Saturday, October 25, 2014

DVD Reviews: Two Joel Gilbert Films about that Commie, Obama

Taken at a market in Xi'an, China (pic: Robert Barry Francos)
Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet (unless indicated)
Highway 61 Entertainment

Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception
Written, produced and directed by Joel Gilbert
95 minutes, 2012

Have you ever seen a Joel Gilbert Film before? I’ve had the opportunity to experience three of them: one is Elvis Found Alive (2012) [Reviewed HERE] and another is Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison (2010) [Reviewed HERE]. Needless to say, most of the time Gilbert is full of shit in an enjoyable way. Now, these two fake documentaries are interesting and fun, especially if you already know the history to pick out the mistakes (and some are doozies). He also did a Dylan documentary with his own twist with Dylan Revealed (2010) [reviewed HERE].

Essentially, Gilbert’s shtick is to have someone verbally impersonate the person who is the subject of the film, and then tell the story as first person. Of course, what the impersonator is saying is not the person of topic’s words, but Gilbert’s. This could be amusing, and I have found it usually is. His Elvis impersonator was right on, but his George Harrison was cartoonish. Honestly, I can’t even remember how the Dylan sounded.

This leads us to this so-called documentary of the early life of President Barak Hussein Obama, who took over after the destruction of the economy by his predecessor. The film plays into all the fears of the Republican non-think points, of how Obama is associated with communists, home-grown terrorists, and socialists to bring down the country. Okay, this doesn’t align with the “birther” twits, though it does claim he was born in Washington State rather than Hawaii.

Using his familiar style, Gilbert has the voice over, breaks the film into “chapters,” and uses snippets (sometimes only playing the part of a sentence that furthers his pre-fabricated case), newsreels and stock footage. He doesn’t, however, actually interview anyone himself, but rather uses conjecture that furthers his point. My issue is that he has the data to support his conclusion, rather than arriving at the conclusion from the data. This can be foolhardy; FOXNews level dangerous, as they use the same method.

Using Obama’s own book, Dreams From My Father as a launch pad, the film posits that Obama’s real father was African-American communist poet / journalist Frank Marshall Davis (d. 1987). We “hear” a narrator that is supposed to be quoting Obama but sounds nothing like him (by Ed Law) describe the political life of Marshall and his attraction to communism, and attributes a large amount of the ‘50s “red scare” to Marshall’s group. We also hear how Obama’s maternal grandfather worked for the CIA (in the real Obama book, he says he was a furniture salesman), so when Mama Obama supposedly gets “in that way” by Marshall, a Kenyan college student funded by the CIA to study in Hawaii and fight communists agrees to marry Obama’s mother on the condition he gets some moolah and has no responsibility. Of course, Obama grows up and hangs out with Marshall, adopting his politics, according to this theory.

One aspect the film focuses in on at this point is the “Red” part, but ignores the “Scare” section. Driven by Republican paranoia (led by Senator Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon), people were seeing anything it imagines as communist or socialist leanings as the destruction of the moral fabric of America (sound familiar?). Let me state here that I am neither a communist nor a socialist, though I believe in many social programs. In the same way black integration in schools and the introduction of rock and roll were vilified by right wing pundits, they put the fear of change (or even the possibility of a hint of it) as the destruction of life as we knew it. I still remember drills in school where we had to hide under our desks in case we in Brooklyn were bombed, or stand in the hallway for the possibility it was a nuclear attack. Robert Klein has a funny routine about his on his Child of the ‘50s album, but I digress…

One moment that made me laugh is Obama goes to Chicago, and is associated by locale to Saul Alinsky’s (d. 1972; misspelled in the film as “Alinksy”) book, Rules for Radicals, where he connects “change” with “socialism.” Of course, Obama’s theme for his first run at the presidency was Change, so obviously he must have meant socialism. Now look, when I was an undergrad, as well as being in the Hillel club, a Jewish organization for which I barely attended, I also joined the strongly Christian based Newman Club, because there were some very cute coeds in it (not that it did me any good). Because of my dual affiliation, though not based in any real devotion, the Jews for Jesus club hounded me to join. I understand that just because you are around something does not mean you are associated with that belief. The Blank Generation days were filled with substance abuse, but I nursed a bottle of Bud from 10 pm to 3 am. There were people who assumed I was on drugs because I was so thin, but again, that had nothing to do with reality [HERE]. Similarly, whether or not people such as Bill Ayres, Alinsky or Reverend Wright were around Obama, does not mean that he agrees with their philosophies. Or maybe it does. I don’t know Obama personally to say.

One of the points hammered home is Obama’s association with far left politicians, questionable business people, and “patrons.” Try and find someone in politics that is not associated with those who are using politicians for their own means (can you say Cheney and Halliburton?). Even Republican shill and icon (who was a joke at the time but lauded now) Ronnie Reagan was surrounded by those who were out to destroy democracy for their own vision of capitalism. But because it’s “capitalism” and not “socialism,” it must be for the good, right? Remember when the Reagan administration union busted and fired the airport workers (and then, ironically, had an airport named after him)? If you want to see how this all works, check out the Robert Redford film The Candidate (1972; trailer HERE).

This film is obviously flawed because it comes from a conclusion of paranoia and Republican wrongheadedness. Gilbert’s early films about music subjects were harmless and amusing. I found this to be less so, because of the level of fear mongering about Obama specifically and Democrats in general that make the points made here less than benign. If this had come out after the next presidential election when it had no bite, that would be fine, but I am not impressed by the timing (cashing in?) of this.

What amazes me (not in a good way) about this film is that everything they are claiming about Obama – bankrupting the country, taking away retirement funds, making the middle class disappear, etc. – has already been tried… by the Republicans since Ronnie, and especially under little Georgie W.

It’s kind of devious and almost subliminal how every time Davis is mentioned, it is emphasized not as “my father,” but “my real father.” Also, even more subtly, very often when there is an image of Obama, it is split-screened with Davis in a similar pose, as if to say, “see!?!?” No, I don’t think he looks like Davis nor Obama Sr. He looks like his mother, with a mixture of African-American features that could be either. For example, yes, he has eyes that are similar to Davis, but he also has lips that are similar to Obama Sr. But if you put his picture next to his mother, you can tell the family resemblance.

With the “immigrant” fear (Gilbert has them referred to as “illegals” here, something Obama would never do), there is a strong level of racism here. “Obama” even refers to himself as “the first Affirmative Action president.” Really, Joel? That shows your true colors (pun intended) more than anything I can add.

So, again, unlike the Harrison and Elvis predecessors, this film takes conjecture for fact (as opposed to fantasy), which makes it an opinion piece rather than a historical document. What makes it dangerous is that there are a host of people who believe this crap. Did you know that most people in the South who were polled said that Obama was to blame for the result of Katrina? FOXNews is out to dupe the world into thinking Right wing ideology is the only belief system, but ignorance is not bliss, it’s damaging.

There’s No Place Like Utopia
Written, produced and directed by Joel Gilbert
110 minutes, 2014

In his latest film and slam-a at Obama, director Joel Gilbert takes a different route for once, and does a Michael Moore by making himself the central character of the piece. Well, perhaps a reverse of Moore, since he is a renowned Leftie, and Gilbert shows himself on the extreme Right.

Using the framework of Oz being an Utopia, Gilbert fashions the charlatan Wizard of Oz as Barak Obama, who promises us an impossible dream (i.e., philosophers say there can be no such place as Utopia, literally translated as “no place”).

The entire opening sequence, where Gilbert walks around the Hollywood and Vine area asking star impersonators “Why did Dorothy go to Oz?” is, well, a waste. Okay, we get the premise, so put your ego back in your pants, and get on with it, dude. You don’t like Obama, you envision him as the Wiz and “his” America as a Utopia much like Oz, we get it; now explain why. And what is this subtly equating Michelle with the Wicked Witch of the West by juxtapositioning her with an image of the 1961 television cartoon version of the Baum story, Tales of the Wizard of Oz?

One aspect that Gilbert seems blind to is that every leader, including Ronnie, promises a Utopia (“Tear down that wall!!”), not only for here, but for everywhere. Remember Georgie W.’s promise to bring “democracy” to Iraq? Why doesn’t Gilbert consider that a promise of Utopia? Oh, yeah, it’s not Obama.

What most Republicans – especially the poor ones – don’t seem to understand is that so many grew up within the Red Scare or influenced by those who were, that the very thought of a socialistic program designed to help even them seems un-American and anti-Capitalist. Well, here’s a shock for you: unabated capitalism is potentially more dangerous to the average person than either socialism or communism. Think monopolies and how unregulated corporations will do their best to strip you of everything you own or are. Some of the richest corporations (e.g., Walmart, Best Buy) complain about paying a decent wage so many workers are still forced on social programs, but put much of their money in off-shore accounts to keep from paying taxes. And those who pulled the lever for the Red rather than the Blue in central areas of this fine country are voting against their own self interests in their fear of America possibly helping those who need it. Yes, there will always be those who abuse the system, but the majority are desperate and cannot survive without some assistance. There is a strong current of xenophobia also present, as “Hispanics” = “illegals” who are supposedly paid off to vote for Obama. There is no positive message here about African-Americans nor Latinos.

In a move of complete hypocrisy, Gilbert goes to the Martin Luther King memorial, as if to say, see, there are good Black people who have ideals. But if you do your research, you will find that King was anti-capitalist, and was considered a socialist in his day. No mention of that, just a way to say “some of my best friends are…, so I’m not…”

When interviewing Chinese college student near the White House, he mocks the name Beijing Normal University. There are many Normal schools even in the United States. If he had done his homework rather than jumping on something he doesn’t understand, he would find out that a Normal school is where they instruct people how to be teachers. It’s common term around the world. I had the pleasure this past summer to teach a class in Media Theory (Gilbert would be the perfect example of a Monopoly of Power as he only shows one side of any argument) at Shaanxi Normal University, in Xi’an. Asking someone from China to say something publicly against the government is just plain ridiculous. China, Russia, and other countries that are “Socialist” or “Communist” play by their own rules, and asking someone to go against that endangers them, which is hardly fair to them to make your own point. For example, I would not ask a Palestinian to make a comment against Gaza on the air, or someone who is returning to Iran to comment on their leaders.

Gilbert gleefully finds people who live here who are willing to speak out against the governments of China and Russia, and even a dissident against Obama’s policies. You can do that in America. Comparing us to anyone else, even Canada, is a big mistake. Policy is another story. Obama is trying to get health care like Canada, and meanwhile the Right leaning Canadian government is trying to privatize their health care system like the Americans, so corporate health care cannot just strive, but can afford to PAC their politicians.

Gilbert comments how Mao let 50 million of his citizens die of starvation. Well, capitalist America did the same thing to the American Indians/First Nations population. Of course, he doesn’t mention this, making it seem like it happened in China and Russia because they were communist. No, they were power mad (ego), not ideological. And Gilbert talks about labor camps in those countries, but does he mention about how the capitalist US starting with Tricky Dickey industrialized the prison system to keep a cheap labor force, earning less than a dollar an hour? No. Any mention of the Georgie W. led depression of 2008 where people lost both jobs and homes? No. He shows the poverty of African-Americans in Detroit and South Chicago. Does he mention that majority of people who are on welfare and food stamps are actually white people below the Mason-Dixon? And that many people who work for some of the richest companies of the world need to be on sustenance to survive because their low wages are not enough, and this is pure capitalism? No. He only interviews (or is interviewed by) people who are Tea Party leaners, with no comment from anyone who might disagree with him. Did I mention Monopolies of Power?

Gilbert takes us to the slums of Detroit, which one pundit here calls “the perfect Democrat city.” While interviewing a resident, the interviewee comments that it was a vibrant area until the factories closed down. Gilbert fails to mention that part of the reason they closed down was because unregulated capitalism (aka free capitalism) sent the factories overseas to find cheaper labor, giving a larger profit to the rich and taking the neighborhood away from the working class. Even so, did you know that if you earn more than $20,000 a year, in the rest of the world you are part of the 1%? Scary. Gilbert does not mention that.

Here it is in a nutshell that I have been aware of since I was a teen: capitalism, socialism and communism all have one aspect in common, and that is there is no such thing as a perfect system, and the larger the population, the more this is true.

Meanwhile, while Gilbert is talking about how “Socialistic” Obama is out to destroy America, the stock market is better than ever and continually breaking records, unemployment is way down, people have health care, and the country is better off than it even was for Clinton. Damn that America-destroying Obama for getting us out of the hole the Republicans put us into! He’s not a capitalist? Explain the “don’t touch Monsanto” rulings, dude.

Towards the end of the film, one ex-business owner from Detroit says the reason for the problems there is due to the EPA changing the regulations so “what was legal became illegal.” Excuse me, but lowering emissions was the right way to go. Have you ever been to New Delhi? Beijing? You can’t see more than a few years ahead because, in part, of poor emissions standards. I don’t need to see my air, thank you. And some Russian √©migr√© claims that socialists are less productive than capitalists, while images of the Obamas on the cover of magazines and golfing are splayed. Now remind me again of how many days Barak took vacation vs. his predecessor? Who’s not productive again?

At a visit at a Newark public city council meeting, it is posited that if you have a dissenting voice, you are silenced. The film makes it seem like this is an Obama-ism. Actually, Obama takes questions from any- and everyone. To interview George W., you had to be invited, and he only let in those who agreed with him. As for Newark, well, it’s Newark. Talk to Gov. Christie about that, if you can. Also, I love that they talk about Obama’s “voting fraud” by getting people registered to vote. Georgie Bush stole an election by rigging it and denying many voters at the polls, and Obama is wrong for getting people to the polls. Unbelievable.

The second biggest problem with this film (the first being its misguided message, of course), and this would be true no matter what Gilbert’s leaning, is that as much as he’s trying to be a response to Michael Moore, he just can’t cut it. He does not have the – er – large personality of Moore, nor the balls to stand up to those who disagree with him, something present in all Moore’s releases. With the exception of going to the Ayres house and leaving a DVD by the door when no one answers the bell, and giving Michelle’s mom a copy at well at her modest home in Chicago (we never actually see her), Gilbert mostly gravitates towards those who agree with his rhetoric. This is by no means fair and balanced.

One impressive thing Gilbert has done was to find a woman who famously enthused about Obama on a newscast at an Obama speech, and asked her opinions now, which have obviously changed (why else would she be here?).

My big question that one that no one can truthfully answer because it is impossible: “Do you honestly believe it would have been better under Romney?!” My answer is hell, no.

I’m hoping he has this out of his system now, and will go back to music mockumentaries. To use Joel Gilbert’s own analogy, this film was a Toto.


Bonus video:


Saturday, October 11, 2014

CD Review: Gallagher: I Am Who I Pretend to Be

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Gallagher: I Am Who I Pretend to Be
Produced by David Drozen
Uproar Entertainment
70 minutes, 2014

In case you are wondering who (Leo) Gallagher is, I don’t think it would be an understatement to say he was as influential in the stand-up world as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Williams. Arguably, you could even add George Carlin. Was he as funny as them? Well, that’s a matter of the style of humor you enjoy, but it was Gallagher that almost single-handedly brought the stand-up series of specials to cable television, 14 shows over the years that had millions of viewers each. Some say the existence of the Comedy Channel in some part was created due to Gallagher’s on-air popularity.

I have to say, I found him extremely funny. I viewed probably about 5 of those specials, and saw him a number of times on the likes of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. He was outrageous without being overly shocking (profanity is in his cable shows, but not his mainstream presentations). He had a unique style, using his own creative props that were inventive on the level of engineering, and unlike some other prop comics like, say, Carrot Top, Gallagher was not manic (though he screamed a lot) and was actually enjoyable.

From North Carolina, he had a bit of a twang and a unique way of phrasing things, often using some colloquialisms, such as saying “them people.” Considering how much of the use of language a key part of his act is, I’m not sure if this was an in-bred way of patter, or was part of his stage persona. I don’t ever remember seeing him talk off the stage.

The reason I use past tense in this piece is because this show is part of Gallagher’s retirement tour. After serious health issues, he has decided to professionally call it quits.

When the CD starts, honestly, it doesn’t sound like him. He has a particular way to talking and it takes a while before I can “recognize” his voice. But that’s okay. I also wondered about a vocal-only recording, because he usually is quite visual, including using a sledge hammer on a watermelon (yeah, that’s the guy). That is probably why he has all these television shows and only one other vocal recording from the beginning of his career.

One of the things that appeals to me about Gallagher is the way he has a slight twisted way of looking at life that seems to make sense until you really think about it. For example, he often posits (including here) that they ought to give deaf people houses by the airport. Or that that they should make Jehovah Witnesses mail carriers because they’re going to come to your door anyway (not included). Illogical logic?

In the hour-plus of this CD, I did notice something that I had not realized before, but has been a consistent theme of his act, and that is he promotes cultural gender-normative stereotypes. Sort of a “You know what you guys do?” “You know what you ‘girls’ do?” Then comes out the controlling image of women who love to go shopping, and men who are slackers around the house who don’t do much tidying, and how both drive each other crazy. He’s been focusing in on these for thirty years now, and honestly, the timer is up on it. It’s a dated notion that is okay to acknowledge that times have changed. More men work around the house, and more women are in the workforce. That being said, I thought the line about a version of Playboy for married men that has the same centerfold model in each issue was pretty funny. Okay, I’m done with that cultural rant.

Gallagher has always been a bit of an American jingoist, but tends not to be overly obnoxious about it, like Ted Nugent, for example. He loves “Amurrka” (as he pronounces it) and hates to see foreign interests changing the landscape, as it were. Is his material racist? Well, there is definitely singling out some cultures, such as Mexicanos, but it’s not nasty any more than his pointing out gender norms. I did cringe, however, the one time when he used the expression “that is so gay.”

Once you get beyond those, and he finally gets fired up, as he does here, his two strong suits come out. The first one is pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of our culture, and how we look at things. He would make a powerful General Semanticist. It could be how we may be viewed by aliens (stating how from space telescopes we have to look up to the stars find any kind of intelligence, rather than back at Earth), weirdness about how people view the Bible, and how crazy is our justice system. His analysis using a spork (spoon-fork a la KFC) as a springboard is quite smart.

Then his second strong point comes out that is my favorite, which is Carlin-esque in how he points out the randomness of grammar and language. In this particular case he looks at the “enemy” of the English language, the French, and how their mother tongue has influenced us in nearly a poetic rant.

The bonus track, “Words of Wisdom,” is a bit I’ve heard before, and in fact there is a smattering of repeating here and there (this is true of many comics, including Robin Williams, with his Mr. Happy bits).

Yeah, he’s still sharp and witty, and considering his heart situation, he’s definitely still Gallagher. That’s something that’s worth a listen.
Bonus video from the ‘80s (unrelated to this CD):