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Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Hutaree gang, self-anointed American Christian warriors

David Brian Stone Sr., of Clayton, Mich,; David Brian Stone Jr., of Adrian, Mich,; Jacob Ward, of Huron, Ohio; Tina Mae Stone; from bottom left, Michael David Meeks, of Manchester, Mich.; Kristopher T. Sickles, of Sandusky, Ohio; Joshua John Clough, of Blissfield, Mich.; and Thomas William Piatek, of Whiting, Ind., arrested and charged with various crimes to conspire to kill police officers in a plan to incite a “war against the government”.

The other seven people named in the indictment were Mr. Stone’s wife, Tina Stone, 44; his other son, Joshua Matthew Stone, 21, of Clayton, Michigan; Joshua Clough, 28, of Blissfield, Michigan; Michael Meeks, 40, of Manchester, Michigan; Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Indiana, Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio; and Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio.

In these days from whichever end of the political spectrum, there is perhaps only one thing which would gain a consensus from most Americans and that is that Americans, in general, are angry and unhappy.  Depending on which part of the cultural spectrum you inquired with, the responses would shift wildly from one matter to another.

From the very vocal right side of the scale, with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as unofficial spokesmen, and Republican leaders from Palin to McCain to Boehner following closely behind, the argument is that the nation has been hijacked by socialist traitors, or Nazis (as if there were no difference between these two), that the Congressional majority of Democrats is behaving in a dictatorial manner, ramrodding legislation onto the law books against the American public’s will, etc.   Usually the above sentiments are also larded with something about Christianity, or God, or about doing things against American tradition.   The old red white and blue stuff.   As usual with this side of the spectrum there are often deep contradictions, as in the shouts to keep the government’s hands off of Medicare, or support for the death penalty from the same parties who are against abortion, or a seemingly willful failure to acknowledge factual realities: that under so-called “small government” conservatives, such as Reagan or Bush II, the Federal government (and its debts) were greatly enlarged, as was it’s intrusiveness into the citizen’s life (The Patriot Act).   The most current manifestation of these sentiments are the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.

Tea Party, Nevada, come to hear Sarah

Following the passage of Obama’s “health-care reform” bill, Ms Palin kept up the metaphorical fire and told her followers not to give up, but to “reload.”  For the all-white-men pictured below, goading on an anti-bill demonstration below the halls of Congress, there must be a special pleasure in knowing that Sarah is carrying their water, masking a bit the old white guys (and the old white women) nature of the Tea Party.   That demonstration was accompanied with anti-black and anti-gay epithets (and spit) and betrayed a fundamental racism of this movement, which of course denies it – just as, apparently under the guidance of of Beck and company, the followers adamantly deny that there were any racist or homophobic acts, claiming no such evidence was ever video-taped, even though far more than ample evidence is available in a few clicks to You Tube, if not on Fox.

Republican Congressmen goading on Tea Party demonstration

The alleged “center” of America is also angry – about mortgage foreclosures, loss of jobs, shrunken 401-K’s,  insecurity about “Social Security” and medical benefits, and the evident future trajectory which points downwards rather than, American dream-style, upwards.  Their anger is variously directed at the government, the Wall street bailout, the auto-industry bail-out, “globalization” which shifted jobs abroad, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a broad range of other problems, including the Tea Party item of immigration.  Some have signed up with the Tea party gang, others have started their own calmer and re-actively ill-named Coffee party, while others have signaled a desire for some amorphous 3rd party.   Fittingly for a purported “center” there is confusion and a lack of clarity, a tendency to reach out to both left and right.  I would assess this to a sense of self-responsibility in which all problems are not always the cause of someone else, but rather also a result of one’s own choices.  People took the bait and lived on credit cards, bought houses for a million dollars that they couldn’t really afford, sent their children to 40K a year colleges on loans and otherwise bought the American shopping mall ethos. Ah,  but the bankers were so friendly, and they followed President Bush’s post 9/11 patriotic exhortation and shopped.  Until they dropped, along with the whole leveraged-on-fictions economy.  $5 latte cappucinos and all.   These people are angry with themselves, with the banks and corporations (which they work/ed for), with their blind acceptance of the government’s approval of NAFTA and other “globalizing” efforts, with Sam Walton, with the whole diminished plywood boarded small-town America which resulted.  They know they are not blameless, but like most humans they’d rather look for a scapegoat other than themselves.  Hence the confusion.   I would guess the great majority of these so-called centrists voted for Obama, though many now question just what he represents – Wall Street?  the large corporate interests? more war?  Meanwhile the job is dicey, eviction is around the corner, and the future looks grim.

Obama visits the troops in Afghanistan

For those on the left of the spectrum there is a mixed sense of betrayal – that the Obama they supported is in fact a corporate centrist, that he has surrounded himself with Wall Street insiders, and that in his focus on consensus he has emasculated the political energies which propelled him into office. In the same moment there is the frustration of projecting to the imminent future which appears to offer only the choice between a corporate centrist and All-American fascists, a choice unpalatable to those to the left. The sense is that one has been tricked. Many of Obama’s qualities seem proper, yet again and again, his actions seem to tilt toward the right-central: failure to close Guantanamo, the Wall Street bail-out, the small jobs-stimulus program, failure to genuinely withdraw from Iraq, the continuing war in Afghanistan, the muddled process and end result of the health-care reform bill, the failure to confront the military-industrial complex. All of these seem to suggest that either the room for maneuver in the American political system does not allow for such measures (at risk of a “magic bullet”) or that Obama himself is in fact a centrist, and was perhaps brought in as a means to mollify the large “liberal” component of the American political body.

Collectively the body of America is soured – from which ever element of the spectrum, there is deep discontent.  On the right there are those with guns as well as wealth, and a mass media which is in the total control of wealthy interests and seems to have no compunctions about stirring up their down-scale armed compatriots.  In the center are the usual go-along-to-get-along sorts suddenly stranded by circumstances, uncomprehending  as to how their “dream” could have evaporated so suddenly, the easy-going plastic reality of just yesterday turning into a mountain of debt and possible homelessness.  They are vulnerable to persuasions of the worst sort, from right or left.  On the left is a bitter aftertaste of disappointment from the euphoria of a mere year and months ago, the champion of “hope” morphed into a far too pragmatic compromiser on seeming matters of principle, with his clutch of “realist” advisers seeming to cave to the interests of money and power at a moment’s notice.

With the right goading their erstwhile “troops” to action – reload, “kill” the bill – and the center equivocating, and the left disenchanted with their once-champion, the nation seems to quiver on the edge, awaiting the next step, anticipating the worst.

Federal Building, Oklahoma City

The recent past – not to mention the not-so-long-ago of the 1960’s, raises the spectre of the usual paranoid style of American politics, from the magic bullet of the Kennedy assassination in 1963 on to the mysterious collapse of WTC Building #7 (not to mention the architecturally and structurally dubious collapse of WTC buildings # 1 & 2, along with the bizarre behavior of the Bush government afterward) – suggests the coming years are likely to resurrect for the current generation something of the past which many nostalgically recall, or  too young to know the reality, dream of as something that it was not.  There may have been the Beatles and “love love love” but there was also something quite different.

The Kennedy brothers were both Democrats attempting to institute major changes in the manner in which America was organized.As was Martin Luther King

Baghdad, March 19, 2003

On March 19, 2003 – a mere seven years ago – the United States commenced a blitz-krieg war against Iraq, following a year-long propaganda campaign conducted by the Bush administration both in the US and globally, asserting that Iraq had some hand in the 9/11 attacks on America, and that Saddam Hussein’s regime harbored “weapons of mass destruction” and was a direct and immediate threat to the United States.  In the following Constitutionally undeclared “war” some 200,000 to 1 million Iraqi’s were killed or injured, several million were forced into exile; 5,000 US troops were killed.  In this state of alleged extreme national threat the Bush administration cut taxes (primarily for the very wealthy) and did not institute a draft.  Rather it encouraged the populace to “keep shopping.”  In consequence the Bush administration, ostensibly a “conservative” one concerned about government spending, expanded America’s deficit, cut social services, abandoned the maintenance of national infrastructures, did not monitor Wall Street, and produced, belatedly, in consequence true shock and awe on a domestic level:  the economy collapsed.

In March 2010, the stock market climbed back to the 10,800 courtesy of trillions of dollars thrown at the very banking parties which played a major role in engineering those things which caused the collapse.  Officially American unemployment nationally stands at about 10%, though the real figures are more than double that.  Foreclosure rates on housing remains high, and second wave is about due owing to a cycle of “junk bonds” coming up for payment by already stressed banks.  Meantime the Republicans spent the last months in an hysteric but failed attempt to block any kind of health-care reform.  The bill was passed on March 21 and signed into law by the President on March 23.  Owing to Republican intransigence, the bill is a much modified mess, but still provides wide protections to most Americans, and brings 40 million health-care which was previously absent.

Republicans promptly indicated that they will contest this new bill, with legal suits and other tactics intended to slow down its implementation, likely to end before the Supreme Court, the rulings of which at late indicate a sharp Right-wing tilt.   Senator McCain announced that for the rest of the year Obama could expect “no cooperation” – as if there had been any previously.

Thus,  7 years after George Bush’s war of choice, the USA, rather than striding over the world as its singular Superpower,  as planned by his Neo-con cabal, instead limps along on a cylinder or two, struggling to stay a step ahead of a larger overall collapse.   Much of this situation is directly traceable to Republican policies of cutting taxes for the richest, allowing the deficit to balloon, declining to regulate obvious market abuses, and a general tendency of engaging in and encouraging corruption on a massive scale.  Not to mention dragging the nation into an utterly unnecessary and very costly war.   But, they assert they are the national security party.  In their 8 years at the helm these things happened:

At the conclusion of George Walker Bush’s term in office the United States was mired in two wars, for which no tax hike had been called for, the national surplus which he had entered office with had been converted to a large deficit, and the economy as he left office was in a free-fall collapse owing to the policies which his administration had promoted and practiced.   America’s reputation abroad was in tatters owing to Bush’s use of  “extreme rendition,” the officially sanctioned use of torture, the “unitary executive” policy of denying habeas corpus and the establishment of extra-legal prison camps in Guantanamo, Bagram and other sites.  Domestically police-state practices were emplaced and used to silence critics.    This is but a limited listing of the practices and policies which produced the situation with which the nation is confronted today.

White phosphorous over Fallujah


Chantal Akerman’s D’Est

Lauded by some critics  – the kind who tend to like my own work – as a masterpiece, Chantal Akerman’s 1993 D’Est managed to elude me until this past week, when I got a DVD and screened it for a class here.  I’ve seen a handful of her films – those I vaguely recall were seemingly light comedies of manner (Toute une Nuit, Man with a Suitcase), and, I think but honestly don’t recall, that I saw some decades late, Jeanne Dielmann, though perhaps I confuse seeing it with reading about it.  If I did see it, which I think I did, I didn’t much like it – too easy an out to take a knife and kill the John, and the prelude seemed needlessly long and mechanistic.  And a few others but I am not sure which.  The last one I saw was shot in an apartment in Israel, and had Akerman saying she couldn’t go out, and went on and on, boringly so, fitting Jonathan Rosenbaum’s over all view that her films are marked with a “melancholic narcissism.”  Overall, from what I’ve seen, I have found Akerman rather over-rated in the arcane little hot-house world of festivals and critics.  But then that seems part of the function of that world.  I awaited watching D’Est with a bit of trepidation, hoping it wouldn’t be a bad thing to show my students.

I’ll quote from some of the critics first, starting with Jonathan Rosenbaum:

Chantal Akerman’s haunting 1993 masterpiece documents without commentary or dialogue her several-months-long trip from east Germany to Moscow—a tough and formally rigorous inventory of what the former Soviet bloc looks and feels like today. Akerman’s painterly penchant for finding Edward Hopper wherever she goes has never been more obvious; this travelogue seemingly offers vistas any alert tourist could find yet delivers a series of images and sounds that are impossible to shake later: the countless tracking shots, the sense of people forever waiting, the rare occurrence of a plaintive offscreen violin over an otherwise densely ambient sound track, static glimpses of roadside sites and domestic interiors, the periphery of an outdoor rock concert, a heavy Moscow snowfall, a crowded terminal where weary people and baggage are huddled together like so many dropped handkerchiefs. The only other film I know that imparts such a vivid sense of being somewhere is the Egyptian section of Straub-Huillet’s Too Early, Too Late. Everyone goes to movies in search of events, but the extraordinary events in Akerman’s sorrowful, intractable film are the shots themselves—the everyday recorded by a powerful artist with an acute eye and ear.

And then Dennis Grunes:

The most brilliant film from anywhere in the 1990s, D’Est (From the East) is the work of Chantal Äkerman, the world’s greatest Belgian-born filmmaker, the world’s greatest woman filmmaker, and the world’s greatest living Jewish filmmaker. Along with Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami, Äkerman is cinema’s reigning humanist, and for more than thirty years she has been going back and forth between documentary and fiction, although her documentaries are highly dramatic and her fictions sometimes seem documentary, and she often lands in some magical space in-between. Like Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (1934), D’Est is a photographic essay, a visual survey, of humanity. [See this for the rest of his review.]

Having visited the Soviet Union a few weeks in winter of 1985, before the fall, and also East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and later again Russia, and the Czech Republic and Hungary and Estonia, I can attest to the veracity of Akerman’s images of a desolate world, somnolent people seemingly hanging on just to survive.  Akerman’s trip, which took her from late summer/autumn through Poland, the Baltics, and then into Moscow in winter, was recorded in 35mm, mostly with a 50mm  to 70 mm lens.  The images have a stolid compression from this lens choice, lending a visual sense of restriction and claustrophobia, even when out of doors.  After an open passage of daytime and sunlight the film shifts to hazy rain, then snow, and then dawn or dusk or night-time light, the color desaturated by fogs and mist or snow, and also by the end-of-the-line poverty of the Soviet empire.  Interiors are awash in yellowed light, faded decor of kitsch and peeling paints.  Similarly the people who populate this world are worn, though women seem mostly to brighten their pasty faces with garish make-up, and men theirs with the red wash of booze.

Akerman’s cinematic language is limited, commencing with primarily static camera shots, held a good time, then introducing tracking shots (from a car it would appear), slow and irregular in pace, left to right, right to left.  At first these are interspersed with static shots, but slowly the moving camera takes prominence, then including forward and backward dollying movements (again from a vehicle), but also including one 700 degree panning shot in a train station, and a few other short pans or tilts.  Cumulatively Akerman orchestrates these sluggish movements as a kind of hypnotic visual music, the pacing seeming to fit the dull walking pace of the figures whom she follows and likewise the dilapidated urban and rural scenery.  Again and again the camera passes grim townscapes, and their equally grim occupants, figures in fur hats and heavy coats bundled against the cold.  High-rise housing complexes loom in the yellowed light, snow streams down, and again the camera passes by the faces, some ignoring the lens, some performing idiotically for it, some pretending to ignore but their eyes flicking up as it passes, and some resisting, hiding their faces.  These tracking shots recur in places of transit – a railway station, queues at a bus station, figures standing forlornly in a market displaying their paltry goods for sale.  Towards the film’s conclusion the camera returns no less than 3 times to the same bus station, slowly tracking by long clustered lines of faces, drooping bodies, taking a corner and then picking up yet another line of similarly desolate figures – in the morning, a gray daytime, night.  Interspersed among these tracking shots are interiors – a woman in her kitchen fixing some sausage, a singer in a dance club belting out a song while couples dance before them, people in their houses.  Quotidian images of life in the eastern bloc, circa 1990.  Unifying all these are an aesthetic consistency of color, light,  and the slightly compressed spatial qualities of Akerman’s lens choice.   For some additional stitching, a few times external music or other sounds come to accompany the muffled ambient sounds of the shots themselves.  As a quasi-climax to the film there is a long shot of a woman playing a cello in a concert hall, and then receiving bouquets of roses; though following this once again come tracking shots on the streets.  And then, abruptly, the film stops.

I found the film mesmerizing, the cadence of its minimalist sequence of cinematic shots working into a rhythmic system that in a sense discards time, and the simple powers of the images – solid,  plain, enigmatic – coupling with sufficient  force to hold my attentions.  Or more exactly to lose my attentions enough to let my mind wander, busily filling in the near-blank cinematic sheet before me:   Akerman in a sense gives very little, though what she gives provides enough suggestive power for the viewer’s mind to swarm with thoughts.  In my case thoughts already well-worked from my own passages through the East Bloc, as well as through 2nd hand variants in films, books, essays. Thoughts about  lives stunted and distorted by an ideological system such as that which ruled Russia and Eastern Europe, and then about how something similar exists in my own country, America.  In forswearing either narrative or an explicative voice-over Akerman opens her imagery to such thinking, and for those either experienced in the world she depicts, or given to such inner reflection, the film offers a ripe field.  Critics naturally scurry in to fill in the blanks with innumerable speculations, most of which show more about themselves than what is on screen.  For those for whom guidance is a requirement a film such as this is doubtless quickly boring and pointless.

Fortunately it seemed my class for the most part liked the film a lot, perhaps even more than I did.  I found the ending arbitrary and in a way lazy, as if Akerman and her editor had grown exhausted with yet another tracking shot, and decided “Enough!” and simply stopped the film.   One student intellectualized this, citing a somewhat earlier shot on a snow covered Moscow boulevard in which the camera looked back, a “natural” ending, and he suggested to have ended there would have reduced the film to a travelogue – we came, we left.   I can see an intellectual logic to this, but not a good excuse for Akerman’s abrupt The End.  The film had symphonic aspects, but it was as if for a conclusion she simply deleted the last movement.

For some other views and thoughts see Acquarello at Strictly Film School, the NYTimes review of an installation version of this film, an art review of the same installation, and a decent review for a DVD of the film.

Jafar Panahi

Today, trying to find the time to post something on Chantal Akerman’s 1991 D’Est and Harmony Korine’s Gummo, instead in came an email from Gertjan Zuilhof, friend who works with the Rotterdam Film Festival.  I encourage anyone reading this to send a note of support and to sign the petition.  Send to:

Or go to here to sign on-line petition.

Dear Friends,
The letter below says it all.
Please reply to: alireza khatami <>

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: alireza khatami <>
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 02:12:39 +0800
Subject: Petition for release of Jafar Panahi

Dear Gertjan,

Please find the letter attached to this email. I am trying to gather
signatures of well known people all around the world to support Panahi’s
case. If you like to support the petition please replay to this email and
write a sentence in his support. I appreciate if you introduce your well
known friends who like to support Panahi.

peace and hope for better days
Alireza Khatami

To: *Sadeq Larijani,  Head of the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran*

We, the undersigned, call for the immediate and unconditional release of
nationally and internationally recognized Iranian film maker, Jafar Panahi.

Jafar Panahi (جعفر پناهی) has won top prizes at the Venice, Cannes, Berlin
and Chicago film festivals, most notably for the award-winning film Circle.
Through his films and his influence he has given voice to many of his fellow
Iranians and has always courageously defended their human rights.

Panahi was arrested by Iranian security forces at his home on Monday night,
1 March 2010, together with his wife, daughter (the inspiration behind the
film Offside), and 15 guests. Panahi’s wife and their daughter were among
the 14 released late on Wednesday, 3 March 2010, but Panahi and two of his
guests, Mohammad Rassoulof and Mehdi Pourmoussa, are still being held.

No reasons have been given behind his arrest, and the only claim made thus
far is that this was not a politically motivated arrest by the government
(government prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, 2nd March 2010)

We, the undersigned, dispute this claim as Jafar Panahi was a vocal critic
of the previous and current administration. He was previously targeted for
attending the public memorial for Neda Agha-Soltan, shot in July 2009. He
was barred from traveling to attend the Berlin Film Festival in February

We, the undersigned, view his arrest in light of his influence as a
filmmaker struggling for the liberation of conscience in a state that has
long relied on the overwhelming use of authoritarian power.

Jafar Panahi, among other renowned artists, is paying a terrible price for
courageously voicing out the people’s will in a time where few avenues are
available. We would like this unlawful and unjust treatment to be stopped.

For more information see this, and this, and this.  Also you can go back in this blog and see postings on the Iranian situation here, and here, and here.  For information on Jafar Panahi, see wikipedia.

And for a very good sequence on Iran, see Chained to the Cinematheque.

The arrest of Jafar would suggest that the authorities in Iran are taking the heaviest measures in order to suppress dissent.  In arresting an established figure in the cultural world in Iran and the world, they are clearly seeking to make a point that they will arrest (torture or….) whomever they wish, presumably hoping to strike fear into the hearts of others.  It is, though, a signal of fear on the part of authorities, and in that it is a “good” sign:  their days are numbered and they know it.  They will strike out, injuring, killing many.  They will, as such authorities always are, be defeated.  Their desperation signals their imminent defeat.

Panahi’s OffsideIranian President Ahmadinejad: Out of Bounds

A little note: in changing the email provided, as requested by the sender, I got a new not-seen-before note inside of the WordPress system that said DANGER, and then flashed my name saying the matrix had me – perhaps the Iranian authorities have some hired hackers to mess with these things.

Israeli shoot-around-corners laser gun

Recovery is just around the corner.  Announced these last days was the happy news that only 36,000 Americans lost their jobs the past month, which was somehow better than the 20,000+ some who’d lost their jobs the month before.  Less than a few months ago, but more than last month, is better than – whatever the fuck.  Spin spin spin.   Flush the toilet.  Watch the water spin.  Watch the Oscars.  Things are getting better, didn’t you notice.  Read this.

Now listen to this.

Oh, but that can’t be true.  You’d have to be a paranoid conspiracy junkie to believe any of that.  Just like you’d have to be nuts to think that WTC Building 7, 47 floors high, collapsed into its own footprint, from collateral damage while buildings adjacent to WTC 1 and 2, suffering far greater damages, stood.

WTC7  had sensitive offices in it (CIA, Guiliani’s “emergency room”).  It’s presumptive owner, Silverstein, was heard saying it would be “pulled” – construction language for “taken down” by demolitions, as in collapse on its own footprint.  No modern steel-skeleton building, such as WTC 7,  has ever collapsed owing to damages and fires far far more extensive than those which it suffered.

But we are counseled by our no-drama-Obama President that we should not look back.  That we should not have an independent investigation into 9/11 and its myriad questions:  why was the most heavily defended slice of American airspace left undefended for such attacks as occurred on Sept. 11, 2001?   Why was there an US Air Force “exercise” on that day, shifting fighter planes far to the north, in which hijacked planes would be attacking targets in the USA? (To sow confusion?)  Why did the Bush administration not want any inquiry or investigation into the 9/11 attacks?  Why, when it was forced on them, did they stonewall it, refusing to provide information?  Why did Bush/Cheney testify together under no oath when forced to?  Why was the “evidence” in the form of the remains of WTC1, 2 and 7 hastily shipped to China for scrap?  Why, why, why?

Or, why was  this report from the NIST, a US Government organization, delayed some 4 years?  And why does it look and sound like something that could have come from a Soviet institution, albeit wrapped in American rather than Russian style PR crap?

Which all makes the audio file above seem more than reasonable, however far-fetched it seems.  What could be more far fetched than the economic stresses America is now undergoing, and its warp into full-tilt militarism?  Did Germans feels the same kind of things not so long ago?

Official diagram of WT7 collapse

Jasper Johns, Target

photoRoger Ruffin

May 18, 1927 – Feb 7, 2010

I first met Roger Ruffin at LAX, where he’d flown in to do a part in my 1976 Angel City.  I’d taken the suggestion of Bob Glaudini, who knew him from San Diego theater work, though Roger had moved to San Francisco.  I just took it on faith that Bob knew what he was talking about.  On the drive down to San Onofre, near Nixon’s hang-out in San Clemente. Roger read the text he was to do – a five minute PR spiel for a fictional Rexxon corporation.   After an hour we got to the beach, got the camera and recorder out, and doing a short dry-run of it, we shot.  Owing to a recent car rear-end incident I wasn’t doing camera, but rather Robert Schoenhut did that.  I handled the mike and Nagra.  I think we only did one take, with Roger fumbling a tiny bit with the text, but covering and making it all seem natural.  In the film he comes out perfectly as a friendly corporate con-man selling snake oil.  He was perfect.  He did it for free, and covered his airfare down from San Francisco.  Later on in the same shoot, on a Sunday morning in Culver City, dressed in his lawyer’s suit he managed to send 4 cop cars – who’d stopped owing to the huge crane I’d rented for the closing shot of the film – and send them on their way.  A 5th gave me a ticket for shooting without a permit, though the next day I called the office and told them I was just doing a home-movie and they tore it up.

Roger in Angel City

In 1982 I was in San Francisco, thwarted from making a film I’d planned, and in a week thought up Slow Moves, which was 95% shot in 3 and a half days.  I recruited Roger again, along with his wife Bebe, and his law-firm partner.  Visiting him a few days before the shoot I explained to him vaguely what I wanted to do.   It was early evening after he’d gotten home and he seemed already a bit juiced up on whiskey, a somewhat common state for him.  I recall on leaving wondering if he’d really heard what I’d told him, but when Saturday morning came he showed up at the shooting site and delivered a wonderfully droll comic scene, all in a rush, one take for each shot.  I never doubted him after that.

Slow Moves

A few years later, again in San Francisco, I asked Roger to play in another film, as an architect.  He of course said yes, and pretty much the same story, telling what I could (not much as usual in my case) about his character, him sauced, and then going to shoot and Roger doing an improvisation on the money.  It was as if I could do now wrong through him.

Rembrandt Laughing, Roger and Barbara Hammes

And a few years later I asked him to play in All the Vermeers in New York, for actual pay though I don’t recall if he actually took it.  He flew out to NYC, stayed in the Chelsea hotel, and had a great time.  And once again, this time playing a wealthy father dealing with his spoiled daughter, he delivered in spades.

Roger in All the Vermeers in New York

After Vermeers I saw Roger a few more times at his home in San Francisco, and then I moved for ten years to Europe.  Once he retired he moved with Bebe to Taos and then Costa Rica, and I lost touch.   I consider myself lucky and graced to have known him and to have worked with him.  A wonderful man and a magical actor.

Roger Ruffin; liberal judge also appeared in films


Roger Ruffin may have been the only San Diego Superior Court judge to have acted in movies, socialized with Andy Warhol and defended Marxist scholar Herbert Marcuse against local critics.

As a liberal judge in a conservative town during a tumultuous era, he was also a fierce defender of civil rights and spoke out against excessive bail. He was one of the youngest judges appointed to the Municipal Court bench when then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown named him in 1961.

Mr. Ruffin, a native San Diegan, was 34 when he became a judge. He was appointed to the Superior Court bench four years later but returned to private practice in 1971.

Not only a supporter of the arts, he later appeared in a few art-house films including Jon Jost’s “Angel City” and “All the Vermeers in New York.”

Mr. Ruffin died of Alzheimer’s disease Feb. 7 in San Diego. He was 82.

Friends and colleagues said Mr. Ruffin was brilliant, fair and progressive.

Mr. Ruffin was on the bench when Lowell Bergman was involved with the underground San Diego Street Journal in 1969 and had frequent run-ins with police, who regularly arrested the paper’s street vendors and staff members. Bergman, who went on to become an award-winning investigative journalist, said Mr. Ruffin became a defender and a friend.

“He was my get-out-of-jail-free card. He arranged for us to get ROR (release on own recognizance),” Bergman said. “He would go out of his way to mitigate harassment of people like us.”

Although risky for his career, Mr. Ruffin would often speak out for dissidents and minorities and appeared publicly with Marcuse, a leftist philosophy professor at the University of California San Diego who was the target of conservative critics calling for his dismissal. “Roger stood up and was willing to take a risk for his beliefs,” Bergman said.

Mr. Ruffin was recognized by his peers as a brilliant legal scholar, and in 1968 he was named to the faculty of the California College of Trial Judges. He also lectured on history and law at UCSD.

“He was part of the intelligentsia of San Diego,” longtime friend Richard Farson said. “A lot of people knew him as a teacher. He was smart, he had a good sense of humor and he was crazy about books.”

Friends said Mr. Ruffin’s second wife, BeBe, introduced him to an artsy, bohemian culture.

“Roger was the quieter personality and BeBe was the social one,” said Bob Glaudini, playwright and founder of Theater Five on Turquoise Street. “He was a delightful personality … very thoughtful; he loved to debate issues. He was open-minded and interested in the arts.”

Glaudini cast Mr. Ruffin in a Harold Pinter play at the theater. “He took to it like a duck to water,” the playwright said.

Parties at the Ruffins’ La Jolla home often attracted a diverse and lively group. According to friends, guests may have included Marcuse, Allen Ginsberg, Warhol, Jane Fonda and philanthropist Ernest Mandeville.

Roger S. Ruffin was born May 18, 1927, to Eula May and Roger Ruffin. He graduated from San Diego High School and served in the Army. He graduated with honors from what was then San Diego State College and earned his law degree from Stanford Law School in 1953.

He married Carol Haines in 1954. They had two daughters and divorced after 11 years of marriage. He married the former Beatrice “BeBe” Bright, and the couple lived in San Diego for several years before moving in 1975 to San Francisco, where Mr. Ruffin practiced law. When he retired in the 1990s, the family moved to Taos, N.M., and later to Costa Rica. After the death of his second wife, Mr. Ruffin returned to San Diego in 1996.

Mr. Ruffin is survived by four daughters, Lucia Bacon of San Diego, Margaret Harrison of San Diego, and Sara and Selene of San Francisco; one son, Tony of San Diego; and four grandchildren.

A private memorial service has been held.

Part of Mossad assassination team

As a genre films about or using surveillance systems have a fairly long history.  I’ve seen a few of them, from Rear Window and Peeping Tom to some more recent “avant garde”  items.  However none I have seen previously matched this one, about a half hour of surveillance camera imagery from Dubai, in which we trace the seemingly complex choreography of an assassination team, presumably directed by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, as they go about killing Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas operative long wanted by the Israelis.

Whether the fascination of this derives from the dense interplay of some 14 or perhaps 26 players, some changing costumes and disguises, delivering messages, or from the furtive glances of the victim as he goes to his room where death awaits him, I am not sure.  Or perhaps it is from the frisson of knowing before the fact that one is observing the preparations for an actual murder.   Or perhaps it is from the sequence of unstated matters – the expense of all these characters being flown first to Dubai, checking into multiple classy hotels, coordinating via calls to an Austrian telephone exchange, leaving after the job was done apparently without checking out from the hotel, or leaving a long trail of evidence as shown in these images.

Mahmoud al Mabhouh’s picture held by his father at funeral in Gaza

The real “action” of the film is all off-screen – the entry into the victim’s room, the room opposite visited by a long string of accomplices, the actual killing.  One wonders why the hallway is not shown – surely there must be a surveillance camera that observed it.   Or such mysteries as how did they gain access to the room, and then how did they leave the room such that the internal latch was set to lock?  And why did Mossad hire a fistful of Irish, English, German, Australian and other non-Israeli’s to carry out this execution?  What is the political connection – IRA, RAF?  Or are these merely ideologically neutral assassins for hire?  Or are they all Israelis using faked or stolen passports?   And now, their cover blown, their pictures and names plastered across the internet, where are they going to spend the balance of their lives in hiding, for surely there will be attempts to even the score.

As cinema this curious piece is well-worth your time though it may make your next visit to a large corporate hotel a bit different in your mind.

Powell and Peeping Tom

For other thoughts on surveillance as cinema, see this, and for some thoughts on this assassination, see this.  Need we note that mainstream US media gave this matter scarcely a glance.