Saturday, January 28, 2017

Popcorn-Eating Intellectual Scum

Someone should've warned him that small hands mean small crowds.

When the President is obsessing about the size of his inauguration crowd, pushing an "America first, f*ck the world" agenda and mandating a taxpayer-funded border wall, what else could I do but walk over to the Bijou with Mac for an anti-fascist thriller oozing political messages and dripping with tension?

Headed to  the front row of Westhampton Theater seats, I couldn't help but wonder why a guy was already comfortably situated in the back row. So I asked. Seems he's an introvert, but a little digging revealed that he likes to watch the goings-on of others from the safety of the back.

Who wouldn't razz a stranger over that?

Like the Bijou's co-organizer James said while welcoming the small crowd to the early show, "We don't know what's going to happen with Trump." What he didn't say was that we're practically positive it won't be good.

But the Bijou was there for us, screening the 1969 Oscar-winning film "Z" by brilliant political filmmaker Costa-Gavras who'd crafted a riveting story about how a non-violent opposition leader is killed by a right wing conspiracy and his murder covered up by the highest of government and police figures.

We were reminded by co-founder Terry how much this film had resonated with still-grieving moviegoers, debuting not long after both MLK and RFK had been assassinated. He suggested we take note of the movie's pell-mell pacing, tough to miss once embroiled in it.

The film opens with a government leader lecturing a room full of white guys about how eliminating ideological "isms" is much like ridding grape vines of mildew: yet one more chore that's got to be done.

Fascism: just another "honey-do" list.

The period details were fabulous - after all, it was 1969 - with men in flowered shirts open to mid-chest with gold medallions swinging, stewardesses in white gloves and pillbox hats and skinny Brit photographers in satin blazers and Nehru jackets. IBM electric typewriters everywhere. Music swung from '60s pop to traditional Greek.

And, of course, it being 1969, the requisite killer car chase.

But a sense of foreboding hung over every frame as you realized how insidiously the regime had commandeered control of people's lives in every possible way. Knowing the story was based on actual events in Greece in 1963 made it the most chilling kind of fiction, punctuated by the fact that the bad guys were only slapped on the wrist.

So how does the military retaliate? By banning practically everything: long hair on guys, mini-skirts, Tolstoy, Sartre, Albee, freedom of the press, sociology, modern music, Sophocles, labor strikes, popular music, the new mathematics and smashing glasses after toasts.

Even the letter "Z" is banned because it was used for graffiti (Z means "he lives" in ancient Greek apparently) as a tribute to the slain opposition leader. That's right, the government banned a letter. Mind-boggling, yes, but Costa-Gavras ably demonstrates that so is a government bent on deciding what the truth is, then expecting its citizenry to accept and regurgitate those alternative facts.

No surprise, a film about damping down political protest, suppressing the media and ridding the country of "intellectual scum" was bound to resonate a little too close to home right now. Well curated, Bijou.

It would be fascinating, given that Costa-Gavras is still alive, to hear the director's take on the appalling new normal we're still trying to adjust to. Absent his thoughts, Mac and I chatted with other film-goers about what a superb film we'd just seen and how uncomfortably relevant it felt.

Now on my third in the series, the Bijou's Facing Fascism film fest feels like hitting the jackpot for a fan of award-winning foreign films, but also a wake-up call to the hallmarks of a totalitarian government, probably the reason why James had made a point of saying that the Bijou was "a safe space, a community resource and meeting place," the kind of space people may need in the uncertain days ahead.

We did the only logical thing possible after walking home from the Bijou - we got in the car and drove to Garnett's to celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day.

Truth be told, we scored the very last slice of strawberry cake but it had chocolate icing to keep to the spirit of the day and we tucked into it with the Scissors Sisters providing a sassy soundtrack. Comfortably numb, indeed.

Fortunately, it's possible to celebrate such nonsense while still processing the complex ideas put forth in "Z," but it's also worrisome to think what the future may hold...or even how much future may be left. Without the right to assemble and a free press, what freedom remains?

"Z" was a powerful reminder of how quickly things can go south and that's exactly what must be prevented.

Because I'm here to tell you that no one is truly free when music and mini-skirts are banned.

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