional stripper, goes through her paces, bares her body, and then, astonishingly and literally, transcends it. While the film makes a forceful political statement on the image of woman and the true meaning of stripping, the intergalactic transcendence of its ending locates it firmly within the mainstream of joyous humanism and stubborn optimism.” – B. Ruby Rich

Fuses

A silent film of collaged and painted sequences of lovemaking between Schneemann and her then partner, composer James Tenney; observed by the cat, Kitch.

“…I wanted to see if the experience of what I saw would have any correspondence to what I felt– the intimacy of the lovemaking… And I wanted to put into that materiality of film the energies of the body, so that the film itself dissolves and recombines and is transparent and dense– as one feels during lovemaking… It is different from any pornographic work that you’ve ever seen– that’s why people are still looking at it! And there’s no objectification or fetishization of the woman.”

Church of Film FB
ig: @churchoffilm
churchoffilm.com

Clinton Street Theater FB
ig: @cstpdx
cstpdx.com

Looking for more movie news, reviews, thoughts, and insights? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd!

Want to support quality, in-depth film criticism? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

The Kitchen (2019) movie review

the kitchen 2019 movie review

Andrea Berloff’s gritty ’70s gangster drama both is and isn’t a feminist film – and that’s its saving grace.

the kitchen movie review

 

Not every film following a female lead is necessarily a feminist film. Nor is it necessarily a cash grab or following a trend. Instead, some films may just follow or tell the tale of women’s lives – without a political agenda, per se. That’s actually what makes The Kitchen such an excellent feminist film – because it’s not. Instead, it tells the tale of three women, literally married to the mob, and the unique perils and pitfalls it places upon them.

Writing for the website The Observer, film critic Oliver Jones observes “Comic books are super popular now, right? Women doing stuff we’ve seen guys do, like Ocean’s 8—people eat that stuff up, don’t they? And who doesn’t love these actors—they practically hit every quadrant!”

Jones goes on to comment “While it may be an original story, The Kitchen is burdened by much of the same cynicism that has been fueling the sequels and remakes with which we have been pelted throughout the summer.”

Unwittingly, Jones negates his own points. For one thing, The Kitchen is not a remake or a gender-flipped take on an established franchise. It’s based on an original story, an adaptation of a comic book miniseries written by Ollie Masters for DC/Vertigo. While Jones makes The Kitchen out to be a cynical by-product of marketing test panels, it’s actually anything but. Here we have three of Hollywood’s biggest women actors – Melissa McCarthy playing Kathy; Tiffany Hadish, as Ruby; and Elisabeth Moss as Claire. Kathy, Ruby, and Claire are all married to Irish mobsters, living and working in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen in the late ’70s. After a heist gone bad, all of their husbands are sent up the river, leaving the wives to fend for themselves and, in the case of Kathy, her children.

They’re supposed to be taken care of by Little Jimmy, despicably portrayed by Brian d’Arcy James. Little Jimmy shorts them, not giving them enough money to live off of while their husband’s are locked up, forcing them to take matters into their own hands.

the kitchen melissa mccarthy

Kathy, Ruby, and Claire’s ascent to power, and gradual evolution into gangsters in their own right, is what makes up most of the meat of The Kitchen. The trio are joined by Gabriel, played by Star Wars’ Domhnall Gleeson, an unstable, war-torn Vietnam vet, who comes in as an enforcer and as a guide into the gritty gangster underworld. This is best illustrated in a scene where he demonstrates how to dismember a corpse using a kitchen knife, which Claire takes to with a ghoulish glee..

Claire’s trajectory is one of the strongest selling points of The Kitchen. She’s terribly abuse by her husband Rob, who at one point even beat her into having a miscarriage. While the other two focus more on the business side of mob life, Claire relishes in the violence, carnage, and power.

Power is a running theme throughout The Kitchen, as revealed in a monologue from Kathy. At one point, she’s championed as “she was doing what’s right for her kids.” She replies, “I was doing this for me. I never felt safe on the streets – no woman does. Now I do.”

These are some of the elements that make The Kitchen an actual feminist film, albeit one without a gender studies’ degree. These are real women, doing what it takes to get by, protect themselves and their families in a world that has no time or space for them. The fact that The Kitchen doesn’t get up on a soapbox is actually what makes it such an excellent, and necessary, feminist statement.

The women in The Kitchen are not saints. Arguably, for much of the movie at least, they’re not even good people. They get addicted to money and power, just like in any other gangster film. They lie, betray one another, and get what’s coming to ’em. It’s a gritty, hard-boiled Irish gangster drama on the mean streets of late ’70s New York. It’s as grim and gritty as a film from that era, where their roles would have no doubt been relegated to hookers or housewives.

That’s the point that a lot of critics seem to be missing about this movie. Reviewers have nearly universally panned this film, calling it “joyless,” “overcooked,” “aimless.” Some have commented on its cruddy colour pallet; its dim, dingy light. These are the touches that actually made this movie for me! It felt like some grimy late-’70s detective drama, like something you would’ve seen when TV sets still had rabbit ears. The illusion is made particularly complete via an incredible attention to period detail, from the cars to the outfits to the NYC cityscape itself, adding to The Kitchen‘s sleazy ’70s exploitation air.

Like those ’70s exploitation films, there’s no moralizing going on here. This is no black-and-white/good vs. evil universe. These are merely ordinary people, trying to survive. But it’s shown through a uniquely feminized lens, showing the lives and dreams, hopes and fears, of real women.

THIS is one of the things feminism is fighting for, illustrating the fact that women are people. They are noble, proud, conceited, greedy, naive, squeamish, bloodthirsty, stylish, styleless. They are anything that people can be. THIS is the power of those cash-grabbing movies Oliver Jones was griping about. They open the gateway for other movies focusing on women, movies of all kinds. There will be empowering movies. There will be despairing films. There will be surreal and hilarious and sexy and heartbroken movies focusing on women’s experiences and, just perhaps, we might all understand one another the better for it.

The Kitchen, however, is none of those things. It’s a hard-boiled, nitty gritty Irish gangster film, with all the blood and betrayal and whiskey you could ever hope for.

The Kitchen is out in theaters now.

Looking for more movie news, reviews, thoughts, and insights? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd!

Want to support quality, in-depth film criticism? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

Google Updates The Google Keyword Planner

content marketing strategy

A content marketing strategy has never been more important than it is in the second half of 2019. There are currently over 1.7 billion websites online. Each one is competing for the coveted first page positions on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Posting blindly is an incredible waste of time, money, energy, and resources.

Keyword planning and keyword research shed light into your respective industry. They let you know not only what your audience is looking for, but when and where they’re looking for it, as well.

That just leaves you to deduce why they’re searching for a certain keyword or phrase. Answer that question and you can bring real value to your audience, leading to actual engagement, increased brand loyalty and awareness, and enhancing audience trust.

A content marketing strategy begins with keyword planning and research. Google’s Keyword Planner has just gotten a new update to help refine your content marketing strategies.

google keyword planner update
Grouped Ideas is just one of the powerful new features unveiled in the Google Keyword Planner update.

How Google’s Keyword Planner Update Can Help Your Content Marketing Strategy

Google’s marketing tools have all been getting major updates this year. Google Ad Planner has been expanded to include up to 10 keywords. They’ve also included the ability to group ideas to create powerful and comprehensive content marketing strategies.

First let’s take a look at the Google Keyword Planner update. Then we’ll talk a bit about how to integrate these insights into your own content strategy.

Google Keyword Planner Update

The main update to the Google Keyword Planner is the inclusion of relevant keywords. The Google Keyword Planner now shows the most relevant keywords based on the seed keyword you provide.

For instance, if you look up ‘content marketing strategy,’ Keyword Planner returns ‘content marketing,’ ‘content marketing agency,’ ‘content marketing agency,’ and ‘b2b content marketing,’ as relevant related search terms.

google keyword planner update
The Google Keyword Planner update now includes relevant keywords for your search term.

Google also added two additional features that will further help refine your content marketing strategy. They’ve included the ability to filter ideas for your website and how to exclude branded content.

Website Filtering

The website filtering function of the Keyword Planner allows you to filter results for keywords most closely related to a particular website.

Brand Filtering

The brand filtering function of the Google Keyword Planner lets you exclude keyword results that feature branded content from your competitors.

How To Set Up Your First Google Keyword Planner Campaign

If you’re new to Google Ads, it can be a bit confusing to get started. The Landing Page is set up for marketers looking to start an ad campaign. Setting up an ad campaign requires putting a credit card on file. If you’re still investigating the Keyword Planner, deciding whether or not it’s useful for you or your company, you might not be ready to start spending money.

It’s still possible to just use the Keyword Planner without setting up an ad campaign.

Here’s how to get started with the Keyword Planner.

Sign Up For Google Ads

Signing up for Google Ads only requires an email address and a business name. You don’t even need a website, per se, as you can create ads using Google’s smart campaigns, the default Google ads you see at the top of the SERPs.

Sign Into Your Google Ads Account

Once you’re signed into your Google Ads account, go to g.co/etoaw. This takes you to the Google Ads main page without having to create a search campaign. Go to the ‘Tools’ tab, which will take you to the Keyword Planner.

Once you’re signed in, you’ll be able to mess around with the Keyword tools, including the Grouped ideas and new features.

Why Keyword Research Matters

It’s widely accepted knowledge that you should create content with users in mind, not web crawlers. That’s only part of the story.

Google’s constantly updating its algorithms in a bid to bring the most relevant content for its users. That means you need to at least consider the technical side of the equation, as well, if you want people to find your content.

Back in 2012, Google launched their ‘knowledge graphs.’ Their motto is ‘Things, Not Strings,’ which is to say they’re not just returning random links any longer, simply because a piece of digital content contains the search query.

Instead, Google evaluates a number of different criteria in an enormous database to provide context for a search query. For instance, the search term ‘Venus’ could be in reference to the planet or the Roman Goddess of love.

This database is used to help ascertain user intent. It’s no longer enough to simply create a bunch of content using the relevant keyword you’re hoping to rank for. Instead, Google gives preference towards authoritative content based around a user’s intent.

Keyword research also helps you avoid trying to rank for keywords with too high of a difficulty rating. Getting noticed for the phrase ‘content marketing’ is going to be difficult, most likely. Keyword research lets you know that ahead of time so you could focus on long-tail keywords instead, such as ‘content marketing in Portland,’ for example.

Keyword research helps eliminate wasted time, energy, and resources. It lets you focus on what your audience is actually looking for instead of blindly guessing.

It’s also an endless source of ideas for new content, helping you further your brand or business, becoming an expert in your industry, and create real connections between you and your audience.

Do You Need Content Marketing Services?

As someone working exclusively online for the better part of a decade, I’ve written about anything you could possibly imagine in every conceivable industry, from auto insurance to home repairs to FinTech, daily deals, round-ups, and recaps.

I also stay on top of the latest changes to SEO and digital marketing, to help my clients flourish in their respective fields.

Whether you’re looking for content writing for your website, from blog posts to landing pages, or digital marketing services, from social media marketing to SEO optimization, I’d love to work with you and help establish your brand or business.

If you’re looking for passionate, knowledgeable, authoritative content on a budget, get in touch today!

If you want more content marketing news, thoughts, tips, and updates, you can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

 
Want to help support independent business?

Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

Towards A New Left Economy

economic revolution

Capitalism is failing. That’s not to see economies are failing, per se. Goods, products, and services are still being produced. Profits are still being reported. People are still working jobs. 

It’s more like capitalism is failing us. Inequality continues to widen and spread, as increasing swathes of the population report a malaise, an inability to meet basic needs, as the work-life balance continues to fall out of whack. Under Late-Stage Capitalism, generating income and increasing profits are the only things that matter. 

late-stage capitalism
It’s more like capitalism is failing us//photo: @memibeltrane

It is as writer George Monbiot observes, critiquing capitalism’s focus on the bottom line. “The problem with Gross Domestic Product is the gross bit. There are no deductions involved: all economic activity is accounted as if it were of positive value. Social harm is added to, not subtracted from, social good. A train crash which generates 1bn worth of track repairs, medical bills, and funeral costs is deemed by this measure as beneficial as an uninterrupted service which generates 1bn in ticket sales.” 

Economists have been ruminating on these inequalities, and their potential ramifications, for decades. While long on critique, left-leaning thinkers have also been short on solutions, as is observed in “The new left economics: how a network of thinkers is transforming capitalism,” a longform essay published in The Guardian in June 2019. 

As written by Andy Beckett in the introduction, ” Since the 70s, the left has changed how many people think about prejudice, personal identity and freedom. It has exposed capitalism’s cruelties. It has sometimes won elections, and sometimes governed effectively afterwards. But it has not been able to change fundamentally how wealth and work function in society – or even provide a compelling vision of how that might be done. The left, in short, has not had an economic policy.”

He goes on to state the thesis of the article, “And yet, in recent years, that system has started to fail. Rather than sustainable and widely shared prosperity, it has produced wage stagnation, ever more workers in poverty, ever more inequality, banking crises, the convulsions of populism and the impending climate catastrophe.” He continues on to quote Philip Hammond, a conservative politician. “a gap has opened up” in the west “between the theory of how a market economy delivers … and the reality”. He went on: “Too many people feel that … the system is not working for them.”

The good news is that solutions are beginning to present themselves. The timing couldn’t be more right. There’s no telling how much time we have until these hairline fissures in our societies become great, quaking fault lines, swallowing our entire way of life as a result. 

The roots of Neoliberalism
Since the 70s, the left has changed how many people think about prejudice, personal identity and freedom. It has exposed capitalism’s cruelties.//photo: @brizzlebornandbred

Against Neoliberalism

Another of Beckett’s most powerful observations is “There is a dawning recognition that a new kind of economy is needed: fairer, more inclusive, less exploitative, less destructive of society and the planet.” He goes on to discuss some of the economic instability of the 21st Century and some of the fallacies it’s unearthed. Namely, the myth of the “free market,” in the wake of government bailouts. 

A new wave of left-leaning thinkers are starting to develop possible alternatives to the top-down hierarchies of traditional Capitalism. Freelance academic Christine Berry speaks on the rise of “democratic economy,” turning the classical ideas of the owners of the means of production and workers on their head. This democratic economy could be essential to actually preserving democracy itself. 

This economic revolution will not be implemented by the state. Instead, it’s a revolution of thought that will be driven by employees and consumers. It will be, as noted by Beckett, “a nonviolent revolution in slow motion.” 

economic revolution
A nonviolent revolution in slow-motion//photo: @homeofchaos

A Nonviolent Revolution In Slow Motion

New ideas are often slow to spread, especially when there’s a lot of money on the line. Michael Jacobs, a former advisor to prime minister Gordon Brown. Jacobs came of age during the New Labour era, when a similar “ecosystem” of political thinkers came to prominence. Unlike the ’70s, however, it seems the New Left Economics are starting to gain some traction, consolidating into an actual movement. 

The New Economics Foundation has reported a rapid increase in co-ops. They also call for conventional companies to give shares to employees, creating an “inclusive labour fund” to foster a state of co-ownership. 

A few months later, this became Labour party policy. From a footnote in an economic journal into actual reality in less than a few months. The Times, they truly are a’changin’. 

workers rights
“It must be a prime objective of socialists to work for the redistribution of power.”//photo: @kheelcenter

A Return To Workers’ Rights

Social theorist GDP Cole noted in 1920, “The real aim should be “wresting bit by bit from the hands of the possessing classes the economic power which they now exercise”, to “make possible an equitable distribution of the national income and a reasonable reorganisation of Society as a whole.”

Empowering workers is central to most socialist movements. It’s got to be gone about in a new and novel way, however, as noted by Beckett, as most workers don’t have access to weapons for an armed revolution or the resources to battle gigantic companies. 

Another economist, Tony Benn, writing in the ’70s, talked about some of the emerging trends that could help to make these changes actually possible. “Technology releases forces that permit and encourage decentralisation … It must be a prime objective of socialists to work for the redistribution of power.” 

Tony Benn became Secretary Of State for Industry in 1974 and enjoyed a number of successes using a co-operative setup before being removed a year later. A serious re-structuring of economic systems would never again be attempted. 

The necessity for empowering workers has never been more obvious, in an era of gig economies, at-will employment, the right to work for less, and on and on. Employees are being disciplined for attempting to unionize, and it seems like we’re on a fast track back to a world before The Great Depression. 

These questions are central to what this blog’s going to be about. We’ll be continuing to explore the roots of Neoliberalism and Late-Stage Capitalism, what they are, where they’ve gone wrong, and what we might possibly do about them. 

What are some business or economic models yr passionate about or excited for? We all know about the problems but what are the solutions? Let us know in the comments! 

You can listen to Andy Beckett’s article as a podcast. This is part of a regular investigation of the best longform media on the Internet we’ll be unearthing, as well as an exploration of some of the great podcasts out there.

Let us know if there are other podcasts or longform media you’d like to see us cover! 

Looking For More Economic Theory?

Looking for more economic news, reviews, thoughts, and insights on the current state of the world? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads!

Want to support quality, in-depth journalism and cultual commentary? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

XII: What I’ve Learned In Twelve Years Of Sobriety

alcohol recovery

twelve years sober\

12 years ago, i was sitting on the edge of a mattress in the skeleton of what used to be my bedroom in the basement of my mom’s house, head in hands, dimly lit by the filthy light of a bare lightbulb. I was at the end of my rope, taking all of my strength not to take my own life. After being away for nearly a year, realizing my life’s ambition of finally moving out of the Midwest, living first in New Orleans and then outside of Portland, Oregon on an organic farm. I had fucked it all up, ending up literally right where i started. Sitting in the exact same spot, one year later, one year older. And it was all due to drinking.

alcohol recovery
I had fucked it all up, ending up literally right where i started. Sitting in the exact same spot, one year later, one year older. And it was all due to drinking.//photo: Bousure

Hi. My name’s J, and i am an alcoholic. To use the terminology you sometimes here around the rooms of 12-step recovery meetings, i’m a grateful recovering alcoholic. I am not, despite some people’s protestations, a recovered alcoholic. I have, as it’s stated in the A.A. Big Big, “a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of my spiritual condition.” I have enjoyed this daily reprieve for 4,383 days, thus far, and fully intend for that to continue for as long as i continue to draw breath.

On July 21, 2007, i experienced an epiphany, a moment of grace, a dare i say it, a miracle, albeit a minor one. I’d been back in Indiana for roughly 10 days, continuing to drink cuz i knew not what else to fucking do. I was lost, scared, depressed, suicidal, at wit’s end. I was broken, and i didn’t know how to put the pieces back together again. I had roughly $50 to my name, my severance pay from the organic farm where i’d been living and working. It was enough to keep me in gigantic bottles of cheap, shitty Ingelnook Rose for a week or so.

July 21 was a Saturday, i believe. Thanks to backward, Bible Belt bluebook laws, Indiana doesn’t sell booze on Sundays. I knew I’d have to go to the store, and i’d have to buy extra to get through Sunday. Suddenly, a thought cut through the murk, clear as a bell ringing in the silence.

“If i don’t cut this out, I’m going to die. I don’t want to die.”

alcohol recovery
“If i don’t cut this out, i’m going to die. I don’t want to die.”// photo: Discover Waikumete Cemetery

I was no stranger to suicidal ideation. It was my permanent state, so to speak, my spiritual home. If it weren’t for bad luck, i’d have no luck at all, as Albert King sings in “Born Under A Bad Sign.” I’d gone through countless, endless nights, fighting off the demoniac voices, telling me to drink an entire bottle of drain cleaner, to throw a noose over a beam and end my and everybody else’s suffering, just like my friend Micah had done a few years prior.

None of this stuff was the miracle. What was the miracle was i quit drinking while i still had $8. I always drank till i’d spent every last penny, and usually then some, finally resorting to lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating… whatever it took to get my next fix.

In this moment of clarity, this amazing grace, i decided to save two fingers of shitty pink wine for the morning, to stave off the dopesickness. That was my last drink.

I’ve had the good fortune to remain sober for the last 12 years. Many of my life’s dreams have come true along the way. I’ve had more amazing moments in sobriety than any one human deserves. It truly boggles the mind, and i fall to my knees and cry thanks be to the Creator every single fucking day.

My life is infinitely better than it was even during the high times of my drinking days. And yet, i can’t say it’s all been sunshine and roses. I’ve experienced more pain in sobriety than any one human deserves, as well. I’ve had countless long, dark nights of the soul. I’ve experienced enough alienation, loneliness, isolation, humiliation, poverty, starvation, than a soul should have to bear.

I mention this only in light of the fact that, although i’ve suffered, mightily, and, in reality, am suffering still, i am still not getting drunk. I’m not checking out. I’m not hiding, escaping, sticking my head in the sandman’s mud to blot it all out.

Here on this bright and sunny morning in Portland, Oregon, listening to Elliott Smith, i’ll tell you what others told me when i was first getting sober. You don’t ever have to drink again if you don’t want to.

In AA, there’s a saying you hear around the rooms. Getting sober, it takes you five years to get yr marbles back. It takes another five years to learn to use them.

So i’ve put those 10 years in, plus 2, and indeed have learned many things along the way. I’m going to share some of them with y’all, in the spirit of service, gratitude, and giving back. Later today, i’ll be DJing at an amazing event, playing electronic music to help raise fund for legal funds for immigrants. This in and of itself is a dream come true. I’ve not slept, due to the heat, my raging thoughts and heavy heart. In a lot of ways, i’m a wreck. But here in the silver light, dazed and awake, i’m still in awe of all of the goodness this world possesses. I’m still every bit as passionate as fighting the evils and injustices that are plaguing this land. Even better, i’m more capable of actually doing something about it. That thought should be enough to keep me clean another 24 hours, by the grace of my Higher Power.

twelve years sober
photo: @carnagenyc

What I’ve Learned During Twelve Years Of Sobriety

Let me start with a disclaimer. Everyone’s journey to recovery is going to look different. This is not a checklist, not a hard-and-fast rule book for how everyone’s journey to sobriety will look like. This is my own anecdotal experience. I don’t talk about myself all that often, as i’m rather allergic to self-aggrandizement. But i’m emerging from the shadows, briefly, to share some of my thoughts and feelings, in the spirit of giving back.

Sobriety ≠ Normalcy

Like many addicts and alcoholics, i was rather addicted to the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll myth.” I thought getting sober meant i would have to start wearing cardigan sweaters and polos and going to church every Sunday. Many do, and there’s no judgement in that, but that couldn’t be further from the truth of my experience.

In fact, i’m exponentially weirder and more unconvential than i was even as a teenage gothling. My tattoos have multiplied exponentially over the last decade+. I’ve had more hair colors than a Crayola Box. I’ve gotten into avant-garde photoshoots and drag performances. I’ve devoted myself to Witchcraft, Occultism, and Satanism that started out ironically but becomes increasingly less so with each passing day.

I am still just as skeptical as consensual reality as ever. I remain as ardently anti-capitalist and anarchic as ever. Even better, i’ve had the last 12 years to educate myself in the classic texts of a number of these traditions. In my 20s, i was an embarrassing edgelord, just another Crowley-worshipping Suburbanite. Today, i’m relatively conversant in femininist, Marxist, and other sociological frameworks. My mind is infinitely keener and more dangerous than when i was blotting out with gallons of cheap, sugary wine on the daily.

alcohol mental health
You can get crazy in sobriety// photo: @shannxn

You Can Get Crazy In Sobriety

In AA, when a person’s sober but they’re not working their program, they’re referred to as a “dry drunk.” I’ve been a dry drunk in my time and mayhap may still be in a certain regard.

In sobriety, i’ve been every bit as obsessive, as paranoid, as self-centered and self-serving as my binge drinking days. I’ve been megalomaniacal, full of wild thoughts and self-aggrandizement. I’ve been jealous, territorial, verging on psychosis. I’ve been violent, cynical, sadistic. I’ve been depressive, downtrodden. I’ve been manic, hyperbolic. And yet, throughout it all, i haven’t gotten drunk.

You know the difference? You have a chance to turn all that around when you’re not drinking. I still am in the habit of replaying my day at the end of the day, taking a “fearless and thorough moral inventory,” and when i am wrong, i strive to admit it. I have to come to peace or there will be no sleep that night. I’ll play over it all, using the tools i learned in 12-step programs, assessing what’s bothering me and why. It’s become ingrained and is a highly invaluable therapeutic tool.

I may still be crazy, but that’s not all that i am. There’s hope, and that’s a sight different than when i was drinking.

recovering from alcoholism
@ 95% of alcoholics are hypoglycemic, or have low blood sugar// photo:@eatmorechips

Feed Thyself

I don’t recall where i saw the statistic originally (forgive me for not citing my sources), but i remember encountering the statistic that @ 95% of alcoholics are hypoglycemic, or have low blood sugar. Alcohol breaks down into sugar in the body, so yr body stops making as much insulin, if i’m remembering the science/biology correctly.

In fact, alcohol cravings are actually just powerful sugar cravings. There’s a reason they keep little dishes of M&Ms in halfway houses all over the world.

As alcoholics, we don’t always learn a lot of the basic living skills. Lord knows i knew jack shit about eating properly, staying hydrated, sleeping properly, or any other basic form of adulting. This leaves me with the tendency to get “hangry,” going too long without eating, until i become a slavering beast.

Let me tell you, my food-deprived self makes my drunk self look like a cheerful kindergartner. I can get vicious when hungry. Even worse, you can’t blame it on being shitfaced, either.

So, take it from me, and this goes for drunks and non-drunks alike. If you find yrself getting short and snippy with yr loved ones before dinner – just wait. Shelve any kind of serious topics until after you’ve digested. You’ll have a much more productive conversation. Your heart will sustain much less scars and wounds this way.

You Don’t Ever Have To Get Drunk Again

I’ve said this already but it deserves its own bullet point. I’ve gone through so so so much bullshit since i’ve quit drinking. I’ve legitimately been homeless. I’ve starved, eating only raw garlic and lemon grass for 2 days. I’ve been stranded on the side of the road in the middle of a prairie. I’ve lost friends, dear friends, best friends. I’ve seen people i love disintegrate into madness, cynicism, even death.

I’ve even both found, and then lost, the love of my life, my soulmate, my other half, whom i’ve spent much of my sober life with. If i were to be honest, i’m in more pain than i’ve been in a long, long time. It’s a struggle to get through the day, most days. I’m not eating, not sleeping.

Why am i mentioning this? Because, even now, i’m still not drinking.

There is no power on Earth powerful enough to make me get drunk. I’ve been called every name under the sun. I’ve failed, and fucked up, over and over again. And, still, i have not gotten drunk.

As i said previously, when yr not drunk, you have a chance to fix things, to turn things around. You can make something constructive out of even the darkest nights of the soul.

recovering from alcoholism
swear on my father’s grave, if you quit drinking and actually work the steps, preferably with a sponsor, your life will improve. Your dreams will start to come true – triply so if you apply consistent time, effort, and energy towards them.//photo:@chongwahh

Dreams Do Come True

Let’s end this on a high note. I could go on and on forever, and you probably feel like i have been already, so i want to go out with an uplifting anecdote, like the speakers do at speaker meetings in packed AA clubhouses on Saturday Night. A manifestation of “the promises,” perhaps, or maybe just a bit of good old-fashioned hokiness.

But it’s true. I swear on my father’s grave, if you quit drinking and actually work the steps, preferably with a sponsor, your life will improve. Your dreams will start to come true – triply so if you apply consistent time, effort, and energy towards them.

For most of my drinking career, i was a failed and frustrated artist. I just could not produce the sounds that were reverberating inside my skull and it was ripping me apart. I started out on my monomaniacal musical mission when i was 18. I was a tattered and broken human being by the time i had quit drinking at 27 and still hadn’t written a fucking song.

12 years sober, and i currently am playing in a handful of amazing musical projects. I’m about to release my first full-length album with my best friend Maxwell Benedetti in our until-now top-secret band the Pirates of Lucifer. I’ve been working on a new project with a new dear friend, Jenny Jo of Empty Vessel Music, and i am awed by the sounds that are coming through. I’ve played hundreds of concerts, ranging from god awful to sublime and life-changing. I DJ regularly, and am looking to do more so.

On top of all of this, i’m also a writer for a living, which was my dream since i was a child. I’m also making a lot of artwork and learning graphic design. And that’s not even to mention my other never-ending to-do list, learning computer programming, reading many of the greatest books ever written, regularly watching amazing movies from all over the Earth with a handful of like-minded lunatics i’m lucky enough to call my friends and loved ones.

So if you are fearless and thorough from the very start, dedicating yrself to getting and staying sober, these things will start to happen for you, too. Yr relationships will begin to repair themselves. You’ll find love or heal the love you already have. You’ll go on adventures. You’ll watch sunrises, sunsets, shooting stars, the wind blowing over fields of wheat, waves undulating gently on the shore. And you’ll be alive to them, fully, not sheathed in a Carbonite coffin.

So, if you’ve quit drinking or drugging and yr struggling – keep going! It gets better! If yr hurting, its okay. This raw, tender, vulnerability means you’re really living. It also means yr healing. Someday, those scars will start to fade. Sometimes, you may even forget that you’re wounded.

I’m going to sign off here and go into my day, being of service to others, helping the world instead of being a blight on it. I plan on writing some follow-ups to this, about recovery, spirituality, mindfulness, sharing some of the lessons i’ve learned in my short, strange life.

Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like for me to talk about. Please also get in touch if you have any questions or just need someone to listen. I’m mostly a “pure” alcoholic but have plenty of experience with drug addiction and mental illness, due to the life i’ve led. I’ll happily offer any perspective i might have or, at the very least, offer a friendly and sympathetic ear.

And, until then, as we say in the rooms – keep coming back!

Looking for more mental health & mindfulness news, reviews, thoughts, and insights? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd!

Want to support quality, in-depth film criticism? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

Bush Mama movie review

Bush Mama movie review

Ethiopian-American director Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama is one part fly-on-the-wall documentary and one part surreal arthouse psychodrama, showcasing the experience of poor African-Americans in ’70s Los Angeles. 

Bush Mama movie review
poster image for 1979’s Bush Mama, dir. Haile Gerima

With its grainy black-and-white footage and its fierce, fiery jazz-meets-musique-concrete soundtrack, Bush Mama seems teleported from another time and some far-off place. And yet, 1165 people were shot and killed by police officers in 2018. 26.7% of those fatalities were African-American. 

The fact that little has changed in the 40 years since Bush Mama‘s release is a tragedy. It also offers an opportunity, as it’s the perfect time to revisit Gerima’s story of a poor African-American community in late-70s Los Angeles. 

Bush Mama Haile Gerima movie review
Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama largely revolves around Dorothy and T.C. as they navigate a poor African-American neighborhood in Los Angeles in the mid-70s

Bush Mama primarily follows Dorothy (Barbara O.) and her husband T.C. (Johnny Weathers). Dorothy spends her days navigating the unemployment office, talking to people in the neighborhood, raising her daughter Luann (Susan Williams), and occasionally drinking too much. T.C. is a Vietnam Vet who’s plagued by bad dreams and also sometimes drinks too much. He seems lost in a daze, as does Dorothy, but T.C. snaps out of it, gets himself a new job where he’ll be well paid working with computers. This bright future never materializes, sadly, as T.C. is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. He spends the rest of the film corresponding with Dorothy, as he becomes increasingly radicalized while in prison. 

Bush Mama Johnny Weathers
T.C. becomes increasingly radicalized while in prison.

Dorothy begins to rouse from her somnambulant state, as well. First of all, she’s pregnant with her second child. Her welfare worker continually advocates for Dorothy to get an abortion, as she has no job and her husband’s in prison. She threatens to cut off Dorothy’s benefits if she doesn’t. 

Dorothy’s days are full of people from the neighborhood. There’s Angi (Renna Kraft), a teenage girl who participates in demonstrations, bringing Dorothy posters from the rally. One shows an African woman with an AK-47 in one hand and a baby in the other, the “bush mama” of the film’s title. The other shows the body of a young black man, shot 25 times by the L.A.P.D. Others, like Molly (Cora Lee Day), deride the militants, jaded and cynical by a lifetime of disappointment. 

All of this comes to a head in the film’s final moments, as Dorothy comes home to find her daughter Luann being assaulted by a white police officer in her home. She loses it, becomes the “bush mama” as she beats the cop to death with a cane. The film finalizes with Dorothy writing to T.C., speaking of her own on-going radicalization. She’s shown with her own natural hair, a headful of coiled natty dreadlocks, that she’s kept hidden beneath a wig throughout the film. 

She’s not hiding any longer. 

Bush Mama 1979 movie review
The wig is off.

Bush Mama is a brilliant but painful watch. It’s beautiful, for those that like scratchy old black and white movies. The acting is beyond phenomenal, particularly from Barbarao and Johnny Weathers. Barbara O’s a marvel of emotive physicality, conveying so much with just a facial expression or a look in her eyes. Weathers is heartbreaking in his positivity, radiating strength and positivity as he discovers the works of important African-American thinkers. Rather than shutting down and succumbing to bitterness while in prison, he rises to the challenge, even trying to provide for his family while incarcerated. He’s the definition of a good man. 

Bush Mama is also an example of film’s potential as an artful, artistic medium. Haile Gerima’s editing says as much as the plot, if not more so, using special effects and meaningful transitions to provide a poetic subtext to the film. At one point, a panning shot of African-American men in prison, freezing on T.C., cuts back to Dorothy, shooting between the bars of her bed’s headboard. Is this a commentary on the plight of all African-Americans, inside and outside of jail and society? Is it foreshadowing Dorothy’s ultimate, untimely fate? You’ll have to be the judge of that. Gerima’s not here to tell you what to think. He’s just asking you to think. 

Bush Mama review
production still from Bush Mama, 1975

The sound design and soundtrack deserve special mention, as well. Much of the film features an abstract, atmospheric sound collage – interviews with welfare recipients interspersed with weather and traffic reports, radio broadcasts, snippets of random dialogue, all the while punctuated with a muscular jazz score. It’s like Gerima included the air surrounding the characters just as much as the people themselves. 

Taken together, Bush Mama becomes an essential glimpse into the African-American experience of the late ’70s, taking you on a trip through the psychosphere, through the dark heart of American dreaming. There is great ugliness there, savagery, brutality. And yet, love perseveres. Hope springs eternal, even when they try and lock it down behind iron bars. 

Bush Mama Barbara O.
Barbara O’s a marvel of emotive physicality, conveying so much with just a facial expression or a look in her eyes.

Movies are particularly adept at evoking real empathy, deep understanding, actual connection. You are, by definition, looking through someone else’s eyes. You are walking a mile in their shoes. Personally, i couldn’t be more thankful for the glimpse, while being all-too-aware that this is no revelation for a huge swathe of this world’s population. It’s just business as usual, even 40 years on. Bush Mama may leave you as radicalized as Dorothy and T.C. and that is a good thing. 

Bush Mama was part of the L. A. Rebellion film movement, the first i’ve seen. I’m looking forward to investigating more of these films in the near future. Bush Mama was screened as part of the mighty Church of Film at the equally marvelous Clinton Street Theater. Make sure to frequently frequent both if you’re a movie lover living in Portland, Or.

Looking for more movie news, reviews, thoughts, and insights? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd!

Want to support quality, in-depth film criticism? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

Fig Tree movie review

Fig Tree 2018 movie review

Fig Tree movie review

Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s directorial debut humanizes the horrors of the Ethiopian civil war via the lens of a young couple in love in Fig Tree.

We are drowning in tragedies. We are inundated with the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death – on a daily basis. It can be too much to take in, too painful to process. Our nervous systems shut down and we resign ourselves to apathy – “Oh well, what can I do anyway?”

Personal stories, autobiographies, memoir, and lived experience cut through that sheet of static, that deadening blanket of deafening noise. They peel the callous away from our skin, remove the stones from our hearts, and allow us to feel and empathize with distant conflicts. They help remind us that we are more alike than not, even when the day-to-day life looks so very different.

Aalam-Warqe Davidian Fig Tree

Fig Tree follows Mina (Betalehem Asmamawe), a 16-year-old young woman living in the Shula, or Fig, neighborhood of an impoverished area on the outskirts of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Mina’s family are Jewish and are laying plans to emigrate to Israel to escape the brutal reign of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the head of the revolutionary army known as the Derg that overthrew the Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974. Set in 1989, Fig Tree drops us in 15 years into the Derg’s reign. To supplement the Derg’s declining forces, Mariam’s rounding up and kidnapping all males between the ages of 16 and 30 to join the Derg’s army.

This poses as immediate threat to Mina’s boyfriend and pseudo-brother, Eli (Yohanes Muse). Eli’s a Christian boy that was adopted by Mina’s grandmother years ago, when his mother fled the country. He hides out in a fig tree on the outskirts of town in a bid to escape the marauding bands of kidnappers.

African movie reviewWhile hiding out in the fig tree, Eli and Mina find a soldier who’s lost his legs in war, who’s attempted to hang himself with thin orange twine. Eli and Mina rescue him at the nick of time, carrying him back to the village on Eli’s back. The soldier returns to consciousness and hauls himself away using a pair of crude wooden hand supports, dragging his torso through the dust and dirt, making it about 50 yards and then collapsing in the street. No one thinks anything of it, simply stepping around his prone body. The passive resignation to such a heartrending sight is the perfect representation of the heart and soul of Fig Tree. What effects do a life of terror, poverty, and brutality have on the human soul and psyche?

What effects do a life of terror, poverty, and brutality have on the human soul and psyche?

Most of Fig Tree focuses around the twin plots of Mina and her family’s escape to Israel and Eli’s hiding from the authorities. Mina’s family secures passage out of the country, leaving Mina worried about what will happen to Eli once they leave. She plots and schemes various ways to save Eli, including sleeping together to make him her husband. Mina’s family discovers her machinations to save Eli. Her father beats her unmercifully with a leather belt, with her grandmother scolding her to be smart, even if she can’t control who or how she loves.

All of these cogs come together, resulting in the film’s gut-wrenching final moments if not causing them directly.

Betalehem Asmamawe Fig Tree

Reading this synopsis, it may seem as if not much happens in Fig Tree. You wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s not really the point of Davidian’s debut feature film. Based on her own experiences leaving a war torn Ethiopia as a young woman. It’s more of a slice-of-life depiction of a very unique upbringing during very tumultuous times. The film is more about the textures of everyday life of a regular girl than any kind of epic. That’s what makes it so successful, landing like a steel fist to your rib cage, like a steel-toed boot to the base of your neck. The detailed cinematography, with long languorous looks lavished on the rich malachite greens and brick reds of Mina’s grandmother’s linens; on bright, burnished steel and glass, glinting in the sun; the nearly sexual shape of figs rolling around in the dirt; the sweat running down a child’s forehead. This nearly microscopic exposition of life in an Ethiopian village transplants you behind the windshield of a young girl’s eyes, feeling her excitement, her terror, her incomprehension of the world’s brutality and the ferocity of her heart.

This radical empathy makes the painful reality of the brutality of life in Ethiopia under the Derg hit home like a closed fist. You will cry, most likely. You will leave, stunned, shaking your head.

The relationship between Mina and Eli offers a particularly poignant perspective on the situation. The scene where Mina offers herself to Eli so he can become her husband, is heartbreaking in its innocence. The pair sit down to play a hand-clapping game, with all the seriousness of a newlywed couple. The juxtaposition of childhood and adult life is striking. Every young adolescent thinks they’re wiser than they are, that they know everything. Coming of age stories are often moving, due to this, and the fact that it takes us back to a time where everything is so vibrant, potent, and intense.

Anybody that’s gone through adolescence will likely be able to empathize with Mina and Eli. It’s a universal story, as old as time. Which makes the brutality and terror of life under a brutal regime all the more striking, all that much harder to watch. Which is why it’s so important we do so, to pay witness, to truly open our hearts to make sure these things don’t happen again, even though they’re probably happening right this second.

Full disclosure, all of this talk of being numbed to the atrocities happening around the globe are written from a place of my own privilege. While these atrocities may be foreign and remote from where i am writing in Portland, Oregon, this is just daily life for people living in Ethiopia and likely much of Africa, as well as other parts of the globe. The ability to tune out is a luxury, which makes it that much more essential to rip the callous off our hearts, to tear down the walls of our own perceptions. Or perhaps i am unique in this, and others remain more tender and open and informed around the clock. Either way, this screening at the Whitsell Auditorium as part of the Portland Art Museum made a big, big impact on this particular viewer. I’ve long had a fondness and a fascination with Ethiopian culture, mostly the music and the food thus far, as that’s what i’ve been exposed to. Fig Tree humanizes the struggle that’s been going on for decades in Ethiopia. I’m not really sure how things stand today, i’m ashamed to say. I’m going to be fixing that. I encourage you to do the same, and watching Fig Tree is a great place to start.

Amazing performances, outstanding cinematography, and an invaluable illustration of a very important historical epoch that not enough westerners know about make Fig Tree essential viewing for all lovers of African film and culture. Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s an auspicious talent and definitely one to watch. Cannot wait to see what she gets into next!

Want More Movie Reviews?

Looking for more movie news, reviews, thoughts, and insights? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd!

Want to support quality, in-depth film criticism? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.

Book Review: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic Stalker

Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugasky book review

Roadside Picnic is like a Russian novel’s magic realist take on H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. It’s also one of the finest works of Science Fiction of the 20th Century. Or all time.

Nothing Matters: The Cosmic Indifference of Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Humanity loves to center itself as the center of the universe. Suggesting that the heavens did not whirl around the Earth was enough to see Galileo imprisoned for the remainder of his lifetime.

The reality of humanity’s insignificance lies at the heart of so much 20th Century science fiction. The weight of whirling electrons, the endless expanses of the infinite void, was enough to send H. P. Lovecraft‘s imagination into paroxysms, with his Great Old Ones acting as allegories of cosmic forces beyond our comprehension. While the ennui of Roadside Picnic is more in keeping with Pink Floy’d “quiet desperation” than the diabolical malevolence of Azathoth and Nyarlthotep, that’s actually what makes it even more impactful and unsettling.

Roadside Picnic tells the story of Redrick “Red” Schuhart. Red’s a stalker, private citizens who illicitly enter “The Zone,” the area surrounding the location of an inexplicable alien visitation. We don’t meet the aliens in Roadside Picnic nor know anything about them. We only see the remnants of their visit, abandoned gadgets cast-off like so much trash.

No one knows the purpose of the alien’s visit. The characters of Roadside Picnic are pretty sure there wasn’t one. The alien technology littered throughout The Zone – causing all manner of bizarre, deadly anomalies – is thought to be so much leftover trash.

As Dr. Valentine Pilman puts it, towards the beginning of the book, delivering its title as well as its raison d’etre:

“A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around… Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind… And of course, the usual mess—apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow.”

Roadside Picnic science fiction book review
The Zone is a place of both wonders and terrors.

The Zone is a place of both wonders and terrors. The discarded “empties” create all manner of deadly occurrences, atmospheric conditions that can kill a stalker dead in a blink of an eyelash, as well as having all kinds of inexplicable effects on their inner workings. The children of stalker’s, including Red’s, are born with all manner of strange birth defects. Red’s daughter is healthy and normal in every way, but just happens to be covered in a sheen of fine black hair. They call her “Monkey.

This is just some of the strangeness that occurs around The Zone. The dead also return to life, returning to their living domiciles. Red’s father comes back from the dead, a silent shambling shape. No one knows what purpose the dead serve or what they want. They keep their secrets, except from others touched by The Zone.

In one of Roadside Picnic‘s most affecting scenes, Red and his wife Gula, awaken to hear The Monkey communicating with Red’s deceased father in a series of unearthly tones and wailing. It’s never made clear what they’re saying or what it means, which makes it that much more unsettling.

Nothing is clear in Roadside Picnic. There’s no grand plan to take comfort in or provide meaning to the otherworldly machinations. Humanity are merely insects, ants at a picnic, trying to make sense of higher lifeforms who might as well be gods.

Roadside Picnic occurs in sections. We first meet Red as a young stalker trying to go straight. He takes a job with one of the government agencies investigating The Zone. Unfortunately, they want Red for his stalking abilities, making him a sort of privateer. They send him to retrieve a special artifact, a full “empty.” This mission ends up costing the life of one of Red’s only friends.

Some time passes, and we find Red back to his unofficial stalking duties. He’s given a task by Burbridge The Vulture, who earned his namesake from profiting off of the death and misery of others. Karma catches up with The Vulture, who steps in a pit of “hell slime,” melting his legs down to the bone. It is here that we learn, as does Red, he’s actually a good person. He drags The Vulture out of The Zone and drops him off at a surgeon, losing his legs but sparing his life. This sets in motion the events of Roadside Picnic’s third act.

In Roadside Picnic‘s final segments, Red is sent into The Zone for one final mission. The Vulture sends him to find the “golden sphere,” a mythical, nearly-magical device that is said to grant wishes. At a cost, of course.

The book concludes with Red and Arthur, a fledgling stalker, and their harrowing journey into The Zone’s hidden depths. It’s the book’s most iconic, and most exciting, segment, making The Strugatsky Brother’s a slow-burn that explodes like a powder keg in the final moments.

Roadside Picnic Stalker
The Zone is portrayed as a blurry, Technicolor, tranquil and quite beautiful, obscuring the madness and menace that lies beneath its surface

Roadside Picnic and Stalker

Of course, Roadside Picnic is best known as the inspiration for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, released in 1979, a scant few years after the book’s troubled publication. Stalker shows Roadside Picnic to be the slowly-unfurling, dreamy work of magical realism that is its hidden heart. The Zone is portrayed as a blurry, Technicolor vision, tranquil and quite beautiful, obscuring the madness and menace that lies beneath its surface.

Roadside Picnic serves as a lovely counterpoint to Tarkovsky’s otherworldly vision. The director’s surreal, poetic imagery helps you to fall in love with The Zone and the realms surrounding it, surrendering to its mysteries, digging for its secrets. The novel, on the other hand, offers a glimpse of the interior lives and worlds of Red and his fellow stalkers. It also offers a more thorough and comprehensive overview of The Zone and its effects on the societies surrounding it.

Roadside Picnic is essentially a Russian novel’s take on magical sci-fi realism. If Gogol and Borges were to have a baby in space, it might write a book kind of like Roadside Picnic. Seeing the rich web of characters and their interactions that surround The Zone also serves as an illustration of the troubled history of Roadside Picnic and why it’s so important.

Roadside Picnic is essentially a Russian novel’s take on magical sci-fi realism. If Gogol and Borges were to have a baby in space, it might write a book kind of like Roadside Picnic.

Roadside Picnic The Strugatsky Brothers

The Troubled History Of Roadside Picnic’s Publication

Publishing a book in Soviet Russia was a challenging pursuit at the best of times, let alone a novel as subversive, misanthropic, and nihilistic as The Strugatsky Brothers’ vision. Unsurprisingly, Roadside Picnic would take seven years to publish, as Arkady writes in the novel’s afterword.

It wasn’t due to an anti-Communist rhetoric, however, despite the fact the book and film could easily be read as a particularly scathing satire.

Instead, the censors took issue with the hard-boiled world of the stalkers. They objected to the depictions of hard drinking, smoking, bar fights, obscenities, and callousness that make up a bulk of the book’s actions. They were afraid the sci-fi novel would act as a corrupting influence on the impressionable Communist youth.

Reading Roadside Picnic after the fact, its quiet desperation is quite in keeping with any economically disenfranchised locale. Either the censors had never spent any significant amount of time in a working-class town, especially after its decline. Or, if they had, they wanted to bury that reality like black mold in a house they’re selling.

Roadside Picnic serves as a magic realist satire on the grim realities of both capitalism and communism. It shows a world without wonder, with no hope, without escape. The Zone is a symbol of Wonder, of Miracles and the terrible price people are willing to pay for Hope.

The Zone is a symbol of Wonder, of Miracles and the terrible price people are willing to pay for Hope.

If a gateway to a faerie realm were to open in your hometown, would you visit? If the aliens offered you a ride in their whirling disk, would you hop aboard? Roadside Picnic reminds us that there will always be those who will, at any cost or price.

It’s one of the finest works of science fiction ever laid to page, in any culture or epoch. It sets the stage for latter-day works of speculative fiction like Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, serving as the inspiration for 2018’s Annihilation. If you’re looking to make sense of the collective unconscious of late-stage capitalism, and how we got here, read this book. Now.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky from your local independent bookseller!

J. Simpson occupies the interzone between criticism and creativity. As a cultural critic, he traces the obscure, the hidden, the subtle, through books, music, television, and film. He is obsessed with everything that people make, believing it offers an insight into our collective dreams and desires.

Follow J on Twitter and Instagram and GoodReads.

 

Want to help support quality cultural writing and analysis. Help J get to France this summer to deliver a presentation on Black Metal, Urbanism, and the Mystical Yearning at the 4th Annual conference of the International Society of Metal Music Studies, occurring this June in Nantes, France!

Visit the GoFundMe here. Thank you for helping to support in-depth critical thinking and analysis. Your support gives us the tools we need to help you make the most of this world we’re living in.

You can also donate directly via PayPal. All contributions go towards putting time, energy, and resources towards this site, helping us to help you! Thanks for your support!

Other Voices: Dead Rabbits & Razor Blade Offsite Reading Event for AWP 19 @ Devil’s Den Wine Bar; Portland, Or.

NY's Dead Rabbits & Razor Blade Offsite Reading at AWP 19

Dead Rabbits Razor Blades Reading At AWP 19

Subterranean underworlds, anonymous gay sex, alcoholic fathers, menstruating women… the down-and-dirty, the under-represented and unexpressed, were given voice at the Dead Rabbits/Razor Blade reading at Devil’s Den for AWP 19.

Author Rudine Sims Bishop writes about the power of stories and storytelling, and why it matters, in her essay Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

NY's Dead Rabbits & Razor Blade Offsite Reading at AWP 19
Two of NY’s finest reading series, Dead Rabbits and Razor Blade, held court in Devil’s Den, a cozy-but-posh wine bar on Alberta St. in Portland, Or.

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity and representation in art in recent years. Every medium has been broadening their scope, looking for new stories from untold perspectives. While Hollywood and TV are starting to catch up, the literary world is also evolving to include more and different stories from all walks of life. This has caused a backlash against the cliche white-bread intellectual, with their omnipresent copies of Infinite Jest and The Catcher In The Rye.

While we’re still fans of both David Foster Wallace and J. D. Salinger, as unpopular as that position may be, we’re every bit as passionate, if not more so, about finding new stories, voices, and perspectives. The literary underground is serving these amply, these days, bringing queer, trans, and non-White perspectives to the table, as was evident at this reading, co-hosted by two of New York’s finest reading series, Dead Rabbits and Razor Blade.

The sky was turbulent, bruised, and sullen as literary lovers packed the cozy confines of Devil’s Den, a swank-but-approachable wine bar on Alberta St. in Portland, for the first full day of AWP 19. There was a similar electric feeling, the air pregnant with possibilities, as six exceptional authors shared a deluge of personal perspectives, told in language both poetic and gritty.

Krystyna Byers Southern Fried Karma
Not All Migrate will be released on June 4, 2019 via Southern Fried Karma Press

Toronto author Krystyna Byers kicked things off with an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, Not All Migrate. Byers’ debut novel tells the story of Mark Hansberg, a young man whose wife dies from a mysterious drug overdose. Hansberg submerges himself in a subterranean world of drugs and low-lifes, looking for some answers.

Byers’ writing is gritty, stripped-down, stark, and real. It’s a bit like if Dashiell Hammett and Jim Carroll were to get together and write a novel about 21st Century drug addicts. What was most striking, and most evident, in Byers’ prose is the way she captures the speech patterns of the underworld. It’s not prettied up or sanded down. If you’ve ever spent any time looking to buy bad blow from morally repugnant coke dealers, these interactions may ring true.

We’re not sure of the origins of Not All Migrate, but it seems safe to say that Krystyna Byers has seen some things. She lived to tell the tale, and shares her grim, sordid world with the rest of us.

Not All Migrate will be out in June 2019 via Southern Fried Karma press.


Next up, poet Michael Broder regaled the room with his hilarious, down-and-dirty perspectives on queer living. Reading from his book Drug and Disease Free, from Indolent Books, Broder’s worldview is both hilarious and moving. A standout piece told the story of an anonymous gay hookup, from an anonymous payphone call, beneath the boardwalk of Coney Island in 1981.

“This is going to be dirty,” quipped Broder as he began to read. He wasn’t kidding. Brilliantly, poetically dirty. He had the room wrapped around his scatological reminiscences, with lots of laughs and a few sighs. A definite highlight of the evening, and a talent to keep an eye out for.

Michael Broder – Drug and Disease Free is out now on Indolent Books.

 


 

Britt Canty author
original illustration by Dolan Morgan for The Rumpus: @dolanmorgan

Last up before the break, NY author Britt Canty shared her most recent essay, Voices On Addiction: One More Conversation which recently published on the literary website The Rumpus. Voices On Addiction tells of what it’s like growing up as the child of an alcoholic – the ups and downs, the hope and smashing despair. More than just another sordid autobiographical skewering of a troubled childhood, Canty lays out her journey to acceptance, that her father is just another person, as troubled and capable as any of us. Voices On Addiction is framed through the lens of receiving a phone call of her father’s passing. For anyone who’s ever loved an addict or alcoholic, you know what it’s like, waiting for that phone call.

This personal outpouring offered a deep, personal counterpoint to the more sensational tales, serving as an emotional gut punch, as well as a velvet touch to the cheek. As someone who’s both lost his father, has struggled with addiction, and known many others who have done the same, Canty’s reading landed like a concussion grenade. Let this serve as a reminder – do not take those you love for granted. You never know how long they’ll be around. Once they’re gone, you’d give anything to tell them how you really feel. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Following the break, three last readers fired off in rapid-fire succession. Poet John Deming shared his insightful, emotional, oddly poignant poetry sourced from headlines from all over the globe. Dead Rabbits’ own Brian Birnbaum told a VERY down-and-dirty story of an alcoholic who shits himself in his tiny apartment while on a bender. You can practically smell the disinfectant, taste the amphetamines at the back of your throat. That is a compliment, by the way. We’re entirely too tired of uber-polite art and society, especially when we’re living in such a mad, mad world.

Brian Birnbaum Dead RabbitsBirnbaum’s writing, taken from his debut novel Emerald City, peels back the surface of polite society, taking a long, deep, unflinching gaze at the muscle and marrow, the fat, disease, and infection that often lies just two inches in front of our face but just out of the line of sight. It’ll make the ground quake, shaking your worldview as you realize just how tenuous this existence can be.

Emerald City will be released on Dead Rabbit Books in September 2019.

Finally, Melinda Wilson closed out the evening with some much-appreciated feminist poetry. Her words lay out the reality of the feminine experience in gristly, visceral detail. Not shy, not polite, not demure – she speaks of women’s sexuality like a warm, womb-like den in the center of the Earth.

As someone who’s a devout feminist but doesn’t happen to inhabit female flesh, these perspectives are so invaluable, so refreshing and moving. Getting a glimpse into the experience of others, like crawling through their eye sockets and being allowed to look around, opens up our minds, our hearts, our worlds to the perspective of others. It’s the antidote to all of the xenophobia, the in-fighting, the blaming and Othering that has gotten our society into such a mess.

Art is the key that will set us free, letting us come together and actually connect rather than floating in isolation.

An inspiring, intoxicating whirlwind of words. AWP 2019 has been amazing, so far! And there’s much to come! So get out, check out some events, and watch this space to hear about what we’ve been seeing and hearing!

Krystyna Byers

Krystyna Byers FB
@krystynabyers
IG: @krystynabyers
http://www.krystynabyers.com

Michael Broder

Michael Broder @ Indolent Books
IG: @michaelbroder

Britt Canty

@brittcanty
ig: @britt_canty

John Deming

@JohnDeming
ig: @johndeming
Headline News by John Deming on Indolent Books

Brian Birnbaum

@brianbirnbaum
ig: @briandoesanig
briansbirnbaum.com

Melinda Wilson

ig: @dogs_rule_everything_around_me

Dead Rabbits

Dead Rabbits FB
@DeadRabbitBKS
ig: @deadrabbitbooks
Dead Rabbits YouTube
Dead Rabbits Podcast
Dead Rabbits on Spotify
/r/deadrabbitsbooks

J. Simpson author
Yr intrepid reporter; J. Simpson at AWP 2019

J. Simpson occupies the interzone between criticism and creativity. As a cultural critic, he traces the obscure, the hidden, the subtle, through books, music, television, and film. He is obsessed with everything that people make, believing it offers an insight into our collective dreams and desires.

Follow J on Twitter and Instagram at @for3stpunk.

Classic Cinema Review: Three On A Match (1932) movie review

Three On A Match Pre-Code review

Mervyn LeRoy’s Three On A Match – featuring a young Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis as well as Hollywood Rebel Ann Dvorak – checks all of the Pre-Code Hollywood boxes – adultery, drug addiction, wanton sexuality, mobsters, child endangerment, all in a taut 63 minutes. Read the full Three On A Match review to find out how it holds up!

Three On A Match classic movie review
Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, and Ann Dvorak in Three On A Match (1932)

Mary, Vivian, and Ruth are long-lost childhood friends, reuniting over a luncheon and comparing their fortunes. Vivian (Ann Dvorak) seems like she has it all, being married to a rich lawyer with a young, adorable son at home. Mary’s (Joan Blondell) doing okay, but struggling as an up-and-coming actress. Ruth (Bette Davis) is quiet but content.

Three On A Match Mervyn LeRoy
Children smoking is just one way Three On A Match depicts a much different world.

You realize there’s more going as the luncheon wears on, as Vivian begins to open up about her discontent, despite the fact that she’s supposed to have it all. This sets the stage for the rest of Three On A Match, which mostly revolves around Vivian’s fall from grace into a life of drug addiction and squalor.

Three On A Match: Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)

Three On A Match Humphrey BogartMervyn LeRoy’s racy Pre-Code melodrama opens with the three women as young girls. Mary’s a carefree tomboy who doesn’t care who sees her knickers and skips class to smoke cigarettes with boys. Vivian’s a goody-two-shoes who’s desperate to be the center of attention, at any cost. Despite her primness, Vivian has a magnetic, charismatic personality, resulting in her being voted “Most Popular Girl In Class.” Ruth is quiet and studious, receiving an award for “the highest grades the school had ever seen.”

Three On A Match races through the years to find the trio as adults, in 1932, with a clever use of montage and historical ephemera to suggest the passage of time. As a struggling actress, Mary’s getting her hair done in a beauty parlor, featuring a truly bizarre curler contraption that makes her “feel like an octopus”, only to discover that Vivian is in the next booth. They plan a rendezvous luncheon to catch up, as mentioned up top. Here’s where Three On A Match picks up, hurtling towards its truly startling conclusion.

Vivian’s unhappy in her marriage to Robert Kirkwood (Warren William), who seems like a good guy despite being perceived as “stiff” or “boring”. He suggests Vivian take a solo trip to Europe to brighten her spirits, taking their young, adorable son Robert Jr. along with her.

As the cruise ship prepares to depart, Vivian meets Mike Loftus (Lyle Talbot), a ne’er-do-well with a silver tongue, and immediately falls under his spell. Vivian and Junior never leave New York City, instead going into hiding. Mary, ever the loyal friend, finds Vivian and suggests finding a surrogate home for Junior while she’s working out the details.

Vivian and Robert are ultimately divorced, resulting in one of the film’s first surprising twists. Robert and Mary have grown close when she was helping him find Vivian and Junior. The moment Robert and Vivian’s divorce is finalized, he remarries Mary, who becomes the new Mrs. Kirkwood.

The film jumps forward another few years. We find Vivian in dire straits, having become addicted to cocaine in her new life with Mike. We find Vivian outside the beauty parlor where the film begins, waiting for Mary to ask her for a handout. She gives Vivian $80, to help out an old friend, which turns out to be not nearly enough.

Mike’s fallen afoul of some gangsters, including Harve (Humphrey Bogart), who works for Ace (Edward Arnold). Ace is none-too-happy with the down payment. Mike gets desperate and decides to kidnap Junior on a whim from a local park.

Three On A Match Ann Dvorak
“I’ll bear that in mind”; Humphrey Bogart in one of his early gangster roles in Three On A Match (1932)

Here’s where Three On A Match reaches its final heartbreaking conclusion. Mike, Vivian, Junior and the gangsters hole up in a seedy apartment like caged rats. They try to ransom the child but the hand-off is heavily monitored by the cops. Harve realizes they’re not getting away unscathed, especially as the child’s seen all their faces and knows all their names. He knows the only way out is to kill the kid. Vivian overhears the plot, which pierces through her narcotic haze. She quickly scrawls a message in lipstick on her nightgown and throws herself to her death, to alert the authorities and save her son.

Turns out lighting three cigarettes off a match is bad luck after all. At least for Vivian.

3 On A Match: Final Thoughts and Historical Significance
3 On A Match is considered one of the penultimate Pre-Code Hollywood films. It features nearly all of the themes which define the era – lascivious sexuality and its seamy repercussions, drug abuse, addiction, and the criminal underworld. It seems to use morality as an excuse to tell a sordid tale, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear moralistic worldview when it’s all said and done.

Three On A Match is noteworthy as a number of these themes would be impossible to show on-screen a short 2 two years later. Sexuality of any kind would be forbidden, as would child abuse or neglect, drug use and addiction.

The film also offers some insights into the world and psychology during The Great Depression, which had been raging for four years by 1932. There’s tragic scenes in a girl’s reform school, where one of the inhabitants remarks “but at least we’re not waiting in line for a bowl of soup.” There also seems to be a mistrust and dislike of the rich elite, but not entirely, as Robert Kirkwood is shown to be a decent man, a good father, an attentive business man, and an understanding lover.

3 On A Match is usually referenced as being vehicles for several huge stars, early in their career. While it’s a delight to see a young Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, that’s not the only reason to love this Pre-Code Hollywood melodrama. Actually, it’s one of the last reasons to check this one out, as Bette Davis is barely there (which she resented terribly, adding to the tension between Davis and Warner Brothers that would erupt in a few years.) Bogart is magnificently chilling as Harve, in an early gangster role, but he doesn’t even show up until 40 minutes in, in a 63 minute film.

How Does Three On A Match Hold Up?

Interestingly, despite their age, Pre-Code Hollywood movies are actually some of the best older films for modern audiences. First and most importantly, they waste no time, getting in and out like a stiletto wound, while dishing as much nastiness as possible in just a little over an hour.

Secondly, their sordid subject matter is more in-line with today’s viewing, delving into the dark side of human life, psychology, and desire. It’s even more striking to watch Pre-Code Hollywood movies today and realize that the industry would be all Shirley Temple movies and saccharine musicals in just a few years, when the Hays Code would be enforced in earnest.

Ann Dvorak is certainly one of the draws for Three On A Match. Producers had noticed her ethereal, waifish quality in Scarface, which also came out in 1932. She’s just as much of a spitfire in Three On A Match, which is reflective of her personality in real life. This hot-headedness would end up having major repercussions on Dvorak’s career, as she was deemed as difficult to work with. Some of these early Pre-Code films are your only chance to really see Dvorak at the peak of her powers.

Every performance is wonderful in Three On A Match, despite the fact that several of the stars aren’t used to the full extent of their abilities. Bette Davis is criminally side-lined in her role as Ruth, a sweet-but-quiet-and-serious court stenographer. Davis had been trying for years to ditch the “good girl next door/sister” stereotype which had plagued her career up to this point.

When Three On A Match was coming out, the Star machine had pegged Joan Blondell as the most likely to succeed. Mervyn LeRoy disregarded the rest of the cast, putting the full weight of the promotion machine behind Blondell. Davis never forgot the slight, which LeRoy mentions in his biography Mervyn LeRoy: Take One.

“There was Three on a Match. They gave me three unknown girls in that one – Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak. I made a mistake when the picture was finished. I told an interviewer that Joan Blondell was going to be a big star, that Ann Dvorak had definite possibilities, but that I didn’t think Bette Davis would make it. She’s been cool to me ever since.”

To learn even more about Three On A Match, read this wonderful in-depth review/synopsis from TCM.

I’m enjoying this deep-dive into the world of Pre-Code/30s Cinema so much! Learning a ton and gaining a deeper appreciation for the world of the 1930s. If you’re looking for period-specific trappings and trimmings, to see how people lived, loved, moved, walked, talked, laughed, sang, and screwed, you need to get into these cinematic treasures.

Next week, we’ll be taking a look at 1933’s Babyface, so check back in next Tuesday for that. Watched 1932’s Call Her Savage, featuring Clara Bow in one of her few talking roles, which I’m going to try and review, as well, in the interim. So lots of classic movie action in these parts!

Is there an old or classic film you’d like to see mentioned here at Mastering Modernity? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try and get around to it! Will watch any and everything, at the very least!

Want More Movie Reviews?

Looking for more movie news, reviews, thoughts, and insights? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd!

Want to support quality, in-depth film criticism? Every donation allows us to comment more fully on the world we’re living in.