Mar 022011
 

By Michael Dean Benton

Despite the fact that there were many worthy and politically important documentaries nominated for Oscars this year (in particular Gasland and Inside Job), I was rooting for Exit Through the Gift Shop. Here are the reasons why:

How much of our everyday life is colonized by corporate sponsored vandalism and socially engineered marketing prompts? Never mind the obvious mediatized experiences. Take a walk across your nearest urban landscape and look deeply at the signs—explicit and implicit—that seek to influence our actions. Observe how the environment increasingly is demarcated, bordered, limited, controlled and monitored. Continue reading »

Feb 162011
 

Will U.S. foreign aid impede the will of the Egyptian people?

By Michael Dean Benton

As I write this (Sunday February 13), the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has been forced by the Egyptian people to step down as president after thirty years of ruling the country with an iron fist. The Armed Forces Supreme Council has temporarily taken control of the nation while the Egyptian people are still occupying Tahrir Square and are publicly demonstrating for more democratic openness in the decision making on the future direction of their country. Continue reading »

Feb 022011
 

By Michael Dean Benton

The Bluegrass Film Society is celebrating its sixth year by joining with Ondine Quinn of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to initiate a Social Documentary Series and by extending our audience range through a new Family Film Series (suggested by BCTC Librarian Meagan Brock) that will provide films suitable for all ages. Additionally, in April we will screen and discuss Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, an important documentary about the financial crisis, for the BCTC Peace and Earth Justice Spring 2011 Speaker Series (organized by BCTC Geography professor Rebecca Glasscock). Continue reading »

Oct 132010
 

By Michael Dean Benton

In the opening scenes of Debra Chasnoff’s 2009 documentary Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, young males are filmed discussing clothing in a retail store and debating the appropriate hardness of their appearance. This pose brought to mind Jackson Katz’s 1999 documentary Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity which depicted our cultural entertainments as increasingly focused on a hard, impervious, aggressive sense of masculinity. Sadly, this disciplining of proper masculinity through the threat of aggressive violence is still endemic in the twenty-first Century.

I was recently reminded of the dangers facing anyone who dares to step outside the bounds of rigid gender roles in certain situations. Last year, one of my students was hospitalized after being brutally beaten while walking home at night, his assailants shouting the word faggot as they kicked the student repeatedly in the head. His perceived violation was the wearing of a pink shirt and sporting long hair with different colors. Continue reading »

Jul 142010
 

By Michael Dean Benton

Frustrated by the dearth of decent films in the theater that I can review I have decided to start a new column dedicated to bringing to attention film on DVD that should not be missed. We may, currently, be seeing the slow strangulation of collective cinema viewing of thought-provoking films in the communal theater, as 3-D spectacles, action blockbusters and infantile narratives dominate the cinemaplex.

Thankfully, though, at the same time, we are also benefiting from the worldwide online explosion of a “collective cinephilia” (Jonathan Rosenbaum) brought about by the technology of the DVD format and the global scope of online film criticism/studies. So, while still recognizing the benefits of theater screenings, we should also turn toward the potential of films on DVD and the possibilities for cultivating the appreciation of film through these new technologies. Continue reading »

Jul 142010
 

Collective Cinephilia

By Michael Dean Benton

The first film in the Collective Cinephilia series I have chosen to review is Criterion’s new release of the British visual artist Steve McQueen’s 2008 debut film Hunger. The high-quality Criterion DVD edition and the superb extras accompanying this release make for an outstanding viewing experience.

The film depicts the 1981 Irish hunger strike by IRA prisoners in the notorious Maze Prison. Ostensibly, the film portrays the buildup to the hunger strike from Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that IRA prisoners would no longer receive “political” status during their incarceration; instead, they would henceforth be treated as “criminals.” Continue reading »

Jun 092010
 

By Michael Dean Benton

Stieg Larsson’s source novel for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the first part of his Millennium trilogy) and the Swedish film adaption of it (Niels Arden Opley, 2009: 152 minutes) have enjoyed similar international success. Larsson, posthumously, was the second highest selling author worldwide in 2008, and this weekend the first film adaption of his trilogy is poised to crack the $100 million level (a significant mark for a Swedish film). Hollywood has also taken notice and a remake is set for 2012 with David Fincher directing; reportedly a slew of stars are jockeying to be cast in the two lead roles.

There are two important contextual facts that can help in understanding the international popularity of the book and the film. First, like the film’s lead male character Mikael Blomkvist, Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist actively reporting and editing an independent publication on contemporary Swedish far-right movements. Larsson’s life was threatened by neo-fascist thugs and the Swedish police took these threats serious enough to have him put under police protection. Mysteriously, just as his Millennium trilogy was poised for great success (a series he intended to expand to 10 books), he dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 50 on November 9 of the past year. Significantly, Larsson’s sudden death occurred on the anniversary of the German night of terror known as Kristallnacht, infamous as the beginning of the Nazi “final solution” for the Jews of Europe. Understandably, this fueled rumors that Larsson was somehow eliminated by the far right movements whom he was seeking to expose. Continue reading »

May 202010
 

By Michael Dean Benton

In the spirit of the civil rights champion Cesar Chavez a group of students and staff at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) organized a Hunger Strike to bring attention to the bipartisan Dream Act 2010 that is currently before Congress.

In April 2010, during a United We Dream meeting in North Carolina at which 80 people from 20 different states participated, Erin Howard, Roy Roman and Alexis Meza, who were representing Kentucky’s Dream Coalition, overheard participants from another state discussing their past accomplishments. Their discussion mentioned a hunger strike and how it influenced their state representatives to sit down with them to talk about the Dream Act. Continue reading »

May 072010
 

By Michael Dean Benton

On May 15 on the Cooper Campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College the BCTC Peace and Justice Coalition will be hosting the 5th Annual Peace and Global Citizenship Fair. The fair’s motto for this year is “Think. Act. Discover. Peace.” Rebecca Glasscock, faculty advisor for the Peace and Justice Coalition, explains: “With the Peace and Global Citizenship Fair, we hope to put peace, social justice, understanding, empathy, and ecological awareness front and center. If we can envision a world at peace, we have a better chance of building that world together.” Continue reading »