Sunday, August 05, 2007

Truest statement of the week

"The idea that citizens are free to dissent is ingrained in the American mythos, a concept even older than the Declaration of Independence itself. Equally important in this value system is the conviction that no nation state can survive as a democracy unless it safeguards political expression and activity."

-- Heidi Boghosian in Punishing Protest (available online in PDF format for free and avaible in book format for $3 at the National Lawyers Guild website). (Boghosian is also a co-host of Law and Disorder.)

A Note to Our Readers

Hey --

The editorial, the note and truest statement went up late. Why? Computer issues? (That's a nice word for it.)

Here's who worked on this edition:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz,
and Wally of The Daily Jot

Here's what you've got.

Truest statement of the week -- Heidi Boghosian is our pick. Since this went up, e-mails have come in saying the PDF usually works on their computer but it doesn't on this. The page never finishes loading. If that's the case, it may be due to the page size. (Or maybe the computer problem is not your problem -- a little joke on our end, not aimed at readers.) Remember the report is available in book form for $3 and proceeds cover paper and if anything's left over go to the National Lawyers Guild.

Editorial: Are you angry yet? -- We published this and then had the idea of adding the Rolling Stones' song to it. ("Out of Time") We think it works better with the song. We're angry. And that includes because one segment of the peace movement isn't just useless, it's apparently trying to be useless.

TV: Plotz, Plots, Fizz, Fizz . . . -- "It's plop" Blair e-mailed. No, "plotz" as in "I'm plotzing." (It's Yiddish.) Ava and C.I. take a look at the two of the more useless members of the Water Cooler Set.

The Woody Allen Canon --The long piece this edition. Is there something wrong factually? Let us know. Forget typos. The piece is too long. That means, yes, that spellcheck won't work. It also means that going into it is a very slow process. (The further down we scroll in the edit post option, the slower it goes.) We do have an illustration we're hoping to add if it ever loads on Flickr.

Aidan Delgado's The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib -- An excerpt and a heads up that there will be a bood discussion next week. We had hoped to have it this week but half-way into the Allen piece, we realized there would not be enough time.

No End In Sight when the peace movement gets behind crap -- are certain elements of the peace movement really that stupid or are they not really for peace? That's a question we're seriously asking. The same person defending the trashing of war resisters (and IVAW) is back again sending C.I. a mass e-mailing in praise of a War Hawk movie. So is the woman STUPID or she is really not interested in peace? Since she's held regional leadership, that's an issue that should concern everyone.

The New Plantation -- noting the new edition of Ms. by spotlighting the story on slavery.

John Conyers Is No MLK (Betty, Cedric & Ty) -- Betty, Cedric and Ty wanted this topic as part of a roundtable and we'd planned on one this edition but there was no time. So instead, they wrote their own feature. We support them and stand with them.

Ah, that's why The Nation sucks so -- A "celebrity" runs the magazine. Next week we'll return to this topic. Why next week? This feature went differently in print. It requires an illustration which would not load. Dona noted it was now 10:00 am on the East Coast and said we had to get some stuff up. So we rewrote this since we couldn't use the illustration. (It really needed the illustration.) Unless we get a better idea for this, next week we'll just run the take we did on this that ran in today's print edition.

Green Party facts -- a look at the Green Party.

Highlights -- Mike, Kat, Betty, Wally, Cedric, Elaine and Rebecca wrote this and we thank them for it.

We thank Dallas for links and we thank everyone who helped out.

We do not think the online interference. And we're putting it nicely.

-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: Are you angry yet?

Are you angry yet?

Congress has done nothing to end the illegal war.

Alleged reporter John F. Burns can go on right-winger Hugh Hewitt's radio show and proclaim, "I think there's no doubt that those extra 30,000 American troops are making a difference." The alleged reporter can then opine that leaving Iraq will "lead to much higher, and indeed potentially cataclysmic levels of violence, beyond anything we've seen to date." Burnsie is supposed to be a reporter, not a columnist. But Burnsie's reputation, whatever was left of it, fell apart on this illegal war. Too scared to write about the resistance but he can get their help to travel safely for his laughable "At the grave of Saddam . . . piece".

Let's be real clear, John F. Burns is supposed to be a reporter for The New York Times and the guidelines of the paper allow him to state what he can see. They do not allow him to forecast the illegal war. It appears even Elisabeth Bumiller understood the guidelines better than Burnsie. (And he's not just a reporter, he's the Baghdad chief for the paper.)

Are you angry yet?

Last week, various websites were happy to run the Pedophile's attack on Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan. Various allegedly left sites were happy to run a piece by a Pedophile. How much shame and disgust is that right-winger going to be allowed to bring the left (the right kicked him to the curb) before he's sent packing? How credible do you think you look to any reader when you run the ravings of a Pedophile?

And wasn't it real cute how 'brave' voices didn't say a word in Cindy Sheehan's defense? Wasn't that sweet?

Thursday afternoon, a scolding column from a left voice (he is left) enraged a campus group. Dona said if C.I. hadn't made a joke in response to the question of "Why should we listen to him?" it would have gotten ugly. ("Well [pause] [slowly] he's still a . . . [said quickly and go up at the end] nice piece of ass.")

At least he was writing about Iraq.

But do any of them get how angry students on campus are with the useless Congress and with so many useless allegedly left outlets?

Do they get that students who are struggling to make ends meet aren't thinking, "Well forget tuition, I'm headed to DC for another rally that was just like the one before and the one before and the one before and the one before and . . ."?

Do they get, Congress or left voices, how much frustration and anger there is right now?

The Democratically controlled Congress took office in January and not a damn thing's changed.

Who's called them out? Sadly, not many activists. Has it been a party in DC all summer long?

That's how it's played outside the Beltway.

As we noted last week, an alleged peace activist wanted to justify the public slamming of war resisters by a centrist. Now the same alleged peace activist (representing for the regional branch of a national peace organization) wants to push a war that tells you the illegal war was a noble aspiration but the planning got screwed up.

Are you angry?

You should be.

Iraq didn't figure into Nancy Pelosi's 100 Days. And impeachment?

Well apparently John Conyers is now Jesus and no one must say a word against him.

They must not point out that you have to be a real chicken sh*t to repeatedly tell people (in interviews and gatherings) that you're working on impeachment (even send your wife to one meeting) while never doing anything about it in your role as committee chair.

St. Conyers. Burned at the stake with his own words.

The peace movement doesn't exist to prop up do-nothing Congressional members. It doesn't exist to be an organ for the Democratic Party. It doesn't exist to 'get the word out' on bad documentaries by War Hawks who supported the illegal war and still think the illegal war was a good idea, just planned poorly.

As yet another year goes by in the illegal war, we can look back on what's been done and see there's very little to get excited about.

Iraq Veterans Against the War and Tina Richards and Military Families Speak Out continue to fight. But we're really grasping how important Cindy Sheehan was. Sheehan still is important, but we're talking about how important she was when various groups were happy to use her. She drops out in May and damned if most of them can even figure out what to do. Here's a hint, get out of the damn Beltway. You can't speak for the people if you've removed yourself from the people.

Students are pissed off and they have a reason to be. If this is news to you, it only demonstrates how quickly you've become out of touch.

You don't know what's going on
You've been away for far too long
You can't come back and think you are still mine
You're out of touch, my baby
My poor discarded baby
I said, baby, baby, baby, you're out of time
-- "Out of Time" (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards)

TV: Plotz, Plots, Fizz, Fizz . . .

Plotz, Plotz, Fizz, Fizz, oh how to drive the Water Cooler Set out of the biz.

The Water Cooler Set flaunts ignorance as if it were the Hope diamond. And if you ever doubted it, The New York Times provided you with not one but two examples of Water Cooler Set 'critiques' at their most stunningly stupid.

First up was Judith Warner on July 31st apparently wanting to prove that she can waste op-ed space as well as David Brooks and Thomas Friedman combined. Warner wanted to examine the television show 24 but, somehow, alleged adult Warner was gushing like an uninformed fan. She was giddy over "this idea of 24 as a political crystal ball". So giddy, or possibly just ashamed that she spent an entire afternoon surfing the net to learn about a bad TV show, that she wants you to know: "The big difference, unfortunately, between real life and small-screen fiction is that, on 24, Jack Bauer actually catches the bad guys and saves the world. Good guys are incorruptible; fatuous politicians are made to pay for their sins. There is redemption, there is comeuppance." Let's focus on that before moving to her final thought.

On 24, Jack Bauer tortures repeatedly and plays vigilante. So much so, pay attention Warner, that even the US military is now concerned. As Amy Goodman pointed out (Feb. 22, 2007, Democracy Now!): "Some of the torture tactics on 24 include drugging, water-boarding, electrocution or power-drilling into a man’s shoulder. In five seasons of the show, there have been no less than sixty-seven torture scenes, according to the Parents Television Council. That’s more than one every show." On that program, Human Rights Watch's David Danzig explained that torture portrayals had jumped in TV depictions, "Post-9/11, that number has jumped to more than 100. But what's particularly disturbing for us about this is that when you look at who's doing the torturing, the people who are involved in it have changed. It used to be the bad guys were the ones who tortured, the Nazis or aliens or something like that, and torture never worked. But now it's people like Jack Bauer. It's the heroes of these shows -- Sidney on Alias -- and it always works for these people. So the message that 18-, 19-, 20-year-old soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan get is that good guys use this stuff and it works."

To be fair to Warner, she doesn't completely forget torture. In a column of over 100 lines, she saves it for last: "Oh, and torture works." That's among her big differences "unfortunately." Good guys win and torture works. Poor Warner, if only torture could work in the real world, eh?

She's not what anyone would call "hung up" on the issue, or bothered by it. She wishes it were true. That's probably how she landed the op-ed gig to begin with. Alfred W. McCoy, writing in the October 2006 issue of The Progressive, noted, "As happens with mind-numbing regularity every week on Fox Television's hit show 24, torture has once again worked to save us all from the terror of a ticking bomb, affirming for millions of loyal viewers that torture is a necessary weapon in George Bush's war on terror." Apparently, that is affirmed with Warner, who laments (by her own contextual construction) that torture, like those "good guys saving the day," only works on the small screen.

Like so many centrists criticizing the way the illegal war has been conducted -- as opposed to the illegal nature of the war itself -- Warner just wishes that torture could be as effective in real life as it is onscreen.

Apparently more concerned with tossing in references to Harry Potter books than in what torture does to the human soul (both to the victim and the torturer), Warner just wishes we could fine tune it, by golly.

You have to be real stooge at this late date to be unaware of the criticism of 24 and you have to be a real drip to wax on about where Jack and Audrey went to school. But if The Times couldn't employ stooges, they'd have to fire half their staff.

Needless to say, who is being tortured is also an issue Warner sidesteps.

Apparently offended that anyone could attempt to write more fact-free than she could, the Idiot Bellafante showed up on the front page of the Arts Section the following day with "Cutting a Tumultuous Era's Soul Soundtrack." While Warner's 'research' allowed her to surf a little online, the Idiot Bellafante confined herself to what she saw onscreen.

For those not on a fact-free diet in order to fit into a slimming straight jacket by fall, let's review.

Bellafante informs that Stax Records (the subject of the PBS documentary) never "shared Motown Record's sustained celebrity. That this constitutes one of the crimes of American music history is an argument 'Respect Yourself' makes by pure virture of its narrative." Crimes?

Oh, golly, only the Idiot Bellafante could be so cluless. We'll get back to it. She then pins some of the misfortune on, "Ill-conceived distribution deals and the ouster of Clive Davis at CBS, with whom Stax had a fortunate relationship, were others." The distribution deal, leaving all criminality aside, was in 1972. In 1972, Motown was no longer Motown. In 1972, Aretha Franklin was about to nose dive. The Queen of Soul. Had Davis not been fired by CBS, what does Idiot Bellafante think would have happened? Disco was about to come on the scene and CBS had a notoriously bad image when it came to Black America at that time. When they poached the Jacksons, they had the hardest time turning them into hitmakers for years.

And why should Stax Records have "Motown Records' sustained celebrity" with MTV audiences which are largely White and not to clear on most music from the sixties to begin with? Any female group is likely to be considered the Supremes and don't even try to get the bulk of the viewers to tell you which group is the Four Tops and which group is the Temptations. MTV is not really a music channel these days, but it was never a soul channel (and it's notorious for repeatedly enforcing it's own segregated color line). So exactly why should teens and pre-teens watching MTV today know anything about Stax Records?

Bellafante doesn't know anything but that didn't stop her from weighing in so maybe she feels a lack of knowledge is a good thing. She writes one howler after another and apparently has not heard of the Fairplay Committee. Had she, she might be less enthused with White founder Jim Stewart and avoid wowing over Stax Records allegedly ignoring "segregation in a city where the public pool chose to shut down rather than abide by an order to allow blacks and whites to swim together."

Stax Records dropping out of memory includes many factors. It is the the old story of White business people ripping off African-American artists, to be sure. It's also the story of Atlantic Records which Idiot Bellafante seems little aware of. But it's probably not a good idea to use "crimes" when speaking of Stax Records unless you're addressing all the whispers of mob infiltration within the label, the roughing up of dee jays, the 'promotion' that included waving pistols and the three federal investigations in the early 70s.

Was it a witch hunt? An effort to destroy Black-owned companies? Reports differ. But the reality is that Atlantic owned the Stax masters, including Otis Redding's catalogue, and Stax was largely a brand name with no assets.

In the early 70s, instead of concentrating on the music, Al Bell decided he wanted to publish books, do movies, sell basket balls. Since Idiot Bellafante feels, for some inane reason, that Motown Records (a label that was not a soul label and that strove for "crossover" hits) and Stax Records are soul-twins, let's note that Berry Gordy, head of a much larger operation, had to ease into the movie industry (and later the TV industry). Al Bell was going full speed ahead and, unlike Berry, he didn't even own the masters to Stax Records' golden age. Motown could exist, and does today, as a label that lives off the past. Stax Records couldn't because it did not own its own past.

Whether Bell embezzled (he was cleared in court) or not, he spent money that was not coming in. Before signing the distribution deal with CBS in 1972, he was using his own money to keep the label afloat. Prior to that, Stax Records had a problem with employees bootlegging the company's own releases -- further cutting into the potential for profits. Bell's offered excuses for not reporting these crimes but they've always rang hollow (he's compared the thieves to children -- if he really believes that, it's beside the point, artists were ripped off and they had no say in whether or not charges would be brought because they weren't informed or allowed to weigh in). What most dub "criminal actions," Idiot Bellafante calls "twisted financial fortunes."

She cites Booker T. Jones but is apparently unaware that he and Steve Cropper left the label in 1970 or why, (Cropper has infamously and publicly stated that you don't put a gun to his back.) Possibly when you appear to rewrite Wikipedia (Crap-a-pedia) while on The New York Times' dime, you should, if not be fired, be forced to share some of your check with them? (Shout out to a friend at the paper for that tip-off.)

Stax Records and Motown Records were nothing alike other than the skin color of the artists.

It's insulting for them to be compared to one another. Not to take anything away from the very talented Carla Thomas (forget her father, daughter and father acts aren't big in the pop world), but is the Idiot Bellafante aware of how many artists from that period are largely unknown to kids today, regardless of the genre they recorded in?

We doubt most MTV viewers today would know, for example, the name of Bobbie Gentry and she had a huge number one hit (a position Thomas never reached on the pop charts). She even held Diana Ross and the Supremes' "Reflections" out of the number one spot with that hit. Twelve is the answer to "How many number one hits did the Supremes have?" Six is the number to how many more Ross had. (Seven if you count "We Are The World.") Diana Ross was and is a superstar. Thomas isn't the only one who can't compete with that. Those acts who are remembered in some manner tend to have charted big well past the 60s. Whether it's Gladys Knight & the Pips (on the Motown label before they switched to Buddah) or whomever. But Diana Ross was a superstar as were Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. All three charted for more than one decade. And they were cross-over acts, promoted and groomed as such. Berry Gordy would have a fit if any of them "souled it up" while performing live. He wanted happy faces on stage. Ross never sang soul so why anyone would want to look at her fame and judge it by someone who, though equally talented, wasn't pursuing (by choice or for other reasons) the same goals is beyond us.

Motown Records was a player. Stax Records got played. A lot of the reasons for that go to the fact that one label had a business and creative genius in charge (Gordy) and the other was passed around and pawned off. Motown's peers were CBS, Atlantic, Capitol and Warner Bros. Most its acts weren't legenedary. Motown sold "The Sound of Young America" while Stax Records' sound was heavily rooted in the blues and, yes, country. Even the acts that went on to greater fame after they left Motown (Gladys Knight and the Pips, Ashford & Simpson) usually had a larger following than most Stax Records artists. In the sixties, Otis Redding was their biggest name and his number one on the pop charts came after Monterey Pop and after he died.

It takes a real idiot, and the paper has one in Bellafante, to look at a minor label (a very minor label) and see comparisons to Motown. Stax Records wasn't even on the level of Scepter Records (which had Dionne Warwick, among others) or Dunhill (which had the Mamas and the Papas). Red Bird Records is the comparison to make.

Putting aside all the rumors around the label and all the criminal investigations, Stax Records failed in the 70s because they didn't own their 60s masters, because no label wanted to buy it, because it moved away from music (artists were recording at other studios and using outside producers). To be ignorant of those facts (and others) is apparently not a liability when doing a write up for The New York Times on a PBS special. (What did Bellafante do before Wikipedia came along!)

Substitute MTV viewers with American Bandstand viewers and you'll grasp how off the mark the Idiot Bellafante is when she attempts to compare Motown and Stax Records. Grasp that the majority of 50s artists are forgotten or unknown by a huge portion of the audience (and carry the '50s' up through 1962) and you'll realize what Bellafante can't. Add in that R&B hasn't been able to catch a real break in decades. It was challenged first by disco, then replaced with the Quiet Storm and then with rap and neo-soul. (A comparison could be made to the rejection of Rhythm & Blues with the earlier rejection of the blues following mid-20th century integration efforts.) A bad writer won't grasp that no matter how many hours they spend at Wikipedia. Just as they'll manage to write about a special entitled Respect Yourself without ever noting that the PBS special takes it's name from a number two R&B hit by the Staple Singers or bother to wonder why the much larger hit by the same group ("I'll Take You There") wasn't used instead?

Warner showed up praising a show that's seen a decline in the ratings, is tired and has various serious issues hanging around its neck. Idiot Bellfante set herself as the voice who would resurrect a label that was never huge to begin with (even while it was part of Atlantic Records). Translation, neither topic had any 'heat' but damned if the Water Cooler Set didn't show up yet again to miss the important issues while tossing around lots of words but little facts. When you wonder, as this fall's bombs are heavily pimped by the Water Cooler Set, why that is, look no further than last week when two jaw boners showed up to dispense fact-free 'wisdom.'

The Woody Allen Canon

Last week, the deaths of film directors Michelangelo Antonioni and Igmar Berman were announced. Earlier, we'd tossed around the idea of doing a piece on Robert Altman and that never came to pass. For a number of reasons, last week we decided to do a feature on films directed by Woody Allen.

For us, Allen's career has four phases. Early years, Keaton years, Farrow years, final years. Allen began life writing comic bits and jokes, moved on to writing sketches and then stand up comedy. At that time, it was thought he had reached his heights.

Had he continued dabbling in the films of others, he just might have.

The Early Years . . .

Take The Money and Run (1969).

Jim: This kicks of Woody Allen's film directing career with a comedy caper about Virgil Starkwell, a petty criminal, shot, at times, as a mock-documentary. Janet Margolin has nice bits with dialogue but Allen forgot to write her a character. That's pretty much true of all the characters in the film including then wife Louise Lasser.

Ty: As a bonus, African-Americans appear somewhat in the film due to its prison setting prior to the big breakout. Virgil's parents and others grab throw away bits. Though funny, it doesn't add up to a film and it doesn't work as a mockumentary since too many scenes are set when no cameras would be around. At 86 minutes, it goes by quickly and provides the same number of amusing moments to be found in any standard National Lampoon movie.

Wally: Allen's Virgil is supposed to be sympathetic but he has dark sides to him. The anti-social bits will be integrated better in later characters.

Bananas (1971).

Mike: In this film, Fielding Mellish, played by Allen, is trapped in a job testing products and wishes for more. He's a social loser and ends up traveling to a country named San Marcos where a revolution takes place and Mellish ends up becoming el presidente. Returning to the US as the leader of San Marcos, he's quickly spied on by the FBI and ends up on trial.

Rebecca: Possibly realizing that he has no grasp on female characters at this point, he raids from Louise Lasser's life to provide a character. As with the film prior, there's still the not-young-boy leering attitude as though he's spent far too much time with a stack of Playboys. This is most evident when a topless woman runs around a camp screaming she's bitten by a snake.

Betty: This also contains the strongest character Allen will ever write for or have played by a person of color. That's due to the an onscreen bit where J. Edgar Hoover has to testify against Nebbish at his trial and comes disguised as a Black woman. It's a brief bit and says a great deal about Allen that, all the movies later, this remains the strongest part he's ever created for a person of color.

Rebecca: The Playboy attitude can be seen throughout but especially in the ending where Allen and Lasser's characters make love and it's presented as a sporting event anchored by Howard Cosell. It leaves a lingering after taste that's not good. Other than those moments, the film is very funny. Allen's direction seems more focused and he handles the location bits well.

Wally: There are bits in this film that not only hold up but still have pertinence today. I can watch Take The Money And Run and laugh a few times but this one does succeed on the laugh meter. Lasser's character is less in on the joke and more the joke in most of her scenes. She pulls it off but the refusal to let her take part in the zaniness is probably the film's greatest flaw.

C.I.: Play It Again, Sam (1972) first saw life as a successful play. In the films we've already discussed, Allen was acting stand up bits. In Bananas, Charlotte Rae, among others, was brought in to flesh out underwritten characters. Prior to the play, Allen wrote for himself as if he was the only one on stage. The nature of the play, a love triangle, would require that Allen actually write three distinct characters. His character has a fixation on Humphrey Bogart whose films were enjoying a revival on many campuses during that period. He did not direct the film version of the play and we're not including it here.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972).

Mike: I find this film unwatchable. There are bits, if you force your way through, that might make you laugh. Along with Allen, also appearing are Lasser, Lynn Redgrave, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds and others.

Rebecca: With Mike being under thirty, it can be said the film doesn't hold up. The reality is that the film didn't hold up in real time. This was a comic look at sexuality if you got your ideas on sexuality from the pages of Playboy. When I first saw this film, my boyfriend at the time, as we left the theater, said, "Well, it might be funny to our parents." That perfectly captures the film. The sexual revolution had already taken place and all Allen had to show for it was that he could address various sexual categories that he wouldn't have been able to in the fifties. The jokes are rarely funny and were stale conventions by the time they appeared on the big screen. Whatever progress the play made for Allen, it's not to be found in the film where women are always the problem and you get the idea they wouldn't exist at all if he could have made an entire film about masturbation.

This is the end of the early years when Woody Allen as a director produced films that might make you laugh in places but that were as rudimentary as anything turned out by Harold Ramis. One of the biggest problems onscreen was the lack of comic foil and a tendency to film standup. Bananas was the breakthrough film of this period and the only one with a visual sense. The others would have worked just as well if performed on radio.

The Diane Keaton Years . . .

Sleeper (1973).

Ava: This is the first time Keaton's directed by Allen. In this film, Allen's character is frozen and brought back to life over 200 years later when the government has become a police state and the revolution needs someone that the state has no biometrics on. Miles goes off on a mission to save the nation by finding out about the Aries Project. He ends up exposed by noted poet Luna, played by Keaton, and while he's captured, she's also target now because of what's he done. Luna escapes and joins the revolution. She will help bring a reprogrammed Miles back to the revolution.

Elaine: In Play It Again Sam, play or movie, Diane Keaton was excepted to be heart warming and while that was a step up on Allen's previous portrayals of women, it wasn't much fun. In this film, Allen finally accepts the need for a partner and Keaton makes the perfect comic foil. Whether impersonating Brando during the reprogramming of Miles or the operation sequence which throws back to the Marx pictures, Keaton proves she's not just a comic foil, she's a strong comedian in her own right.

Cedric: An African-American woman is presumably Luna's friend early in the film. Her scenes mainly consist of stroking the orb that get them high. In one of the worst moments of an otherwise decent film, Allen's character attempts to hump the woman. He slaps the butt of a large White woman but, for some reason, thinks hopping on top of an African-American woman is the height of hilarity. Considering the body of his work and the lack of African-Americans, that bit results in more questions than laughter. That said, it's the most enjoyable Woody Allen film for me of the 70s. Diane Keaton really makes the film.

Rebecca: This is the first time an Allen film has a real look. The shots are better planned, true, but in terms of the wardrobe and the sets, this plays like his first film with a real budget and the first film he's really comfortable as director on.

Love & Death (1975).

Dona: Napoleon is invading Russia in this period film. Allen stars along with Diane Keaton. Allen meeting death as a young boy is an overly copied piece but it still funny in the original. His character is Boris and once Boris goes to war, the film goes limp and takes forever to come back to life.

Jess: This co-incides with the absence of Keaton. In a brief scene, after he's been decorated as a hero, he and Keaton meet up and then part again. Every time she rejoins the film, she gives it a lift. Everytime she's offscreen it's like a Bob Hope film that's trying real hard to be clever but not cutting it.

Rebecca: Diane's not used nearly enough. She's hilarious when announcing her engagement, hilarious before, hilarious throughout. She adds a zip to every scene she's in.

Betty: The whole sequence where the attempted murder of Napoleon takes place would not work at all without her. Allen's age is noticeable in this film, both onscreen and in the character. Little bits of staring at the "ample bosom" of another female character drag those parts down to teen sex comedy. Keaton brings the film to a higher level every time she's on camera. My personal favorite is the sequence where her husband dies.

Ty: The inspiration that was evident on Sleeper grows on this film and, as a director, continues Allen's progress.

Annie Hall (1977)

Mike: This film won Oscars for best picture, best director, best screenplay for Allen and Marshall Brickman and best actress for Diane Keaton.

Rebecca: That was a strong year for Keaton with her dramatic role in Looking For Mr. Goodbar. That was also the first non-Allen film that she was really able to show her chops -- comedy or drama -- in.

Mike: This film has many moments that have been copied in other films as well as sitcoms. Alvy Singer is a stand up comic in love with Annie Hall.

Jim: They can't stay together which actually says more about Alvy than Annie. Alvy's very rigid. This film has an animated sequence that's done well, it also contains hilarious flashbacks to childhood. Carol Kane seems to be playing the Louis Lasser part and Janet Margolin plays one of Alvy's ex-wives, primarily in a scene where Alvy's obsessed with the JFK murder in order to avoid connecting with her.

Wally: Allen works with a large cast and a lot more locations, primarily NYC, than he has before. The film, a classic, will be the downfall of Allen over the next few years. The characters, bit characters, supporting and lead, are his sharpest and surest.

Jess: Allen repeatedly relies in jazz music as the background music throughout nearly all films. In this one, Keaton sings torch songs but somehow is going to become a popular recording artist? That's not a comment on the actress' talent as a singer but that is noting a "In what world?" aspect to the way Woody Allen sees things.

Jim: And it should be noted that Tony Lacy is the hot record producer who's going to make her a recording star. He's played by Paul Simon. Shelly Duvall plays a reporter from Rolling Stone. That's the closest in any of his films throughout the 70s he will get to rock music.

Interiors (1978).

Jim: A dog. Diane Keaton's is filmed badly but does end up with a character. Depressing and morose.

C.I.: Maureen Stapleton hated Allen and never wanted to work with him again. Without the humor, he was floundering. With the big Oscar wins, he was determined to make a big statement and didn't have it in it. This is one of many his nods to Bergman and the female characters are insulting.

Ava: He was applauded for this unwatchable film, his second unwatchable one by our standards, and that was largely due to the fact that he was "serious" and suddenly what had been one of America's most talented comedy directors might be able to pull off drama. Keaton is betrayed by the script and by the camera but she comes off better than anyone else. When Allen does drama, his cribs are not seen as nods or riffs, just as the theft they are.

Manhattan (1979).

C.I.: Where the city of NYC is beautiful, it's the people who are ugly.

Rebecca: That really says it all. His best visual up to that point and possibly to this day, it's filmed in black and white, but the characters are all so disgusting. Keaton's back for the film and she plays Mary who isn't zany, just a harpie. Meryl Streep, who alone looks like someone you'd want to talk to, is the caricature of the lesbian and the fact that Allen's also possibly mocking his own homophobia doesn't make it funny. She plays his character's ex-wife, by the way. All the boredom of Ross fighting with Susan on Friends is here between the ex-spouses. Beautiful to look at the scenery but you don't want to know the people.

Elaine: Along with his ex-wife and Mary being quote "ball busters," Allen, the writer and director, postulates that only an underage girl can grasp the beauties to be found in a well past middle-aged man. Possibly his most autobiographical film.

Jim: He alters tone between comedy and drama throughout. He doesn't pull it off. The comedy is strictly one liners, not a sight gag to be found, and for a film so noted for its visuals, it's very much a talking heads piece.

Stardust Memories (1980)

Jim: Allen no longer has Diane Keaton as a comic foil and is convinced he can do drama. He's wrong. Again, it's wonderfully filmed, it's just not worth watching.

Betty: And we've got three women. We've got Bitch, Mommy and Brain. But the reality the movie can't confront is that Allen's character is casting the women as much as Allen the director is. This is a really ugly film and says a great deal about the artist.

The Diane Keaton years end technically with Manhattan. We argue that Stardust Memories fits in as well even though she's not in it. With Keaton, Allen had an actress with a strong presence, talent and sharp comedic timing. She was like no other actor or actress onscreen and after misusing her in the play and film Play It Again, Sam, Allen seemed to realize what she could do. As a performer, she always holds your eye. But what she brings to his films most of all is connection. He's no longer standing alone spouting off jokes to himself or others. His character actually connects. He's still the outsider -- check out the scenes with Annie's family -- but he's gone beyond standup comic in front of a camera. As is widely known, Diane Hall was Diane Keaton's birth name and her family was the inspiration for Annie Hall's family. (Inspiration, they are not those characters.) Her importance to the films can't be overstressed.

During the Keaton years, he grows as a director and a writer producing three classics: Sleeper, Love & Death and Annie Hall. At the end of the period, he is leaning towards maudlin. Throughout the films of this period, other characters don't like him (or he thinks they don't). By the time he reaches Stardust Memories, he appears eager to punish the audience who seem to represent those "other characters."

The Mia Farrow Years . . .

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)

Jim: Woody Allen returns to comedy and appears determined to make the dumbest film of his career in order to punish the audiences that couldn't get behind his drama.

Ava: This was overly praised and really isn't worth noting. The film has a washed out look. The direction appears non-existent, it could have used stronger editing. Mia Farrow makes her first appearance in a Woody Allen film playing his love interest in a role written for Diane Keaton. Keaton couldn't have made the film watchable. Farrow, being a very strong actress, appears to be giving a Keaton performance. She doesn't embarrass herself and that's probably the best thing anyone can say about this film.

Zelig (1983)

Mike: In this film, Allen returns to funny and makes a masterpiece. You won't stop laughing at this film set in the roaring 20s, the thirties and during WWII. It's a mockumentary and features people such as Susan Sontag commenting on the title character as if he were real.

Ava: Keaton was busy with Reds and Shoot the Moon and couldn't do A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. This appears to be Allen's attempt to take the air out of Warren Beatty's Reds which also featured real people speaking to the cameras about John Reed and Louise Bryant, who were actual, historical figures. If Keaton's supposed to miss the Allen orbit due to this film, Allen blows it by writing the character Mia Farrow plays as a straight foil.

Ty: She really saves his ass throughout this period because she is such a strong actress. She's believable in a wide variety of roles and really buries into her characters. She has one beautiful moment of comic genius here where Zelig's hypnotized and she's asking him questions. He brings up her pancakes and starts talking about how awful her cooking is. She's got this uncomfortable expression that slowly crawls across her face and she fidgets slightly. It makes the scene and makes you wish he had provided more comic moments in the script.

Jim: Ava's point about the Beatty competition is a good one and seems to have inspired Allen to do what he actually is good at, funny movies. This is a classic and begins a long string of films you should check out if you haven't already and you should watch again even if you're familiar with them.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

C.I.: In Zelig, the modern day interviews about the mythical characters were in color but otherwise it was all black and white. Broadway Danny Rose is black and white. This is the first film where he treats Mia as a comic foil and not as an actress to say lines. She is amazing. In a padded bra, with a padded butt, a bad wig and her eyes hidden behind these huge sunglasses for all but one scene, she creates an amazing character in Tina who's ex-husband was a juice man for the mob before he was murdered.

Elaine: With Mia Farrow playing a character so strong, Allen's actually is funny in a way he hasn't been since he paired with Keaton. In Zelig, he's a character who really doesn't get the one liners. Here he is a lower end manager who is always doing bits, including when they visit Angelina, Tina's pyschic, and Allen's asking the elderly customers about their pets, their astrological signs, etc. It's Allen doing his nervous bits and for him, especially in later years, to pull that off and not seem like an old grouch, he needs a comic foil. The scene where Tina is alone in her bathroom, without her sunglasses, may be the finest dramatic moment he's ever directed.

Mike: This is one that makes you laugh. He's got sight gags, he's got jokes, he's got one liners and the film's got energy.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

C.I.: This should have been a disaster. With any other actress in the lead, it probably would have been. Mia's the lead, married to an abusive husband during the depression and losing herself at the movies where she's especially attracted to a screwball comedy. In one of his onset fits, Allen fired Michael Keaton. Michael Keaton was perfect for the role of an adventurer in a screwball comedy of the 30s. Jeff Daniels does the drama very well but in terms of why Mia's

in love with Tom Baxter, Daniel's performance never makes sense. One of the things that does work is Stephanie Farrow, Mia's sister, playing her sister onscreen. The diner scenes are believable. Danny Aiello, playing Mia's husband, isn't bad in the film but that's why you really need someone like Michael Keaton as Tom Baxter to give the film lift. As it is, it's a quiet Charlie Chaplin film that succeeds fully on the back of Mia's amazing talents.

Rebecca: It also has a very strong look. The colors are thick. Daniels is supposed to, by an onscreen line, have a "smoldering quality." Michael Keaton would have taken the film to another level. Instead, it all rests on one person's shoulders and she pulls it off.

Betty: A Black woman plays a tough talking maid and I'm not sure, considering Allen's history, that I can just say she's funny.

C.I.: Annie Joe Edwards.

Betty: Thank you, I only knew her character's name, Deliah. She'll pop up as a tough talking maid later on as well. And I do think, looking at all of his films, you have to wonder what world he lives in that there are no African-Americans?

Elaine: I agree with the Chaplin remark C.I. made earlier. Mia Farrow really is playing that role and it's a real shame an ending couldn't provide her with the kick that Chaplin and the audiences usually got.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Jim: Up to that date, this was Allen's biggest film at the box office. It starred Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Carrie Fisher, Maureen O'Sullivan, Barbara Hershey, Allen and others. The drama that creeped in on the previous film is now trying for a blend with comedy.

Rebecca: This is the first time I really noted how Allen would write and direct other males as Allen-substitutes. Too often Michael Caine comes off less like himself and more like Allen. This will become a huge problem in later Allen films.

Ty: Sisters and brothers have been popping up in the Farrow films. In this one, you have a family. They aren't in flashback. It's an extended family. Grandparents and grandchildren. Farrow is married to Caine and used to be married to Allen who plays a comedy writer. She is Hannah and her sisters include Leigh, played by Hershey, who really is amazing and gives a full bodied performance. She's living with an aged crank and begins an affair with Caine.

Cedric: This is set around two Thanksgivings and explores betrayals and shortcomings. There are a lot of flashy bits. Allen works well with Julie Kavner, voice of Marge Simpson, but the anchor for the film is Farrow. Caine and Hershey really are amazing as well. Carrie Fisher steals every scene she's in.

Rebecca: I saw this film at the movies with my mother. The only time she laughed out loud was during the scene where Woody and Mia are walking down the street trying to figure out why they can't have children, this is a flashback scene, and Mia's asking him if he's masturbated excessively and could have harmed himself? She laughed then and at Woody's line about masturbation. He does that sort of line, about masturbation, a lot. But she really hated this film. When we left, she said Woody Allen hates life and is scared of it. She used the third sister as the example.

Jess: Right, the one into punk rock that Allen is just cracking on repeatedly. Though he ends up with her at the end of the film. And you get a punk band playing in one scene which is truly too much for Allen's character and presumably for the director as well.

Radio Days (1987)

Mike: This is a big film set during the days of radio. He provides some comic moments with children and some heart tugging moments. Mia Farrow plays an actress with a high-pitched voice. Allen's not onscreen. Mia Farrow isn't in it enough and it's more of a smile movie than a laugh-fest. Way too much narration. A lot of slow, sweeping camera shots.

Rebecca: Diane Keaton returns to a Woody Allen film and he's got her onstage performing a song and not interacting with any characters. Not a bad film, but a wasted one.

September (1987)

Ava: If the world wanted the Lana Turner story, they'd want it. They wouldn't want a badly written knock-off where a daughter killed her mother's lover and years later everyone explodes.

C.I.: Allen's gotten enough compliments and praise, the box office has gone well during the Farrow years, it's time for him to try drama again and punish the audiences. As well as the actors. Among the people fired from this film were Maureen O'Sullivan (Mia's mother) and Sam Sheppard. A real dog of a film and shot as if the director's mind and body were elsewhere.

Another Woman (1988)

Ava: Another unwatchable film. That's two in a row. This one stars Farrow, Gena Rowlands and Ian Holm. Farrow is a brave trouper but there's no character. It's interesting that even when playing his own bumbling stereotype in comedy, he lets his character have wants and take actions. Mia Farrow, in this film and a few others, is someone who is lost and doesn't seem driven to be anything but lost. It moves slow and you feel cheated as well as insulted. This may be the most sexist film he's ever made.

New York Stories (1989)

Wally: Allen directed and wrote one third of this film, the last third, Oedipus Wrecks, which is a return to funny. He's involved with Mia Farrow and he has a mother. He had one in Bananas and in Love & Death that he interacted with. In the other films, they don't exist or the audience only sees them in flashbacks. In this film short, he and his mother battle. He, Mia, her kids, and his mother go to a magic show and his mother disappears. She ends up floating and hovering as a large, huge head in the sky. He sees a psychic played by Julie Kavner and ends up falling in love with her.

Cedric: This is so good that it's tempting to say, "He should have made it a full blown movie." But the reality is that too much more and it wouldn't work. And too much more time and he'd be laying on the dramatic subplots.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Cedric: As I was saying. This film has a strong comedy plot involving Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Alan Alda and Woody the actor is probably stronger here than he's been since Broadway Danny Rose. But you also get another main plot. A man is married and has a mistress, played by Anjelica Huston. It's a really bad blend. If you're hooked on the story of the man killing his mistress, then you want more of that. If you're more interested, as I was, in the story about Alda playing an egomaniac, you're bored and maybe bothered by the other plot.

Alice (1990)

Jim: What is it? Does anyone know? Mia Farrow plays an unhappily married woman. It's got bits of comedy, it's got bits of drama but mainly it's got manufactured angst. Even Farrow giving a strong performance can't save this one the way she does The Purple Rose of Cairo. Stealing from New York Stories, he has a bit of magic, this time a potion, which allows Alice to be invisible and hear what people really think of her. There are funny bits there but the film goes nowhere. Not unwatchable, due to strong performances, including Farrow and Alec Baldwin, but if there was a point to it, it'll probably escape audiences.

Shadows & Fog (1992)

Jim: Woody's first real comedy bomb. At the box office and with audiences. John Cusack and Mia Farrow do fine work. Allen plays a neurotic and is paired with Julie Kavner. Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, William Macey and others, including Madonna, have roles. You think it will go somewhere erly on as a village turns against Allen. But he's unable to carry through on that as a writer and his directing is a joke. As a writer, his greatest crime may be giving Jodie Foster a line about the "furry thing" between her legs that men want. It's not funny and it's shot in black and white.

Rebecca: The hatred of women is really on show in this film and I would include it in the way women are shot. With Farrow in these films, you may not notice because she survived Diane Arbus, but with the other women in the last few films, you start to pick up on it. The way he shoots Foster, Tomlin and Bates is criminal.

Husbands & Wives (1992)

Ty: And so ends the Mia Farrow period. In this final picture, you can marvel that Mia Farrow still delivers a performance, you can note that Judy Davis gives life to the tiredest of all female characters to ever appear in an Allen picture, you can get giddy over the jump-cuts but don't look too close.

Elaine: If you do, you'll wonder about the psyche of the director. The rough handling of a young woman in a party scene is disgusting. And that it's supposed to play like rough handling when it's really abuse is appalling. That we're somehow supposed to still like the male character is beyond belief. Juliette Lewis gets off many lines in the taxi cab about how Allen's character reduces women.

Rebecca: It's so insulting to women and so insulting to Mia. Judy Davis is memorable but you have to wonder about someone taking this role. Other actresses turned it down because of this role and the other roles for women in this script. Among the ones who turned it down was a very successful actress and Oscar winner. If there is wisdom in age, it doesn't appear to have reached Allen yet.

And that is the end of the Mia Farrow years. Her chief accomplishments were consistently strong performances even in bad material. In terms of the director's world view, Farrow has many children, as the world knows, and her mother and family members were a big part of her life (are a big part, but her mother is now deceased). Allen began utilizing family relationships onscreen in this period. Unlike in Interiors, they actually come off like families in most of the films. In Zelig, Mia's character has a brother and in each film, you're dealing with families (including created families which is a partial theme in Hannah and Her Sisters and a large theme in Broadway Danny Rose). However, mid-way through, an ugly tone starts coming through and you begin to realize that the director is not enlarging his view. By the end of the period he will be constricting it. The classics from this period are: Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cario, Hannah and Her Sisters and his segment in New York Stories. This period will also see the nastiness destroy many films and includes his highest number of unwatchable ones: Shadow & Fog, Another Woman and September join earlier unwatchables such as Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex . . ., Interiors and Stardust Memories.

The Final Years . . .

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Ava: When under pressure, Allen sometimes works his best. This film is the real reunion of Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, not her bit in Radio Days.

Betty: Keaton is wonderful. She's even better with Alan Alda, when they're spying, then she is with Allen. Allen seems tired on camera and falls back on repeating old jokes very often.

Cedric: The storyline is that Allen and Keaton are married, their kid has gone off to college, a next door neighbor dies and Keaton's convinced the husband murdered his wife. I could've done without the ending that sidelines her and seems like Allen trying to have an action movie with a damsel in distress. But this is a funny movie.

Rebecca: And Keaton not only looks good, she adds style to the film. Anjelica Huston is under utilized but very good when she's onscreen. Joy Behar is a bore and should have been eliminated to give more screen time to Huston. On this film, it appears that Allen can go on, despite the scandals.

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

Dona: And then comes this hideous film with a showy performance by one of his ex-lovers and there's no point in showy when you're over the top in every role. The film is tired in every way, including the setting. John Cusack is stuck playing the Allen character and, as with Michael Caine earlier, there's no way for anyone to really play that character except Allen and an actor will get to in a moment. It doesn't work for Cusack. He sounds as if Allen's giving him line readings and it destroys the very natural quality that Cusack possesses.

Betty: And it's a period piece so it's time to bring back the Black maid. This movie's worst fault may be how boring it is. You feel like you've seen it a hundred times before and, thing is, you probably have.

Mighty Aphrodite (1994)

Ty: Mira Sorvino is so good in this film, she won an Oscar for it, that you really want to like it but it's a mess.

Dona: Greek choruses and, except for Sorvino, bad acting throughout. Including Allen who is now elderly onscreen and should probably stop trying to pretend otherwise; however, he will continue pretending. Unwatchable and pretentious.

Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

Dona: The biggest joke here may be in the fact that audiences are supposed to believe Julia Roberts would be sexually attracted to Woody Allen. This is a musical and he's trying to do families again but, as with Interiors, you never buy for a moment that it's a family because Allen doesn't write them as such.

Elaine: As a musical, only one sequence works and that's with the only performer who delivers a full blown character, Goldie Hawn. She owns the film. Drew Barrymore, Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Natalie Portman, Alan Alda and others try hard. Only Hawn makes you believe you're watching a real character. One on one with any of the performers, you buy her part of a family but in the clumsily staged dinner table scenes, you feel as though the camera's playing hop-skotch. I'll give Julia Roberts credit for her small role even if I never buy for a moment that she's interested in Allen. Apparently, some momemts are unactable.

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Betty: A Black woman appears again. She's a prostitute. Hookers and maids, that's how Woody Allen sees Black women.

C.I.: Hazelle Goodman.

Betty: Again, thank you. This really is a theme of his work. I wasn't aware NYC was all White so it's surprising that every Black woman is a maid or a hooker. Or in Sleeper, a stranger to be humped. The plot here is that Allen's getting an honorary degree. He takes his son, a hooker and others to the ceremony. Robin Williams, Demi Moore and others appear. No one survives the film. The stunt work with the camera is apparently supposed to cover for the very hollow story. Unwatchable.

Celebrity (1998)

Dona: The idea here seems to have been, "If I remake Stardust Memories with big names, people will get how great that film was." Not going to happen. Not even with Winona Ryder, Leonardo Di Caprio, Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron and assorted others. This plays like he's trying to be Robert Altman but it shows none of the art Altman possessed for crowd scenes.

Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

Dona: Woody Allen's jazz movie. Or someone thinks so. To try to remake Sean Penn into your alter-ego, when you're Woody Allen, may be even worse than what he did to John Cusack. A really bad film despite strong efforts from Penn and Uma Thurman.

C.I.: Also a really old film. He dusted off an old screen play from the 60s and 'jazzed' it up. There's a reason United Artists didn't like this project then. For years, throughout the eighties, producers, various ones, tried to get Diana Ross to play a mute character. She was rightly insulted. Leave it to Allen to plug in that idea.

Small Time Crooks (2000)

Ava: What do you do when even using hot stars like Leo doesn't revive your career? Go back to a caper. In this one, Woody Allen makes a fool of himself in every way -- as director, as writer and as an actor. Not far behind him is Tracy Ullman who seems to be giving a performance solely to kill her career. Elaine May, and only Elaine May, survives this tired nonsense.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

Jim: Here we disagree with conventional wisdom. This is actually watchable. It's a period piece, a comedy and Helen Hunt interacts with Allen throughout. The story is tired but her delivery gives life to the lines and, for a change, when he hates a woman, you don't feel sorry for her because Hunt's playing a character that can clearly hold her own.

Rebecca: I'd agree with that. I'd written him off and this came along and made me think he might still have a few tricks left. The camera work is better than in anything since Manhattan Murder Mystery. The film has a pace that harkens back to that movie as well. If he were smart, he would have made a real effort to team up with Hunt again. She's a strong actress and different enough from Farrow and Keaton that it could have really led to some serious explorations if he was forced to write a few characters for her.

Hollywood Ending (2002)

Jim: Woody whines about how unfair Hollywood is with recycled jokes, recycled stories and a cast that you feel sorry for. Tea Leoni tries so hard and fails repeatedly. No one can save this garbage. It's one joke turned into a movie, a really bad movie.

Anything Else (2003)

Jim: This is the main reason, we're doing this piece. First of all, we've all seen this film. Second of all, Ty and C.I. have a parody version of this film they do that cracks everyone up. Dona likes the pie humper from American Pie, which is why she saw this movie and I'll toss to her.

Dona: Jason Biggs is the only actor who's played Allen's alter-ego that could actually carry it off. Most of the men look silly or mentally challenged trying to add in his stammer and other tics. Biggs actually carried it off. He was the only good thing about this film.

Ty: This is such a cowardly film. C.I. and I had to watch it one Sunday, after a writing edition, because Dona was in a Biggs mood. We hadn't seen it before. It was a snooze-fest but we ended up talking about where it should have gone. This could have been a strong dark comedy if Allen had any bravery. He doesn't and it's just a bad film.

C.I.: Well, it's a good film. It's several good films. It's Annie Hall a lot, to name one. It's Play Again, Sam, to name another. Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs are supposed to be young adults in modern times. They are a couple and they bond over things like Humphrey Bogart and Billie Holiday. This is like a summer camp production of all of Woody Allen's films. It never makes sense. Ricci is betrayed by the dialogue, and she has way too much in any given scene, throughout. There's a scene where she's sitting and explaining her mother's coming to visit. She's supposed to be talking to Biggs. She's not. She's doing a monologue. That never seems to end and seems so far beyond anything her character would say. It's really hard to watch, or for me to watch, an actor commit to a bad script so fully. Ricci would have been wise to have walked through the part. Biggs gives speeches as well, but as Dona noted, he fits into Woody Allen's world. The biggest surprise may be that there's only one cell phone scene because the film is nothing but monologues. Having people speak on cell phones would have easily allowed these non-stop monologues to be justified. Wouldn't have made them any better, but you could say, "I believe that." You never believe Biggs and Ricci's talk about Bogart or Holiday. You're never as aware of how old Woody Allen is then when he's got actors approximately fifty years younger than he is talking like that. It is really bad. And Ty and I do a parody of it. That's actually a difficult trick because it already plays like a really bad parody when you watch.

Rebecca: Woody Allen is onscreen and that alone qualifies it for a horror film.

Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Jim: This is Jules et Jim if you get rid of the love triangle and just let Woody Allen have an affair with himself. A snooze fest. A writing excercise passed off as a movie.

Match Point (2006)

Ava: When the career has cratered and you have eaten up all the goodwill in the film industry, what do do? Go to England and begin making films with the BBC. To make sure they keep you around for more than one film, offer a little skin. Don't offer a plot -- life is luck -- just tired characters, tired writing and pretend your story about a boy who gets lucky meeting a rich family is in any way commenting on the world around you. This is Allen's Disney film in everything but name.

Mike: The film's so bad, even the tennis playing isn't believable. Sad when your supposed to believe that the main character is a tennis wiz.

Scoop (2006)

Jim: If his previous film had any saving grace, it was that he didn't appear in it. Now he's back.

C.I.: With recycled bits from Annie Hall, the advice before someone goes on stage, and Broadway Danny Rose, asking people what their sign is, etc. The older he gets, the younger the women in his film are. At this rate, he'll be teaming up with Suri Cruise in five years.

Ava: She'll need to get implants, he's breast obsessed these days once again. His next film is also with the BBC and, after the box office, he may need to consider opening talks with the CBC or Australia's ABC.

The Final Years have been a huge disappointment. With no regular female to write for (Scarlett Johannson has been a lead in two films), Allen's mainly spent the last period recycling old ideas and notions. He's also recycled old jokes and scenes. As bad as that frequently is, if the alternative is drama, let's hope he sticks with recycling, it's kinder to the environment. This period is marked with unwatchable films. The only classic is Manhattan Murder Mystery. After that only The Curse of the Jade Scorpian qualifies as good.

Allen's hallmark has always been neurosis and paranoia so it's amazing that, in the current time period, where there is so much to be paranoid about, he's yet to tap into that. However, there's no indication that he has any idea what the current time is. If he took a page from Chaplin's The Great Dictator or the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, he might actually have a way to make one more great film and actually say something about today. More likely, he will continue his I-Hate-Women motif that he sports in his next film where a woman plots to break up two brothers. The hatred of women may be the chief hallmark of his final years.


Aidan Delgado's The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib


A few days later, we receive word that our unit is having a formation in the main hall. This, too, is extremely odd. We all assemble in the hall that doubles as our unit gym. The first sergeant calls us to attention and then turns the formation over to the commander. The captain dispenses with the military formality and begins to rant at us immediately.

"I just came back from Brigade Headquarters with all the other company commanders, where General Karpinski chewed our asses about all these goddamn rumors going around! You all need to stamp this talk out! Immediately. Apparently there's word going around that some MPs were doing some things they weren't supposed to be doing and somebody took pictures of it all. You don't need to be writing about this to your families, you don't need to be telling them on the phone, and you don't need to be talking about it to each other. You better stop spreading these goddamn rumors!"

The commander pauses for a moment and then switches tactics, becoming suddenly congenial and chummy, "Look, we're all a family here. We don't air our dirty laundry in public. If we have a problem within the military, then we'll handle it internally. We don't need to let the media and the civilians into our business. If you have photos that you're not supposed to have, get rid of them. Don't talk about this to anyone, don't write about it to anyone back home. We're a family and we're going to handle this like a family. I don't want to hear any more of this kind of talk in my unit. You all just focus on going home in March, hoo-ah!"

Hoo-ah, we responded. The commander rambles on for a bit and then dismisses us. As I leave, I wonder what could have possibly gotten the entire base so worked up. There's no doubt now that everything we've heard about is true, and it must be even worse than we thought, for the commander himself to get on our backs about it. All a family? I laugh. We're only a family when the captain wants us to do his bidding or conceal some wrongdoing. The Army has tried that rhetoric before, talking about family and Army pride and everything else to try to get you to buy into what they do. When the Army talks about "handling something internally," it's only because they've done something so obviously wrong, they can't allow the rest of the country to see it. This doesn't surprise me. After all, if Americans back home saw Iraqi prisoners shot dead for throwing stones, saw the wretched conditions inside Abu, or saw the way the MPs dealt with the prisoners, what would they think of our glorious and righteous invasion? The truth about Abu Ghraib has to be concealed, has to be "kept in the family," because if the average citizen saw what we're doing to the people here, they would know in their guts that it's un-American.

The above is from Aidan Delgado's The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib: Notes From A Conscientious Objector In Iraq, pp. 184-185. Delgado's book will be paired with Aimee Allison and David Solnit's Army Of None for a book discussion next week.

On the excerpt above, it should be noted the meeting took place in January 2004 and it should alarm you because the Taguba Report stated that the US Army Criminal Investigation Command began their investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib in May 2003.

A criminal investigation has been taking place since May 2003 and a commander is instructing a unit to destroy evidence in January 2004 -- evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation.

No End In Sight when the peace movement gets behind crap

Richard Armitage and Jay Garner are hardly folks in the "peace" camp, but> what they say in this documentary is pretty shocking. Please, go see this> movie. Watch and understand so it doesn't continue to happen.

The above was e-mailed, from a peace activist, to The Common Ills. Ava was the first to find the e-mail (Ava and Jess work the e-mail accounts for The Common Ills) and we all wished we could quote it. C.I. surprised us all by saying yes. Noting the number of e-mail accounts the thing was sent to, C.I. says it's no different than spam.

Are we joining the voices telling you to go see the movie?

No, because we weren't born stupid.

No End In Sight is a bad movie. It's a bad movie for the peace movement, especially, but it's a bad movie by any standard. The first-time 'director' is a member of the Council for Foreign Relations which, you may remember, supported the illegal war, cheerleaded it before it started. He is also a baby of the Brookings Institute and, if you missed it, they've been taking to the op-ed pages and your TV screens recently to sell the illegal war all over again.

The director has replied to the question of whether the (illegal) occupation could have worked, "That is the 64 thousand, million, billion, trillion dollar question. I've spoken to an enormous number of people about this question, and there's a wide array of perspectives and views about it. But I would say the center of gravity of expert opinion, and the opinion of people who were there was that this could have worked. Worked not in the sense of a neoconservative, democratic paradise. That couldn't have happened. This was a terribly scarred, troubled country that had lived under a brutal dictatorship since 1979, and had lived under extremely draconian economic sanctions for more than a decade. So it was a very messed-up place, and it wasn't going to be perfect overnight. But it could have become basically a normal, stable society. It didn't have to be the way Iraq is now."

It could have worked? If you're not getting it, non-director Charles Ferguson supported the illegal war.

If you're not getting it, elements of the peace movement are gearing up to promote a really bad film (by any standard) that is not opposed to the illegal war and that argues the illegal war could have been 'won.'

Excuse us, "the war."

That's the main problem with this film. It doesn't question the legality of the war. It wants to sell you on the lie that the starting point is after the war started.

Appearing on Uprising July 31st, Ferguson wanted everyone to know the problem was not enough 'boots on the ground' and, had the US illegally started the war with more troops, If there had been more troops, Ferguson wants to postulate, museums might have been protected, blah blah blah might have been protected. It's a complete and utter lie. The number of troops did not matter. The goal, as Naomi Klein explained in 2004, was "Baghdad Year Zero" (Harper's magazine). What is happening today is not an accident. It's greater chaos than the administration wanted, but to LIE and say that this was about helping Iraqis is beyond belief. It's also beyond belief that a White House consultant under Poppy Bush, a Defense Department consultant is getting 'good lip' from elements of the peace movement.

"In some sense perhaps it was done with good intentions," explained Ferguson on Uprising, while lamenting that good intentions requires being careful in the planning what to do on the ground after the illegal war starts.

At the last big DC peace march, a number of activists we spoke with at the rally kept insisting that "occupation" was the term to use and not war. Considering that the troop levels have risen, that point is one we still can't agree to. But our refusal to simply call the illegal war an "occupation" is because we're fully aware how damaging that is.

If we all agree to split the illegal war into two phases, we have the war and we have the occupation. When that happens, the war gets far less attention (and who's even seriously and loudly questioning the legality today?) because it's "over." Equally important, by not questioning it, we accept the premise that the war was okay, it was the "occupation" where things got screwed up.

That is a bold face lie. It's a lie based on Naomi Klein's outstanding work and it's a lie based on the fact that that not calling out the illegal war (in total) allows the next one to be sold. If we all agree the occupation was the screw up, what the US needs to do is to work on that aspect before launching the next illegal war.

That elements of the peace movement want to get on board with this SH*T is appalling. They shouldn't be doing mass e-mailings to get the word out on seeing the film, they should be doing mass e-mailings on how awful this film is and how it is endorsing illegal war.

Illegal war is illegal. No End In Sight wants to avoid that aspect (the filmmaker, again, supported the invasion) and tell audiences, "The invasion went great and was good. Here's where the US screwed up."

The illegal war itself is where the US screwed up. Anything that doesn't acknowledge that has no business being promoted by elements of the peace movement.

To maintain that crippling Iraq was not part of the plan for illegal war rewrites history and eliminates the reason why support for this illegal war was pushed by Big Business.

Ferguson is selling illegal war and if you can't grasp that, you're making yourself either useless or a War Hawk in training. Explaining his film on Uprising, Ferguson stated his film was needed to explain "in a very broad general way how we got into this" and yet it doesn't address "how we got into this" in any manner. It's starting point is that the illegal war (which he doesn't call illegal) was a noble thing and then, after it began, it got screwed up.

If you're not grasping how that is not a peace movement film, then you have some serious comprehension issues.

War Hawk Ferguson says of the illegal war "if this had been done competently, it could have turned out much, much differently." That should raise questions as should the fact that the War Hawk traveled around Iraq in three armored cars. Most first-time film makers couldn't get that kind of money. In fact, most documentary film makers couldn't get that kind of money period. But somehow, Ferguson was able to travel in a caravan -- an armored caravan -- and with multiple bodyguards.

What of tomorrow? It's going to be ten, twenty, forty years before Iraq can become" stable but it's the US' responsibility to "control" it. He doesn't have "much hope" for this administration but has hopes for the next one. If you're missing it, he's preaching endless war in Iraq and US forces on the ground. "Some level of American military presence is going to be required for a very long time," he offered on Uprising. Buy a clue, DUMB ASSES, this is not a movie the peace movement needs to support.

The illegal war started for one reason and one reason only: greed. It is about one nation (a "super power") ignoring all known laws and declaring a war of choice to be 'legal'.

George Packer's little buddy got his film endorsed by "Drew Erdmann, former Director for Iran, Iraq and Strategic Planning at the National Security Council, former Coalition Provisional Authority Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education" who calls it "powerful." If you're not already questioning Erdmann's judgement note this from him:

One of the success stories and I would argue there were two. One is that there was extensive prewar planning for the humanitarian relief of Iraq. We may forget that there was a fear that there would be mass dislocations of refugees. There was actually coordination with NGO’s about how to handle that, prepositioning of equipment. Luckily, that did not happen. But there was extensive planning and preparation for that.

A fear was "mass dislocations of refugees" and "Luckily, that did not happen." That's from an interview last month. Apparently, Erdmann is not only a poor film critic, he also doesn't follow the news or he'd know that over four million Iraqis are refugees today with a little over two million displaced to other countries and the remaining displaced inside Iraq. Apparently, he's unaware that the United Nations has been attempting to address this large crisis.

That someone so willfully blind or so eager to avoid the truth would endorse the film is not surprising. That mass e-mailings are going out from segments of the peace movement endorsing this awful film are. The peace movement needs to get serious.

If you need to see a new documentary, a real one, not a faux one, we'd suggest you make a point to check out War Made Easy.

The New Plantation

In the Summer 2007 edition of Ms. magazine, Rebecca Clarren exposes readers to the new plantation ins "The Invisible Ones" (pp. 40-45), it's businesses throughout the United States that imprison workers like Florencia Molina who came to work in California from Mexico at a sewing factory only to find that 17 hour work days resulted in pay for three hours, that her boss could and did "pull her hair, pinch and slap her" and that "[t]he factory doors were locked during the day and at night a watchman prevented her from leaving." In addition, the boss made threats about killing her and she was provided with only meal a day (beans). Why didn't she leave? How would she get out for starters but it's also true that she'd been forced to turn over her identification and her birth certificate.

The Bully Boy's administration has refused to address these crimes despite all their public posturing but their love of handing over tax payers' monies to churches only worsens conditions for victims of human trafficking. For example, $6 million a year allegedly for helping the victims goes to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services which then plays the government and distributes it to organizations assisting victims but, get this, with the provision that they not "hand out condoms or provide referral for abortion."

Since around half the human trafficking is for sexual purposes, this is a double insult to the victims.

Mario Estrada, with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept., tells of a raid six months prior of "an ordinary-looking beige house" where "seven Korean women, the youngest aged 15, were forced to work as prostitutes."

For more information, one organization you can utilize online is the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking. For more on the Summer 2007 edition of Ms. magazine, you can refer to their website, as well as to C.I.'s "Other Items," Elaine's "The need to call out and Nadia Berenstein's 'Happily Never Married'" and Kat's "Music."

John Conyers Is No MLK (Betty, Cedric & Ty)

Last week, we shared our feelings regarding a member of Congress, John Conyers. During the pieces that addressed Conyers, we made clear our opposition to sicking the police on activists practicing civil disobedience. For reasons that only Rev. Lennox Yearwood can answer, he's decided to back away from an intial strong stand.

Regardless of what his reasons were (and we are aware that he was under attack), we stand by our statements. We don't give a damn what anyone says about us. As African-Americans, we're fully aware that at least a third of the discussions going on in our community are 'ranking' and 'scoring' and 'cracking.' You can listen to a five minute burst of flow on Aretha Franklin's weight with cracks about her eating only to hear the dee jay then play one of her records and talk about how amazing her voice is.

So if anyone thinks our Black voices will be silenced, think again.

In a supposed piece on race, we felt Yearwood was cracking . . . on Whites. Yearwood offers that Whites writing things like 'Conyers is no MLK' was "deeply disrespectful" to "many" in the community. Gee, our phones didn't ring once. Was this a national poll?

No one in our families complained, no one in our (Cedric and Betty's) churches complained when we shared print outs of that column and similar ones. Apparently a Black Bougie-Bougie got a hold of Yearwood's ear and he's confused that with actual African-Americans.

While we missed that version in Gladys and the Pips' song, we're not surprised.

Yearwood writes, "I would say to my White progressive friends that they should be careful who they condemn for not following in the steps of the late Dr. King if they themselves have not been prepared to walk in those steps and be champions of the consistent fight for social justice." Well let these two Black brothers and this Black sister say it: John Conyers is not following in the footsteps of MLK.

Let us all note our OUTRAGE that MLK is being reduced to something that can be cited (as a comparison) by only African-Americans. That notion is deplorable. We encourage everyone to use MLK as a touchstone. He does not "belong" to one segment of the people, he belongs to all and we will not stand silent while he is ghetto-ized or his status as an international hero is reduced to "Black guy who marched."

John Conyers is no MLK. Your first clue is that MLK couldn't have been elected to Congress. Even were he alive today, it wouldn't happen. That's because MLK wasn't Marty & The March the way he is Disney-fied today. He was against illegal wars. He was against imperialism. He was against injustice. Reducing him solely to race does him a HUGE disservice and that bull might fly with the mainstream media but it doesn't belong among the left.

John Conyers is no MLK. Your second clue is that he stood. He didn't cower. Not even when he was shot down. He knew that day was coming and he didn't sit around wondering how to protect himself. He was on a mission to make the world a better place. Conyers is a coward who will not stand up to Nancy Pelosi. She took impeachment "off the table." If he put it back on the table, he'd find he had too much support from the people for Pelosi to monkey around with his seniority rights to chair a committee.

John Conyers is no MLK. Your third clue is that MLK stood up even when he knew the risks. He was slammed by the press in his final years and that was due to the fact that he refused to be silent. Conyers operates by political calculations. He is a COWARD.

John Conyers is no MLK. Your fourth clue is that the powers-that-be saw MLK as a threat that needed to be cut down while Conyers, over 70-years-old, retains his seat in Congress. Cynthia McKinney may have lost her seat but she never lost her voice even when the same sort of elements that cut down MLK during his life went after McKinney. And, if you missed it, Yearwood, when Pelosi gave the orders that there would be no support for McKinney, Conyers didn't violate that rule either. She'd announced she's be speaking about the incident with the police and she WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE THE FULL SUPPORT OF THE BLACK CAUCUS. She didn't have any of their support. It was a White woman, Marcy Kaptur, one member of Congress and only one, who had the guts and convictions MLK lived by, who said, "I will stand with you, Cynthia" while her colleagues avoided McKinney like she had the plague. After Kaptur made it safe, a few others joined McKinney.

So save the speeches about how noble John Conyers is and how it's wrong to say he's not like MLK. MLK stood for what was right and Conyers has lived his Congressional life refusing to rock the boat.

As we said last week, he's old, he's tired, it's past time he gave up his seat and let some new blood in. The only disgrace has been what he has done to his own image.

-- Betty, Cedric and Ty

Ah, that's why The Nation sucks so

How can a weekly opinion journal suck so as badly so consistently as The Nation does?

We've puzzled over that especially since it decided to censor "dozens" of photos of abuse in Iraq the magazine stated they have.

Then, last week, the answer came. Eric Morrison's "Celebrities Attend Anti-War Rally . . . visit by editor, politicians" (Juneau Empire) set us straight. The celebrities listed? A mayor (Rocky Anderson), an activist (Ralph Nader) and the "editor" (and publisher) Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Granted, most celebrities have heard of [censored by C.I.], but learning that vanden Heuvel fancies herself a celebrity cleared a great deal up.

We look forward to interviews with her chef and her trainer and wardrobe credits running in the magazine. And to the magazine's title changing to K.

At last, the riddle is answered.

Green Party facts

Last week's editorial had two additions to it. Dona, Ava and C.I. did the first one and Ty did the second one.

Kimberly Wilder (The Wilder Side) advised us that there are candidates considering a run for the Green Party presidential nomination and recommended the Peoples President Page as well as Politics1. In addition, you can also utilize this video of the Presidential Candidates Forum held this month.

The Green Party website lists the following as candidates so far:

Jared Bell

M. Jingozian

Jesse Johnson

Jerry Kann

Kent Mesplay

Gail Parker

and Kat Swift

As a vice-presidential hopeful, Sedinam Kinamo Christin Moyawaisifza-Curry is also declared.

The Green Party is a national third-party and explains itself as:

The Green Party of the United States is a federation of state Green Parties. Committed to environmentalism, non-violence, social justice and grassroots organizing, Greens are renewing democracy without the support of corporate donors. Greens provide real solutions for real problems. Whether the issue is universal health care, corporate globalization, alternative energy, election reform or decent, living wages for workers, Greens have the courage and independence necessary to take on the powerful corporate interests. The Federal Elections Commission recognizes the Green Party of the United States as the official Green Party National Committee. We are partners with the European Federation of Green Parties and the Federation of Green Parties of the Americas.

While last week saw efforts by the United Steelworkers to get Democrats in Congress to show support for the Iraqi oil unions, the Green Party announced their opposition to the alleged 'benchmark' (theft of Iraqi oil) on July 19th.

In last week's Black Agenda Report radio commentary, Glen Ford began by noting, "The Green Party, once perceived by many Blacks as a club for white counterculturalists, now champions an end to racially selective administration of justice in the U.S. By making Black and Brown mass incarceration a top priority, the Greens engage a public policy-created crisis that impacts all aspects of African American life. While the Democrats, including Barack Obama, make occasional feeble noises about the fact that half the U.S. prison population is Black, the Greens call for an end to the so-called 'drug war' as 'a war on youth and people of color.' It is not surprising that the Democrats have little of substance to say about the Black Gulag: they helped create it."

The party is also on record as in favor of impeachment and as calling for "immediate withdrawal" of US troops in Iraq. And in 1996 and 2000 their vice-presidential candidate, Winona LaDuke, was a Native American who was named Woman of the Year by Ms. magazine in 1997.

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