FROM THE ALMERIA WESTERN FILM FESTIVAL

This is a brief dispatch from Tabernas, Spain, where the ninth annual Western Film Festival is in progress. Four days of Western features, Westerns shorts, and Western-related events in and around the desert town where I used to live, and where so many great films were made.

And are there still Westerns? Yes indeed. The festival, directed by Eduardo Trias, who was once the director of the Huelva Film Festival, features films from the US, Argentina, France, Brazil, Spain, and Colombia. There are also a pair of documentaries – an Italian one about George Hilton, and a French one about Sergio Leone. I am a guest, screening STRAIGHT TO HELL (which was shot in this same desert, many years ago), and also honoured to be the recipient of the Premio Tabernas de Cine, which includes a handsome trophy, a stay in a delightful cabin in the Fort Bravo Western town, and – splendid to report – a chair with my name on it, on the road into town.

A chair may seem like a strange award, but in fact it is delightful – made of metal, bolted to the ground, it will last a lot longer than I will. And, most wonderful of all, my chair is next to the one awarded to last year’s guest, Claudia Cardinale. So on your next visit to Tabernas you can take your ease with me and Claudia. They are very comfortable!

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THE PARADE

The presentation of the chairs was proceeded by a march through town: locals and festival attendees dressed in the appropriate attire, covered wagons and stagecoaches, and four hundred children. If you have never seen four hundred children, dressed as cowboys and Indians, line dancing on the main street of a Spanish town, come to Tabernas for the Festival next year. It is a fantastic sight.

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THE CHAIRS

In addition to the two shown in the illustration, there are chairs for Terence Hill, George Martin, Enzo Castellari, Sara Montiel, and others who made films here. There is also live music (from Sarah Vista and the Chisum Cattle Co.), and a selection of Western-themed tapas in the local bars. And this morning, when I got up, they were shooting a new Western on the main street of Fort Bravo. I’ve no idea what it is, and the last thing film crews want is to be bothered by someone asking, “Hey, what’s the movie?” But if makes me very happy that Tabernas remains a desired location and that the finest form of cinema is still alive.

Especial thanks to Jose, the mayor of Tabernas, to Rafa, the director of Fort Bravo, and to the marvellous Cristina Serena, whose warmth and personal attention make the whole thing run so beautifully.

Gracias a todos. Gracias.

DODGING THE BULLET XII: PLAN A

The Science and Global Security Program at Princeton University have come up with a short video detailing the possible consequences of a “limited” nuclear exchange, such as the one envisioned by the Pentagon’s Nuclear Operations Report.

The vid is based “on independent assessments of current U.S. and Russian force postures, nuclear war plans, and nuclear weapons targets. It uses extensive data sets of the nuclear weapons currently deployed, weapon yields, and possible targets for particular weapons, as well as the order of battle…”

Words can’t adequately describe this simple four minute film. Please watch it.

DODGING THE BULLET XI: PENTAGON PLANS, & THE TREATY TO OUTLAW NUKES

An article on the Counterpunch site mentions a new Joint Chiefs of Staff report – JP 3-72 – which was briefly posted for public consumption on the Pentagon website. It concerns nuclear weapons, and the US military’s plans for using them.

The report was made available last week – then abruptly disappeared.

Fortunately the Federation of American Scientists had downloaded a copy and have made the Pentagon report available here.

Why not download a copy and have an enjoyable read?

Most of it is waffle and military/bureaucratic doublespeak, as you might expect. But explicit is the notion, expressed for the the first time in some decades, that nuclear weapons may be valuable assets in a “conventional” war. Much is made of the decision to go “NUDET” (the Pentagon’s charming acronym for “nuclear detonation”) being the President’s and his alone. Daniel Ellsberg demolishes that myth in his salutory book The Doomsday Machine.

All this is to make money, of course – there is a good report on which corporations, specifically, profit from nuclear weapons manufacture and suppport, here. The full title is Producing Mass Destruction: Private Companies and the Nuclear Weapon Industry. For Boeing, Lockheed, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Airbus, et al. the Obama/Trump nuclear weapons refurb (costing how much? 1.7 trillion?) and bipartisan support for more of the same, are wonderful things.

Perhaps not so for the rest of us. Natalye S. Baldwin writes a very sensible piece about American complacency in regards to nuclear weapons and the likelihood of nuclear war here. (Of course it is not only people in the U.S. who are complacent about this.) She writes:

“… Both the U.S. and Russia still have over 1,700 nuclear weapons combined on hair trigger alert. With so much antipathy, rancor and distrust having been recklessly stoked by the political class and much of the media toward Russia over relatively minor (and/or false) issues in the big picture – yes, they are minor in the big picture of a nuclear holocaust – don’t give a lot of reason for optimism…”

This invented hostility hostility towards Russia benefits who, exactly? The said nuclear contractors. The “intelligence” agencies, which were in serious disgrace, thanks to Snowden, Wikileaks, and others, prior to the Russiagate invention. The media and political assets of the above. Nobody else that I can think of gains anything from the nuclear weapons complex. We sacrifice our money, our land, and our futures to it, as if to a demon god. Even its “beneficiaries” cannot escape its consequences.

So I can be a little proud, as an Oregonian, that last week Oregon’s House of Representatives voted to approve Senate Joint Memorial 5 (SJM 5), which urges congress to lead a global effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Oregon is the the second state in the nation, after California, to pass such legislation in both chambers. The bill passed the Oregon Senate on May 20th. New Jersey’s Assembly has also passed a similar bill.

Meanwhile, seventy countries have signed up for the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty becomes international law – and nuclear weapons states international criminals – when fifty nations sign and ratify it. To date, there are seventy sign-ups, and twenty-five ratifications.

The US and the other nuclear powers will do their best to prevent any of their satraps from ratifying the Treaty. But we are already half way there! Among the countries which have signed and ratified are Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Austria, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, El Salvador, Palestine, Gambia, Uruguay, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most recent state to ratify is Bolivia, which did so on Hiroshima Day.

 

 

DODGING THE BULLET X: ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES

I was going to title this piece “stepping on the same rake” — the words used by one of the Russian military brass when the Americans announced they were going full speed ahead with the militarization of space. The mainstream media have spent the last two years (well, many more years than that, but the lies of the last two have been particularly egregious) demonizing the Russians… and guess what? Now a large majority of Americans have a negative view of Russia, and a large majority of Russians (who used to like Americans but who also have plenty of access to Western media) return the favour. In the US there’s a full-speed-ahead bipartisan push for a shooting war with Russia, with the English baying like the degenerate lapdogs of war we have become.

Yet something positive has happened on the Russian/American front. An American director and and American cinematographer have made a narrative feature with an entirely Russian crew and Russian actors, in Saint Petersburg. And guess what? The Russians aren’t the bad guys! There are no KGB poisoners, no Steven Berkoffs talking like they have a chicken bone caught in their throat… Indeed, there are no bad guys visible.

I saw ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES at the AIFF in Ashland, OR — a fine independent film festival about half an hour from where we live. Oddly enough, that makes it harder for me to see the films. If I’m in a foreign city at a film festival I’ve nothing to do but go to the pictures; but in Oregon we have work, domestic duties, vehicles and three dogs to juggle, so the cinema takes more effort. It was worth the trip to ONE MAN DIES: set during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, in a decrepit seed bank whose staff continue to do their duties, more or less, in the face of starvation and dispair. The dialogue is drawn from the testimony of those who survived the siege (or died in it). The film is dour, beautifully shot (the director/writer/editor is Jessica Oreck, the cinematographer Sean Price Williams) and one suspects both are fans of Tarkovsky. At the same time their tale isn’t stuck in the trap of historical authenticity – there are defunct personal computers and music headphones, to remind us that the past and the present are more connected than we think. Good idea, no? Other directors should try that, too…

In this interview the director tries to avoid answering the obvious lame-o questions (“What’s it like in Putin’s Russia?”) and seems a generally intelligent and thoughtful person. Like Buñuel, she is interested in insects, particularly millipedes. This is her second Russian film. It will be wonderful if Oreck avoids the lure of Pentagon-funded Hollywood cake-fests and continues to make her own original cinema — building bridges with those who are supposed to be our enemies.

TALES FROM LOS ALAMOS

The character of J. Frank Parnell, played by Fox Harris in the original REPO MAN, was an invention. I’d read enough about the Neutron Bomb to make me speculate on the sanity of its creator, and to create a fictional dramatic character based on that person. But I didn’t know Sam Cohen at the time, and Parnell and Cohen were distinct in numerous ways, while being just as insane.

Now an email from Robby in Los Alamos arrives, to relate the following strange tale…

“I’m writing to tell you thank you for creating Repo Man so many years ago. I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and when your film came out in 1984 it showed at the Los Alamos movie theater. Half of Los Alamos High School were beyond thrilled that our town was featured in the opening map scene, and the portrayal of the scientist in the film was beyond perfect. Your film came out at a time when we were just getting introduced to punk rock and all that (information moved slowly up to the mountains in New Mexico), so it was just perfect for us.

“I’ve read online about your call from Sam Cohen, the father of the Neutron Bomb, and that’s really interesting. We had some really amazing characters in Los Alamos, oddball scientists and their weird families and all (I’m probably included in that!), but when your film was released, we all thought it was based on a Los Alamos scientist named Ken Ewing. By most accounts he was legally blind, and would walk around town talking to himself, wearing a fannie-pack and had these thick, crazy taped-up glasses. He’d go to all the art openings and gorge himself on the free food, and would have that same 1000-yard stare and freakish demeanor that the scientist character you portrayed in the film had. It was beyond uncanny. When the film premiered in town, all of us yelled “Ken Ewing!! when the scientist character first appeared. it was just too coincidental how similar they were.

“Ken was a neighbor and my parents knew him from the amateur archaeological society they were all volunteering for. For his daytime job, Ken was an explosives expert. He never mowed his lawn (much to the consternation of his neighbors), to make sure the horned toads could have a good habitat. He lived with his mother until she died, and kept on living at the run-down house. He was an avid hiker, I don’t think he drove, and to get downtown it was a good 5-mile walk up and down canyons and stuff, he’d chug along talking to himself, wearing an old parka and a fannie pack…”

I never knew about Ken, but am sure he fit right in with the nuclear labs crowd. And to his credit he supported the horny toads! Robby reports that the Los Alamos High School almost voted REPO MAN their 1984 Class Film, but it lost to RISKY BUSINESS. Instead, they arranged to have the film re-played in the cinema on graduation night, at midnight.

TO LOS ANGELES

It’s always a pleasure to visit the Pearl of the Pacific and at the end of next week I’ll be in Hollywood CA to present four fims at the American Cinematheque: EL PATRULLERO (HIGHWAY PATROLMAN) and WALKER on Friday 15 March; and REPO MAN and TOMBSTONE RASHOMON on Saturday 16 March. Both screenings start at 1930hrs at the Egyptian Theater.

This is the LA premiere of TOMBSTONE RASHOMON and also of the new 4K transfer of EL PATRULLERO, which got a very nice write-up from J. Hoberman. I’m hoping that Lorenzo O’Brien, who wrote and produced EL PATRULLERO and produced WALKER, will be there on Friday, if his NARCOS duties permit.

The REPO and TOMBSTONE screening may be of interest since it’s a double bill of my first feature – released 35 years ago; US rights just reverted to me! – and my most recent one. An opportunity to see if I’ve improved, or only got worse.

There will be a Q&A between shows on both evenings. (UPDATE: The first evening was attended by my dear friend Zander Schloss, composer of EL PATRULLERO and Strummer’s partner on the WALKER soundtrack. Dick Rude and Olivia Barash from REPO MAN and Eric Schumacher and Rogelio Camarillo from TOMBSTONE RASHOMON were present the following evening, as were Lorenzo, and Merritt Crocker, producer of TOMBSTONE. Thanks for your presence, and to the American Cinematheque for two great evenings.)

10000Ways-1.1Also! Entirely unconnected, I’ve completed the second edition of my Italian Western book, TEN THOUSAND WAYS TO DIE, which will be coming out from Kamera Books later in the year. Just received this attractive piece of cover art, in my favourite colour.

MORE BRUEGEL

I can’t stop thinking about that Bruegel exhibition. Now I wish that I had bought the catalogue first, read it from cover to cover, and then seen the show. Twice.

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have spent time looking at the sketches or the prints — they are handsomely reproduced in the catalogue. I would have spent the whole time studing the paintings. And not taken my camera along on day two.

The camera had its advantages, though. I now have a ton of detailed images from Dulle Grillet and The Triumph of Death (the image of Mad Meg in the catalogue is pretty messed up, since they’ve managed to put her face on a two-page spread right where the staples are. But in general it’s still a nice book). And some of the more interesting pictures I took are the ones which show a bit of the crowd, as well…

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The Battle Between Carnival And Lent

On the day I visited, it was a pretty old crowd. White haired codgers like myself, for the most part. I’m sure the school parties had been hustled through earlier in the day. But the oldsters were all having a good old time with the Elder’s paitings.

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The Triumph of Death

Check out the expressions of those viewing The Triumph of Death. The man in front seems appropriately perturbed, but the people behind him look rapt with delight! Or fascination. While this view of the Rotterdam Tower of Babel becomes for me even more haunting and intimidating seen over the shoulders of others…

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The Tower of Babel

It turns out that Gratz, home of one of the two divergent copies of The Triumph of Death, which I mentioned in the last post, is not far from Vienna, in another museum filled with extraordinary stuff. So I have a new excuse to visit Austria, when I next pay a visit to my mum…