Screening Room: ‘Oklahoma City’


In 1995, the biggest domestic terrorist attack in American history to that point took place in Oklahoma City. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Barak Goodman’s documentary shows what lead up to the bombing and along the way provides a thumbnail history of the American white supremacist underground.

Oklahoma City is opening this week in limited release and will be broadcast as part of PBS’s American Experience series on February 7. My review is at Film Journal International:

For all the news ink and televisual garble that was expended on the roiling subculture of American right-wing extremists during the 1980s and ’90s, surprisingly little of that time was spent on their roots in blatantly racist white supremacy. Because the militias’ anti-government and pro-gun rhetoric was louder than its white-separatist ideology, that was the half-story which much of the media led with once the militias’ fantasies of all-out conflict began to spark actual bloodshed. Barak Goodman’s thorough, dramatic documentary about the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist attack doesn’t make that same mistake…

Here’s the trailer.

Writer’s Desk: Carrie Fisher Said Stay Scared

Carrie Fisher at the 2013 Venice Film Festival (Riccardo Ghilardi)
Carrie Fisher at the 2013 Venice Film Festival (Riccardo Ghilardi)

Carrie Fisher was one of the vanishingly few actors to ever come out of the gate as a massive star at an early age and then later transition to a writing career that would have been respected all on its own. As someone who struggled with mental and addiction issues throughout her life in a business that is basically engineered to maximize a writer’s insecurity, she knew what it was like to doubt every one of your own creative instincts.

This is what Fisher had to say about people with mental illness who were afraid to pursue their dreams. But it applies equally to just about anybody who has ever been nervous about putting their work out there into the world.

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.

Reader’s Corner: Orwell and Trump


My article “Forget Orwell: No Book Will Prepare You for the Trump Years” was published earlier this week at Medium:

After Donald Trump’s human smokescreen Kellyanne Conway announced that the president was simply presenting the world with “alternative facts,” the connection was quickly made to George Orwell’s 1984. There is good reason for this. (And while one should be happy for any resulting increase in sales of the book, we shouldn’t presume that it will be any guide to the remaining years of the Trump presidency. More on that below.)…

Weekend Reading: January 27, 2017


Screening Room: ‘I Am Michael’

James Franco and Zachary Quinto in 'I Am Michael'
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’

Based on a true story, I Am Michael stars James Franco as a gay activist who turns to Christianity and rejects everything about his past. It’s playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

When we first see Michael Glatze (James Franco), trying to counsel a fellow young Christian terrified of his same-sex attractions, he initially seems supportive and gentle. The kind of preacher who reaches out, rather than condemns. Even when he says that “gay doesn’t exist,” it scans as nonjudgmental. But when he gets to the leading question, “You want to go to heaven, right?” it’s obvious that Glatze is not going to be that kind of Christian…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

manwhofelltoearth-dvdIn 1976, David Bowie was a rock star, but pretty much still just that. Then Nicolas Roeg cast the singer/songwriter with the alien alter ego(s) as an alien wandering around Earth and having an existential crisis. The film was remembered less for itself

My review of The Man Who Fell to Earth, now out in a deluxe new Blu-ray/DVD release with fab new digital transfer, is at PopMatters:

The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of those curious sci-fi projects that are occasionally indulged in by filmmakers who didn’t have any particular interest in the genre per se, but found it a useful springboard for their ideas. David Bowie plays an alien who’s come to Earth looking for a water supply for his drought-ravaged planet. Calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton and looking like some kind of spectral hipster in his sunglasses and anorak, he’s first spotted wandering through a small New Mexico town, pawning a ring and drinking stagnant water as though it were the nectar of the gods…

Here’s the trailer.

Writer’s Desk: Own the Fear

Plenty of writers out there are anxious about what kind of physical and spiritual damage is going to be wrought on America and the world by the short-fingered vulgarian currently inhabiting the White House (or not).

Many (like Stephen King, Salman Rushdie, and Junot Diaz) are agitating and speaking their minds, and some are protesting. They know that civil rights, basic freedoms, and great swathes of the social safety net are already in jeopardy.

But the arts are threatened as well—what with plans already afoot to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (so apply now for those Creative Writing Fellowships, just in case).

With all that going on, the temptation is certainly there to just play ostrich and pretend the next four years isn’t going to happen. There’s plenty that one could write which doesn’t engage with the current crisis at all. In the Village Voice, Aleksandar Hemon argues for something different:

What I call for is a literature that craves the conflict and owns the destruction … Never should we assume the sun will rise tomorrow, that America cannot be a fascist state, or that the nice-guy neighbor will not be a murderer because he gives out candy at Halloween.

So recognize that ignoring what’s coming might briefly make you happier but it probably won’t make you a better writer. As Hermon says, to write about America, we must be ready “to fight in the streets and in our sentences.”

If your writing truly engages with that fear and uncertainty, it’ll be grueling and possibly frightening. But it’ll make for a hell of a story.