Hollywood should be considered a branch of the military industrial complex. Its films are a strategic weapon for shaping public opinion on nearly every topic. Watching simulated slaughter is a critical part of desensitizing people to actual violence. Movies are the cultural narrative of our civilization.
There are a few films that have intelligent perspectives, discuss forbidden truths or otherwise have redeeming qualities. Most of them are obscure (because they are good). Here is a list of my favorites.
911: Press For Truth - This is the best documentary about how the 9/11 attacks were allowed to happen, mercifully free of the disinformation that infests most films on this forbidden topic.
1984 - George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, condensed to fit into a movie format but true to the original.
Air America - Mel Gibson's best film, the real "Air America" was a CIA front company that ran opium out of Laos in the 1960s. A surprising discussion about covert operations disguised as a comedy and "buddy" film.
American Blackout - A documentary on election fraud in the 2004 Presidential "election" featuring Representative Cynthia McKinney.
Arid Lands - A documentary about the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington State, which was built to make plutonium for the Manhattan Project. (The Nagasaki bomb used Hanford plutonium.) But this film isn't just about Hanford's history, it also touches upon the original First Nations, the towns bulldozed to make Hanford, the nuclear pollution problems, sprawl development fueled by Hanford bomb making and the never ending "cleanup" of the waste, and water policy in the desert. www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/arid.html
Baraka - beautiful visual portrayal of cultures and landscapes around the world
The Battle of Algiers - set in the Algerian revolution against the French occupation, features clandestine organizing, terrorism, colonial repression. It's not a literal documentary but it looks like one. Every student of anti-colonialism in the past century should see this film.
Being There - Peter Sellers in his finest role - Chance the gardener, a simple man who only learned about the outside world through television. Through improbable circumstances he rose to the pinnacle of American society by uttering simplistic thoughts that most thought were profound. Sublime humor.
Bob Roberts - Tim Robbins is Bob Roberts, a right wing folksinger running for Senate in Pennsylvania. His Democratic opponent is played by Gore Vidal, a hapless politician in public but in private understands the country became an Empire. An Iran-Contra theme is the backdrop in this biting political satire. Bob Roberts is especially recommended for Bob Dylan fans.
Brazil - Brazil should be subtitled "Monty Python and the Department of Homeland Security." Released in 1985, it presaged the dysfunctional surveillance society we are entering. A blend of 1984 and Brave New World with a side of the Marx Brothers. A future where nothing works, everything is monitored and most are distracted with mindless consumerism. Two of the Monty Python comedy troupe members are part of Brazil: Terry Gilliam was the director and Michael Palin plays the torturer at the Ministry of Information Retrieval. Gilliam had to battle the studio to get them to release his film because it did not have a stereotypical "happy ending" and the satire of bureaucracy made the studio bureaucrats uncomfortable. Detailed reviews at www.oilempire.us/brazil.html
Burn! - Marlon Brando stars in this drama about imperialism and the sugar trade. It didn't get much attention despite having a top Hollywood actor in the lead role. Burn! was made by Gillo Pontecorvo, the director of The Battle of Algiers.
The Century of the Self -
The China Syndrome - A candidate for the "best timed" film, this drama about problems with a nuclear power station was released just before the Three Mile Island partial meltdown (1979). This author saw the film twice, once before it was released, and again shortly after the TMI crisis. The movie theater audience laughed at the line that a meltdown could make "an area the size of Pennsylvania" uninhabitable (taken from an actual Nuclear Regulatory Commission report on this danger).
Conspiracy - Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh portrays Reinhard Heydrich, a key architect of the Nazi Holocaust. Conspiracy is a re-enactment of the Wannsee Conference, the meeting of top Nazis in early 1942 to plan the logistics of the Holocaust.
The Conversation - 1974 film about paranoia and surveillance starring Gene Hackman, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film benefitted from being released at the height of the Watergate scandal.
The Counterfeiters - Jewish prisoners with expertise in printing are forced to work in a Nazi concentration camp to counterfeit British pounds and US dollars. Based on a true story. The film won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Doctor Strangelove - Stanley Kubrick's satire of the nuclear arms race. Peter Sellers plays three roles - a timid British Captain who is an assistant to General Jack D. Rippert (a cross between the John Birch Society and General Curtis LeMay), President Merkin Muffley (who resembles Adlai Stevenson) and Doctor Strangelove.
Duck Soup - Groucho Marx is Rufus T. Firefly, the dictator of Freedonia. Duck Soup is the origin of the comedy industrial complex.
The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream - a 2004 documentary about Peak Oil that is the best introduction to the topic. www.endofsuburbia.com
Escape From Sobibor - Alan Arkin plays one of the leaders of the Jewish prisoner revolt at the Sobibor Extermination Camp (1943). Several Sobibor survivors advised the production so their stories could be told.
Fail Safe - a serious film about nuclear war that came out at the same time as Doctor Strangelove. Both the book and the film portray the military command as less militaristic than the "civilian" advisors lost in their theories about how a nuclear war could supposedly be managed.
The Falcon and the Snowman - A story that seems too surreal to be true. Chris Boyce was a college dropout who was hired by TRW to work as a code clerk for their "Black Vault." The vault was part of a global CIA and NSA communications system and Boyce became privy to scandals, including US interference in Australian politics, which culminated in a bloodless coup against the elected Prime Minister. He grew disillusioned with what he saw there and ultimately sold its secrets to the Soviet Union, using his drug dealer friend Daulton Lee as the courier to the Russian Embassy in Mexico City. The film is excellent but the book (of the same name) fills in a lot of details that could not be squeezed into a two hour presentation. One of the best "spy films" ever made, without the usual "made for Hollywood" distortion of facts.
The Garden -
The Great Deception and The Great Conspiracy www.oilempire.us/great-deception.html has a review and transcript.
The Great Dictator - Charlie Chaplin has two roles: Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of Tomainia, and a Jewish barber who suffers from Hynkel's persecution. The scene of Hynkel dancing with a giant globe in his office is timeless, a great parody of megalomania.
Half-Life (a parable for the nuclear age) -
Hidden Wars of Desert Storm -
Hitler: The Rise of Evil - a 2003 made for TV movie that shows how Hitler rose to power (with the actors playing Hitler and Hindenberg speaking in a British accent). It's most notable for its depiction of the Reichstag Fire. The film got some controversy for suggesting an obvious parallel to current events.
Holocaust - a 1978 TV miniseries on the Nazi Holocaust. It was one of the first dramatic depictions of the Holocaust, featuring enough characters to show different aspects of the genocide. Meryl Streep plays a non-Jewish wife of a persecuted Jewish artist and she later was in another Holocaust film, Sophie's Choice.
House of Cards, To Play the King, The Final Cut - Ian Richardson plays Francis Urquhart, the Conservative Party's Chief Whip in Parliament. Passed over for promotion by the newly re-elected Prime Minister, he schemes to bring down his government so he can take his place. Viciously funny, a political thriller that is more intelligent and cynical than any drama that could be made on this side of "the pond." To Play the King is a sequel, set after Urquhart becomes Prime Minster and his chief political opponent is the King, a loose portrayal of the current Prince Charles. The Final Cut is the final episode, where Urquhart takes Britain to war to boost his public approval. FU's wife, a modern version of Lady Macbeth, calls the conflict "our Falklands," but it ends up ruining his administration. Richardson only agreed to the third episode if FU's regime fell, and it does, spectacularly.
JFK, Thirteen Days, Virtual JFK and The Fog of War - JFK is probably the only Hollywood film to receive a massive media attack long before it was released in theaters. Some political writers claim that talking about cutting Social Security benefits is the "third rail of politics" (touch that and you are politically dead). In reality, discussing covert operations of government is the real "third rail." JFK compresses an enormous amount of material into a three hour film. A few minor characters are composites but a full account of this story would be far too long for a movie. The conclusion of the film -- the military industrial complex removed Kennedy from office because he wanted to end permanent war -- is correct and the reason the media from The Washington Post to the television networks to The Nation and Noam Chomsky united to defend the official lie of the Warren Commission.
JFK is best seen in combination with Thirteen Days, Kevin Costner's "pre-quel" to JFK (he plays the lead role in both films although neither film explicitly mentions the other). Thirteen Days is a reenactment of the Cuban Missile Crisis that shows some of the motivation for the removal of President Kennedy -- he refused to attack Cuba and worked out a back channel deal with the Soviet Union to defuse the crisis. His behavior was partly reckless but he refused to let the generals wage full scale war, and they got their revenge in Dallas.
The Fog of War is a profile of Robert McNamara, the Secretary of "Defense" for JFK and LBJ. McNamara admits they did not know the Cuban military had been given short range nuclear weapons by the Soviets. If the US had invaded in October, 1962, the Cubans would have nuked the invading soldiers, which would have triggered a full scale nuclear war.
Virtual JFK is an examination of the evidence that President Kennedy had ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Viet Nam. Unfortunately, it does not connect the dots to November 22, 1963.
Judgment at Nuremberg - Hollywood dramatization of the Nazi war crime trials in Nuremberg. It's a composite story, not precisely a literal telling of the tale, but worthy of a view.
Koyaanisqatsi - "Life out of balance" (from the Hopi language). Beautiful images of the desert Southwest, the megamachine of industrial destruction, giant cities and dehumanized technology, set to a haunting score from Phillip Glass. The film is profoundly shocking the first time it is seen, it is a fundamental reinterpretation of the way modern society functions.
The Life of Brian - Monty Python's story about Brian of Nazareth, born next door to a more famous resident of that town. Brian gets involved with the People's Front of Judea (or is it the People's Judean Front), which is trying to kick the Roman imperialists out of their country, except for those concerned with drainage, public health, the aqueduct and wine. Religion, politics, and other sacred cows are skillfully skewered.
The Lives of Others - In East Germany, the Stasi - secret police - spies on all forms of dissent and unconformity. It won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
The Lone Gunmen - Fox Television aired this "conspiracy" show in March, 2001 that was a sequel to the X-Files (a television show I never watched). The Lone Gunmen, a name that parodies skepticism about alleged lone gunmen supposedly responsible for political assassinations, depicted a group of computer hackers who tried to thwart nefarious government actions. Six months before 9/11, this show had as a plot a small government faction who electronically hijacked a commercial plane under the cover of a war game exercise to crash it into the World Trade Center to increase military spending. Was a form of inoculation, a psychological campaign to associate the ideas of a conspiracy with the meme of a poorly acted television show. 9/11 was a covert operation? That's just a bad conspiracy film, it could never happen in real life.
Miami Vice "Stone's War" - a TV show normally focused on ridiculously overpriced cars and speedboats, fashion and chase scenes with lots of stunt doubles. Stone's War was a 1985 episode with an Iran-Contra theme. One of the characters is a TV journalist in Central America and inadvertantly films mercenaries killing a US citizen. Upon his arrival back to the States, covert forces try to get his film to keep it from becoming public. The episode is also notable for convicted criminal G. Gordon Liddy playing a role of one of the organizers of the secret war on Central America. It was probably the only mainstream TV show to suggest the US government secretly armed the "Contra" terrorist army and also probably the only time a major network aired Jackson Browne's song "Lives in the Balance."
Missing - Charles Horman, a US citizen living in Chile, inadvertently stumbled onto plans for the military coup of September 11, 1973 and was killed by the Chilean military during the coup. The US government covered up the crime and lied to his relatives. Directed by Costa-Gravas, who also directed State of Siege and Z.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail - King Arthur wanders the British countryside in search of the Holy Grail and encounters a French castle, a witch trial, anarchist peasants, the Castle Anthrax, the Knights Who Say "Ni!," and the killer rabbit. Especially recommended for anyone who suffered through Medieval history in school.
Network - "I'm mad as hell and won't take it any more!"
The Oil Factor
Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang
summary from the distributor:
Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1980)
Paul Jacobs A poignant and potent political documentary that exposes the government's suppression of the health hazards of low-level radiation. Paul Jacobs is himself a victim of lung cancer, that would kill him before this picture was finished and which his doctors believe he contracted while he was investigating nuclear policies in 1957. He interviews civilians and soldiers, survivors of nuclear experiments in the 50s and 60s, testing the effects of radiation. By the time this film was made, a lot of them had died from the radiation. The footage of an atomic test explosion in Nevada is still of nightmarish beaty. There are also interviews with people who live near and work in several government facilities around the nation, as well as with government scientists, some of whom were fired when their research indicated the dangers of low-level radiation. This film won the 1980 EMMY Award for best TV program, the George F. Polk Award for investigative journalism on TV, the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award for journalism, and the Mannheim Film Festival first critics' prize. Color. 60 minutes.
Powaqqatsi - "Life that feeds off of other forms of life" (from the Hopi language)
The Power of Nightmares -
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil - Produced by The Community Solution of Yellow Springs, Ohio, it profiles how Cuba coped with a sudden reduction of oil availability after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The film looks at the relocalization of food into cities, public transportation,
Rollerball - "In the film, the world of 2018 is a global corporate state, containing entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston which deals with nominally-peer corporations controlling access to all Transport, Luxury, Housing, Communication, and Food on a global basis." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollerball_(1975_film)
Seven Days in May - The novel was about a military plot to topple a young President negotiating an unpopular peace treaty with the Soviet Union. President Kennedy read the book and urged his allies in Hollywood to rush this into a film production, since he realized the threat to his presidency -- and democracy in America. Unfortunately, the film was finished after the coup against JFK.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - Re-enactment of the White Rose resistance group in Munich, Germany in 1942. The actress who portrayed Scholl in an earlier film about the White Rose (1982) was the lead in The Nasty Girl, set after the war, about a German who did a high school project on her town during The Third Reich. She discovers that the town was not full of resisters and the former Nazis still run the town, which is not a popular revelation for her fellow citizens. The "White Rose Society" claims "The Final Days" has numerous factual errors -- the general story is true but the details have many distortions.
Soylent Green - The conclusion to the film has become part of popular culture -- "Soylent Green is people!" The film is set in the near future after overpopulation has choked the cities and people survive on food handouts from the Soylent corporation. The acting is fantastically bad and unintentionally hilarious at times, but here's a sobering thought -- world population has almost doubled since the film was released four decades ago. Unfortunately, Hollywood was not interested in telling a story of how people shifted course to mitigate the ecological crisis. "Ecotopia" and similar novels are unlikely to ever become a major motion picture.
State of Siege - Based on the true story of Daniel Mitrione, US Agency for International Development "police advisor" who was sent to Brazil and Uruguay. Mitrione taught torture techniques to those countries secret police (Brazil had a military coup in 1964, shortly after President Kennedy was removed from office). In Uruguay, left wing guerrillas of the Tupamaros movement kidnapped Mitrione and ultimately killed him when their demands to free political prisoners were ignored. The film changed the name but the facts are essentially intact. State of Siege was directed by Costa-Gravas, who also made Z and Missing, among other politically charged films. Ironically, State of Siege was filmed in Chile just before the coup against democracy in that country, so many of the local actors involved with the film likely got to experience the fascism they portrayed in the movie. As of 2012, a former Tupamaros member is President of Uruguay. "State of Exile" is a documentary about the Tuparamos, their rise, their persecution, the dictatorship that followed and the aftermath. http://vimeo.com/42346149
Syriana - Probably the closest Hollywood will ever get to a film about Peak Oil. George Clooney plays a CIA agent who rebels against his employer's manipulation of a fictional oil sheikdom.
Three Days of the Condor - Robert Redford plays a CIA agent caught in intrigue about the Middle East. The final dialogue is the most relevant for those concerned about resource depletion.
Turner (Robert Redford): "Do we have plans to invade the Middle East?"
Higgins (Cliff Robertson): "Are you crazy?"
Turner: "Am I?"
Higgins: "Look, Turner"
Turner: "Do we have plans?"
Higgins: "No. Absolutely not. We have games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to do."
Turner: "Go on. So Atwood just took the game too seriously. He was really going to do it, wasn't he?"
Higgins: "It was a renegade operation. Atwood knew 54-12 would never authorize it. There was no way, not with the heat on the Company."
Turner: "What if there hadn't been any heat? Supposing I hadn't stumbled on a plan? Say nobody had?"
Higgins: "Different ball game. The fact is there was nothing wrong with the plan. Oh, the plan was alright. The plan would have worked."
Turner: "Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?"
Higgins: "No. It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In 10 or 15 years - food, Plutonium. And maybe even sooner. Now what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Turner: "Ask them."
Higgins: "Not now - then. Ask them when they're running out. Ask them when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask them when their engines stop. Ask them when people who've never known hunger start going hungry. Do you want to know something? They won't want us to ask them. They'll just want us to get it for them."
THX-1138 - George Lucas's first film, a dystopia set in an underground city where love is forbidden and mind numbing drugs are mandatory.
A Very British Coup - The single best film this writer has ever seen on television (it aired on PBS Masterpiece Theater in the late 1980s). Harry Perkins, a third generation socialist, steelworker, trade unionist has been elected as the Labor Prime Minister in Britain. Perkins won because he campaigned against financial corruption and for for nuclear disarmament, including the removal of US military bases in his country. The tabloid press, the aristocratic Security Service and the American embassy conspire to topple his government. Perkins was a more attractive Labor leader than the politicians the real Labor Party actually offered in its elections. It is perhaps the best fictional depiction of how the "deep state" of the Anglo-American alliance actually functions.
Wag the Dog - The President's re-election campaign is hit by a sex scandal and political operative Robert DeNiro is brought in to distract the public by creating a fake war, using the show biz talents of Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman. The timing was fortuitous, it was released just before Monica Lewinsky became famous.
Wall-E - 700 years in the future, the Earth has become too full of trash for people to live on. The sole remaining life is "Wall-E," a trash compacting robot and his pet cockroach. The humans fled to live in a shopping mall in space where they live monotonous lives of consumerism, too distracted to notice they lost their planet. Through a series of adventures too preposterous to recount the humans eventually realize they have to return home and learn to grow food again so they can eat pizza. Wall-E is a production of Pixar, part of the Disney empire. It is the first Disney film I've paid money to see as an adult.
Who Bombed Judi Bari? A 2012 documentary about labor organizer and environmental activist Judi Bari and the campaign to protect the last ancient redwood forests in northern California. In 1990, as she co-organized the "Redwood Summer" campaign, a pipe bomb was placed in her car, nearly killing her and injuring her colleague (and passenger) Darryl Cherney (who produced the film). Just before this attack, there was a practice car bombing on land owned by one of the timber companies targetted by these protests, the FBI was part of this exercise. The story is a great example of collusion between corporations (LP, Maxxam, et al), the overt part of government (local elected officials in Mendocino) and the covert part of government (FBI cointelpro). Bari and Cherney sued the FBI and Oakland, CA police for civil rights violations. Bari died of cancer in 2007. Her estate and Cherney won a four million dollar judgement in Federal court in 2002, one of the most significant civil rights verdicts in the history of police and intelligence abuses against US citizens.
Wrong is Right - Sean Connery stars in this surreal comedy about the media, Mideast oil wars, nuclear terrorism and political incompetence. The film was released in 1982 but despite Connery's star status it received little attention. Oh, there's a World Trade Center theme, two decades before 9/11.
The Yes Men - Political pranksters impersonate World Bank officials and other scoundrels, showing that farce is still less surreal than reality.
Z - Costa-Gravas's first film about fascism, set in Greece at the time of the military coup.