Archive for the ‘documentary’ category

To Be Takei

August 31, 2014

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Of all the original Star Trek cast members living or dead, George Takei has undoubtedly led the most fraught and compelling life. Yet that life, full of drama and pain, has birthed a relatively fluffy profile, To Be Takei, a documentary in the form of what journalists (back when there was journalism) used to call a puff piece. To be fair, the movie seems to hew close to Takei’s own personality, one that compartmentalizes past traumas and disappointments. Takei lives in the now while giving his history its due; he appears to have an eminently healthy outlook, which may make for a happy man but also a portrait without edges.

Takei spent three years of his early childhood in various Japanese-American internment camps during World War II; he went into acting at a time when there were vanishingly few inoffensive roles for Asians; he was closeted for decades until, in 2005, in response to opposition to gay marriage in his home state of California, he came out. Takei says he stayed in the closet to protect his career, though coming out seems to have had an effect the exact opposite of what he feared — he’s been highly visible and beloved ever since, followed by millions on Facebook, lending his honeyed and insinuating baritone to commercials, cameo appearances, and Howard Stern’s show, where he’s been a fixture since 1990. Takei turned out to be the hippest Trek veteran since Wil Wheaton (seen here when Takei gets a dig in at him about his weight) learned to stop worrying and love the Enterprise.

To Be Takei throws together the expected clips, along with some rarely-seen early TV work that probably only the most die-hard Trekkies have laid eyes on in decades. Takei, like Nichelle Nichols, stood for something on Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry’s ideal of a color-blind meritocracy. Actors John Cho (who assumed Takei’s role of Sulu for the new reboot movies) and B.D. Wong talk about how empowering it was to see a vital, passionate Asian actor on TV, not playing a clown but someone with rank and agency. A lot of the present-day footage follows Takei and his husband Brad, a fretful, vaguely resentful type who organizes Takei’s many gigs. Scenes of Takei interacting happily with often emotional fans lose a bit of heartwarmth when we find that Takei, like many other glad-handers on the nerd-nostalgia convention circuit, charges $35 an autograph.

Director Jennifer Kroot, who previously made the documentary It Came from Kuchar about the underground-filmmaker Kuchar brothers, is obviously simpatico with the outsider, and she tries to jazz up To Be Takei visually with a motif of blue pulpy patterns. Unavoidably, though, most of it is talking-heads footage. Kroot follows Takei and spouse to the remnants of one of the internment camps, but the passage is over with fast, presumably on the grounds that it would bum us out. More time is devoted to the folly known as Allegiance, a musical loosely based on Takei’s experiences in those camps. To be honest, from what we see of it, it looks kind of awful, but Takei calls it his “legacy work.”

As seriously as he may take that musical, though, it would seem that Takei’s real legacy will be as an avatar of cool in the “It gets better” era — a double minority whose story has had a storybook final act. I like George Takei. I don’t see how anyone couldn’t. He’s funny, avuncular, on the side of the angels (well, except when he recently posted a joke image on his Facebook page that offended disabled fans, and then blew off their objections). He’s a cult figure among l’internetoisie and possibly a continuing inspiration to young gays and aspiring Asian actors. I’ll feel a sad twinge when he goes (may he outlive William Shatner, who comes off in the movie as a supreme douchebag). To Be Takei celebrates him but blithely neglects to probe for any complexity in a man who has surely suffered much. Maybe what we see today — a septuagenarian amiably adjusted, basking in acceptance after decades of suppressing himself — is all we get and what the movie offers.

Life Itself

June 29, 2014

roger-ebert-gives-a-thumbs-up-after-receiving-a-star-on-the-hollywood-walk-of-fame-in-hollywood-inWell, Roger, you made it. You’re in a movie. Not only that, you’re its star and focus. Life Itself is based partly on your memoir of the same name. Readers who are not you will no doubt wonder why I’m addressing this review to you, who are not here, and not to them. Well, it’s because you had a knack for writing reviews seemingly addressed to me and me only, and millions of other readers likely felt and feel the same way. You didn’t bother much with film theory or ten-dollar words. You wanted everyone to understand you: the film buff, the folks at the bar, the kid who was just starting to develop critical thinking. The movie about you is likewise straightforward. It doesn’t exclude anyone. It doesn’t get fancy. It just tells your story.

The documentarian Steve James, whose great film Hoop Dreams you tirelessly promoted, has directed Life Itself with open eyes and no fear of showing you in your least glamorous moments. You allowed James to film you undergoing an undignified throat-suction procedure, and then you emailed him that you were glad his movie would show what is seldom seen in a movie. You always respected that in a movie: something you hadn’t seen before, and something that told the truth. That suction bit, hard as it is for the rest of us to watch, is almost the defining moment of the movie, since we know it’s there because you wanted it there. You also wanted the movie to tell the truth about your lost years as an alcoholic, when you would kill hours in bars and take home women who were bad for you.

Finally you met, and married, a woman who was good for you: Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, whom you called “the great fact of my life.” You would no doubt be grateful to know that Chaz comes off beautifully in the movie, yet still human, someone who could get frustrated with you when you didn’t feel up to doing things you needed to do. There is a scene where you don’t want to climb some stairs, and Chaz says you have to, and eventually you do it. Many of us have lived this scene in one or both of the roles. We can all be annoying and stubborn at times, and you were no exception. You would have respected a movie that touches on realities of human relationships that Hollywood usually ignores.

Many of your friends, some famous (Scorsese, Herzog) and some only known in Chicago newspaper circles, speak movingly on your behalf. One friend, of course, is absent: Gene Siskel, who died in 1999. Gene’s widow, Marlene, says at your funeral in the movie that when you were still alive she felt as though she still had a piece of Gene left. Life Itself devotes a chunk of time to your prickly partnership with Gene, with many amusing outtakes of you two roasting each other. But Marlene reads aloud a letter you sent her in your later years, saying that as you got older and sicker you thought more and more about him. You soldiered on without him, first with other critics and then as a solo act, something Gene might have snippily said would never and should never happen. But in the end he probably would have been proud that, just as you were losing your ability to speak, you gained a new voice on Twitter and in your blog. You were both tough Chicago newspapermen who wanted to keep going no matter what.

As Life Itself goes on it becomes more cinematic, as if your fading life force were naturally resolving itself into the movie it would become. It is difficult for those of us who were fond of you to see you so frail and to see the increasingly depressed-sounding emails you were sending Steve James. You sensed the movie was nearing its conclusion. You wanted to see more; you wanted to see what happened next. You didn’t want to leave Chaz and your stepchildren and stepgrandchildren. For all that, Life Itself doesn’t milk your death for cheap tears. Chaz soldiers on without you, as we all must do when bereaved, and carries on your website and your life passion. She’s sad, Roger — we all are — but she’s going to be okay, and the movie notes that. Beyond all that, your life has made for a sharp, intimate, honest and compelling film. Congratulations, Roger. Thumbs up.

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

June 14, 2014

the-pleasure-garden-x-5551_1Big Joy is a flavorful and affectionate documentary about a narcissist, James Broughton, who seemed to be a satellite around the cinematic and poetic revolutions of the ’50s, but whose name doesn’t seem to have endured alongside his peers. Partly, I think, it’s because Broughton’s work, his experimental short films and his verse, doesn’t seem to express much outside a diaristic impulse to record what was going on in his life and his head at the time. He was more effective, it seems, as a mystic and guru, throwing his arms out and accepting the young in their quest for love. This is a charitable way of saying that Broughton was a classic horny old goat. His films are full of young men with their kits off and their bits out.

One wonders if a James Broughton would be possible today, when it is leagues more easy (though still not 100% safe) to be openly gay in America. Broughton was in at least two serious hetero relationships; one was with revered film critic Pauline Kael and yielded a daughter, the other was a marriage to designer Susanna Hart that produced another daughter and a son. The son, Orion, is the only offspring willing to appear in Big Joy, though it seems as though he was about as neglected by Broughton as his siblings were. In the mid-’70s, at age 61, Broughton met 25-year-old poet Joel Singer and fell hard for him; he ditched Susanna and their two kids and ran off with Singer, who stayed with Broughton until his death in 1999 at 85.

What I’m getting at here is that if Broughton was a narcissist and a skunk with women, it wasn’t necessarily his fault; the times made him that way. This was a man who hit sexual maturity decades before Stonewall. Like William Burroughs, he fell into the societally approved man/woman thing as a cover story. Then he figured out he could express a lot of his yearnings through his art. His films aren’t stark like Kenneth Anger’s, nor brooding like Maya Deren’s. They embrace the juice and happy furry chaos of life, and his poems read a little much like kiddie poetry, not imagistic or sensual but straightforward odes to playfulness. Finding his voice as an artist and as a gay man, relatively late in life (he was 33 when he made his first short film), must have been cathartic for Broughton. Still, I wouldn’t want to have been the wife unceremoniously dumped with two kids at home while Broughton achieved beautiful oneness with his new boyfriend.

The movie uses ample footage from Broughton’s films, which helps keep Big Joy visually spiky and arresting. Broughton had an eye, although he was far from a technical wizard — the avant-garde cinema of mid-century America wasn’t about technique, though a lot of it sure influenced later masters like Scorsese. From what we see and hear of his work, there isn’t much darkness or pain in it. It’s wish-fulfillment, full of good cheer. Which may be another reason Broughton has more or less been forgotten. His work lacks the chiaroscuro Cold War hysteria and paranoia of that of his peers, all of whom seemed to be flashing tabloid Weegee snapshots of the horror of being an outsider. Broughton projected his own idealized fantasies — he was essentially a romantic comedian.

It seems that Broughton peaked creatively with 1953’s The Pleasure Garden, which took a prize at Cannes, though Pauline Kael generously called his 1971 This Is It (starring Orion as a toddler) “a perfect little object.” After his Cannes triumph, Broughton actually had nibbles from Hollywood, which he blew off, to Kael’s consternation (“This,” she told him, “is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made”). He didn’t want to pimp his angels out to the studios; he wanted to keep making little 8mm baubles. He was, I guess, a naïve artist, oblivious to the almighty buck — though Big Joy is tight-lipped on the subject of what exactly Broughton lived on for all those years. He was fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor of a San Francisco art movement that swept him up and probably kept him in benefactors for decades. That phenomenon seems unlikely to repeat. So, no, a James Broughton would be impossible today.

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

May 25, 2014

GoreVIt’s a little unnerving to see a sentimental portrait of a rigorously unsentimental man. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia profiles the writer and historian in his painful autumn years, shuffling the new footage with archival clips of Vidal from the days when he was all but inescapable on TV, the literary equivalent of Carl Sagan (and equally parodiable). We see the Vidal of the ’60s and ’70s in varying degrees of slimness or paunch, intellectually limber and grinning when he sniffs rhetorical blood in the water, but then we always return to the octogenarian version, sodden with wrinkles and disappointment. He’s as sharp as ever, but the grin is gone. For one thing, nobody’s left to cross swords with him; his media adversaries have fallen one by one. William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, even the relative whippersnapper Christopher Hitchens — all gone. Vidal outlived his enemies and his friends, finally excusing himself from the room in 2012.

This documentary, which numbers Vidal’s nephew Burr Steers among its producers, tries gamely to fit an 86-year life into an 89-minute film. What we get is unavoidably Gore’s Greatest Hits. The Vidal/Buckley verbal shoot-out is here; Norman Mailer snarling at Vidal (and everyone else, including the studio audience) on The Dick Cavett Show gets a short clip; Vidal clowning Jerry Brown while running against him for the California U.S. Senate seat is probably the comic highlight. Brown sits there, scowling and furious, while Vidal more or less makes the very notion of Jerry Brown seem absurd. (It made me want to seek out Gary Conklin’s documentary on this episode in Vidal’s life, Gore Vidal: The Man Who Said No.) Essentially, the movie is a feature-length A&E Biography, from back when A&E still aired such things and not, say, Duck Dynasty.

Unadventurously directed by Nicholas Wrathall, the movie opens with Vidal standing at his own tomb — shared with longtime partner Howard Austen — and reaches a climax of sorts when, after Austen’s death, Vidal moves out of the Italian villa they also shared. Having lost his slice of paradise, Vidal seems to long for the grave. What does Wrathall have to say about any of this? Nothing. The film is carelessly structured; it began as a couple of filmed interviews and then grew into a feature. It hasn’t been shaped to tell any particular story. It seems to exist only because Wrathall had the footage. It certainly isn’t as radical as Vidal’s own words often were and are. I suppose Wrathall might say that his film will lead people to Vidal’s writing, though Vidal himself might bitterly counter that (a) nobody watches documentaries and (b) even if they did, nobody reads books either.

That was why Vidal valued his TV appearances: he knew he could get some splinter of his ideas across to a much bigger audience than would read his essays or even his historical novels. (Of course, that was back when writers still showed up on TV.) Vidal was often called cynical, but, having grown up around politics, he was simply a realist who knew how politics work. He was also a class traitor, a rich white man who was calling out income inequity decades before Occupy Wall Street. The film trots out some loyal talking heads to testify on Vidal’s behalf, including the fallen angel Hitchens, whom Vidal excommunicated when Hitchens supported the Iraq War. By the time Hitchens sat for Wrathall’s camera, he was gaunt and bald from chemotherapy, and delicate sad-bastard piano music plays as Hitchens laments that he hasn’t seen Vidal in years (oh, come on; Vidal and Hitchens would have found this noxiously trite). Soon he would be dead, presumably never having gotten absolution.

The Hitchens anecdote sketches Vidal as a cold cod, a grinch whose heart was four sizes too small. The movie runs some standard diagnostics on him: he hated his mother and lost his one true love, athlete Jimmie Trimble, at age 19 in World War II. The price of being an intellectual titan, the movie seems to reassure us, is going about a long, loveless life with a Trimble-sized hole in it. (Trimble, I guess, is Vidal’s Rosebud.) Wrathall approaches Vidal humbly, hat in hand, his head as empty as his hat. He doesn’t quite know what to make of Vidal; the man was simply bigger and more complex than one trial-size documentary can capture. It is nice to see vintage clips of Vidal the verbal samurai, but we have YouTube for that. The danger with this sort of movie is that our affection for the man will rub off onto the film. But Vidal himself, if he were sizing up this film, would have known how to separate one from the other.

Room 237

March 30, 2013

room2373900x506Everyone who loves movies needs to see Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, if only to roll their eyes at certain points. The documentary is about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining — not the making of the film, but, really, the deconstruction of it. Ascher interviews five theorists who have very different perspectives on The Shining and what Kubrick was trying to say in it. Bill Blakemore thinks the movie is really about the genocide of the American Indians. Geoffrey Cocks opines that it’s really about the Holocaust. Juli Kearns makes much of the supposed minotaur imagery and points out the “impossible” architecture of the haunted Overlook Hotel. Jay Weidner thinks the film was really Kubrick’s acknowledgment that he helped NASA fake the moon landing. John Fell Ryan talks about projecting The Shining running forwards and backwards, an experiment that yields some memorably weird and oddly beautiful images.

The first order of business might be to ask, Why this film? Why not another ghost movie from the same year, like The Changeling? Why not another Stephen King adaptation, like The Dead Zone? Why not another Kubrick film — ah, but there we answer part of the question, because a cursory surf around the web will unearth countless deep-dish analyses or close readings of practically every Kubrick film. His swan song, Eyes Wide Shut, for instance, is really Kubrick telling dark truths about the Illuminati, who promptly assassinated him days after he finished it. Well, at least a guy on the internet says so. I think the same guy also says Lady Gaga is an Illuminati tool. He’d probably find Illuminati stuff in The Shining, too.

The thing is, you can find anything you want to see in any movie. Rodney Ascher could as well have found five people who discovered profound meanings in Dude, Where’s My Car? But The Shining is the perfect launching pad for a movie about obsessive film theorists, because Kubrick in general attracts theories like lint, and this film in particular is perhaps his most stubbornly mystifying work. Pauline Kael’s review noted the film’s many “deliberate time dislocations.” Stephen King himself didn’t like or understand the movie, and still doesn’t. Years later, King would show how little he understood what made not only Kubrick’s film but his own book work, and wrote a terribly boring TV adaptation of The Shining, a clip of which we see in Room 237. The majority of the footage here, of course, comes from the Kubrick version, as well as from all his other films.

Some of it I enjoyed; some of it I’d heard (or read) before; some of it made my eyes glaze over and made me want to revisit The Shining. In form, Room 237 is more of a video essay than a documentary; the video essay is, to these eyes, an unfortunate bastard child of the close-reading film review, apparently made by people who don’t like to write, for people who don’t like to read. Copious use of other people’s work is an easy bonus for the video essayist. Room 237 also doesn’t show the five theorists onscreen — we just hear their voices — which tends to emphasize the “text” of what they’re saying instead of offering an Errol Morris-type study of five obsessives fondling Kubrick’s film like the blind men touching the elephant in the ancient fable. It’s a pillar! No, it’s a snake!

Kubrick himself preferred to let his movies speak for themselves, which for some viewers creates a void they rush to fill. Amusingly, Kubrick’s former assistant Leon Vitali, who was there at the time, scoffed at many of the theorists’ claims in a recent New York Times interview. Sometimes a typewriter is just a typewriter, even if it changes color; sometimes a chair that’s there in one shot and gone in a later shot is just a continuity goof. Directors — especially those who started before the advent of home video — are far less concerned with editing gaffes than many would suspect. “That’s the only usable shot, and that’s the shot we’re using” is what most disappearing-chair mysteries boil down to. Directors hope the narrative will move you past the small errors, but of course when a movie is available to watch again and again in your living room, the disappearing chair becomes noticeable.

I’ve seen The Shining more than a few times myself. What do I think it’s about? My take, briefly: it’s another chapter in Kubrick’s epic, decades-long doctoral thesis about the ongoing folly of man. Jack Torrance (man) has always been the caretaker (murderer). King, an active alcoholic when he wrote the book, meant the story to illustrate generational, genetic frailty (Jack’s father was an abusive drunk). Kubrick took that and magnified it into a statement about the timeless rivers of blood (redrum) running through human history. The theories about the Indian genocide and the Holocaust would seem to fit neatly inside mine, but I’m going to do us both a favor and let the moon-landing thing pass in silence.

My Amityville Horror

March 17, 2013

amityville8f-1-webAll most of us can know for sure about what happened at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville is that the Lutz family moved there in December 1975 and left 28 days later. Everything else, over the course of 37 years’ worth of books, movies, and TV re-enactments, has been essentially a matter of what you find believable, or what you prefer to believe. Eric Walter’s low-budget documentary My Amityville Horror sits down with a member of the family, Danny Lutz, who was ten when he moved into the house along with his mother, his stepfather, and his two siblings (both of whom declined to participate in the film). Danny, now a 47-year-old UPS driver, looks older than his age, as though his ordeal in the Amityville house stole his youth and continues to steal his life.

Is he telling the truth, though? Danny Lutz seems like a very angry man, and we are left with several explanations for that. He hated his stepfather George Lutz, a former Marine who “had no parent skills whatsoever.” Danny suggests that George’s interest in the occult made the family a target for whatever was haunting the house. He claims that George had telekinetic powers. Is it possible that Danny and the other children were brainwashed by George into believing in paranormal activity? Or intimidated by George into going along with the story? I wouldn’t want to speculate, but in the film, Danny certainly seems to believe what he’s saying. The thought of not being believed triggers his temper worse than anything else — as when Eric Walter asks if he would take a polygraph test.

My Amityville Horror becomes not so much an “untold story” of the Amityville case as a psychological study of a troubled man. Whatever you believe Danny went through, it’s clear he went through something, something that still eats away at him. We see him talking to a therapist, to a reporter who’d covered the original story, to a psychic investigator who had visited the house. They all seem to take him at his word. Danny seems to feel an intense need to tell his story, though he also says he doesn’t want to — doesn’t want to have to. He just wishes he had a normal childhood, a normal life. If that’s so, he hasn’t really helped his blood pressure by appearing here; those, like me, who couldn’t have picked the grown Danny Lutz out of a line-up before will now recognize him as “the Amityville guy.” (I’m also not sure why he didn’t trade his adoptive name Lutz — his loathed stepfather’s name — for his given name Quaratino, though maybe he wanted to maintain a connection to his mother.)

At certain points I stopped thinking about the Danny I was watching and reflected on another spirit-haunted Danny of the 1970s with a bad-tempered father figure — Danny Torrance, the child hero of Stephen King’s The Shining. Over the years I wondered what kind of man Danny Torrance would grow up to be, and later this year King himself will provide an answer with his sequel, Doctor Sleep. But watching My Amityville Horror, I could imagine that Danny Torrance might turn out something like Danny Lutz, carrying around ghastly memories and bottomless anger issues either learned or genetic or both. Life is messier than fiction, though, and I predict King’s Danny will be more tragically heroic than the other Danny we meet here.

The movie occasionally feels dawdling, despite its abbreviated length. Not much time is spent on Danny’s actual recollections of the horror; we more often hear him talk about how it affected him in the years since. He left home as a teenager, lived homeless in the desert for a while; married, had two kids, divorced. He lugs packages for UPS and in his spare time apparently sits in his garage a lot and plays electric guitar. Eric Walter digs where he can, but he, like almost everyone else, seems intimidated by Danny, who is a big guy who always seems a heartbeat away from punching someone. A documentarian like Nick Broomfield, who’s usually fearless about bluntly asking for the truth (he would’ve gotten Danny on a polygraph), might have provided a more in-depth Rashomon-like account — though he probably wouldn’t have gained access to Danny, whereas Walter, who started an Amityville website at age 17, most likely struck Danny as a more sympathetic ear. That’s ultimately what we take from My Amityville Horror — nothing shockingly new about the case, just sympathy for a man who, even if he didn’t literally flee from demons with his family 37 years ago, certainly appears to be living with some now.

See also: The Amityville Horror (2005)

2016: Obama’s America

September 8, 2012

In 2016: Obama’s America, the conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza tells us that America is being run not by Barack Obama II, but by Barack Obama Sr. Our current president barely knew his father, but, D’Souza argues, Obama carries out his absentee dad’s anti-colonial ideals anyway. All of this was found in D’Souza’s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which followed a Forbes article called “How Obama Thinks.” In response to that article, a writer opined, “Dinesh D’Souza has authored what may possibly be the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written.” Who wrote that? Michael Moore? Howard Zinn? No, Daniel Larison in The American Conservative. Other conservatives have been scarcely more kind to D’Souza’s blend of conspiracy theory and pop psychology. So it isn’t just liberals who might have trouble swallowing 2016: Obama’s America.

The first reel or so is almost The Dinesh D’Souza Story. D’Souza talks about his upbringing in Mumbai and his escape to the embrace of America. To hear him tell it, D’Souza and Obama are doppelgangers: both were born in 1961, both graduated from Ivy League colleges in 1983, both even got married in 1992. We do not hear, alas, whether D’Souza and his wife attended Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing on their first date, as Barack and Michelle reportedly did. In any event, D’Souza feels emboldened by his life’s parallel track to Obama’s, and he feels he is uniquely qualified to outline the ways in which Obama is a shadow radical bent on reducing America’s power on the global stage. He understands Obama, you see.

To make his case, D’Souza bends reality in small, weird ways (a baffling dramatization of a black man entering a bar, leading to two white men walking away, only, it turns out, to return with a birthday cake for their black friend — awww!) and in large, disingenuous ways. He lies about Obama’s stance on Iran; he lies about Obama wanting to give the Falkland Islands back to Argentina; he lies about Obama’s supposed blocking of American oil drilling and support for Brazilian oil drilling; he even lies about the Churchill bust Obama allegedly removed from the Oval Office (it was on loan and was slated to be returned before Obama had any say in it). And the timing of D’Souza’s attempted slam-dunk on Obama’s supposed gutting of NASA in favor of “reaching out to Muslims” is hilarious, given what’s trucking around on the surface of Mars as you read this.

How is it as a movie? I had the same problem with it that I had with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, to which 2016 is clearly intended as an heir apparent: it preaches to the converted. Moore, however, produced convincing documentation regarding the Bush family’s ties with the bin Laden family, and he had a star witness in Lila Lipscomb, the former war supporter whose son died in Iraq. D’Souza has nobody comparable, though he tries to pull a gotcha with Obama’s half-brother George, who seems, inconveniently for D’Souza, rather blasé about the president’s alleged neglect of him. Why hasn’t the richer, more powerful Obama pulled his kin out of Nairobi squalor? Well, because George is an activist and chooses to live as he does.

2016: Obama’s America comes to seem like clownish alarmist speculation (the Middle East will become “the United States of Islam”!) taking place in an echo chamber of talking heads who, like D’Souza himself, have never spent time with Barack Obama. It ends with D’Souza’s boyhood avatar staring out into the audience as D’Souza intones “The future is in your hands.” At the end of all this, I was no more persuaded of Obama’s anti-colonial agenda than I was before. The film moves fast, so that, while we’re saying “Wait a minute,” it’s already on to the next theory, the next guilt-by-association fallacy, the next pearl of pop-psych wisdom. According to the film, Barack Obama is president because the American people wanted to feel good about finally electing a black man, even though he’s half-white and that very half-whiteness made America comfortable with him. But, D’Souza is very sneakily saying, it’s not Obama’s white half you have to worry about. D’Souza, I recall, is the same man who in The Enemy at Home held liberals responsible for 9/11. Christ, even Michael Moore said it was al-Qaeda.


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