Trump blocked putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 note. This is why

Published on: Tue, 03/12/2019 - 15:36

Sacha Ismail

I’m struck by how many (left-wing, engaged) people I know haven’t heard of 19th century slave turned anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman. Hopefully Harriet, the new film about a crucial decade of Tubman’s life, will help right that. She was one of the most remarkable of many remarkable figures in a world-altering social and political upheaval, the civil war and revolution that destroyed slavery in the US. Though not a socialist, she is firmly in our broad tradition.

Despite the dark subject matter of slavery, the makers have told Tubman’s story as a pretty easy to watch action-adventure film.

The Unwomanly Face of War

Published on: Mon, 11/11/2019 - 16:49

Justine Kennedy

Kantemir Balagov’s film 'Beanpole' follows two female ex-Red Army soldiers working in a hospital in Leningrad after the siege, painting a striking and intimate picture of the febrile lives of Russians after World War Two.

The film’s titular character is Iya, nicknamed “Beanpole” for her long and lanky build. She is awkward and quiet and periodically suffers from fits of catatonic shock. Early in the film, her friend Masha returns from the front to join her working in the hospital.

In the beginning, there are flickers of happiness for the two women, until a horrific incident pushes them to

The sixties turning dark

Published on: Wed, 09/10/2019 - 09:27

Duncan Morrison

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is his first one not distributed by Harvey Weinstein.

It is a semi-fictionalisation of events around Charles Manson’s Family’s murder of Sharon Tate and her associates in 1969.

The film is well worth seeing and seems to capture the feel of late 60s Los Angeles very well. But it is hard not to consider the film in the light of the numerous allegations of sexual assault and rape made against Weinstein and Tarantino’s failure to act on reports, both from his then partner and from actors in his films, about Weinstein’s behaviour

Edge of Democracy

Published on: Thu, 20/06/2019 - 08:46

Janet Burstall and Tony Brown

Petra Costa was a child when Workers’ Party (PT) leader Lula da Silva became President of Brazil in 2003. Her parents had been detained and worked underground for the PT and the overthrow of the military dictatorship of 1965-1985. This documentary is a personal quest to make sense of her deep disappointment at the overthrow of the PT government of 2003-2018 by supporters of that military dictatorship.

She has assembled footage of her family, of protests, of interviews with PT supporters, with the two PT Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, and, of parliamentary proceedings. Opponents

Organising cleaners in the 1970s

Published on: Wed, 22/05/2019 - 12:12

Bruce Robinson

Shown as part of the “Women Organise!” film season in Manchester, The Nightcleaners is a documentary about the struggle to organise women office cleaners in 1970-72. The film has many resonances today when organising cleaners and other low-paid, insecure workers is again a central task for the unions.

The filmmakers of the Berwick Street Film Collective (one of whom, Humphrey Trevelyan, was at the Manchester showing) were not traditional documentary makers, but saw themselves both as part of the women’s fight and as creatively producing a piece of cinema. The result is a film that is a

The Good Soldier Schwejk

Published on: Wed, 17/04/2019 - 10:18

Jill Mountford

Jill Mountford reviews The Good Soldier Schwejk (and His Fortunes in the World War) - written by Jaroslav Hasek, published 1923, adapted and directed by Christine Edzard, Sands Films, 2017. Currently being shown in Rotherhithe, London, and soon to be released on DVD.

Christine Edzard has made it her mission to revive interest in what was possibly the first satirical comedy about the absurdity of war. She adapted The Good Soldier Schwejk (sometimes spelt Svejk, pronounced Shvake) to mark the centenary of World War I.

It is about a naive and foolish patriot, unquestioningly loyal to the Austro

Telling the truth about wars

Published on: Wed, 20/03/2019 - 09:17

Simon Nelson

The career of the journalist Marie Colvin was fairly unique. She covered most of the major conflicts of the 1990s and 2000s up until her death in Homs, Syria, in 2012.

Her articles in the Sunday Times brought across some of the horrors of war, not just the conflicts between political factions and leaders but the stories of mass graves in Fallujah, and the near starvation of internally displaced Tamils. Until her death she may be remembered as one of the last journalists to interview Colonel Gadaffi before he was killed in the Libyan conflict of 2011.

The film, based on a Vanity Fair article,

Sex and the City Goes to Holyrood

Published on: Mon, 21/01/2019 - 16:43

Dale Street

At first sight "Mary Queen of Scots", released in the UK on 18 January, appears to be another celluloid contribution to the cult of Mariolatry.

Its trailer portrays Mary as an armour-clad warrior leading her troops into battle, a target of religious misogyny, a feisty heroine who faces down Queen Elizabeth, a victim of patriarchal politics, a champion of equal rights, and a fatal casualty of her own virtues.

At times, it is true, the film builds up Mary into a kind of cult figure for twenty-first-century feminism, liberal values and gender-identity politics. But that is secondary, by far, to

The politics of 'Casablanca'

Published on: Thu, 13/12/2018 - 13:31

Sean Matgamna

Copy-edited and slightly modified version of text in printed paper

Casablanca, which came out in November 1942, in the first year of US participation in the Second World War, may be the most popular Hollywood movie ever made. It is at the centre of a big cult, and part of another big cult, that of its star, Humphrey Bogart.

It is a highly-burnished fable, or set of fables, about how good (though at first politically disoriented), not so good, and thoroughly bad people finally rally to "the fight against fascism" as embodied in the Allied, specifically the American, cause in World War Two.


Stalinism and its zig zags

Published on: Wed, 12/12/2018 - 14:03

Sean Matgamna

To understand Casablanca's subtexts, we need to look at what the Stalinists were doing in the 1930s and in 1942.

Core political Stalinism outside Russia, always and everywhere so long as it remained itself, was service to Russia, devotion to the idea that socialism was being built there and it was the duty of socialists to serve it. Everything else in their governing values and in their practical politics came lower in the political scales than that.

They would do anything, "make any alliance, pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe", to assure the

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