All posts by ricbretz

The EARN IT Act: Too Important to be a Binary Issue

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by Rick Bretz

The EARN IT Act or its proper name, Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (or EARN IT) Act, if passed, will hold the IT industry responsible for the online exploitation of children and other criminal activity.  

The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham, SC, Richard Blumenthal, CT, Josh Hawley, MO, and Dianne Feinstein, CA, creates incentives in the form of liability protection with their cooperation with the law and due diligence toward fighting exploitation.

As Senator Lindsey Graham said at the introduction, “This bill is a major first step. For the first time, you will have to earn blanket liability protection when it comes to protecting minors. Our goal is to do this in a balanced way that doesn’t overly inhibit innovation, but forcibly deals with child exploitation.”

This legislation is admirable in its desire to eradicate child exploitation and sites that harbor these images on the internet.  It could give lawmakers the green light to many other activities.

Another side of the issue has surfaced and it’s the privacy aspect of the issue. As with all legislation, privacy rights groups fear the law will be exploited for tracking all internet activity.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) website sees it as a privacy issue as well as government interference with business practices.

An article on the site states, “(The Bill) grants sweeping powers to the Executive Branch. It opens the door for the government to require new measures to screen users’ speech and even backdoors to read your private communications—a stated goal of one of the bill’s authors.”

More than one senator agreed with that “stated goal.”  At a recent hearing, tech company leaders from Apple and Facebook and others were grilled about warrant-proof data encryption.  Congress concluded these companies protect terrorists, organized crime, and child abusers from criminal investigations and the proof needed to prosecute them.

The message sent in cold words at the hearing and forwarded to tech company managers was to “get on with it” and develop warrant- compatible encryption or congress will take up the matter and force them to do it.

As Senator Marsha Blackburn, TN, said at the hearing, “It is troubling to me to hear you say that giving the key to law enforcement would cause a weakness in the device that would be a bad trade-off.”

Blackburn summarized the issue, “Catching criminals is never a bad trade-off.”

The EFF article points out that the new legislation would undermine Section 230 of the 1996 Communications and Decency Act which generally states that you say or post something illegal online, the individual is responsible and not the provider, website or platform.  The new bill would hold companies, providers, and websites responsible for lawsuits, civil damages and state criminal prosecutions.

The new law would require companies to put measures in place to identify, screen user’s posts and speech broadcasted and to also integrate back doors in order to gain access for investigations.

Section 230 also gives email users protection from forwarding messages without being prosecuted.  Section 230 outlines many standard business practices that have been around several years.  Congress is essentially saying it’s for the law to catch up with innovation.

Privacy advocates see this as a direct shell shot into the bow at the free speech protection vessel.  The concern lies in the potential misuse by government officials, especially using the law in the wrong hands or wielded by a vindictive personality. See political axe to grind.

The other side, Senator Feinstein points out, “Technological advances have allowed the online exploitation of children to become much, much worse over recent years.”

Feinstein further explained, “Companies must do more to combat this growing problem on their online platforms. Our bill would allow individuals to sue tech companies that don’t take proper steps to prevent online child exploitation, and it’s an important step to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

As many as 70 groups representing survivors, families and stakeholders such as law enforcement, as well as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Rights4Girls, and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation support the legislation.

Plenty of support exists for both sides of the issue.  One argument is that the legislation, if passed, will break the end to end encryption used for the CIA (Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability) security triad.

An additional criticism from opponents accuses the government of using horrific child exploitation internet and email activity by criminals to pass legislation to digitally spy on the public. The 2020 version of the black helicopter.

If two parties want to solve an important issue, put aside the rhetoric and solve the problem, especially when the solution has bipartisan support.  The EARN IT Act is not a binary issue. It’s not on or off. Right or Wrong. The arguments are not mutually exclusive.  You can speak common language from both sides of the aisle.  The government, tech companies, and advocacy groups must meet and hash out an agreement to both protect children and safeguard privacy for law abiding individuals.

More safeguards and child protections can be accomplished and should be supported by everyone. 

At the same time, the media savvy public should not be wary of sending an email for fear of who is reading it in a big building in the center of Washington, DC, in a dark room with people standing behind the person, looking over both shoulders.

References:

https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/press/rep/releases/graham-blumenthal-hawley-feinstein-introduce-earn-it-act-to-encourage-tech-industry-to-take-online-child-sexual-exploitation-seriously

https://www.lawfareblog.com/earn-it-act-raises-good-questions-about-end-end-encryption

https://www.politico.com/news/2019/12/10/tech-companies-bipartisan-congress-encryption-080704

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/01/congress-must-stop-graham-blumenthal-anti-security-bill

A good time for a list

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by Rick Bretz

I figured this might be a good time to send out a few suggestions for your viewing pleasure. The streaming services are a goldmine concerning documentaries.   As a huge fan of documentaries, these are my picks for some of the best out there.  These are not listed by rating or any particular order because they are all good. They are only a click away.   

Bobby Kennedy For President-Netflix

This extensive and fair documentary shows Bobby Kennedy from childhood to his last moments after the California primary in 1968.  It is a study in a transformation from growing up, college life,  his work on the congressional committees,  running his brother John Kennedy’s Presidential campaign to his election as New York’s senator and his presidential run.  Although his core personality traits remain as he matures into his 30s and beyond, Bobby Kennedy begins to harness how he uses them for the greater good. Revealing interviews with friends, colleagues and other people who met or knew him define this video portrait in a documentary that is an objective view of Kennedy’s personality and accomplishments.  Like John Kennedy before him, you wonder what might have been after viewing this film.

Bobby Sands:  66 Days-Netflix

Good documentaries educate as well as create their own own mark on the genre.  This is one.  This is the story of the Provisional Irish Republican Army soldier Bobby Sands and his hunger strike while in HM Prison Maze in 1981.  The story cuts back and forth from the start of Bobby Sands’ hunger strike, and why he began it, to the history of the conflict between England and Ireland as well as the Northern Ireland troubles. Sands was a person who had the courage to finish what he started and from there, the countdown to day zero begins. The compelling part of this story lies in the total commitment Bobby Sands had toward first volunteering for a hunger strike and then following through. The essential part of the film covers the timeline showing how the Northern Ireland Troubles came to this point of a hunger strike as well as the how that flash point started the road towards a peaceful solution we see today.  This documentary is an education on different levels.

20 Feet From Stardom-Netflix

A fascinating view telling the stories of the backup singers for several popular solo artists and groups. The personalities and voices from these singers make this documentary a captivating story.  Interviews with Darlene Love, Sheryl Crow, Claudia Lennear and Merry Clayton and several more singers let the viewer know where they were on stage and why they remained in a supporting role. Legends Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Sting offer their viewpoints and praise.    The interview with Darlene Love is especially entertaining. The film’s concert footage and interviews with some of the greats in the music business make this a fascinating look at the voices you’ve heard on the music track to your life.  One last point—Lisa Fischer’s voice is fantastic.

Command and Control-Netflix

I read the book and watched this documentary about how the United States managed and controlled our nuclear capabilities during the Cold War period in American history.  The book offers more detailed accounts of certain events that occurred during the tense stand off with the Soviet Union. The documentary focuses on one event that occurred in Damascus, Arkansas, in September of 1981 that caused a ground explosion at a Titan Missile complex.  Accident investigations drill down to the cause of major disasters and 100 percent of the time these events happen due to a series of mistakes.  In this case, it was due to ignoring standard operating procedures, not using the correct tool for a particular job and other command and control issues.  It’s a story about how one mistake can lead to a catastrophe that could have lead to an even bigger disaster.

The Wrecking Crew-Hulu

The artists you thought were playing the instruments on all of those hit records weren’t.  The musicians on all those Beach Boy hits, The Mamas and the Papas songs, Sonny and Cher records, The Righteous Brothers tunes and many more were men and woman on a exclusive list. They were guitarists, percussionists and keyboard players in the LA area that had the chops. Records producers and engineers needed people who could create and hit the notes when they needed it.  Once more, these people could help produce a hit record on time and under budget when record companies looked at the bottom line.  Names like Tommy Tedesco and Glenn Campbell showed up at the studio and delivered.  In addition to the interviews, the audio from the recording sessions all those years ago is awesome.  When you hear Brian Wilson creating the Good Vibrations music tracks with the Wrecking Crew, you will move forward in your chair.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown-Hulu

Much like the Wrecking Crew, this is a film about the Funk Brothers from the hit Motown years.  These musicians created the Motown sound for the Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and a whole lot more.  When Berry Gordy formed Motown Records in Detroit, he did a smart thing.  He went to all the Jazz and Blues clubs in the Detroit area and hired the best musicians to back up the tons of hit records his label would produce in the future.  Another fascinating story about the people behind the hits who made the Motown sound.

The Dawn Wall-Netflix

This documentary explores the motivation, perseverance and obsession of free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson’s attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.  The cinemaphotography and the physical toll in taking on the climb makes the audience tired just watching it.  The film is vertigo inducing just looking at some of the shots from where they stop and look down but also when they set up their overnight bed that hangs off the side of a flat mountain rock face.  It’s an edge of your seat and edge of the cliff roller coaster ride.

Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown-Hulu

The comedy legend and philanthropist Jerry Lewis is featured in the documentary that offers more than just laughs. It’s a serious look into the life and personality of Jerry Lewis.  He had to be the businessman as well as the funny man during his life and career. The film interviews friends and colleagues to find out what makes Jerry, well Jerry. The clown make up is off and real Jerry is revealed. if you think you know Jerry Lewis, this film will surprise you.

78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene—Hulu

The 78 and 52 refers to 78 camera setups and 52 cuts. The shower scene in Psycho has been talked about and analyzed before for film documentaries and in just about every film school class.  It is required viewing for film study the world over.  Nevertheless, this documentary shows us new territory by interviewing the body double for Janet Leigh, as well as top film editors from the industry..  As a person who has worked in the video production and news editing business, this documentary was fascinating on many levels.  The level of detail on story boarding, stage planning, and the creation of the music score demonstrates that Alfred Hitchcock was at the top of his craft. The editors and other experts in the documentary tell us how Hitchcock set audience up in the beginning of the film to illicit the shock of the seeing the shower scene.  It is not hyperbole to say this scene changed film editing moving forward.  Yes, Hitchcock broke the rules for this montage sequence, but he knew which ones he was breaking.

Mercury 13-NetFlix

The great thing about the United States is eventually wrongs are righted. A few of these documentaries I have seen more than once, and this is one of them.  This film tells the story of women pilots from the barnstorming days, then to the WWII pilots supporting the war effort and onto the Mercury 13.  Who are the Mercury 13? I didn’t know this but there once was a program in the early 1960s for women astronauts when NASA first began its quest to get to the moon and return.  The men who ran the program in the early 60s killed it. The prejudices, social mores of that time and the boys club mentality shut it down.  Consequently, the first women into space was Russian Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.   Here’s the great thing about this documentary, other than the interviews and footage of the great women pilots from that era, and that is they did better on the NASA tests than the men did.  Well, there you have it. The women featured on this documentary were excellent pilots and maybe the best of them all was Jacqueline Cochrane.  She’s feature here too but she didn’t get selected for the program. The story of the original Mercury 13 women astronaut candidates paved the way for all who followed and ushered in the success of women in NASA’s Shuttle program.

Bonus Documentary—The Keepers.  One that will keep you thinking long after you watch it.

In the Year 1920 but 132 Years Late

architecture art clouds landmark
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by Rick Bretz

Voting empowers oneself. It gives someone the feeling that they have a say in what happens around them.

History makes the argument that Americans didn’t have a representative government until recently.   The US Constitution was ratified on June 21st, 1788.  They made some mistakes, left out a few disenfranchised members of society,  and failed to address important issues.   The wonderful thing about the US Constitution is the document can be changed.

The Constitution was changed in 1791 with the Bill of Rights and subsequently, several more amendments were added– important ones. The United States of America and its citizens and representatives acted as the editorial board and added more wisdom to make our government by and for the people even better.

It’s President’s Day, a time to celebrate George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all the other leaders that have taken us this far.  Some were better than others but, nevertheless, they served as best they could under their present-day environment.

These learned and successful men also kicked the can down the road on a few other issues in the name of getting the US Constitution ratified and creating a stable government.

The women’s suffrage movement celebrated their freedom to choose on August 18th, 1920 when the 19th Amendment became part of the United States Constitution.  132 years late but the error was corrected.

That is the day they could exercise their right to vote.  With all battles and wars, the suffrage movement fuel was moved closer to the revolution spark with the formation of the United States under the US Constitution.

In a letter to John Adams on March 31 1776, Abigail Adams wrote, “…in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” 

She continues her request with a warning, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” 

The framers messed up and didn’t follow her advice.  That rebellion came soon enough with the leadership of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  These leaders of the suffrage movement were determined and focused on their ultimate goal and recruited an army of women to accomplish it.

On President’s Day, it’s significant to remember that women didn’t have the right to vote for a President until 1920, 100 years ago.  The fact baffles clear thinking people that it took a prolonged fight to give a fundamental right to a vital group of society, considering their role in America’s struggles and accomplishments.

white house
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The United States is a republic, not a democracy.  The majority does not rule.   A republic gives power to elected representatives to act on their interests.

A pure democracy argued Thomas Jefferson, “ …is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.”

The argument could also be made that we didn’t have a fully representative government until 1920.  How can you have full representation when significant segments of the population are left out?  The first part got their voting rights in 1870 with the Fifteenth Amendment when African American’s were given the right to vote.  It took another 50 years for the 19th Amendment to pass.    For good measure, Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because there were still people who wanted to deny people the right to walk in a polling place and vote. This legislation covered a wide spectrum of voting right abuses.

Native Americans also had a struggle for voting rights.  Like black voters after the fifteenth Amendment, they also had to struggle against state-mandated literacy tests, poll taxes, fraud, and intimidation.

A Ken Burn documentary on the suffrage movement called “Not For Ourselves” features the struggle for voting rights and the two women who fought the difficult fight, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  They fought the battle but passed away before their goal was realized in 1920. The documentary points out they were doing for all women after them. It’s worth a look if only to see the ridiculous arguments from the people fighting against women’s voting rights all those years after the US Constitution was ratified in 1788.

One last thought—the United States is not the only country that fought the battle.  Women from England, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East fought and won their voting rights.  In some places, the fight goes on.

We have an electoral college for many reasons such as counteracting voting fraud, creating a firewall against other election day shenanigans as well as resolving elections relatively soon.  The electoral college number that is given to states is a representation of that population.  The only way to get a true representation is for each segment to be given the right and the ability to vote, regardless of race, religion, and gender.

https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/not-for-ourselves-alone

https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-bill-of-rights/

https://pacificlegal.org/the-united-states-is-not-a-democracy-and-it-wasnt-meant-to-be-one/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0PqYsNPY5wIVxp6zCh3C5QkYEAAYAiAAEgIJfvD_BwE

https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/elections/right-to-vote.html

https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act

You Say You Want a Revolution

by Rick Bretz

In this case, the Founding Fathers of the United States said, “Yes, we want a revolution.”

To prove it, rebels dumped tea in the Boston Harbor, protested the Stamp Act and wrote a “Declaration of Independence.”  The citizens of the 13 colonies were just getting started.

Reading books about two important figures in history from opposing sides gives a reader a view into the minds of these figures and why certain decisions were made.

Revolutionary George Washington at War

The books, Revolutionary: George Washington at War and The Kings and Queens of England offer two opposing views and offer some insight as to why Washington chose the revolutionary path and why King George the III preferred the hard-line approach in dealing with the colonials.

For George Washington, the author points out that London’s military elite refused to grant him a full commission after serving courageously during the French and Indian War.  This caused GW to simmer with a hatred towards Britain’s establishment that drove him towards risking it all in a long revolutionary gambit that succeeded but not without gambling with his life, property and wealth.

Kings and Queens of England

The Kings and Queens of England

The Kings and Queens of England cover all the Kings and Queens of England from Alfred The Great who succeeded to the throne in 871 to the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth the II, who succeeded to the throne in 1952.  The author, Ian Crofton, has planned this book in sections so each monarch has a timeline of accomplishment or milestones, a biography and a description of their reigns for further explanation.

The section on King George III, who came to the throne in 1760 and lasted until 1820,  describes his royal family and his mindset toward the colonies.   His parents and grandparents, from the Hanoverian royalty tree,  were more German than English and spoke German and spent more time in their Hanoverian Estates than in England.

The succession moved to Hanover, now modern-day Germany, due to the Church of England Protestants and the Vatican Catholic troubles that began with King Henry VIII’s fight with the Pope over divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  With the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the Stuart house, the House of Hanover began with King George I who spoke German and preferred living in his homeland rather than London.

By the time King George III ascended to the throne, he considered himself an Englishman and spoke the language rather than German.  In fact, he was born in London in 1738.

The section on King George III outlines why he lost the colonies.  It came down to bad advice from his inner circle and backing his ministers to a fault.  The book on George Washington gives a scenario that might have prevented the American Revolution.   If King George had visited the colonies on a goodwill tour, he might have been able to meet with a few of the Founding Fathers in Virginia, Philadelphia, and Boston and negotiated a settlement.  King George was not about to travel to the United States because of the societal class ladder and ruling due to the divine right of God.  That would have meant capitulating to the revolutionary element and showing weakness from the Crown.

The Washington book by author Robert. L. O’Connell describes the first days of the revolution after the British warships docked and invaded Boston and New York.  He illustrates that the British commanders knew the terrain better than the Continental Army leaders.  That bit of information is surprising since the reader would have thought it would have been the opposite.  The defenders should know their own territory.

Revolutionary: George Washington at War and its author, O’Connell, research a specific time period in the Founding Father’s life.  He researches Washington, the ambitious youth, the soldier, and how he was selected for the top military position.  The book also covers how he made decisions, how he chose his staff and how he fought and strategized in battle.  The one trait that comes forward throughout is that Washington listened to his commanders and subordinates.  Many times, Washington wanted to attack but held back and regrouped to fight another day based on his war counsel’s advice.

Both books are worth the time spent for a good weekend read.  Looking at leaders from both sides of the pond can shed light on how the colonies were lost and why the Founding Fathers pushed the issue.

Notable Links:

https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/biography/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/george-washington/

https://www.royal.uk/george-iii

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/adams-king-george-III/

A Walk Among the Shadows

grayscale photography of people walking on walkalator
Photo by David Yu on Pexels.com

By Rick Bretz

Films released in the early days of Hollywood, specifically from the 40s, 50s and later give the audience a snapshot from the past.  Films that are set in the era when they were filmed, show us cars, clothes, storefronts, street signs and everything retro that people like.   Granted, many people from the buying public prefer cutting edge electronics, cars, and technological breakthroughs.  Some consumers choose the past and everything associated with it such as classic cars, vintage houses, timeless music, and furniture from the 19th and 20th Centuries.  It’s like looking at old photographs of your grandparents and seeing all of the old stuff in the pictures.

The classic Film Noir movie gives you all that.  Presented to us for our viewing pleasure are old cars, small-town street fronts, New York City in the 1950s, classic furniture, street lingo as it was uttered back then, and one more thing.   That would be the feature that is difficult to find in today’s movies–black and white photography shot to perfection in the best contrast shots ever seen on film.

With this in mind, here are some of the best Film Noir movies and why they are still popular today.

 

1. Gun Crazy, released in 1950

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042530/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

Gun Crazy is one of the best of all time.  The movie title may not be politically correct for today’s politically charged environment, but it perfectly sums up the film.  It’s about Guns, Guns, Guns, and Guns–and not the kind of gun show you see at the gym.  This is about people who like guns, what people do with guns, people who like people who like guns and obsessiveness. The kind of obsession that makes you love crazy.  The title characters portrayed by John Dall and Peggy Cummins, who is considered an all-time favorite Femme Fatale, demonstrate this so well you almost wish a psychiatrist was handy so they could see one in the middle of the movie. Cummins is sensational in this movie to the point that until her passing recently, she was invited to many seminars and Film Noir retrospectives to talk about the role. That’s saying something considering there are many brilliant actresses in the Film Noir genre.

John Dall loves guns, is a crackerjack shot and also loves the Peggy Cummins’ character, Annie Starr, who also can handle the iron with the best of them.   You can see within the first few minutes after the film credits scroll away that Annie’s gunplay is top-notch and hits her targets whether it is a man or a cigarette in someone’s mouth.  Annie Starr loves guns, worships money.    Annie Starr should have a stop sign draped around her neck but Dall would run through it anyway without tapping the breaks.   As the movie races along, the movie’s finish line doesn’t disappoint.

 

2. Double Indemnity, released in 1944

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036775/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

It has Barbara Stanwyck in it.  Enough said.  Well, it also starts out like many Film Noir classics with the audience realizing that something didn’t go well. From the moment Fred MacMurray walks in the door and sees Barbara Stanwyck at the top of the staircase, the audience knows he’s in trouble.  You also know that because of the narration MacMurray provides when he starts dictating within the first few moments of the movie.  The movie’s dialogue is classic for the double entendre back and forth between Stanwyck and MacMurray.  I never saw speed signs the same way afterward.  The toxic relationship between the two principle characters is just one part of the movie.  The other significant character is Edward G. Robinson’s portrayal of the insurance investigator. It’s a classic story in several ways and worth seeing just for Stanwyck and MacMurray’s relationship.

 

3. Out of the Past, released in 1947

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039689/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

Starring Robert Mitchum, who could be called one of the kings of the genre, and Jane Greer, another actress revered by the Film Noir community.   Just to make sure it’s a classic, the movie also has Kirk Douglas as a major figure in the storyline.  The movie has a strong supporting cast including Dickie Moore who doesn’t say a word in the movie but through his relationship with Mitchum’s character and his acting ability tells the audience all it needs to know.  Jane Greer, known as The Queen of Film Noir, works her magic (incredible eyes even in black and white) on Mitchum and he tosses aside his job of finding Jane Greer and the money.  Mitchum’s decisions catch up to him with the past interloping on his present good fortune.

 

4. The Killing, released in 1956

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049406/?ref_=nv_sr_4?ref_=nv_sr_4

An early Stanley Kubrick directorial effort starring another Film Noir favorite, Sterling Hayden.  This is an example of meticulous planning gone wrong due to unforeseen circumstances.  Compartmentalizing responsibilities and parsing out information for those who need to know is one way of planning a heist.  It makes you wonder if there is a perfect crime and how much planning should be involved if human nature is unpredictable. The story takes the audience on a ride and you find yourself rooting for Sterling Hayden all the way.

I AM big…It’s the pictures that got small–Norma Desmond

 5.  Asphalt Jungle, release in 1950

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042208/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Another Sterling Hayden Film Noir classic.  This one is another heist gone wrong but also involves a lawyer who is cash strapped due to his infidelities and other choices.  This film is also remembered for Marilyn Monroe’s early screen performance as the “other” woman.  Sterling Hayden portrays Dix Handley, the muscle behind the crime caper.  Louis Calhern is the lawyer who finances the operation with an intent to double-cross.  Like most film Noir classics, it all goes bad but the way it goes wrong for everyone is the fun part of watching the movie.  The best acting turn is Sam Jaffe as the brains of the whole operation with one weakness that gets him at the end.

 

6. Pick Up on South Street, released in 1953

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046187/?ref_=nv_sr_4?ref_=nv_sr_4

A Sam Fuller film, this would be higher on the list if not for the many outstanding films in the genre.  Thelma Ritter as Moe Williams is a character in the movie that many can identify with as someone living a day to day existence trying to get one more paycheck to survive.  She remarks at one point in the movie how tired she is, looking at her performance you believe every word she is saying.  She was nominated for an Academy Award four straight times including this role and you understand why.  She almost steals the film like she almost did in the James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock vehicle, Rear Window. Richard Widmark’s main character light’s the firecracker at the beginning of the movie by pickpocketing the wrong victim’s purse on the subway.  The events unfold with Widmark not yielding to any intimidation from both sides of the law enforcement aisle.  He straddles both sides and gets some revenge so that, in the end, the anti-hero can call his own shots with help from  Jean Peters, the girl he pickpockets on the subway at the beginning.

film noir art

7.Kiss Me Deadly,  released in 1955

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048261/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

The movie opens not in the gritty city, but on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere with a lady in distress trying flag a car down for a ride.  Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer sees her and stops and that’s where it all begins.  Hammer wakes up two weeks later in a hospital room and must figure out what happened, why and who is responsible.   Strother Martin with his eccentric one of a kind delivery is in the movie.  Strother Martin as in the same Strother Martin from “Cool Hand Luke” and “what we have here is failure to communicate” movie fame.

 

8. Touch of Evil, released in 1958

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052311/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Another Orson Welles classic, this film is a class in photography work, tracking shots, and how to use natural sound.  The whole story of how they produced one of the longest tracking shots in movie history. The customs agent guard at the gate kept blowing his lines and they had to do the whole thing over again and again.  Finally, the tracking shot was finished just before sunrise because Marlene Dietrich plays a memorable character and says the famous line about Welles’ character, “He was some kind of man…what does it matter what you say about people.” The film is legendary just because of the backstories associated with the production and editing process after the film was in the can.  The film is confusing in some places because of a couple of reasons, Welles wanted it to be confusing and because of the studio executives butchering the editing process.

 

9. The Killers, released in 1946

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038669/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Adapted from a short story by Ernest Hemingway, this is the movie that catapulted Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster to stardom.  It also has Edmund O’Brien in it to keep the story flowing as the insurance investigator Jim Reardon.  William Conrad shows up at a diner and eats up the screen in a bad guy portrayal that is memorable. Conrad and Charles McGraw, another Film Noir mainstay, show up at the diner and start harassing everyone in the place and even give the guy behind the counter a hard time just for good measure.  They are looking for Swede Anderson played by Burt Lancaster.  They want to find him and they are not going to ask questions first.

 

10. Sunset Boulevard, released in 1950

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/?ref_=nv_sr_2?ref_=nv_sr_2

Sunset Boulevard is memorable for two reasons:  the audience knows how it will end because of the first shot and because of William Holden’s narration and the other is Gloria Swanson and her portrayal of Norma Desmond.  Many actresses turned down the role before Gloria Swanson accepted it.  Swanson portrays the character to the max as a fading star trying to hold on to her last bit of fame and dignity.  This movie threw some rocks directly at the whole Hollywood glass menagerie.  The script took a magnifying glass to how people are used and then thrown out like trash at the end of their careers.  As Norma Desmond retorts to Holden in one scene, “I AM big…It’s the pictures that got small.”  The film has Buster Keaton, Jack Webb and Eric Von Stroheim in it as well as other stars from the silent era who didn’t have a place in talkies.  The director Billy Wilder enjoyed poking the movie industry with his script he co-wrote with Charles Brackett and D.J. Marshman.  To give the movie an even more surreal feel, Cecille B. DeMille shows up in a cameo to throw out some needling remarks about Norma Desmond.

 

Film Noir showed up in American movie theaters after World War II.  With two World Wars behind them, the Korean War in progress and the Cold War about to heat up, the late 1940s and 1950s movie-going public wanted darker, gritty, realistic stories with even darker personalities.  Positive, delightful story conclusions were still being made but audiences also wanted stories without cheerful conclusions.   The audience preferred to take a walk down a dark alley and because of that some of the best movies of that time period were produced.

Honorable Mentions: Detour, Sweet Smell of Success, Criss Cross, They Live by Night, The Maltese Falcon. 

Notable Links:  http://www.openculture.com/freemoviesonline

 

The Martian and Cast Away-Films Featuring Fortitude

green tree beside seashore near green mountain
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by Rick Bretz

Every now and then a movie comes along that can teach us a lesson.  Sometimes two.

Cast Away

Two of the best examples of this are from the year 2000 and 2015.  They are Cast Away starring Tom Hanks and The Martian starring Matt Damon.  One is a FedEx Manager while the other is an Astronaut and Botanist.

The Martian

In the digital color projection of these movies, the script carries a message that the audience can use long after the credits have rolled past as they file out of the theater.

gray and white robot
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Both stories involve some form of flight.  The Martian’s Matt Damon character is left behind when the crew must initiate an emergency lift-off from the Mars’ surface.  The other begins with a plane.  with Tom Hanks aboard, crashing into the Pacific Ocean far from civilization.  Hanks drifts exhausted in his life raft until hitting an Island.

Both barely escape death at the beginning of each movie.  From there, life and the movie really begin. The theme is clear to the audience—survival.

Another Tom Hanks movie comes to mind when thinking about these characters. In Apollo 13, the Ed Harris character portraying actual Flight Director Gene Krantz shouts to the Apollo ground crew, “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things any worse by guessing.”

Hanks and Damon spend almost the entire movie deciphering, untangling—literally, and solving their challenges to remain alive.

“You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”–Mark Watney.

FOOD-A critical obstacle to hurdle was finding food, or in the case of Damon, figure out how to increase the food supply to last for many more Sols until mission control could figure out a rescue plan.  For Hanks in Cast Away, he needed to find food that would sustain life for months and years.  Living on coconuts was not going to cut it for very long.  Hanks needed fish and fire.  He figured out how to create both.

SHELTER-The other Hierarchy of needs involves making, finding or moving your shelter.  For Hanks, it meant first using the life raft as a lean-to tent and then moving into a cave by the ocean.  Damon had shelter at first and then a disaster forced him to rethink his shelter plans and move into the Mars rover vehicle.  Each one adapted to his circumstances as the movie move along.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

MOVEMENT and TRAVELLING-Transportation moved both movies along.  For Hanks, it was the plane, then the life raft, then building a raft out of logs and manufactured rope by the end of the movie so he could be picked up by a freighter, then flown home and then get his old Jeep vehicle from the beginning of movie.  Damon’s character had the rover, but he also had to figure out how to sustain the battery life over long distances.   This needed to be done to reach the spacecraft he would use to carry him to safety.  He had to adapt the spacecraft to lighten the load so he could reach the recovery spacecraft waiting for him.  This and he still had to get creative at the end.

COMMUNICATION MODES-Communication was a significant part of each movie also.  Damon’s character solved the communications issue by finding a communications satellite, digging it out of the sand, bring it back, then assembling it and turning it on.  From there, remembered that he could communicate by computer language ASCI table, using the hexadecimal and character columns and transmitted pictures until they could get the rover communications altered to send out messages.

Hexadecimal Language

Hanks’ issue involved more than just communicating with his rescuers.  First, he tried to alert any rescue planes by making a help sign in the sand and then by using sticks.  When he realized that “help” would not arrive any time soon, his next problem was loneliness, evolving into suicidal craziness from not talking to anyone.  He used the trick of making an inanimate object his best friend so he could talk to her and then bounce off ideas to see if they were valid.  I use bounce because the object was a ball named Wilson and could have been a replacement for his girlfriend Kelly Friers, played Helen Hunt.  His next communication was equally important, talking to the lady whose package he saved from the very beginning.  He was at a crossroads literally and figuratively in life and the director left it up to you to complete the story.

TOOLS FOR SURVIVAL-Tools and how to use them played an important part for both characters. Damon used the tools he had to start planting crops and to save himself with duct tape.  Hanks used netting from a dress to catch seafood and used the blades on a set of skates for a sharp instrument.  In the end, the most important tool was a left-over damaged port-a-potty for a sail to get him out to sea. He also used tree bark for rope.

Resiliency and Determination-Both Damon and Hanks had the intestinal fortitude to overcome circumstances put in their paths.  They also had the ability to recognize when they needed to take a chance.  For Damon,  exiting the spaceship at the right time to meet with the tethered rescuer proved opportunity combined with preparation can yield a fortuitous outcome.  For Hanks, his decision rested on building a raft with a makeshift sail so he could have a chance of reaching a sea vessel.

Movies are chiefly for entertainment purposes but some of them can teach us life lessons.  If life puts a rock in front of you, it doesn’t mean you can’t work the problem and solve it, and then move the rock out of the way and get on with your life.  Nothing is permanent–except traffic, death, and taxes.  Everything else is temporary and can be overcome, even taxes if you have the right accountant.

Matt Damon said it for everyone again at the end of his movie.  “You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

In life, if you solve enough problems, you get to continue because you just never know what the tide may bring in.

Cooperation Versus Competition

photo of four persons uniting hands
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by Rick Bretz

Comedian and commentator on the human condition, George Carlin, in an interview not long before his passing, was asked to assess the state of politics, and in a larger sense, society’s issues.

Paraphrasing his statement, he said that the competitiveness between people is way out of balance to the cooperation we all must exercise in order to get things done in our lives.

This observation by the master wordsmith himself strikes at the core of today’s news cycle.

This statement can be applied to the individual or to the larger political arena. You can see it every day when politicians from both parties reverse 180 degrees on issues.  They change their opinions just so the other side, the perceived enemy, won’t win.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dX03kGkc-Qa

Today political parties and individuals on social media want an ideological fistfight.  If an opponent can’t win the political argument, then the dispute turns to the philosophical, moral, then religious battlegrounds.  All the while nothing really gets solved.

Instead of discussing the issue and how to solve it, let’s just debate until a logjam occurs and nothing is moved down the river.

History has proven that winning sometimes means losing.  For example, the Treaty of Versailles after the Armistice to end World War I forced draconian economic measure on Germany which sent their economy into a free fall.  The treaty included territorial changes, mandates that required them to renounce sovereignty over colonies, a reparation that amounts to billions in US dollars, and military restrictions reducing the number of officers, military strength and hardware.  These terms sowed the seeds of resentment and discontent in the German population.  German WWI veterans Adolf Hitler and Herman Goering felt humiliated by the terms and felt that Germany was not defeated.  They formed the Nazi party years later, gradually building the party numbers, then taking power by the voting polls and building up the military for aggression later, thus initiating World War II that caused destruction, devastation, famine, and murder on a global scale.

The Allies won the first World War but did society win as a whole? When taking into account the millions of lives that were lost in World War II, there were losers all the way around.  When considering how World War I began with an assassination and how the family of Monarch’s leading the countries involved couldn’t solve their differences, it’s all the more shameful.

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war

Today, with constitutional governments and bi-cameral legislatures, winning is also more important than accomplishing noble endeavors by working together.  The recent government shutdown over the border wall is, unfortunately, an example for many generations to study later in the century.

What is more unfortunate is that the immigration debate can be summed up into a simple statement.

Let the good people in who want to contribute to society in a positive manner and keep the violent offenders out who want to add to the criminal element of our country.   Treat people with dignity and decency.

It’s as simple as that.

If anyone disagrees with those statements, then they are just being contrarian for the sake of not giving any consideration to the other side of an issue.

Our law enforcement has enough to do without adding to the criminal group.  In addition, no one wants terrorists crossing into our country so that they can strategize another 9/11 tragedy.  At the same time, let’s be noble, respectful and magnanimous to those who need it and deserve it.

In his statement, Carlin didn’t say competitiveness is all bad, he just said it is out of balance.  It is rewarding to be competitive in business and other professions.  However, some professions like politicians and other jobs within government, need to cooperate to move the process along.

There are some issues where an issue clearly has a right and wrong side.  For instance, civil rights legislation and the right to vote. The simple fact that it took until 1919 to give everyone the right to vote and until 1965 to give everyone a fair shake when it came to employment and other areas of life should give everyone pause for thought.  The good news is that we all live in a country where mistakes are corrected and that eventually, we can elect a President Barack Obama.

Despite your political views, President Obama did a good job.  Remember, for much of his two terms he had a Congress controlled by the other party.  He made decisions he thought were best for the country.

gty_march_on_washington_martin_luther_king_ll_130819_16x9_992

The recent Dr. Martin Luther King Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on what he accomplished.  It is also a perfect time to look over his speech at the Washington Mall.  The “I Have a Dream” speech is a symphony in words summing up an idea for the whole world to act on, regardless of race, gender, country of origin or religious practice.

Unless a person is intent on creating evil and misery in the world, most everyone can agree on many issues and ideas.  No one wants war, violence, murder, terrorism, religious persecution, gender harassment or all the other unfortunate elements of life many of us deal with during a day.

To be realistic, evil exists in the world.  As much as we would like to believe people are good, there are many who want to damage individuals and work against the greater good.   Society has nurtured governments and elected people to decide where to compromise and cooperate.  Government officials should set an example. Statements from government officials such as “He or she has learned a lesson” or “we’ve shown the other side of the aisle how tough we are” make the goal of cooperation harder to achieve.  Elected officials represent their constituents, but they have a greater responsibility to work together rather than against the country, which is what they are doing now.

George Carlin was a brilliant comedian but he also observed humanity on a higher level.

http://factmyth.com/the-left-right-political-spectrum-explained/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE