Wednesday, February 25, 2009


When Martin Scorsese introduced “Gormorrah” to American audiences at the New York Film Festival (spring, 2008) he suggested that people should forget what traditional narrative means. “Watch this movie,” went on Mr Scorsese, “and you will find yourself in no man’s land, walking down an unknown street. No way out of it. You will feel trapped. Trapped and doomed. It’s a real tragedy.”

“Gomorrah” is a remarkable film, that’s for sure, telling multiple stories in parallel fashion, every one of them a tale of entrapment, doom and tragedy. Obviously, the title hearkens back to the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it's a play on the word "Camorra" - the crime organization centered in and around Naples.

If there’s a message here, it’s this: crime is utterly stupid, those who manage it are utterly banal and the lesser figures (money runners and young boys) caught up into it are utterly trapped – once in, there is no way out – and you will either serve the organization and likely be killed in the line of duty, or attempt to mitigate your participation in it and be killed as an example. Death is lord of the entire film.

There’s no glamor here, no beautiful women, no fascinating men – even the top dogs wear cheap clothing and endlessly fret about the competition and possible hitches.

There is no song and dance, no wine and roses, no fabulous late-might meals in the backroom of some terrific restaurant - only cruelty, money and the constant struggle to maintain power and control – at any cost. People are nothing.

Whether it be drugs or illegal toxic dumping, no one cares about anything except raw survival and the success of the operation. If your truck drivers quit when they discover the toxic load they're dumping, higher young boys to do it - they can hardly wait to drive the big trucks around the dump site.

Technically, a well-done piece clearly having the feel of a documentary.

Emotionally, there’s so much going on, it’s hard to identify with any one character. I found myself fascinated – like stopping at an accident scene – watching in spite of myself, but without a lot of emotional engagement. One story caught my spirit: a young boy who delivers groceries, a good boy who does a few errands now and then for the mob, is finally cornered with “are you with us or not, and if you’re not, you’re dead.”

Reluctantly, the young boy knocks on the door of a home to which he regularly delivers groceries. Upon hearing his voice, a woman opens the door, only to be shot to death by a waiting assailant, as the young boy walks away, without looking back. It seems the woman’s son had betrayed the Camorra, so they made him a lesson by killing his mother.

There is no escape for anyone.

I can’t say this is a great film, but maybe that’s what makes it great. It’s a snapshot of life – bits and pieces, none of which mean anything by themselves, but all stitched together into a tale of sadness.

Watching this film, no one would ever say, “that’s the life for me,” nor will the audience even remotely think, “These are people just like me.” No they are not. They are utterly cruel, utterly banal and utterly stripped of their humanity.

If entrapment is the message, it comes through loud and clear. With a simple message: crime doesn’t pay anything but sorrow and death.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The perfect partner for Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth."

Joshua Tickell has put together a powerful documentary on America's addition to oil, and like a street-corner junkie, we're driven (so to speak, by our SUVs, etc.) to get our fix anywhere and anyway we can.

I was glad to see Jimmy Carter highlighted as a President who quickly began to move on the energy issues, installing solar panels on the White House, but it all ended when the Great Liar was elected. Reagan pulled the solar panels and eliminated Carter's initiatives on energy.

Since everything is politics, one way or the other, this is a "political" documentary in its commentary on our plight, but without undo prejudice. It's clear in the telling, however: Bush and Gang gave the country away in order to perpetuate our fuel addiction. Everything from tax write-offs for SUVs over 6000 lbs to the fabricated "war on terror" to justify our incursion into Iraq. Bush and Gang were all oil people - a cartel if ever there's been one, and what Iraq and everything else, the cartel has made enormous profits at our expense.

But the thrust of "Fuel" is not just what's wrong and the myriad of mistakes and calculated moves we've made, but the alternatives, and there are plenty!

The original diesel engine, designed by master engineer, Rudolf Diesel (who mysteriously disappeared from a transatlantic ship, and whose body was found a few days later by fishermen) ran on peanut oil (bio-diesel).

Henry Ford himself built his cars to run on alcohol, but with the passage of Prohibition (supported by oil magnate Rockefeller), Ford gave up and began building engines to run on gasoline.

There are plenty of options, including algae production farms located in sunny arid regions of the world using waste water - the algae is harvested and transformed into bio-diesel, a safe form of oil that smells like vegetable oil and can be eaten. Other sources of bio-mass from fast-growing trees specifically grown for this purpose. Not to mention solar, wind and tidal energy. And then redesigning our cities: bicycle-friendly, better and more light-rail, pedestrian friendly, and planting trees on every rooftop along with solar panels, and vertical farms and residences. So many good ideas, and maybe now is the time for us to take a collective deep breath, admit our folly and chart a new course for the future.

This is not a question of technology - we have it, and it's ready.

It's a question of political will!

And challenging our elected official to rewrite the policies that have kept us oil-addicted!

Filled with interesting statistics such as - a diesel school bus burning petro-diesel is likely to have an inside pollution index four times higher than outside, and this is the air our children are breathing. And we wonder why so many children develop asthma.

Hats off to Joshua Tickell for putting this together. He's an entertaining presence when on film, and his personal story gives it punch. Having lived a good portion of his life in Louisiana, the greatest concentration of petro-chemical plants and refineries in the United States, and one of the cancer corridors of the world, he knows whereof he speaks - that his mother had nine miscarriages speaks profoundly to what we're doing to the environment with our addiction to oil.

This is a must-see film.

Thursday, February 12, 2009