"Grades for Reporters" Fail

After a week of heated back and forth, it seems that Stars and Stripes, the military's editorially independent news source, has succeeded in shaming the Pentagon into canceling its contract with the the Rendon Group. The Rendon Group, a Washington-based PR firm, had been compiling background information on reporters for the Pentagon, including whether their past stories written while embedded with US soldiers were "positive, negative or neutral." Although the military denies that these ratings were used to determine whether or not embed requests would be granted, it seems clear that they were used in this way as late as May of this year.
In at least two of the profiles, copies of which were obtained by Stars and Stripes, Rendon clearly stated the purpose of the analysis was to help military public affairs officers determine what kind of coverage to expect from the journalist, whether to grant their embed request, and if that journalist could be steered toward “positive” coverage for the military.
NPR's On the Media had a segment devoted to the controversy this weekend:



First As Tragedy, Second As Farce II

Conservatives pick up Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.

A Familiar Voice In The Health Care Battle

Cracked Looking Glass

Fox News recently impugned the NEA and by extension the entire stimulus plan for allowing $25,000 (out of more than $750 billion) to fund an art theater in San Francisco. It is not entirely clear from their report whether Fox is offended by the work the theater shows or the fact that it is in San Francisco:

The theater in question, the San Francisco Cinematheque, is one of the longest running and most well respected venues for experimental film in the country. The list of people involved with the Cinematheque over the years is a virtual who's who of West Coast experimental film: it's founding members, Bruce Baillie and the late Chick Strand, are widely considered two of the most important experimental filmmakers in California and former directors have gone on to head the cinema departments at major American universities and art schools. Likewise, the Cinemathque's exhibition history covers nearly every major American experimental filmmaker. In 1998, the Cinematheque collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art in New York on an unprecedented exhibition called Big As Life--50 programs of small gauge cinema (8mm and super-8) from the American avant-garde.

Below, you can hear the soundtrack that Fox News described as "so offensive... we could barely find anything in the trailer that was suitable to put on TV and we definitely cannot air the audio."



Tormenting The Poor

Barbara Ehrenreich's Sunday column for this week's edition of The New York Times is an absolute must-read. Like her groundbreaking and controversial Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich simply and eloquently describes how cruelly the deck is stacked against the poor in this country, from minor drug violations that are exacerbated by lack of proper legal council to struggling to pay rents on minimum wage.

This column, however, explains how new laws, such as forbidding the feeding of homeless in public places, creates an atmosphere of intolerance to those not only without basic human needs, but to charitable causes which may help alleviate the problem. Where trillions of dollars bail out insolvent banks, gravely irresponsible insurance companies, and investment companies which haven't even thanked the American people for saving their trade, the poor, without sufficient work, shelter, food, or dignity are forgotten. The most damning revelation is in this short paragraph:
Some of the community organizers I’ve talked to around the country think they know why “zero tolerance” policing has ratcheted up since the recession began. Leonardo Vilchis of the Union de Vecinos, a community organization in Los Angeles, suspects that “poor people have become a source of revenue” for recession-starved cities, and that the police can always find a violation leading to a fine. If so, this is a singularly demented fund-raising strategy. At a Congressional hearing in June, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers testified about the pervasive “overcriminalization of crimes that are not a risk to public safety,” like sleeping in a cardboard box or jumping turnstiles, which leads to expensively clogged courts and prisons.

It never amazes how the poor, brought down by excessive debts, which sometimes just go to basic services like rent or (what is treated like an essential but is billed as a luxury) education are the last to rebound. and pay the biggest price for inequalities that the ruling class perpetuates. Then they're punished with "zero tolerance" laws passed by those who pretend poverty and inequality are nonexistent. If anything, this recession exposed one thing: how woefully unaware and unprepared the middle and upper classes are for the living conditions that most Americans call Everyday Life.

The above photo, titled Pan, is by esteemed photographer and friend Brian Carroll, from his Flickr photo stream.


Cinema Sleeps The Big Sleep at LACMA

Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art would shutter its film program, reducing the head of its film department from a full-time employee to a part-time consultant. In a statement defending his decision, Michael Govan, director of LACMA, declared it an effort to "rethink" the program rather than dismantle it. In order to save film at LACMA, it seems, he must first destroy it.

The response from the film community in Los Angeles has been heartening, but the loss of film programming at LACMA isn't just a problem for film enthusiasts. Some of the most significant artworks of the 20th century were forged in film. Unfortunately, knowledge of these achievements may be lost if museums do not continue to encourage an appreciation and exploration of the medium through theatrical screenings. DVDs are a blessing in many ways, but they cannot replace the experience of sitting in a darkened theater and seeing an artwork projected in its original medium. It's as though they would close the Louvre based on the availability of excellent slides.

All films suffer when not projected in their original format, but some of the best are not even watchable. Tony Conrad's The Flicker cannot be transferred to video; the perceptual effects that are the subject of the work are wholly dependent on the apparatus of the 16mm projector. It has been described as one of the greatest artworks of the 1960's. Without a theater to show it in, however, Angeleno museum goers will never know it even existed.

Meanwhile, one of Conrad's paintings, Yellow Movie 2/27-28/73, is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art. At first I was delighted to see one of my favorite filmmakers' work exhibited. Upon second thought, though, I was disheartened that he should find it easier in Los Angeles to exhibit his paintings than his films.

It's true that other institutions do incredible work--the Academy Film Archive and UCLA Film and Television Archive both preserve and present remarkable restorations--but there is currently no art museum that actually collects film, making this city, richer in terms of film history than any other, one of the poorest in terms of museum-led appreciation.

But if the outlook for a serious consideration of film looks ugly, the film buffs themselves haven't exactly helped.

Since the first article, the pages of the Los Angeles Times have been a beachhead for the assault on Govan. Describing the merits of one screening series at LACMA in an opinion for the Times, Richard Schickel wrote: "If nothing else, you could have found in it the roots of the French New Wave -- a phenomenon I'm sure even Govan has heard about." Schickel also chose to open his opinion piece with a curious lede: he begins by denigrating a show of contemporary Korean painting, describing it as "an ugly, off-putting exhibition" that panders to the Korean community in Los Angeles. Not exactly the smooth-talking sales pitch that might win over a director he characterizes as "a culturecrat in a smart suit."

In an even stranger turn, Times film critic Kenneth Turan determined that the best way to defend the film program at LACMA was to offend not only Govan, but film-makers and -lovers alike, writing, "if LACMA thinks attendance is bad now, just wait till its planned interim screenings of 'artist-created films' begin to truly empty its seats." Forgive me for being obvious, but it is hard to mount a defense of film as an art form if you consider films made by artists unwatchable.

The costs of a film program are real--equipment is expensive to purchase and maintain, the films themselves are delicate and skilled technicians are necessary for archiving, preserving and projecting them--but the benefits are enormous. Countless artists, from Edward Hopper to Ed Ruscha, have been affected by film culture and at least one major American filmmaker claims to have learned everything he knows about cinema from the film program at the Museum of Modern Art. In fact, without LACMA's film program, Los Angeles will be the rare major world city without a museum-led effort to promote the appreciation of cinema and preserve its past.

Cultural institutions, especially those as important and well-funded as LACMA, have a responsibility not only to the past, but to the future. It's not just our film culture, but art itself that will be poorer for our loss when the film program at LACMA closes.