Weekend Reading: February 10, 2017

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Screening Room: ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’

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The great thing about BBC shows is that they now when to stop: six or eight episodes and then they’re out. Maybe a season two. That’s how the British original of The Office was. But then there was the Christmas special. And now Ricky Gervais returns us to the further adventures of his signature character, who’s now decided that he’s going to be a rock and roll star.

David Brent: Life on the Road is opening in limited release tomorrow and will also be available on Netflix. My review is at Film Journal International:

Gervais, who wrote and directed the film without the assistance of his “The Office”co-writer Stephen Merchant, is building off his 2013 web series “Learn Guitar with David Brent,” in which the salesman indulges his love of performing and pontificating. Of course, just as nobody who worked for Brent back when he was an office manager actually wanted to work for him, now that he’s an erstwhile pop star, nobody is in the least interested in hearing him perform…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘I Am Jane Doe’

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The documentary I Am Jane Doe opens this week in limited release.

My review is at Film Journal International:

Nobody would argue that Mary Mazzio’s I Am Jane Doe is not squarely situated in the advocacy documentary genre. It doesn’t pretend not to have a little interest in debating the issue at hand. Normally, that would be a negative. But when the issue is a website that appears to be making millions off prostitution, including the trafficking of underage girls, it can be difficult to find people willing to defend such practices on camera…

Here is the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ‘Dark Money’

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darkmoney1Last year, the New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer published Dark Money, a detailed expose of the massive, decades-long program run by billionaire conservatives like the Koch brothers to re-engineer American politics in a more libertarian, low-tax, and small government direction.

The paperback edition was just released, with a new preface that highlights how the agenda of the Kochs, who theoretically didn’t support Donald Trump, will nevertheless likely be supercharged under the new administration. My review is at PopMatters:

Written with the sharp but cool incisiveness that typifies her long form work for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer’s exposé is the type of book one reads first heatedly, then with a kind of sickened resignation. Her first book since 2008’s The Dark Side, a similarly disquieting investigation into the Bush administration’s legacy of post-9/11 abuses, Dark Money goes looking under a lot more rocks. Again, Mayer finds a cabal of authoritarian-minded Republicans looking to fundamentally alter the American landscape…

Writer’s Desk: Know Your Facts

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lefthanddarknessUrsula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness) is one of our greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy. She’s one of only two living writers to have their work included in the Library of America; Philip Roth is the other.

Even though she’s renowned as a fabulist, though, Le Guin’s hackles went up when the troubling new political term of art “alternative facts” was compared to science fiction. Le Guin responded forcefully to the smearing of literature:

The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined — and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it ‘alternative history’ or ‘an alternate universe,’ but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are ‘alternative facts.’

This might be a decent lesson for writers in trying times. Remember that while fiction must be based in emotional and physical truth to be successful, it should never try to pass itself off as truth.

That’s not fiction. That’s propaganda.

Quote of the Day: Mencken!

The great H.L Mencken wrote the following in 1923:

I have often pointed out how politics, under democracy, invariably translates itself from the domain of logical ideas to the domain of mere feelings, usually simple fear.

And that was before he covered the Scopes monkey trial.

(h/t: MobyLives!)

Weekend Reading: February 3, 2017

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Screening Room: ‘Oklahoma City’

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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

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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

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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.)…