While Ava DuVernay’s documentary doesn’t fully articulate the incremental genocide of blacks in America, she does spell out the country’s ongoing slavery of blacks in its prisons. Get schooled.
Bruno Dumont’s devilish French period farce of class conflict and cannibalism draws delicate lines of surrealism, satire and magical realism over the film’s explicit use of slapstick humor. This is one sophisticated high-wire cinematic act.
Hell or High Water
David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is a politically motivated neo-western torn from the pages of Sam Shepherd’s playbook. Gritty performances from Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges make movie magic happen.
Co-screenwriter/director Catherine Corsini crafts a fine romantic lesbian drama filled with organic feminine passion and ethical import. Audiences looking for female-led dramas that are genuine by design need only seek out this impressive film.
“Paterson” is the kind of movie that you walk out of a different person. The film purifies the viewer in a gentle and loving way. It reminds us that we are all poets if we invest a little of our experiences into words and supportive actions.
I Am Not Your Negro
Samuel L. Jackson’s pitch-perfect rendition of James Baldwin’s unmistakable voice is as pure as Baldwin’s recollections of his murdered civil rights peers Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. collected in his unfinished manuscript “Remember This House.”
Erotic, social, emotional, and political intrigue attend Park Chan-Wook’s baroque psychological thriller set in Korea under Japanese colonial rule during the early to mid 20th century. Stunning.
Manchester By The Sea
Proof that Casey Affleck is the finest actor of his generation, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s familial drama breathes with pain, humor, and grit. See this movie on the big screen with an audience. You’ll never forget it.
“Elle” is a diabolically gleeful black comedy brimming with sly social commentary and traumatically induced sexual fetishes. Verhoeven’s masterful direction, Isabelle Huppert’s nuanced performance, and David Birke’s unfiltered adaptation of Philippe Dijan’s novel combine to form a perfect film.
I, Daniel Blake
Dramatically understated, and yet precisely composed, "I, Daniel Blake" presents a pointed call to political social and political action. Long live Ken Loach.
1.“A gun in the first act always goes off in the third” is an oldie but a goodie. Anytime a gun is exposed in the first act of a film or play, you can be sure that it will go off in the third act. See “La Ceremonie.”
Donald Trump's primary campaign and subsequent win also proves this rule, albeit, in the realm of politics.
As we witness with Donald Trump’s victory, everything he promised early in his campaign has come to fruition.
This trope is attributable to Anton Chekhov whose “Checkov’s gun” is a dramatic principle (proven many times over in the movies) that “one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”
2. People (characters) are defined by the way they respond to challenges.
Indeed, this fundamental rule is a cornerstone of all dramaturgy, whether of theatrical, filmic, or political structure.
3.There must always be a chase sequence regardless of genre.
Even you are watching a documentary, or a romantic comedy, there must always be a chase sequence, even if it is purely dialogue driven.
4. 99% of all movie storytelling begins with an inciting incident.
The "inciting incident" kicks into the direction of the story when an "inciting incident" turns he/she 180 degrees into the direction of the story.
5.The protagonist must make a crisis decision to resolve the story.
See "The Marriage of Maria Braun" (streaming on FilmStruck). Movies (such as Westerns) that used the threadbare trope of a cavalry rescue committed a dramatic crime commonly referred to as "deus ex machina" (or "the ghost in the machine).
You’ve read post-election analysis by the discredited corporate pundits who thought Hillary was a shoo-in. Since I saw Donald Trump’s “upset” coming, my take on what happened and why may be of more interest.
As with any large-scale disaster, the ascent of a spectacularly unqualified buffoon to the most powerful political office on earth came about as the result of numerous system failures and operator errors. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of what went wrong.
System Failures: Problems Hardwired Into the Machine
Democrats took their progressive base for granted.
Following George McGovern’s landslide loss to Richard Nixon in 1972, the Democrats’ conservative southern wing seized control of the DNC and other leadership apparatus. Center-right Dems won four presidential races with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but at a cost. Election after election, liberals and progressives — the party’s base and thus its greatest potential source of votes, donations and enthusiasm — were taken for granted as the party moved right in search of swing voters. Where else, the Clintonian Brahmins asked smugly, could lefties go? The answer was nowhere: snubbed, unmotivated and disgusted, they stayed home this November.
No safety net for workers displaced by globalization and deindustrialization.
NAFTA wasn’t the beginning; it was the last nail in the coffin of the postwar boom that elevated blue-collar manufacturing jobs to professions paying enough to finance the American Dream. Year after year, millions of workers lost good jobs and were forced to make do with two lousy ones. Inner cities, and not a few suburbs, rotted and died. Neither major party talked about the Making of America Not Great Anymore, much less tried to do anything about it. Trump scored big Rust Belt points merely by acknowledging the long-ignored pain of millions.
In media coverage of the horse race, some candidates are more equal than others.
If you were designing American democracy from scratch, you’d probably make it a rule that every candidate for office receives the same attention from the media. (France does this.) But we’re light years away from that ideal. Trump received more TV minutes and column-inches than his Republican rivals because he was (a) outrageous and (b) a celebrity. Clinton’s coverage overshadowed Sanders’ because media gatekeepers were (a) enamored of their pre-fab “first woman president follows first black president” narrative and (b) couldn’t imagine that an elderly socialist from Vermont could be a serious contender. Who would be president-elect today had Rand Paul, Carla Fiorina and Bernie Sanders been given a fair chance to make their cases to the voters? Probably not Trump.
Operator Errors: Screw-Ups By Individual Politicians and Organizations
Hillary’s campaign partied like it was 1996.
Campaigning has changed since the Clintonian heyday of the ’90s, but Hillary’s strategists didn’t get the memo. Trump ad-libbed outrageous vidbytes at his rallies, making them must-see TV and earning billions in free exposure; Hillary stuck to her deadly dull stump speech, doomed to be ignored. While Trump worked Twitter like a tween at 3 am — ensuring that story-hungry editors would see his hilarious rants when they arrived at their desks — it took 12 Clinton staffers to compose a single tweet whose made-by-committee provenance made it dead on arrival. She spent many millions on a repeat loop of anti-Trump TV ads featuring clips everyone had already seen. Considering that she barely survived Bernie Sanders’ primary challenge, it should have been obvious to her team that the Democratic party has moved left (as has the nation). So why did her 2016 campaign follow the old Dick Morris move-right-for-the-general-election model from 1996, moving right in order to “reach out to Republican megadonors“? Meanwhile, Morris himself understood the new reality. “But Trump is doing more than driving populist Democrats into Republican arms,” Morris wrote. “He is separating the establishment left of the Democratic Party from its populist base. His candidacy separates the blue-collar social populists from their partisan moorings even as his economic populism appeals to the Sanders left.” He wrote that in May.
The DNC ignored polls that showed Bernie was a better candidate than Hillary.
Trump’s “surprise” win wasn’t shocking to people who were paying attention. Throughout the primary and general election, the DNC brushed off head-to-head tracking polls that showed that Hillary Clinton never enjoyed a commanding lead over, and sometimes fell behind, Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, consistently held a double-digit lead, sometimes as high as 20 percent, over Trump. As it turned out, Trump would have lost to Sanders. In a change year when Americans were in the mood for radical populism, Sanders offered all the stuff voters liked about Trump — his anti-free trade message, economic populism, opposition to stupid foreign wars, the fiery, outspoken energy of a loud New Yorker — minus his manic loopiness and offensive comments about women and minorities. Granted, Bernie’s poll numbers would have suffered under an onslaught of ads depicting the Vermont senator as the second coming of Stalin, Soviet May Day parade footage and “The Internationale” playing incessantly. But the Cold War is over. Americans are more afraid of cost-cutting CEOs than commissars.
Hillary Clinton didn’t appoint Bernie Sanders as vice president, or to a cabinet position.
Democratic voters wanted Hillary — a lifelong right-wing Democrat — to balance the ticket by choosing a progressive running mate like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker or her rival Bernie Sanders. But she never considered any of them, going instead with some guy who’s name I still struggle to remember. Ironically, no one understood the disastrous implications of Hillary’s choice better than right-wing blogger Wayne Allyn Root in The Blaze: ” Hillary desperately needed a shot in the arm; an exciting and edgy vice president by her side…Tim Kaine isn’t just boring… Kaine is an affront to every Bernie Sanders supporter – which happens to be all the youth and energy in the entire Democrat Party.”
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Donald Trump wants to deport three million illegal immigrants, and he’s willing to split up families to do it. Expect resistance: street protests, networks of safe houses, American citizens willing to risk prison to hide undocumented workers.
Barack Obama deported two million — more than any other president. Thousands of kids lost their parents. Yet demonstrations were few. Anglo solidarity was nowhere to be found. Same action, different reaction. Why? As we’ve seen under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, progressives go to sleep when Democrats are in the White House.
Trump will be deplorable. But as the unrest that followed his victory signals, he’ll have a salutary effect on American politics: Liberals will resist the same fascist horrors for which they’ve been making excuses under Obama (and would have continued to tolerate under Hillary Clinton).
Ironically, their struggle will be made all the more challenging due to the fascist moves promulgated by Barack Obama, a president revered by liberals — but whose administration has been characterized by a stream of fascist policies.
Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and other government agencies are spying on all of our communications: phone calls, email, texts, video, even snail mail. But the fiercest reactions came from people outside the U.S. It was 2013 and Obama was president. For the most part liberals — the political faction you’d expect to raise hell — trusted their charming first black president not to abuse his powers.
Trump will inherit Obama’s Orwellian surveillance apparatus. During the campaign, he said “I wish I had that power.”
When Obama took over from Bush in 2009, he issued a symbolic denunciation of the torture his predecessor had legitimized and institutionalized. In practice, however, nothing changed. Sending a clear message that he approved of their actions, Obama ordered his Justice Department not to prosecute anyone for waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” saying infamously that it was time to “look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.” He went to Langley to tell CIA agents he’d watch their backs. He refused to issue a presidential executive order banning torture by the CIA.
Trump will take over that bureaucratic infrastructure of torture, including the legal opinions issued by Bush’s White House counsel that Obama failed to annul. During the campaign, Trump pledged to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” whatever that means.
Upon taking office Obama tepidly attempted to follow up on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo concentration camp. But he caved in the face of congressional opposition. Though Obama has managed to winnow down the number of inmates in America’s Cuban gulag to double digits, his lackadaisical unwillingness to expend political capital on the issue has left the camp open. It has also legitimized the formerly unthinkable practice of holding prisoners indefinitely without charging them with a crime or putting them on trial.
Trump says he’ll keep the camp open, expand it, and “load it up with some bad dudes,” including American citizens whose politics he doesn’t care for.
Part of the justification given for indefinite detention is the Bush-era Military Commissions Act of 2006, which eliminated the right of habeas corpus, the right to a speedy and fair trial enshrined in Anglo-American law for eight centuries. Under the MCA, the U.S. government can throw you into a concentration camp where you’ll never see your family or a lawyer. As far as we know, Obama never availed himself of this power.
Do you trust Trump to exercise similar restraint? Thanks to Obama’s failure to get rid of the MCA, Trump may make good on his promise to disappear U.S. citizens.
Obama has vastly expanded Bush’s program of drone assassinations of political opponents to nasty American client states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. His Tuesday “kill list” star chamber has issued hits against thousands of people; 98% of the victims have been hapless bystanders.
Could President Trump deploy drones against American citizens (or non-citizens) on American soil? Yes, he could, says Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder. Obama could have declared that he — and future presidents — did not have that power. Better still, he could have asked Congress to pass a law banning domestic drone killings. Instead, he went golfing.
From what we know of Trump’s likely cabinet appointments, the next few years promise to devolve into a dystopian nightmare of authoritarian repression the likes of which few Americans ever imagined possible. As we head into the maelstrom, it will be tempting to look back fondly upon the Obama years as a period of relative calm and liberalism.
But don’t forget the truth. Fascism under Trump will merely continue Obama’s fascism with a smiley face — a fascism that we let him get away with for far too long.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Johnny Thunders' band THE HEARTBREAKERS were the epitome of PUNK. They beat Tom Petty to the punch; the band was formed in 1975, a year before Petty used the name. Everything about their aggressive attitude, DIY style, and badass music carried an anti-authoritarian ethic and a streetwise swagger as powerful as a lion in attack mode. Think Iggy Pop. Sure they shared Iggy's taste for heroin; it went with the territory. I just wish there was a photo of Johnny, Iggy, and Miles Davis. That would be some badass shit to see. Of course a guitar duet with Johnny and Keith Richards would be even better. I love Keith Richards's playing but Johnny's playing had more punch, and meaning.
While the average picture might "speak 1000-words," this one spills ten times as much narrative information. Accented with a studded leather dog collar, Johnny's deliberate snarl stands between his bandmates' (Richard Hell, Jerry Nolan, and Walter Lure) sanguine resolve to give the kids what they wanted or, more importantly, needed.
And yes, that's a muthafuckin' yellow Gibson TV Les Paul Junior that Johnny milked filthy hot blues licks like Keith Richards taking a piss. Much blood, beer, and spit was spilled in the name of rock 'n' roll. And that ain't all.
I got introduced to The Heartbreakers in the late winter of 1983 by my soon-to-be Rockin' Dogs bandmates Dave Ellison and Sammy Wilson when they came over to my place on Lorraine Street in San Diego. I was auditioning to be their drummer. I had my drums (a white Pearl kit) set up in my bedroom of the ranch-style house I shared with three roommates. I was a Drama major at SDSU at the time. Sam and Dave handed me a record to put on the turntable. It was a copy of JOHNNY THUNDERS AND THE HEARTBREAKERS LAMF REVISITED." You can guess what the letters stand for. They couldn't be more accurate.
I 'd never heard of Johnny Thunders even though I'd heard of The New York Dolls (Johnny's former band with David Johanson, Sylvain Sylvain, Arthur "Killer" Kane, and the fucking amazing (left-handed) Jerry Nolan on drums). For as much as I thought I knew about music, Sam and Dave were about to throw me into the deep end. They gave me a crash course in punk, country, rockabilly, blues and rock that took me from zero to 60 in about a month. We would sit in my living room and listen to Jonathan Richman, T Rex, The Cramps, The Stones, The Ramones, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, The Damned, The Sex Pistols, The New York Dolls, The Go-Gos, The Clash, and the list goes on.
We went to see shows together too. I'll never forget going to see Jonathan Richman at SDSU in the downstairs club circa the exquisite "Jonathan Sings" record. We were there in time for the sound check, so we (Sam, Dave, and our bass player Jane Bunting) all sat cross-legged in front of the stage while JoJo got the sound he wanted on the PA. I've never before or since heard of a musician demanding that the volume be turned down, but Jonathan was serious. The show was fantastic. At the end, Jonathan announced he was auditioning guitarists, and anyone who wanted to give it a go could meet him backstage. The four of us went backstage and waited in a long white cinderblock hallway for the few guys standing in front of Dave, who took his opportunity to play Johnny B. Goode, as Mr. Richman requested from each contestant. Dave didn't get the gig, thank God; we needed him for The Rockin' Dogs.
Dave had very specific ideas about music. He later turned my onto Travis Picking, one of my favorite guitar styles to play.
To be continued...
"Get off the phone, there's nobody home, get off the phone, 'cause I don't want you." —The Heartbreakers
Why Brazilian Police and Establishment Media Shook Down and Defamed Olympic Swimmers By Cole Smithey
Remember the reports of the broken bathroom door, and broken mirror, and broken soap dispenser? All lies espoused by the oh-so-reliable Brazilian police who were busy shooting protesters with rubber bullets and killing hundreds of other impoverished Rio citizens as part of the daily violence that goes on in the same hellhole that filmmaker Hector Babenco famously captured in his unforgettable neo-realist drama “Pixote” in 1981. Babenco’s film was, and is, a cinematic plea for an end to an inhuman social system in and around Rio that has blood running in the streets on a minute-to-minute basis. An all too common, and tragic, footnote to "Pixote" came a few years later when the film's charismatic non-professional lead actor Fernando Ramos de Silva was murdered by a cop in the city's litter-strewn streets. Evidently, not much has changed since 1981.
You got played if you’re one of the suckers who bought into the establishment media’s pillorying of American Olympic champion swimmers Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger. They fell victim to anti-American public relations attack designed and executed by Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously corrupt police officials. As if ignoring the public robbery of four Olympic athletes wasn’t enough, the Brazilian Police Department exploited the crime to deflect blame and extort money from the victims. The “security guard” bandits were never even named, much less arrested. Here is a criminal international incident twisted to blame American Olympic champions and humiliate anyone who isn’t Brazilian.
An utter lack of editorial oversight and responsibility would be a generous alibi for the thousands of media outlets (American and otherwise) that fell for the Brazilian police's ploy. The first rule of engagement with any media outlet that everything is a lie, and you have to read between the lines to come away with any semblance of truth.
Long story short: a Rio yellow taxi with four American Olympic swimmers inside pulls up to a gas station in the wee hours of the morning. Gas station workers and security guards shark the [obviously drunk] America Olympic athletes desperate to relieve themselves. Bathroom doors are locked. The four young men go behind the station and urinate in the grass.
Let he or she who has not peed upon sage or brush, throw the first stone. If you pretend to feign indignation at four inebriated guys peeing in the grass behind a gas station at six in the morning, you be frontin’ homie.
An armed guard approaches the athletes, presumably in the act of urinating. Lochte plays the punk when he pulls down a paper ad posted on the side of the gas station as he exits the area. The athletes calmly get inside their waiting cab before being ordered out of their taxi by two black-clad men with badges, both waving around loaded guns. Happy 2016 Olympics suckers.
At gunpoint the athletes are made to sit down with their hands raised, execution style. At one point in the video of these events, we see Lochte stand up to argue with the guards holding he and his pals at gunpoint. Brave or dumb. Doesn’t matter. Dude stood up. Ryan Lochte did the right thing in the heat of the moment regardless of how drunk he was. He’s a patriotic hero. You feel me?
An English/Portuguese-speaking man intercedes to translate what the guards are saying to their victims. This ringer tells the athletes that the guards are demanding that each of the four American hostages pay up for damages done to the gas station property. Who knows if that grass will be able to survive so much Olympian pee? The four swimmers forked over whatever money they had, and were allowed to leave. The badges wearing men-in-black used semi-automatic handguns to rob four American Olympic champions at gunpoint, and got away with it Scot-free. You feel me now?
Don’t forget that this was these athletes’ big night of celebration behind a punishing schedule of Olympic heats. Why these Olympic athletes didn’t have proper chauffeurs and official escorts for their big night out on the town remains a burning question that no one in corporate media has thought to ask.
If Lochte and his teammates are smart they’ll hire a big American law firm to sue every single media outlet that libeled them, and also personally sue each Rio police official responsible for the miscarriage of justice and public smearing they committed. If these athletes do follow up in the courts, Ryan Lochte Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger could become the most financially successful Olympic athletes in its history.
So what about the legacy of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games? Police officials on an international revenge crusade have reduced that sporting relic to the public mugging, and consequent pillorying, of four of the fastest swimmers in the world. File the 2016 Olympics in the file entitled, “Mistakes to never make again.”
Brazilian politicians and authorities are still smarting two years after Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s spying on Brazil’s [now impeached] president Kilma Rousseff. Whether you call Rousseff’s ousting a “soft” coup or a hard one, one thing’s for sure; there was nothing legal or proper about it. At the time, the Guardian news outlet called the situation, “the most serious diplomatic fallout to date from the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden."
Aside from the monies they extorted, the Rio police’s lust for vengeance derives from the slaughter that their soccer team received at the hands of the German team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup before a crowd of 58,000 in Brazil. The 7 to 1 loss spoke volumes of inconvenient truth about where the rubber meets the road in World Cup soccer.
At the recent Olympics, Brazil’s shootout match victory against Germany, that delivered gold to Brazil’s soccer team for the first time in history, has drawn much suspicion for obvious reasons. Sometimes, winning is losing. Let’s also not forget the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent indictment of Marco Polo Del Nero, the president of Brazil’s soccer federation. Salt on an open wound.
I stopped watching the Olympics the second the story about the robbery of the U.S. swimmers came out. I wasn’t the only one. Brazil sent its message loud and clear, if you come to Rio you can expect to be robbed at gunpoint. The police will then rob you again before they let you leave the country. We know this because they made Lochte’s companions each pay a charity donation in the neighborhood of $15,000. You don’t need to worry about the nature of the unidentified charity; this is strictly a cash deal. False arrest, kidnapping, extortion, and liable per se are just a few of the charges that a large firm of American attorneys should be looking over.
Whether or not you bought into the lies dreamed up by the Rio police, which every media outlet in the world regurgitated like twice-vomited split pea soup, I bet you’re not in any hurry to vacation in Rio anytime soon.
If the shoe were on the other foot, and this same sequence of events played out for a group of foreign athletes visiting a city in America, this automatically politicized narrative would have played out in a very different way. You can bet the gas station guards would be sitting in the pokey, and not the athletes.
Much has been made of Ryan Lochte’s exaggeration of specifics involving the proximity of the gun pointed in his direction, and cocking of said pistol, but there is no question that two guns were drawn and the four swimmers were made to sit down, at gunpoint.
More egregious than Lochte’s enriched telling of events were exaggerations from the Rio police, who stated that the American swimmers had vandalized a bathroom at the gas station. Supposedly, this unruly group of hooligans reportedly broke a door, a mirror, and a hand-soap dispenser broken. That none of this happened didn’t stop every newswire in the world from running the lies. Good luck finding any retractions. What you will find, however, in supposedly respectable news outlets such as the Guardian, is reference to “the Olympic gas station hold-up that wasn’t.” Except that it was a hold-up followed by a police shakedown.
Welcome to Rio, now give us all your cash along with your reputation, and we'll sell you back your passports for $15,000. Don't come back, or [better yet] don't come at all. Brazil's tourism industry will suffer the backlash it deserves.
That’s how much The Los Angeles Times is demanding that I pay them.
After they fired me for phony reasons.
After they published lies about me.
They set out to destroy me, but the truth came out and ruined their plan. So now they’re determined to bankrupt me — by abusing the court system.
One year ago, TheLos Angeles Times fired me in what became known as The Ted Rall Scandal. I’ve been their cartoonist since 2009. Never had a problem. Was never late. Never did anything wrong. My bosses never had a complaint — to the contrary, I received nothing but praise.
What I didn’t know, and my editors didn’t know to tell me, was that the political cartoonist of The Los Angeles Times isn’t allowed to criticize the police. I wish I’d been informed. I have principles, but I also have to eat. If they’d told me the cops were off-limits, I wouldn’t have criticized the LAPD, police brutality, corruption or incompetence. If I’d known that LAPD chief Charlie Beck enjoyed special most favored nation status on the LA Times editorial page, I would have left him alone.
But no one told me. So I did what cartoonists are supposed to do: I criticized and ridiculed and made fun of the cops.
Unbeknownst to me, dark forces were aligned against me.
In 2014, Tribune Publishing, the Chicago-based $499 million conglomerate that was the parent company of the LA Times, brought on a brutal, cynical billionaire named Austin Beutner as its new publisher. Beutner had made his money in the 1990s, raping the ruins of post-Soviet Russia. He had big political ambitions: mayor of Los Angeles, perhaps even governor of California.
Beutner had no experience in newspapers. Probably never even delivered one as a boy. But Beutner had what Tribune wanted: a contact list full of potential investors. As for Beutner, he figured he’d use the paper to make up for his lack of name recognition among voters. It was a match made in hell.
Beutner made good on his promise to bring cash into the troubled Tribune organization by midwifing a deal between his only political ally, the LAPD’s police union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League) and Oaktree Capital, a Beverly Hills based investment firm. The LAPPL moved its $16 billion pension fund to Oaktree. At the same time, Oaktree became the number one shareholder in Tribune. The local police owned the local paper.
The LAPPL made no secret of its appreciation. Weeks after being named publisher, Beutner was given the LAPPL’s 2014 Badge and Eagle Award for “support[ing] the LAPD in all that they do.”
In July 2015, the fuzz called in their chit with Beutner.
As has only recently been revealed by my lawsuit against the LA Times for defamation and wrongful termination, the plot against me began with a conspiracy at the highest levels of city government and the corporate media elite.
Chief Beck secretly met with Beutner. He handed him documents, as well as a CD-ROM containing an audio recording, that he convinced Beutner would be adequate proof that I was a liar and a fabulist, and therefore sufficient legal cause for firing me. And not just for firing me. They wanted to make an example out of me. They were out to destroy me. So they published not one, but two articles — something they’d never done before, ever — calling me a liar.
I was freelance. Why not just tell me I was no longer needed? Because Beck and Beutner thought I’d be a pushover. And because they wanted to send a message to every journalist in Southern California. Don’t criticize law enforcement. If you do, your career will be over.
Times readers have never been told the source of these documents. I would never have found them if I hadn’t filed my lawsuit. In brazen violation of the newspaper’s own rulesgoverning the ethical conduct of journalism (ironically written by the author of the second smear piece, Deirdre Edgar), Beutner and his minion who wrote the first smear piece, editorial page editor Nick Goldberg, protected Beck as an anonymous source.
The key evidence used against me, both to fire me and to use as the focus of two unusual articles published by the Times in their campaign to destroy my journalistic career, was the audio file. It contained about 20 seconds of audible speech and over six minutes of road noise.
That recording, secretly made by a police officer who arrested me for jaywalking in 2001, supposedly proved that I had been treated politely by the cop, not rudely handcuffed as I had written in the Times. Cheap and/or careless, the Times didn’t have the “evidence” authenticated or analyzed. Big mistake.
Driving the point home, the LAPD public information office said that the audio never came out via official means. In other words, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ginned up the evidence from somewhere else: probably a self-made, crappy dub made by the police officer himself 14 years before. It wasn’t official evidence. It wouldn’t have been admitted in court and it shouldn’t have been used to fire anyone — something a real journalist, not a billionaire financier, would have known.
I eventually obtained a copy of the official audio file from the police department itself via a public records act request. What a difference! It was clean. It looked different. And it wasdifferent. Without any enhancement at all, you could hear an angry crowd of people yelling at the officer about my mistreatment.
By this time, the Times’ ridiculous assault on free expression had blown up in their faces. Social media and the Internet had gone crazy. Journalists of all political stripes had come to my defense. Tribune, knowing that they had screwed up, fired Beutner so unceremoniously that he wasn’t allowed to use his own email account to say goodbye, and was escorted by security guards out of the building.
All I wanted was my job back and a retraction. An apology would be nice too. I don’t know why, even after all this, the Times is fighting this lawsuit. The way they’re acting, you would think that I was the one who had hurt them.
Their latest legal maneuver is beyond belief. Although discovery hasn’t begun yet, things haven’t been going well for them during initial hearings in court. That’s how it goes when you don’t have a legitimate defense for your indefensible actions. So their lawyer is resorting to scorched earth tactics. The last thing they want is for 12 Angelenos to listen to my case, consider both sides, and render justice.
The sleazy move their lawyer cooked up is to file an “anti-SLAPP” motion against me. California legislature passed the anti-SLAPP law to stop the following scenario: “A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.” (Those words are by the LA Times’ editorial board, written two weeks after they smeared me!)
I’m not a deep pocketed corporation. I’m not a developer. And I’m not a government official. I’m a critic. So I’m the one this law was designed to protect.
Incredibly, the Times’ lawyer is arguing that I, an individual freelance cartoonist with a five-figure income, is quashing the Times’ free-speech rights! If they convince the judge that they are right, my case gets thrown out and – get this – I’m going to have to pay their attorneys’ fees!
Even more incredibly, they asked the judge to force me to post a $300,000 bond now, in advance, to guarantee their attorneys’ fees if they win their anti-SLAPP motion. She knocked it down to $75,000. But it’s not like the 10% bail that you hear about on TV. I owe the entire $75,000 on or before Thursday, August 18. My lawyers and I prepared a brief to fight it, but because the Los Angeles court system is so backed up, we can’t get a hearing until next summer. So another words, I either cough up $75,000 by next Thursday, or the Times gets away with what they did to me.
If you like to read more about the case and/or contribute to my fundraiser – I am not going down without a fight – please click here or go directly to http://gofundme.com/tedrall.
Thanks to my lawsuit, we know that the LAPD asked the LA Times to fire me as a favor to the cops because I was constantly criticizing them and their police chief. But, as Sartre said, individual actions require accountability. In that spirit, here’s a rogues gallery of the principal players and their roles in the conspiracy behind my firing last July.
LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck
Until a few months ago, when the LA Times was forced to submit affidavits in their defense to my lawsuit for wrongful termination and defamation, Beck’s role was unknown. In multiple articles, the Times was too cute by half, claiming that they had received the sketchy audiotape and the dubious documents from the LAPD. As the following evidence shows, however, the police chief took a break from fighting crime and beating up black people to walk over to the LA Times to complain about my cartoon and accompanying blog in which I described having been roughed up by an LAPD officer who arrested me for jaywalking in 2001:
They say that law-enforcement officers like him work in order to protect our freedoms. But Beck obviously never heard of the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t really protect free-speech as broadly as similar statutes do in other countries, but the one thing that it does do is prevent government agencies – like the LAPD – from interfering with journalism and criticism. Beck hates the Constitution; he is un-American.
If there’s any justice, Beck will soon resign. He and the Times are claiming that he raided the LAPD evidence locker and gave the material to the paper. If that’s true, he should go. However, it looks like he’s lying. Most likely, he got the stuff from the arresting officer’s personal files. Which means that he lied about the stuff being official evidence. In that case too, he should go.
LA Times Ex-Publisher Austin Beutner
As far as I can tell, Beutner is even more stupid than he is evil. And he is evil.
The billionaire who made his bucks raping the former Soviet Union in the 1990s is the guy at the Times who took the meeting with the police chief about little old me. The LAPD police union, the LAPPL, was a major political ally for him, so he kind of had to. However, he also should’ve thought about journalistic ethics. The last thing that the publisher of the paper that covers the police should be doing is hanging out with them. And the very last thing that he should be doing is hanging out with a guy who is asking him to fire one of the cops’ critics.
The reason I say he’s stupid is because it never occurred to him that he might be getting played by the police chief. He took Beck at face value. He wasn’t careful. He just accepted the evidence the cops gave him, handed it over to his editorial page editor, and ordered him to fire me. At least that’s how it looks right now. We’ll learn more during the discovery phase of the pre-trial.
If he’d been a journalist, or knew anything about journalism, or had any common sense, it might’ve occurred to him that the chief of police had a vested interest in getting rid of a cartoonist who keeps making fun of the chief of police. Of course, that would’ve also interfered with his own interest. After all, he was too cozy with the police to say no.
The paper let him go after I was fired.
LA Times Editorial Page Editor Nick Goldberg
Goldberg, the editor of the editorial pages, was a guy I barely had anything to do with. He wasn’t my usual editor. But he supervised my usual editors. He got the order to fire me from Beutner.
Now back in the day, when I started out, if a publisher had asked an editor to do something like this, to fire someone on the flimsiest of evidence, evidence that hadn’t been properly evaluated or analyzed or authenticated, evidence that really didn’t show much at all, said editor would have told said publisher to fuck himself. Probably would’ve resigned. But that’s not what Goldberg did.
Like many newspapermen nowadays, Goldberg was terrified. Most of his colleagues have been laid off. All he wanted to do was to keep his head down long enough to retire. So he was a wimp. When Beutner ordered him to let me go, he said yes sir. Without letting me talk to my editors. And not only that. He signed my death warrant. He signed the first article, the “a note to readers” intended to end my journalistic career.
Within days, Goldberg had in his hand solid proof that everything he had written was untrue. That he had lied for the cops. Even then, he kept quiet. No retraction. No resignation letter. He’s still there, drawing a six-figure salary despite his utter lack of decency.
LA Times Readers Representative Deirdre Edgar
Deirdre Edgar seems like a relatively obscure figure in this whole fiasco. Actually, she’s very important. She wrote the second hit piece against me, the one that came out three weeks after the paper found out that I have been telling the truth and that the cops have been lying about me.
Ironically, she’s the so-called “Readers representative” – the equivalent of an ombudsman at other newspapers. She’s the person who supposed to stand up for journalistic ethics. In fact, when the paper rewrote their ethical guidelines back in 2014, she got the byline.
The irony is that among other things, those ethical guidelines require reporters to give equal time to the subjects of critical articles in order to respond. She didn’t do that. Never called. Never wrote. The same guidelines say that the reporter should meet in person with the subject of a critical article. She didn’t try to do that. There’s other stuff too. Like, you’re not supposed to willfully lie about the subject of an article. Which she did.
LA Times Editor/Publisher Davan Maharaj
Maharaj was the editor-in-chief when all this went down last year. His role at the time remains obscure. Tribune Publishing decided to name him the new publisher after they fired Beutner.
Whatever his role last summer, he has been at the helm since early fall 2015. All the time, he has allowed those two libelous articles about me to remain on the newspaper’s website. This, of course, despite the fact that the information inside them is false and everyone knows they’re false. If this guy had an ounce of integrity, he would resign.
Support free speech! Fight the LA Times’ demand that I pay them $75,000: gofundme.com/tedrall
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His new book, the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” is now available.)
The happy footnote to this situation is that Ted did indeed raise the $75,000 to stay in the fight against the LA Times! The battle goes on. Will Ted end up winning the case? Let's just say the LA Times may end up with a new publisher with the last name of Rall.
Black comedy is one of the least mined of all film genres. Many audiences want nothing to do with its dark humor, which in most cases, is meant be disturbing if not disruptive. The codified genre makes visceral and intellectual demands that some viewers find themselves unwilling or unable to go along with. Taboo subjects involving all manner of murder and death frequently come into play. While there are exceptions to the rule (see “King of Comedy”), at least one death must occur (see “Dr. Strangelove”) to meet the transgressive demands of the genre. They don’t call it “Black” comedy without reason.
It is a satirical form that arrived relatively late to cinema. Charlie Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux” (1947) is one of the earliest, if not the first, filmic examples of Black Comedy. Robert Hamer’s “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949) followed just two years after Chaplin’s unpopular film. It’s telling that both films involve serial killers plying their trade for wealth, and social status.
More recent examples of Black Comedies include “Heathers” (1988), “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” (1989), and “Starship Troopers” (1997).
This revolutionary genre can be traced back to literary roots laid down by Jonathan Swift, whose scathing 18th century essays (especially “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick”) shocked many readers to their core. Many people missed the joke. Swift’s keen sense of gallows humor resonates against the 18th century work of the Marquis de Sade, who took fetishistic glee in putting the reader inside the mind, and body, of victimizers on a mission to defile, humiliate, and ruin their captives (see “The 120 Days of Sodom“). Modern authors, such as Vladimir Nabokov (“Lolita”), Joseph Heller (“Catch 22”), and Kurt Vonegut (“Slaughterhouse-Five”), used the darkly comedic form to stunning literary and popular success.
The surrealist movement of the ‘20s and ‘30s contributed heartily to establishing an artistic perspective whose aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality” in a revolutionary, anti-political (anarchistic) form in response to the horrors of World War I.
Andre Breton, the French writer and father of Surrealism (see his Surrealist Manifesto), contextualized black humor in his essential book “anthology of black humor” (originally published in 1940), in which Breton places side-by-side excerpts from such authors as Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, Franz Kafka, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, and Lewis Carroll.
Black comedy has an intrinsically secular aspect to it because it contextualizes horrific events or experiences in a comic way. This unconventional point of view necessarily insults all organized religion on fundamental grounds.
A death row prisoner, who discovers Jesus after a lifetime spent as an atheist, is the diametric opposite of one who chooses to adopt the personality of his guard as a way of mocking his doomed fate. Both are using their imaginations, but one is taking a much more active role in the part that he plays. Gallows humor is, if nothing else, the ultimate defense mechanism against all form of physical or psychological abuse.
The piece that followed (written by Graham Winfrey) poured praise upon Michael Gingold as a “patron saint of the horror community.” My mind went immediately to the many Fangoria writers who took their assignments from Michael, only to discover that their pay would not be forthcoming. The notoriously passive aggressive, selfish, and narcissistic Gingold would ignore their email requests for what was rightfully theirs. New York is a small town. I’ve heard firsthand stories from Fangoria writers who never received payments that were due them. Michael would pretend to be actively attempting to get writers their money, knowing they would never be paid. Lying to writers to keep them working is about as low as it gets. Throughout it all though, Michael made sure he got paid week after week, month after month, year after year. An ethical editor (and yes such editors do exist) would have done the right thing when faced with this type of untenable situation, and resigned.
Longtime Fangoria staff writers, some of whose lives were effectively ruined after they slogged away for weeks if not months without pay, before finally walking away from a career that evaporated before them.
Who offered support to the unpaid writers on whose backs Michael Gingold rode high and mighty for so many years? Certainly not Guillermo del Toro.
For the record, I did a one-on-one interview with del Toro in Cannes for "Pan's Labyrinth" in 2006, and found him to be a delightful guy.
I posted a reply on Indiewire and on Twitter saying that Gingold was not the saint he was being painted as. “Worm” was the term of art I chose. Immediately, I started receiving Twitter hate messages defending Michael Gingold as “not the guy who signed the checks.” They informed me that Fangoria owner Tom Defeo was the guy to blame.
Another red flag went up. Didn’t these industry “professionals” know the magazine’s managing editor was responsible for all day-to-day operations, including paying the writers? — Evidently not. Why was this cluster of trolls trying to shield Gingold from criticism? If Michael Gingold was the patron saint of independent horror, why would he actively allow writers to be promised money he knew wasn't there? Things didn’t add up.
Suddenly, Twitter locked my account because someone was trying to hack into it. The horror fanboys were coming for me. I had to create a new super-strong password. My attention went back to the IndieWire article. Mitch Davis (“co-director of the Fantasia International Film Festival) is quoted extensively in the piece, painting a picture of doom and gloom for Fangoria for “discarding seasoned writers with so many years of history, knowledge and trust among fans.” That’s all well and good but why, if Davis has so much investment in discarded writers from Fangoria, didn’t he speak up on their behalf until now? Why, indeed.
Like all print publications, Fangoria has been bleeding money for years. As the IndieWire article points out, it “hasn’t put out a print edition since its distributor went out of business in 2015.” How Michael Gingold managed to hang on to a steady paycheck this long, without putting out any print issues in 2016, is a mystery.
The elephant in the room is, of course, why and how Fangoria lost so much financial ground under Gingold’s failed editorial vision for the publication. No one should be praised for doing such an obviously crappy job, regardless of how long he or she milked it.
Whether or not Fangoria’s new Editor-in-Chief Ken W. Hanley can turn the magazine and website into something profitable, remains to be seen. Hopefully, Mr. Hanley will at least see to it that his writers get paid. Either way, with people like Guillermo del Toro and the handful of trolls that came after me on Twitter, I’m sure Michael Gingold will be treated better than he deserves. He’s already gotten way too much out of the deal.
"This guy [Cole Smithey] is consistently sharp with his reviews and he clearly loves film. A rarity."
—Joe Carnahan - writer / producer / director (THE GREY)
ColeSmithey.com is your guide to what to see and what to avoid at the movies, as well as a window into all aspects of global cinema, classic movies, music, culture, politics, poster art, DVDs, VOD, and news.
Critic and film historian Cole Smithey is available for speaking engagements, radio and television appearances, teaching opportunities, film festival juries, seminars, and other film related events.