THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD – movie review

At film festivals October & November 2020
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Yael Bridge
Writer: Yael Bridge
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/28/20

The Big Scary 'S' Word Film

The opening question of this heartfelt documentary is a version of the most important political question you could ask yourself. Your answer would determine what you think would be the best society for both you and the rest of the U.S. This is the full version as I recall it from an article years ago: “Pretend you are about to be born. You have no idea whether you will be rich or poor, Black or White, live rural, suburban or big city, have a terrific set of parents or a pretty miserable duo, go to a great Ivy League school or drop out of high school, be mostly unemployed or on minimum wage, or be the CEO making millions annually. Now construct the kind of society you would favor. While this is a tough question for an unborn baby to answer, it is of course hypothetical.

It’s pretty obvious that you would not build an America in which one person, no, change that to five individuals, own as much as the bottom fifty percent of our residents. What’s that? Five people (can you name them?) have as much wealth as 165,000,000 folks combined. Let me guess. You would opt for socialism, wouldn’t you? Forget about the Soviet Union’s failed experiment with its brand of socialism, or China where millions of peasants starved, or Cambodia where everyone was forced to move out of the cities to work on farms for virtually nothing and if you wore glasses, you were as good as dead. We’re talking about American socialism, which, though not mentioned in the documentary, might be similar to Denmark’s.

Do you think you would want health care to be a right of all of our people? Do you favor a high minimum wage? Would you favor being in a union that has clout, and might you want to have union members on the board of the corporations for which you work? Should you be able to afford a home after laboring two thousand hours each year? Or would you build a society where CEOs of Google, Amazon and the like would make hundreds of millions each year—and remember that your chance of being such a captain of industry is less likely than your winning a lottery.

So: it turns out that you, as an unborn baby, would favor socialism. Is the society dreamed up here scary? Not to me, and yet most people who are not millennials for one reason or another think that socialism is un-American, dangerous in that it would lead to authoritarian governments where, as in the Soviet Union, you pretended to work and the government to pay you.

In this film directed by Yael Bridge in her freshman full-length picture (she made shorts like “The Habitat Game” exploring whether people are part of nature or apart from it), we get some archival films of socialists not just Karl Marx, which might be the first theoretician to come to mind, but also others like M.L. King Jr., Eugene Debs, Theodore Roosevelt, the writers of the Pledge of Allegiance and American the Beautiful, Professor Cornel West, and others teaching in prestige colleges. Academics are generally on the left politically if not socialists, and then again those who are socialists may not identify as such. We are introduced to an elementary school teacher, a single mother who cannot make ends meet even with two jobs. Would a socialist government treat the public schools the way our present leaders do, where even in the reasonably well paid New York City you can make about $125,000 a year BUT you must be willing to teach for twenty-five years before you can get what a student just out of law school might make immediately?

Among the industries cited is a co-op laundry in which the worker-owners feel a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability because each is getting an equal share of the profits. What is not mentioned at all in the film is the concept of co-op housing, in which instead of a landlord’s cutting expenses to the extent possible with cheap paint jobs required every few years and poor responses to tenant grievances, all residents own shares in the co-op thereby having the motivation to keep the building in good shape, the profit motive gone.

Another subject the film should have mentioned is that under the American form of socialism that so many millennials favor, the government would not own the means of product, distribution and exchange, a system that doomed the Soviet Union, Venezuela and Cuba. Socialism means rule by society: that’s us. All of us, not just the society in Mar-a-Lago. And since we own the country, do you think we would tolerate bad air and water by corporations given the green light to pollute the air and water and contribute to climate change with its current effect on the fires in California and Colorado?

Actually America has been moving toward socialism steadily with a great many speed bumps along the way. We have gone from a country in which only rich white men were considered to have a stake, to the freeing of enslaved people, which involved the largest socialist revolution in our history. We have given the right to vote to women and to eighteen-year-olds. We introduced social security, Medicare, Prescription Drug programs, Affordable Health Care, all designed to prevent dire poverty form unemployment. Why not go further and ensure a job for every American? That’s what socialism could theoretically do.

In eighty-two minutes, “The Big Scare ‘S’ Word” is able to touch on examples only briefly, examining the work of some modern socialists like young Lee Carter, who is now serving his second term in the Virginia legislature, the only non-capitalist in the building. Is this because the people of Virginia, like those throughout the fifty states, simply think that socialism is a word that should be bleeped out? I think the makers of this film believe so, and I think that it would not hurt at all for the doc to get a wide audience. In fact, if all Americans saw this movie in January, Bernie Sanders might have swept the primaries and the election; who knows?

82 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

MAKING WAVES – movie review

MAKING WAVES: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Cinetic Media
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Midge Costin
Screenwriter: Bobette Buster
Cast: Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, Murray Spivak, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola, Ryan Coogler
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/1/19
Opens: October 25, 2019

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019)

I’ll bet you thought that when the two sides clashing in Mel Gibson’s movie “Braveheart,” or the sound of jet fighters blasting away in the sky came from, well, the two sides clashing and the sound of jet fighters blasting. This may have been the case in 1927 when Al Jolson starred, singing away in “The Jazz Singer,” a microphone either attached to his jacket or held aloft a couple of feet over his head. But now sound, which the folks in “Making Waves” indicates, counts for fifty percent of the emotional content of a movie. We hear often that movies are a visual medium, but that axiom appears to ignore that without sound, we’d be back in the days of silent movies, which depended almost exclusively on visuals including those squiggly words we relied on. How could you get excitement from a movie dealing with World War I, made in 1917, when you don’t hear the rat-tat-tat of the trenches?

Take a look at some of the blockbuster movies of the last ten years, no even father back, and you’ll notice the names of a few principal actors, some performers with secondary roles, and then a slew of names of the crew that sometimes goes well over one hundred. Sound and sound editors, Foley, these are people behind the scenes who are recognized only at awards time. When you hear their names mentioned during Oscar celebrations, you probably think they constitute nothing but filler until the hosts get with the real awards. Without their fifteen minutes of fame on the stage, nobody outside the profession had ever heard of them, yet directors depend on them to follow their instructions. They are indispensable, having far more technical knowhow about sound than those in the director’s seat.

This brings us to “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound,” which is not only an education but quite an entertaining one. Don’t worry: there will not be a quiz on the technical details you see, unless you are taking courses in Film, a major that is growing in popularity these days.

Probably most of us had never seen a silent movie which is not really silent but whose sound comes from actual orchestras inside the theaters, even sound effects that are made to order right on the premises and which, after the run of the movie is over, disappear into the next film. To record dialogue from such characters as King Kong, the sound people did not record ape sounds but synthesized the vocals by recording an assortment of zoo animals. “Star Wars” has awesome sound, no matter whether films like these are within your own taste in movies. Ben Burtt got tapped for the sound job because the master, Walter Murch, was unavailable. Stereo sound is what helped to make the movie “The Beatles” as great as it is.

“Apocalypse Now” emerges as the film whose sound easily accounts for fifty percent of the excitement. Guns, planes, soldiers marching, all get their sound not from themselves but from the volume created by the sound people. Summing: this film is combines entertainment with enlightenment so well that one hopes that people from other branches of the industry will share their expertise with us. Maybe we will finally find out what the Best Boy and the Gaffer really do.

94 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – A-
Overall – B+