Screen Siege

Cinematic campaigning: This fall, filmmakers assault the status quo at a theater near you

What we've seen this year has been an all-out, unprecedented siege by independent filmmakers—aided and abetted by laissez-faire distributors and exhibitors—an assault upon the present administration, timed for campaign body blows and so pervasive as to seem coordinated. Not even Nixon was faced with such shock and awe. Of course, Dubya would never see something as front-brain-demanding as a nonfiction film except in a straitjacket with eyes clamped open, Clockwork Orange–style. (While Bill Clinton claimed to love High Noon—an acerbic black-and-white critique of American self-interest made 40 years before he took office—Bush 2 has only expressed ardor for that beeriest and most mush-minded of late-Hollywood fantasies, Field of Dreams.) But having nearly 30 left-hook-swinging docs find theatrical release is akin to having the usually complacent popular media turn on you like a pent-up Siegfried & Roy jungle cat.

So, seatbelts, people: The almighty Year of Radical Movie Chic rolls thunderously onward. The major rockets, initially spurred into theaters by Michael Moore and his exploitation of the common media's failure to inform their citizenry, may have already been launched by the end of summer's dog days, but many of them will take the whole autumn to rain down upon the public consciousness, big city by big city. Waiting in the aisles, The Yes Men documents the titular cabal of progressive pranksters as they spoof the WTO in unsuspecting public forums, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst chronicles the germination of the Symbionese Liberation Army in another age of governmental oppression and homicidal ambition, and Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, stooping to praise the Democratic nominee rather than safely train a scope on neocon usury, might be going a bit too far.

And what is Jean-Luc Godard's new mosaic, Notre Musique, if not politics as art? A characteristic, nonfiction statement of outrage, ardor, quixotism, and ethical reason, this breath of fresh autumnal air suggests that the new millennium might be JLG's renascence—if only someone had had the programming foresight to retro the old man all election season long. Elsewhere, the subtexts are raging out of control. The teen-fluff farce First Daughter, despite its safe-to-assume awfulness, revisits the same queasy concern for the Bush daughters (or even the Kerry coeds) that David Mamet so mercilessly exercised earlier in the year with Spartan. In a different camp altogether Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America: World Police slams both interventionist imperialism and Orwellian martial power with the bobble-heads of Thunderbirds-style puppet animation. Think of it as a counterweight to Alexander's un-Troy-like endorsement of cut-and-kill.

Lisa of Team America: World Police
photo: Melinda Sue Gordon
Lisa of Team America: World Police

If subliminal critique won't rankle the Stupid White Men, maybe sex will: Gods and Monsters' Bill Condon has manufactured the biopic Kinsey, with Liam Neeson's Dr. Alfred Kinsey bucking Eisenhower-era propriety by investigating how, why, and what people fuck—here's to hoping the movie's more fun than Kinsey's work. And barring all else, we can turn to Pedro Almodóvar, whose Bad Education is his most provocative, and his most explicitly gay, film in years, a mirrored hall of movies and memory which also, not incidentally, excoriates the Catholic priesthood.

Just to hammer the point home, Film Forum is going great guns subversive in its retro-revivals, spending the fall getting all ired-up again at Gillo (The Battle of Algiers) Pontecorvo's Burn! (1969), in which Marlon Brando plays out the legend of ultra-colonialist William Walker; Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980), a profligate epic supposedly damned for its abundance instead of its resoundingly seditionist thrust; and Stanley Kubrick's beloved Dr. Strangelove (1964), still the most daring vision of big-dick militarism ever put on film.

Compiled and written by David Blaylock, Ben Kenigsberg, and Joshua Land

September 24

Well, well, well—it's a real John Waters movie, replete with squirrel fucking, "criminally enlarged" hooters, and dirt fetishism. Tracey Ullman could plausibly be the next Divine, and we'll never look at spring water the same way again.

September 24

For those who found the Mandy Moore vehicle Chasing Liberty too progressive, here's the long-awaited Fox spin, with an (alas) chaste Katie Holmes in the title role. It's a sign of the times that Michael Keaton seems a stalwart choice for president.

September 24

Walter Salles (Central Station) tries to adapt the memoirs by Alberto Granado and Che Guevara from their trip through South America. More road movie than political rant, the film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as the soon-to-be Cuban revolutionary.

September 24

A failure approaching his 30th year of atrophy, pub crawler Shaun finds his hidden talent could be killing off the zombie population that is taking over London. This simple, amiable romantic comedy out-grossed 28 Days Later in its native England.

September 24

Their high jinks have enraged TV talking heads, the World Trade Organization, and George W. Bush, but the Yes Men still remain fairly anonymous. This documentary follows the intrepid activists as they continue trying to make a fool out of the globalization establishment.

October 1

This Sundance prizewinner follows the intertwining careers of '60s-inspired bands the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Director Ondi Timoner followed both bands for seven years, giving the film a longitudinal scope that looks to distinguish it from other recent music docs.

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