Screening Room: ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Daniel Striped Tiger and his handler, Fred Rogers (Focus Features)

The truly heartwarming new documentary from Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) explores the unlikely phenomenon that was Fred Rogers.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

It says something about the oddball uniqueness of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” that almost nowhere in Morgan Neville’s magnetic, soulful documentary about Fred Rogers does anyone talk about what great television he made. In fact, one of his collaborators sardonically notes that the show was almost like a compilation of every element good television was not supposed to have…

Weekend Reading: April 7, 2017

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.

Screening Room: ‘All Governments Lie’

Yallgovernmentslie1ou would imagine from the title of the new documentary All Governments Lie, that it’s an investigation of, well, government corruption. But that’s only a sideline in this barn-burner about corporate media’s apparent inability to hold those lying politicians to account.

All Governments Lie is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

If you take everything in Fred Peabody’s screed All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone at face value, then you might as well cancel your New York Times subscription. Don’t read the Washington Post either. PBS’ “Frontline” and CBS’ “60 Minutes”? Garbage, the lot of them! That’s the takeaway from this narrowcast documentary, which takes a valid critique of the deadening effect corporate-government synergy can have on mainstream media’s ability to truly afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and undercuts it with poor logic and simplistic argument…

Screening Room: ‘Defying the Nazis’

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On the brink of World War II, a Unitarian minister and his wife were ordered by their community to travel from Massachusetts to Europe with a crucial mission: Help as many refugees escape as you can.

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, which was co-directed by Ken Burns, is opening this week in limited release. It will be broadcast on PBS September 20. My review is at Film Journal International:

Ringing with a vivid moral clarity, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is a tightly focused documentary that raises an unusually sprawling number of challenging questions for its audience. Unlike many stories of this kind, the film doesn’t pretend that the choices made by its undeniably brave subjects were easy ones or that a cost wasn’t required for their decision to go willingly into the horrors of Nazi-occupied Europe to save whoever they could…

Here is the trailer:

TV Room: ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’

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If your PBS affiliate shows the series Independent Lens, one of the better non-cable televisual outlets for documentaries right now, tune in tonight for The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. It’s directed by the great Stanley Nelson (Jonestown, Freedom Riders), who turns his gaze to the story of the country’s last great radical movement, and how it was destroyed just before falling apart.

My review of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which played in theaters last fall, is at PopMatters:

At some point, revolutionaries have to decide what else they want to be. Too often, they can’t. That’s why so many successful insurrections end up emulating the very same oppressive regimes they overthrow: fighters are often miserably bad peacemakers. That’s why Che Guevara ran off to die stupidly in Bolivia rather than figure out sugar cane production back in Cuba…

If you’re in the mood, they even put together a Black Panthers mixtape (Bill Withers, Public Enemy, Nina Simone).

Here is the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Posterity and the Lack Thereof

Yes, Nebraska has writers.
Yes, Nebraska has writers.

Used to be, once a writer’s books went out of print, that was it for most of them. There might be a few copies moldering in a library’s backshelves somewhere, but generally not being out there in a bookstore or taught in a classroom meant that your work was going to be forgotten.

It would be nice to think that in the era of digital publishing, that nobody’s work will ever be forgotten. It will just sit there in the cloud, each bundle of bytes ready for download just in case anybody ever wants to read that 1960s coming-of-age novel or 1920s society-lady memoir or 2010s zombie romance (first in a tetralogy).

That’s not going to be the case for most of us, of course. The average writer lucky enough to get a chance at getting her or his book published will get that one moment of attention (maybe) before returning to the anonymity from whence they came. And that’s okay; one has to make room for the next chap coming down the way.

For some writers, there may be something like this great project from Nebrasksa’s PBS affiliate on “The Lost Writers of the Plains.” Using written and audio essays, they cover everyone from black intellectual activist Bertram Austin Lewis (who fought the good fight on minority inclusion in the academy decades before it was au courant) and Margaret Haughawout (a poet who brought modernist literature and a taste for men’s clothing to her obscure little country college).

Even those lost to time may eventually get one more shot at being remembered.