Last Screening: The Company You Keep, a film directed and starting Robert Redford. In general I liked it. Though based on its Rotten Tomatoes score of 56 and the fact that no one’s ever heard of it, I was clearly in the minority. But I like where Redford’s head and heart are at. Always have. Ever since he transitioned to directing he’s been on a mission. Sometimes its a bit too overbearing and obvious but he means well. We don’t have enough of that in contemporary film. Vampires, aliens, sexscapades and zombies still rule the box office unfortunately for those of us more intellectually inclined. Thus Redford and his ilk are few and far between; especially compared to the 1970s when it seemed the whole global art and entertainment world was on some kind of smart-drug. Still the best decade in human history for art of all kinds. Those days are obviously long gone and money now controls what’s considered good or not good.
This film is like all Redford movies of the last twenty years: a better than good story, a decent script one gets the feeling could have been much better if penned by someone sharper, an ensemble cast to die for (seriously…), plenty of do-gooder idealism speak sprinkled throughout, but a slow and meandering directorial style that somehow just misses the mark.
It wouldn’t be entirely fair to compare Redford to Clint Eastwood — Redford as an actor was in some great movies; Eastwood was in Spaghetti Westerns and cheesy cop flicks; but they are contemporaries who’ve followed similar trajectories. The great irony being that Eastwood has generally made better films since his transition to directing. Shockingly incredible films actually when considering the kinds of films he made as an actor. It just goes to show you can’t judge a man or his whole life by the company he keeps.
Another side effect of watching this film is that it gets you thinking about the Weather Underground. We don’t need a weatherman to know that things are much worse now in America than they were during the period that inspired this peaceful group’s radical form of activism. We are lucky in that we’ve got a few new Weather Undergrounds of our own in this generation. They do things differently. Whistle blowers. Anarchists. Hackers and Hacktivists. And just like 40 years ago it’s still easy to con the majority of the American mainstream into believing that these groups and individuals are the bad guys and the government is the good guy when it’s just the opposite.
I wonder what it will take for Americans to wake up to how heinous evil cowardice and criminal their government has become. Some say that most people don’t care about such things until they affect them personally. And that explains why the US government can get away with all it does. It’s my sincere hope that this changes one day. That more and more people will wake up and help the few who are out there fighting the real good fight rather than honoring those killing innocent people they’ve mistakenly or deliberately set up to be called “enemy”.
On the one hand you cannot help but feel that it’s more than time for another round of Weather Underground type events to shake things up a bit in the hearts and minds of the citizens of the United States. On the other hand we leaned a lesson thru those experiences. Fighting injustice with any kind of violence doesn’t earn as much respect as we would prefer. Unfortunately they leave us no option. They, the so called leaders of the free and unfree worlds, lie cheat steal and murder freely right out in the open. They earn millions of dollars and are awarded for it. So it seems more than a bit unfair that just because it is they who control the news and how history is written that they are able to label the real truth revealers and freedom fighters of society “terrorists” while branding themselves heroes.
But is blowing shit up the answer? I’m not so sure anymore. One thing is for sure: peaceful marches and demonstrations aren’t cutting it. They almost never have and never do. Even en masse like the infamous Seattle WTO demonstration of ’99 or the anti-Iraq invasion marches of ’03. They accomplished nothing. We need to do more. Much more. And fast.
Perhaps Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Anonymous et al. have the new answer to this troubling problem of ours of corruption from the top down. It is after all a new century. A technological century. A Personal Expression Age century. Perhaps it is best to leave the blowing things up to the governments of the world and we take a different kind of a stance to spark change and revolution. Instead of blowing actual buildings up, we blow up systems. We tear down the banking system if Congress won’t prosecute. We blow up the computer systems of Big Oil and Big Pharma if Congress and the appropriate regulatory agencies are unwilling to impede their greedy self serving march towards the destruction of the planet and everyone who lives on it.
What we need is a giant wake up call. The same way that the powers that be used 9/11 as their calling card to invade the Middle East, we the people who care need a similar such wake up call. Martyrs are great for such causes. Consider Jesus or Gandhi or MLK or JFK. Great change is usually spawned from great loss. But can we create the next great change withOUT such a loss? Without a martyr? One hopes so. So… Where and what is our spark? One devastating enough in human drama to inspire millions to join us but without needless violence.
You’d think the thousands of dead American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of dead Muslims over the last ten years would have done something. Or the Great Recession, single handedly pulled off evidently with malice by a handful of American banks. And they have to a certain degree. Where did Manning and Snowden and Wikileaks stem from if not there…? But there is also a sense that the trauma of our great dilemma has drawn many of us inward towards a more selfish and shallow consumerism. This is worrisome. We need more. Something bigger. Bigger acts of courage and emotional substance. More than music. More than art. More than marches or demonstrations or sit-ins or desultory occupy movements. We need figurative explosions — if we are going to avoid literal ones.
And this is where the company we keep comes into play. I’ve always said “if you aren’t on the way, you’re in the way.” It’s who we are. Its what we do. It’s what we say. Who we associate with often dictates those things. Let us take stock in that. Check ourselves to make sure that we are truly on the path towards helping to make things better in the world and not just better for ourselves.