--A recent Cuban film
"about the individual's quest for happiness," entitled "La vida
es silbar" (Life is Whistling), took the main prize Friday at the
Havana film festival. The film had been panned by Cuba's only daily
newspaper, the ruling Communist Party publication Granma, but nonetheless
was a big hit with audiences and impressed the judges. How embarrassing
--Last week I mentioned
an upcoming Oliver Stone ABC special which promoted the theory that
a Navy missile brought down TWA Flight 800. Over 200 witnesses reported
seeing streaks of light in the sky about the time the plane exploded,
giving birth to the missile theory. The planned special reportedly
"infuriated" the FBI, which has been trying to dampen any interest
in alternative explanations of the TWA 800 disaster. Well, shortly
after Stone announced the special, ABC cancelled it, arguing, curiously
enough, that it "blurred the line between entertainment and news."
What line? Well, if Stone decides to go forward with the special
on another channel, the "too hot for ABC" angle may actually help.
--If you missed any of
the C-SPAN "Booknotes" episodes I have been recommending, C-SPAN
is now offering these on VHS video and (sometimes) on downloadable
RealVideo at its web site. Two episodes which can be watched and/or
heard for free online are Paul Johnson on "A History of the American
People," and David Boaz on "Libertarianism: A Primer." A complete
list of downloadable Booknotes episodes can be found here.
--Two readers have referred
me to an article by Vin Suprynowicz regarding the film Amistad,
which I reviewed earlier. Suprynowicz points out that the film was
sanitized of an interesting irony--the African at the center of
this story, named Cinque, who is ultimately freed by abolitionists
after a moving appeal in the name of human liberty, himself became
a slave trader after he was freed and returned to Africa. I don't
think this fact takes anything away from the story, which as I see
it is mostly about a struggle between good and evil within the American
judicial system, but it would have made Cinque a somewhat less sympathetic
victim and I guess Spielberg didn't think we could handle that.
As Suprynowicz put it "If history is more interesting than fiction,
perhaps it's because the people now in charge of doctoring up our
fiction have no real taste for the delicious ironies of history,
which are so often at odds with the pompous simple-mindedness of
--The FBI is reportedly
"infuriated" by an upcoming Oliver Stone television special promoting
the theory that a Navy missile brought down TWA Flight 800. More
than 200 witnesses told the FBI they saw streaks of light in the
sky about the time the plane exploded, however the FBI concluded
that witnesses were seeing something other than a missile. "The
FBI came up with a conclusion here and it is not one that I agree
with," said Stone. "You have to pay attention to what eyewitnesses
saw. The streaks of light. There were a lot of witnesses.." The
missile theory has also been backed by the Village Voice and Accuracy
in Media (AIM). A group of retired military pilots have also separately
concluded that a missile caused the fatal explosion. No air date
for Stone's special on the subject has been set.
--Two readers have indicated
to me that Tracy Torme, co-creator of the SciFi channel program
"Sliders," which sometimes has libertarian themes, is himself a
libertarian and voted for Harry Brown (I haven't been able to confirm
that). If true, that would explain much of the program's content.
Torme (son of Mel
Torme) said in a 1997 interview: "there is definitely a sort of
a, you know, I guess Libertarian tone to the show." Although Torme
isn't a writer on Sliders anymore, something seems to be keeping
the favorable spin going.
--A new film of possible
interest entitled "Enemy of the State" is scheduled to be released
in November. Here's the summary: "The high-concept plot concerns
a massive government conspiracy concocted by a crooked National
Security Agency chief (Jon Voight), who frames yuppie lawyer Will
Smith as a patsy for the cover-up. Lots of beefy, Terminator-esque
government agents are the bad guys as Smith is forced to go on the
lam to clear his name and uncover the truth. His only ally in his
quest is a mysterious intelligence operative played by Gene Hackman.
Expect top-notch production values, top-notch action, and top-notch
publicity as opening day rolls around."
--I found two interesting
new sites which carry videotaped lectures given by a variety of
free-market economists and others. They are "A
Free-Market Think Tank at Cal State Hayward" and "The
Idea Channel". The Idea Channel also has video samples
of its taped lectures in RealVideo.
--ABC has a new and promising
series entitled "Vengeance Unlimited." The hero is a dark shadowy
character who brings justice to victims who are otherwise without
hope, and so far his focus has been on righting the wrongs of government.
Here's the description of last week's season premiere: "When an
FBI agent nails the wrong man as a serial killer, then refuses to
admit his mistake because it might jeopardize his lucrative book
deal, Mr. Chapel makes it his mission to seek justice for the innocent
man who's been convicted." And here's the description of this week's
show: "Mr. Chapel goes after a corrupt posse of local law enforcement
officials who are planting drugs in unsuspecting tourists' cars."
Of course, within a few episodes the hero may well be hunting down
tax evaders, but so far so good anyway.
--An online distributor
of libertarian videos called "No
Free Lunch Distributors" has recently added another taped
Ayn Rand interview to its already extensive collection. This one
is a 1959 interview, a relatively early one for Rand, with Mike
Wallace. I found the following reference to the interview in Barbara
Branden's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand:"
"In an effort to publicize
[Atlas Shrugged], Ayn agreed to an interview with Mike Wallace,
on his New York television show, 'Night Beat,' the hard-driving
program that began his rise to prominence. They liked each other
immediately, and were to visit together on a number of occasions
over the following years. 'She was perfect grist for the mill of
Night Beat,' Mike later said. 'She voiced provocative opinions,
she was anti-establishment and utterly unexpected, with a kind of
close reasoning and a clarity that one had to admire; it was a remarkable
interview. And the calls and letters that poured in about it shook
--The latest issue of
ISIL's "Freedom Network News" praised the Cuban movie "Bitter Sugar"
for its anti-socialist message and I heartily concur. It's now available
on video and seems to be getting around, as I had no problem renting
it at my local video store.
Incidentally, there is
a scene in "Bitter Sugar" in which some Cuban rock musicians inject
themselves with AIDS-tainted blood in protest against their treatment
by authorities. This seemed incredible, but since the film is said
to be based on actual events, I tried to verify the incident. Apparently
it's all true. A documentary, entitled "Cursed Be Your Name, Liberty"
was made on this subject. (I'm trying to locate a copy.) As one
commentator explained this mass self-destruction of hundreds of
"roqueros," it reflected "both the frustration of living in a poor,
totalitarian society and the roqueros' stark belief that a life
without certain freedoms is not worth living."
--I finally got around
to seeing the "Mask of Zorro." Previous versions of the Zorro legend
have generally had at least a degree of anti-tax flavor, but I am
sorry to say that such quality was missing in this telling of the
tale. However, those of you who believe that our civilization is
in decline will at least have the satisfaction of seeing your view
borne out in Zorro films as I have rated them:
The Mark of Zorro (1940)
The Sign of Zorro
Zorro, the Gay
Blade (1981) ###/***
The Mask of Zorro
As you can see, the libertarian
content in these films has dropped over the years. If this trend
continues, the next Zorro twenty years from now will probably secretly
hunt down tax evaders or perhaps medicinal users of marijuana.
--Several weeks ago I
reviewed a film entitled "Sex, Drugs & Democracy," a documentary
about Holland's de facto legalization of a number of victimless
crimes and the beneficial effects of that legalization. Well, apparently
I wasn't the only one who liked it. Steven Markoff, Chairman of
A-Mark Financial Corporation (the 175th largest privately held company
in the U.S.), recently mailed a video copy to every member of Congress
and other senior members of the U.S. government. As Mr. Markoff
explained in a letter that accompanied the videos:
"I'm writing you because
current U.S. drug policies seem terribly flawed. I understand they
have given America the western world's highest per capita prison
population and federal drug policy expenditures exceeding $15 billion/year
and have not substantially decreased marijuana use among our young
people. Other democratic countries have successfully taken a pragmatic
approach in their drug policy.." Mr. Markoff then cited various
statistics from the film and invited officials to watch it. Let's
hope they do. For more information about "Sex, Drugs & Democracy,"
--The recent Libertarian
Party convention received considerable attention on C-SPAN, which
is continuing to rebroadcast the proceedings intermittently on an
unscheduled basis. C-SPAN is also making highlights of the convention
available on video. Part I, entitled "Call to Order, Opening, and
Keynote Speech," includes speakers Daniel Smith, Steve Dasbach,
Michael Cloud and Finlay Rothaus. It is 81 minutes long and sells
for $45 plus S&H. Part II is Charles Murray's speech entitled
"Eroding Legitimacy of the National Government." It is 51 minutes
long and sells for $29.95 plus S&H. And Part III, entitled simply
"Business Meeting," includes speaker Hugh Butler, is 42 minutes
long and sells for $29.95 plus S&H. All of these videos may
be purchased by calling 1-800-277-2698.
--If you're lucky enough
to have the premium cable channel Showtime, check out the film "Thanks
of a Grateful Nation" on May 31. It's being advertised as "The Movie
The Government Doesn't Want You To See," and stars Ted Danson and
Brian Dennehy in "an explosive fact-based drama which discloses
the U.S. government's denial and subsequent cover-up of troop exposure
to toxic agents during the Gulf War."
"The controversial film
is based on four years of extensive original research and interviews
with more than 100 veterans, relatives, members of the medical community,
Pentagon officials and Washington insiders, including retired Presidential
Secret Service agent Jim Tuite, Senator Donald Riegle, Congressman
Steve Buyer, and Steve Robertson, Director of the Legislative Commission
for the American Legion. Woven throughout the motion picture are
filmed interviews with veterans and family members attesting to
their real-life experiences." Sounds promising.
--I finally got to see
the Academy Award nominated documentary "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life,"
which has been touring the U.S. Some have called it one-sided, one
critic referring to the film as an "infomercial" for Rand. That's
not far off the mark, but it doesn't matter. She's overdue for some
favorable treatment. In any case, the film is very watchable. Another
reviewer called it "alarmingly watchable." Yes, it would be alarming
from some perspectives.
As a person already somewhat
familiar with Rand's life, my own opinion is that "Ayn Rand: A Sense
of Life" was generally satisfying, but the definitive biography
of Rand is still Barbara Branden's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand,"
a dramatized movie version of which is due later this year on Showtime.
Rand's life really was a drama from beginning to end, so the dramatized
film version may be an even better portrayal.
--Two other films of
possible interest: "Wilde," a biopic of Oscar Wilde, who was ultimately
imprisoned under an anti-sodomy statute (Dir: Brian Gilbert. Stephen
Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave, Jennifer Ehle, Gemma Jones, Zoe
Wanamaker); and "The Mask of Zorro," due for release in July. Many
of the previous Zorro pictures have had a significant anti-tax flavor,
but there is no telling what the modern interpretation of the story
will be (Dir: Martin Campbell. Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins,
--Last week's issue noted
that The Titanic had received the endorsement of the leader of the
Chinese Communist Party and other socialists, who apparently like
the onscreen portrayal of evil rich versus virtuous poor. The height
of this onscreen class conflict is the scene in which poor third
class passengers are locked in the lower decks so first and second
class passengers can safely evacuate via the limited number of lifeboats.
However, according to
documents relating to the sinking of the Titanic, now being shown
at an exhibition at the Public Record Office (PRO) in London, this
is a complete fabrication. According to The Telegraph (UK), "the
victims included two-thirds of the 173 first-class male passengers,
who would all have escaped with ease in April 1912 if the scene
in the film had been accurate. The emphasis throughout the evacuation
of 705 survivors from the 1,343 passengers and 885 crew was on women
and children first rather than on a class system. Aidan Lawes, head
of publishing at the PRO at Kew, said: 'There is no evidence whatsoever
that this scene ever happened and the facts indicate otherwise.
John Jacob Astor, the richest man aboard, who was worth £20.6
million, asked if he could get into a lifeboat to be with his wife
who was very frail. But he was told that he could not. If the system
had been hierarchical he would have been first into a lifeboat.'"
So was the Titanic's
left-wing spin deliberate? Perhaps that can best be answered by
Titanic director Cameron himself, who is reported in Janet Maslin's
New York Times review of the film as having 'joked' during production:
"We're holding just short of Marxist dogma."
Meanwhile, the vice-president
of 20th Century Fox, Scott Neeson, went to the small Scottish town
of Dalbeattie to deliver a personal apology to the 80-year-old nephew
of William Murdoch, first officer of the Titanic. The film showed
Mr. Murdoch in less than the most flattering terms. But in his hometown,
Mr. Murdoch is remembered for saving lives. He is described by historians
as having done his utmost to save passengers, guiding them to boats
and throwing deckchairs overboard for them to cling to as the liner
sank. Neeson's public apology reportedly left his audience unimpressed.
It seems that amidst
the Titanic's so called remarkable attention to detail, the facts
were somehow lost in the spectacle.
--Good News! Both "Waco:
The Rules of Engagement" and "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life" have been
nominated for Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature. There are
only four other nominees, so that means there is a one in three
chance that a solidly libertarian film will win the award this year
(assuming the libertarian vote, if such a thing exists, isn't split).
I have seen "Waco:
The Rules of Engagement," and it certainly deserves the award.
It has received near universal praise from every corner of the political
spectrum and from a very long list of respected publications (see
for reviews, how to order, and more information).
I have not seen Ayn Rand:
A Sense of Life, despite some effort to do so. Some months ago,
I wrote a number of Objectivist/Randian organizations asking for
information about the film, which I had earlier heard was in production,
and either received no response at all or was told they knew nothing.
I assumed it must have been derailed by some kind of legal tangle
with the Randian powers that be. Even now a preliminary web search
(I am still trying) did not turn up a web site advertising it. Apparently
it has been playing at film festivals here and there, but as far
as I can tell no one has made an effort to advertise. If anyone
has any information on this, please let me know.
--The dramatized version
of Barbara Brandon's Ayn Rand biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand,
starring British film star Helen Mirren, began production in mid-January.
Rumor is that it will be on Showtime some time later this year.