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Movie Review: “Peterloo,” Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2 hours 23 minutes




How strikes were ended

The new British historical epic was released in Dallas on April 19. I imagine they would like to hope it would run until August 16, the 200th anniversary of the slaughter of hopeful worker activists around Manchester. The run time will almost certainly be disappointing, because movies with a solid political message seldom last longer than one week in our town.

My movie buddy and I went to see it because we knew that the writer/director was capable of saying very good things about working families. Nearly all movies are about the affluent or the artistic. We were certainly not disappointed with “Peterloo!”

Another great thing about Leigh is his ability to develop women characters. Even though history only names the men who organized the effort and the men who did the murdering, women must have been very important in the struggle for British reforms. They show up well in “Peterloo.”

Moviegoers who have no interest in improving the condition of humanity are probably going to think that this film is a tad too long, covers too many characters, and includes too many speeches. Those of us who want to learn from history in order to make a better future, a large group that almost certainly includes Mike Leigh, think it was too short.

In 1819, a reform movement was sweeping through the miserable lives of British manufacturing workers. The heroes in this story are the weavers, men and women, in Manchester. The setting alone is fascinating, because Frederich Engels, lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx, wrote his important literary work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England,” about these very Manchester families.

Leigh did not stint on spending for this film. Every frame rings with authenticity. The one or two short scenes of the great mechanical looms in the textile mill must have cost a small fortune. Every set, every costume, every sallow-complexioned worker, convinces us that we are actually watching what happened in that great historical worker upheaval.

Know your constituency

As a lesson in strategies, Peterloo is superb! Leigh establishes exactly what the workers must have been thinking in 1819, and he goes over every painful question they had to answer as they prepared to go on strike and carry out a massive demonstration involving over 60,000 people.

Every moviegoer already knows how successful they are going to be, as history doesn’t say “Peterloo” without saying “massacre.” Discerning activists will be watching to see what might have been done differently so that the workers might have found success. We also watch to see how we can refine our efforts today.

As the lower tactical level, it would be hard to fault the weavers. They did a wonderful job of convincing tens of thousands of exploited people to come together.

Know your enemies

But at the higher strategic level, they made a tragic mistake that all of us must learn and apply to today’s thinking: they were so caught up in their efforts to organize and unify themselves that they did not give proper consideration to their enemy. Class struggle isn’t one sided. There is another class on the other side, fighting against us, and they cannot be ignored. Most important, they cannot be underestimated.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “The Public” written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez. 122 minutes



Estevez Does a Solid for Libraries and for homeless men

On a freezing cold night, a large group of homeless men organize a sit-in at the Cincinnati Public Library. The librarian who deals with them every day faces a quandary because he knows they may freeze to death if he helps throw them out. The police and the mayoral candidate don’t want to be seen as the bad guys.

My movie buddy and I thought the plot was a little bit unlikely, not because people don’t freeze to death every winter and not because keeping a library open might save them for at least one night; but because we don’t believe anybody today could organize that many homeless men. If the homeless were organized, they could get what they want and they wouldn’t be homeless. But we’re moviegoers, suspending credibility is our specialty!

We really liked the movie. We thought that libraries and libraries came out looking really good. We thought John Steinbeck, one of our favorite authors, and “Grapes of Wrath,” one of our favorite books, came out looking really good. I particularly liked the set design that included a big library sign with a picture of Poet Percy Shelley and one of my all-time favorite quotes:

“Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many/they are few”

If you’re in favor of investigating the far-reaching problem of homelessness in America, you have to root for this movie. If you’re searching for a solution, maybe you won’t find it here, but at least you’ll be searching, and that’s a whole lot better than ignoring this gigantic American problem.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site


Netflix has an 8-part Russian-language mini-series purporting to portray the life of Leon Trotsky. Wikipedia has a short description at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotsky_(TV_series). They say that it won a bunch of awards: “The Association of Film and Television Producers in Russia awarded the series in the categories Best Sound, Best Editing Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects, Best Actress (Olga Sutulova), Best Actor (Konstantin Khabensky), Best TV series.” It was released on the anniversary of the Russian revolution and, understandably, drew a lot of watchers. I don’t think that Russians, even old Russians from the Soviet days, have ever heard much about the man, so they’re bound to be curious.





Leon Trotsky had, and still has, a worldwide revolutionary following

I’m no expert, but I’ve studied Trotsky’s works, and some histories of the Soviet Union, so I know that the mini-series plays very loose with the truth. The people who actually know something about the Russian revolution and about Leon Trotsky are furious. Check out the World Socialist Web Site commentary at https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/12/19/tele-n25.html.

Here’s the short version of what actually happened. Trotsky was a leading figure in the unsuccessful 1905 revolution that took place when the Russian Empire suffered an ignominious defeat by the Japanese. He was well known, especially as an agitator. In the late summer of 1917, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Bolsheviks and was taken into their central leadership just a few months before they took power. He was entrusted with negotiating a peace settlement with the Germans. The leadership then put him in charge of the Red Army in the extremely important civil war that quickly followed. Lenin died in 1924 and Trotsky was exiled in 1928. Trotsky then started organizing his worldwide following into a new anti-Stalin “Fourth International.” He was murdered in Mexico in 1940, but his followers continue to this day.

TV Trotsky is portrayed as an oversexed megalomaniac who spends his days killing people, screwing around, and scheming. Stalin’s sex life is left out. He just robs people and schemes. Lenin is kind of a weak buffoon that the evil Trotsky manipulates. In this version, Lenin didn’t even lead the Russian Revolution: Trotsky carried it out as a putsch, then manipulated the feeble-minded Lenin into taking credit.

I ought to mention that there’s a tremendous amount of anti-semitism in this new Russian version. Women are just sex machines drooling over the power-mad title role. Actually, it would be really hard to find anything good about any of the characters in this version of the Russian revolution and its aftermath.

One may conclude then, that the misleading series is not a good way to understand the Russian revolution or its aftermath. But the TV mockumentary has value for trying to understand the current mindset in Russia. I think they want to be seen as open minded, because they talked about someone whose name and reputation were repressed in the Soviet days. I also think they want to discredit the revolutionaries and what they built.

The effect on the few Americans who find everything else in their world so boring that they are willing to sit through this repetitious collections of scraps, is that it may make them want to learn some real history from somewhere else. We Americans, like the people who made this TV series, don’t know much about Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and the Soviets, either.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Stage West Theater in Fort Worth Texas sold all their tickets for the last matinee performance of “Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…” by Carlyle Brown. It’s about one of poet Langston Hughes’ testimonies to the McCarthy anticommunist committee in 1953.

“Are You Now…” in Ft Worth

People who attended because they wanted to get more insight into the great poet and his poetry, or people who just like to see a well-done one-man performance, were probably quite pleased.

Those of us who wanted to see an uplifting portrayal of America’s fight against fascism, or at least wanted to gather insight into what happened during the McCarthy period so we can avoid it now, were severely disappointed.

There were two acts. Djore’ Nance performed alone and made an effort to give an insight into Langston Hughes, his times, and his work. In other words, it was essentially a lecture. It was a very good lecture and well performed, but still a lecture.

In the second act, Christopher Dontrell Piper played Hughes’ lawyer and sat beside him while off-site questions came from, supposedly, Senator Dirksen, anti-communist spokesperson David Schine, top anti-communist prosecutor Roy Cohn, and the infamous McCarthy himself. Piper had about two lines, so the second act was about like the first, all Nance. The responses to the investigators were, apparently, mostly taken from the actual testimony in 1953.

Hughes did not stand up to Mc Carthism. He avoided any kind of confrontation. He didn’t defend his rights or anybody’s. He ended his testimony with a loving endorsement of the entire process. Yes, he probably had to. Dozens of otherwise good people caved in to McCarthyism and hardly anybody opposed it. But why make a play about it?

Why not, instead, make a play about Paul Robeson or Dashiell Hammett, or one of the others who fought back as well as they could and suffered the consequences?

The audience rose to their feet and applauded as the play closed, but they also headed for the door. I could hardly wait to get out of there. There was far more information, and more meaningful content, in the playbill than there was in the play. YouTube has dozens of more worthwhile works.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site.

Movie Review:

“Capernaum,” Directed by Nadine Labaki, 121 minutes






Tough guy

The hero is a tough, profane, street-smart guy. But he’s not from New York’s Lower East Side as in our usual gangster films. He’s not from Capernaum either. It was an ancient city where Jesus and several of his disciples once lived. Jesus put a curse on it when he left, and that’s probably why the film maker chose the name for this story that takes place in the dusty slums of Beirut.

The tough guy says he might be 12 years old, but he looks 8. He’s already stabbed a bad guy and is serving a five-year prison sentence when he first begins to explain his story. The story is about someone so tough that he bears the worst of betrayals and deprivation. He even makes the horrible lives of refugees and other underground non-persons better than they would have been.

The villains are the tough guy’s parents, the human traffickers, the system of misery, and most of the people he meets. One of the most heart-rending lines in the entire movie is when he expresses his surprise to another child, “Your mother is even worse than mine!”

The star of the movie is the genuine article. He’s a Syrian refugee named Zain Al Rafeea.  His resolute little angel face tells most of the story. He and the film are winning international awards.

We had seen one other Nadine Labaki film. “Caramel” was about a beauty salon operator with relationship problems, not about misery and poverty. Both films, though, have a certain inventiveness that makes me think that Labaki is a trailblazer. She’s a young woman. According to the credits, her face is the first one you see in this film, so watch for it if you’re curious.

I think Labaki had some sympathy with movie audiences when she started writing this screenplay. I think she smoothed off some of the edges to make it a happier, or less miserable, viewing experience. The truth about the world’s children is almost certainly worse.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Film Review: “Who Will Write Our History,” Written, produced and directed by Roberta Grossman. Based on the book by Samuel Kassow

For Holocaust Remembrance Day in Dallas, people from all over the city gathered at the historic Texas Theater to see this documentary about the Warsaw ghetto and the small group of historians who risked their lives to document the tragedy.

They wrote down everything they could, and they saved photos, drawings, and printed (by the German occupation) materials. Then they wrapped it the best they could and buried it. The resulting account was dug up after World War II and constitutes a day-by-day account of the horrors they bore. The film says that the complete Warsaw Archives were buried in three separate parts of the ghetto, and that only two of these treasures have been found so far.

The documentary film has a lot of the footage that the occupiers shot, still shots of some of the archives, plus testimony and narration. It is interspersed with docu-drama film to make a seamless presentation that makes sense. Or rather, it makes as much sense as anything concerning the holocaust does.

We must cry when we remember, but remember we must. The film was shown all over the world on January 27. Its tour continues.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program at 9 AM every Saturday Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “On the Basis of Sex,” Directed by Mimi Leder, 2 hours

My movie buddy and I enjoyed the biopic about Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s early days in the fight for gender equality, even though it was formulaic and predictable from the beginning to the powerful ending where the real Ginsberg mounted the Supreme Court steps.

The movie is very timely as it hit theaters just as Ginsberg was missing her very first sessions while battling lung cancer. The last report I saw said that she had beaten cancer once more and was back on the job. The documentary, “RBG,” about her had just closed a week or so before this dramatization was available. Another reason that the movie is so timely is that the Supreme Court has been making headlines for years as it cleared legalities out of the way for the ongoing power-grab of the plutocracy.

Only Ginsberg’s early legal efforts, and especially her first big trial before the Supreme Court, are covered. But the inference is that she went on to win more and more gains for women. We were pleased that the movie didn’t try to give all the credit to the legal system, but made the point that people change things before laws recognize it.

In discussions after the movie, we talked about the Equal Rights Amendment, which both of us fought for in the 1970s. It passed in Congress but, like any constitutional amendment, it had to be ratified in the states. We came close but we didn’t win, or rather we haven’t won yet.

The ERA would have overturned all the many statutes and case precedents justifying gender discrimination in America. Ginsberg’s approach, in the movie, was to tackle them one-by-one, and that’s what she and others have been doing. The movie implies that we’ve been winning all this time and will continue winning until gender equality is fully achieved.

But, so far, it hasn’t happened.

Why Not?

Women live longer and consequently outnumber men in America and on the planet. If they could get together, even vote together on women’s issues, they would win. But the truth is that they don’t.

Texas has had two outstanding women candidates for governor in the last two elections. Both were outstanding for their stands on women’s equality. Neither one of them won, and neither one of them got all of the women votes. I think that both of them, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and maybe even like Hillary Clinton, made some progress; but so far no victory cigar!

Frederick Engels, in the 19th century, wrote that women were the first oppressed class, mostly because their oppression coincided with the birth of written history. Both written history and women’s oppression came about because surplus wealth was beginning to be produced. Men took that wealth and developed writing to account for it. They developed women’s oppression in order to make sure that their heirs were biologically theirs.

Engels said that women’s oppression would end in future society because women would be in the workforce and fully as productive as men. I think that’s been the case so far. The laws didn’t change first. What happened first was that women established their power and their rights in the workforce.

Union Women Are Far Ahead

Most American workers aren’t organized into unions, but the ones that are practice women’s equality rather thoroughly. As our working people attain more power, women’s equality will at long last attain its final goal.

Meantime, let’s keep marching!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site