By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

“It’s like we’re in the French resistance and the tanks are 20 miles outside the city!”

Activist filmmaker Michael Moore debuted his new editorial shock-documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9” this past Tuesday in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Moore, the skilled documentary maker and Academy Award winner, has wielded the new medium of small budget, current affairs film to emerge as a significant voice in American and international media.

To understand Michael Moore, and his latest release, “Fahrenheit 11/9”, it’s important to understand the evolution of news and editorial media in the last four decades. Since CNN went live and around the clock with news and commentary nearly 40 years ago, and the internet gave every person a voice of equal dimensions on your screen, media has been hurtled into a warp speed evolution. Media- and we- were never prepared for that.

The technology that gave every person a voice of equal physical dimensions has created a global shouting match that changes the way we (try to) form opinions and collect information. It is like trying to hear a rational conversation in an ever-increasing dissonance of rising screams. Today, in order to deliver any message effectively in modern media, you have shout. Really loud.

Michael Moore shouts in Fahrenheit 11/9, and he does so with the same, if not more, volume and punch than his previous films. But in the rising din of activist hyperbole, everyone else has gotten louder while Moore’s volume has stayed about the same. It isn’t that Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” is worse or better than his previous documentaries. It is actually about the same. But everyone is used to hearing this type of message now, so it loses its punch. In so many ways, that is a tragedy.

Moore is a polarized ranter attempting to balance the left side of American perspective on an ever-shrinking center fulcrum as his political reciprocal on the right has the podium in the White House. Michael Moore is the left-wing Donald Trump; extreme, unaccountable, ranting, not always factually accurate but great at whipping up an audience at the extreme left end of the political spectrum using the modern tools of new media.

You may not like Michael Moore, but we need him as long as we have Donald Trump. One polarized, old-aged, overweight white guy with lots of money, media access and a big mouth cancels out the other. Hopefully.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” is not one documentary, it is several story lines combined, each deserving of its own documentary series if we all had more than a Twitter post attention span. Moore knows this, so he hurls as much at us as he can in 120 minutes and hopes some of it sticks to the wall of American conscience. He does a fairly sloppy job of trying to stitch them all together. It doesn’t really work, but each storyline is interesting enough by itself that you stick with the film even through a few well-earned eye rolls.

Michael Moore’s attempts to defame former President Barack Obama and implicate him in the Flint water crisis and convince us that the U.S. Army invaded Flint, Michigan in a preemptive attempt to quell unrest from the water crisis are particular low points in “Fahrenheit 11/9”. He even sloppily conjures the time-honored superweapon of the Internet troll, the Hitler comparison. But don’t walk out. There are high points in “Fahrenheit 11/9”.

Moore showcases a rising tide of citizen activism through the political system and features several grass roots candidates and their ascendency into the almost-mainstream. He focuses on the plight of teachers and nearly manages to point out that if there is one thing responsible for the mounting problems in our country, it is our reprehensible devaluation of education. In these scenes, “Fahrenheit 11/9” captures the best of America at its worst.

Moore carries the topics of new political candidacy and our jaundiced school system well in “Fahrenheit 11/9”. But these valid storylines are weighed down by his constant adolescent pecking at the President. We already know the President likes young women, is poorly spoken and loose-lipped and largely unapologetic for reinforcing every ugly white male stereotype and even adding a few. That isn’t news. Americans are apparently pleased enough with the stock market, job numbers, real estate values and finally calming down the little guy in North Korea that they are willing to forgive the President his indiscretions while we shave off a few human rights, set gender equality back five decades and trash the environment at dizzying speed.

It was interesting to see the U.S. premiere of “Fahrenheit 11/9” in Flint, Michigan. This is the frontline of the rising environmental comeuppance that America is facing as we pollute ourselves to new, imagined “prosperity”. Michael Moore is a messiah in Flint, and his minions were out, not quite in force, but a couple hundred showed up hoping for an audience with him and a shoulder to cry on about their ordeal with the jagged edge of “Capitalism Gone Wild!”. Moore didn’t really provide that. He’s no Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai. He can show us the problems, but he offers few solutions. As a result, this film feels like wallowing. Instead of leaving with a feeling of inspiration or empowerment, you simply slump in your seat when the credits roll and realize, “we’re in deep trouble”.

One woman directly affected by the poisoned Flint water stood up in the Q&A with Moore and listed her litany of symptoms to him. Moore slumped in his seat on the stage, in apparent fatigue from the entire affair. The scene emphasized that while Moore has been effective at identifying the problems, he has proposed few viable solutions. And in the rising din of social media complainers, Moore’s relevance sags among the rising din of complainers, no matter how relevant and valid the complaints are.

The final punchline in “Fahrenheit 11/9” is that, while audiences will expect, and get, a healthy dose of blaming “The Man” for keeping the little person down, Moore also reinforces that this is, ultimately, our own fault America. We either voted, or didn’t vote. We didn’t go to the school board meetings, we didn’t show up to vote for governor. We didn’t register new voters or run for local office. We let ourselves get gerrymandered and marginalized into subservience in a bizarre “chicken and egg” descent into apathy from working too much to survive and acting too late to prevent it from happening. Now the mess is even bigger.  If one good thing comes out of Michael Moore’s films, and particularly his new “Fahrenheit 11/9”, hopefully it is that we show up to the polls, go to a parent/teacher meeting and re-shoulder the burden of citizenship in America.


 

Tom Demerly is a writer from Dearborn, Michigan who has traveled around the world, sometimes by his own choice. His analysis, features and editorials have been featured in Business Insider, Outside, Daily Mail and many others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Photo by Dustin Davis, story by Tom Demerly of tomdemerly.com.

It is an image of fierce defiance frozen in a terrifying moment. A powerful vision of what many people see as the American condition. As I type this, over 15,000 people have shared it from my Facebook page across social media that I can track. As of Monday night, another person shares it every 15 seconds. While I despise the colloquialism “going viral”, there is no doubt something about this image has resonated again and again with the current collective American consciousness.

It is the Taylor Creek Fire “Don’t Tread On Me” photo.

Dustin Davis, 32, of College Place, Washington, shot the photo of a rattlesnake frozen in its fiery death throes on Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 at 12:55 PM local time during the early stages of the Taylor Creek fire in Oregon. Davis was fighting the fire as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment of the Oregon National Guard.

Davis told me Monday night in an interview on Facebook Messenger that, “On a mop-up mission my buddy Miles and I stumbled upon that little guy. I knelt down and took the picture with my iPhone. I was very intrigued by the way it had died and was really moved by it.”

 

 “On a mop-up mission my buddy Miles and I stumbled upon that little guy. I knelt down and took the picture with my iPhone. I was very intrigued by the way it had died and really moved by it.”

 

I saw the photo on Dustin’s Instagram page at dndavis0ne and copied it to my Facebook page. I added the observation that Dustin Davis’ remarkable photo of the charred snake looked like the snake depicted on the famous Gadsden Flag with the moniker, “Don’t Tread On Me”. For that reason, the image seemed iconic and metaphoric of our country that feels increasingly divided, increasingly fractured, and trapped in some kind of modern “trial by fire”. Judging by how the image has resonated across social media, I wasn’t the only one who recognized the symbolism of Dustin Davis’ now famous photo and the Gadsden Flag.

Firefighter and photographer Dustin Davis.

Almost as soon as I shared it to my Facebook page, initially without Dustin Davis’ permission, the image started to go viral. When it started to trend, I tried to find the original source I copied it from when Dustin Davis contacted me on Facebook. Given that I had initially taken his photo from Instagram with a screen capture and without asking, Davis was incredibly gracious about letting me continue to use it after I replied to him. He even agreed to this interview late Monday.

The massive Taylor Creek fire, burning now since early August, was started by lightning according to the official information from the U.S. Forest Service in the region. It has burned over 52,000 acres and, as of Monday, August 20, is nearly “79 percent contained” according to the Forest Service. A nearby fire, also started by lightning, the Klondike Fire, covers a staggering 72,074 acres (113 square miles of area) and is now only 28 percent contained. The wildfires burning in the American west now are reported to be the worst in history, a reality that has raised an increasingly divisive debate about everything from forestry and water management to global climate change as the fires continue to burn out west.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Here’s an incredible story for you. Even better, it’s true.

Right after WWII started, well before I was born, my parents moved to Seattle, Washington. Because my dad, Tom Demerly (senior) had an essential skill as a draftsman he was hired in at Boeing Aircraft Company. He worked at Boeing Plant 2 near the Duwamish River.

My dad’s first project was drawing an update to the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber: a “chin turret” for the front of the aircraft with two forward facing .50 caliber guns. The first versions of the B-17 lacked adequate guns to defend themselves from a frontal attack. German pilots learned this and attacked the B-17 from high and head-on, or “Twelve O’clock High”. The results were catastrophic.

Early B-17 crews attacking Germany had better odds of dying than surviving before completing their required 25 missions. In fact, more aircrews from the Allied 8th Air Force died over Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific in WWII.

Because my dad showed promise at Boeing he was moved to their most secret program. He passed a rigorous background investigation and was prohibited from telling my mother what he was working on.

Half way around the world another young man who had also not yet had a son tended a small garden outside his house. Because of the war, food in Japan was in short supply so nearly everyone living on the outskirts of the Hiroshima grew what they could. He was a young lad, in his teens. His small house in the shadow of Mt. Gosasau provided a decent view down to the southeast where the city of Hiroshima was and, just beyond that, the opening to Hiroshima Bay where you could see Ninoshima Island. Except for the constant concern about the war, it was a beautiful place.

Back in Seattle my dad made top secret drawings. First, of the pressurized crew compartment. Then, of the new, remotely controlled gun turrets that held not two, but now four .50 caliber machine guns. He drafted the plans for the pressurized tunnel that passed from the front of the aircraft to the rear. The top-secret project was to be the biggest, longest range, heaviest bomber ever built by man: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Gleaming silver, massively tall, improbably gigantic propellers with four huge blades at the front of the engines, four of them, each the size of a fighter plane themselves. The engines weren’t good. They had a tendency to catch fire. And the wings- sprawling, straight and thin. Impossibly wide. The B-29 was a colossus. Much larger than the previous B-17 Flying Fortress my dad worked on. They said the long lines of shining B-29s beginning to roll off the line at the Renton plant would “end the war”.

And then the changes came. The most secret changes. Draw a version with no gun turrets to make it lighter, more aerodynamic, faster. Modifications to the bomb bay and the bomb racks. Special attention to the problematic engines on these beyond-top secret, specially modified B-29s.

It would carry only one bomb. My dad did not know why. He drew the changes.

Things were getting tougher in Japan and the garden became more important. It needed tending in the morning, in the evening. Anything ready to harvest was picked immediately. Trips into town were avoided except when necessary. There wasn’t much news about how the war was really going, there were bombs falling on Japanese cities with horrific results. Tokyo had been decimated in terrifying incendiary bombing raids. But Hiroshima, so far, had been largely spared. So, the view from the young man’s garden still passed for peaceful when the air raid siren wasn’t going off.

The project with the B-29 modifications wrapped up and my dad went on to other projects. The big bombers were in the Pacific attacking Japan in what many people on both sides hoped was an approaching final act in this long, terrifying global ordeal. There was a collective desperation though, a deep breath still held by humanity on both sides of the world.

Boeing B-29s being built in Renton, Washington, where my dad worked.

No one knew how it would end yet. Only that it would.

Pressure and desperation seemed to build on both sides. Build toward some titanic climax. In Europe, the allies had stormed the beaches at Normandy. Patton was advancing across Belgium and France and into Germany. Hitler was in retreat. Russia had begun to crush him in a massive geographic vise from the east.

There was talk that the Allies may invade Japan in early 1946. No one knew.

But on August 6, 1945, the Allies launched “Special Mission 13”.

Around the world from my dad, the other man was in his garden outside Hiroshima. It was 8:10 AM in the morning.

His back to the city, he pulled the few small weeds that had sprouted between the neat rows of vegetables, tamping the soft earth back down between the garden furrows.

Then, as he would later tell his son, who had not yet been born, “The sun fell out of the sky.”

A wristwatch in the Hiroshima museum frozen at exactly the time of the bomb’s detonation.

The plane my dad had helped design had just delivered the first nuclear strike on Hiroshima, Japan. The man watched from his garden as the sun, a new, manmade sun, engulfed the city. It boiled and sizzled and burned, then rose slowly up into the sky as a terrible shockwave cracked through the earth for miles. And a huge, dark mushroom cloud towered above the earth, the silence of death falling back to the ground.

62 years passed.

A product of U.S. public schools, I, unfortunately, don’t speak Japanese. My niece does, fluently. She lives in Japan. Married a Japanese guy named Yukimi.

Luckily, Katsumi Shiji, my new customer, speaks very good English. He wanted to buy a triathlon bike. He had completed a remarkable number of Ironman triathlons and was trim and fit. Light hearted and courteous, Katsumi was always a pleasure to wait on. He was an automotive engineer and his command of both English and Japanese along with his expertise in automotive engineering meant his skills were in demand here in the Motor City and back in Japan, where he was from.

So, I was pleased to sell Katsumi a triathlon bike.

Because Katsumi was such an interesting man, I asked him where he lived when he was back in Japan.

“Hiroshima”, he told me.

I mentioned I would love to visit Hiroshima, and that it was sad that the city’s legacy was inexorably tied to the world’s first use of nuclear weapons.

And then Katsumi told me, “My dad saw the blast. He was there, in his garden, when the bomb landed.”

So here, in a bike shop in Dearborn, stood a man whose dad had survived the nuclear strike made by the plane my dad helped design. Some massive, cosmic circle had just been closed by utter happenstance.

I told Katsumi my dad’s story, and for just a brief moment, there was an awkward silence. Then I told him, “I am so happy to know that your dad survived.”

“Thank you, thank you!” He told me, “I am happy too…” He bowed slightly while we pumped each other’s’ hands up and down in a handshake.

The calculus of what happened when I met Katsumi Shiji still boggles my mind. I consider that some massive circle has been closed. Some full circle through the worst of human experience down to a friendly meeting of two men about a bicycle.

And it occurred to me, that the world had healed.

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

 

I was coming back up Hines Drive this morning. Headed east. About 15 miles done, another 5 to go. It’s hot. 88° and climbing, feels like 98°. Humid. Wind is still, maybe a puff of tailwind going east.

Hines Drive is closed to cars on Saturday morning. A Dr. Seuss procession of every imaginable pedal-thing fills the parkway. There are riders with kiddie trailers, on recumbents, riding unicycles, pedaling tandems and pace-lining on inline skates. If it rolls, glides, skates, tows or walks on a leash it’s on Hines Drive on Saturday morning.

It’s like surfing a crowded beach. You go out there, paddle hard hoping to catch the perfect ride in. About twice a year you hit the turnaround point at Ann Arbor Trail and you catch it coming back toward Dearborn. The perfect ride.

It’s an ugly reality that most Americans can’t ride a bicycle well. It’s never more apparent than Saturday Morning on Hines Drive. Tonight, there will be a new litany of social media posts with emergency room visits and X-rays of broken collar bones. Americans know everything. As result, you can’t teach us anything. It is more apparent in U.S. cycling than almost anywhere in American culture. Do a group ride in Belgium, France, Italy- there is a hierarchy, organization, unwritten and unspoken rules for how to ride.

In the U.S. it’s mayhem. People ride four abreast. Because the entire road is open to cyclists (and every other means of ambulation), cyclists feel compelled to use as much of the road as possible. Riders push knee-busting cadences below 50 RPMs. Orthopedic surgeons should park a van at either end handing out business cards. People on $10,000 aerodynamic bikes in the wrong frame size sit bolt-upright over their unused aerobars wondering what saddle they should try next in pursuit of that elusive “best bike seat”. Triathletes do long training rides in tri shorts to “get used to them”.  In short, it’s a mess.

But once or twice a year you catch that perfect ride. That perfect wheel.

Not sure who he is. Rides a Trek triathlon bike. Wearing a jersey from the Ford Athletic Swim and Triathlon (F.A.S.T.) club. His bike was clean and well assembled. Cable housings long enough, derailleur cables short enough. Rear wheel true. Tire relatively new. Saddle height and fore/aft looked good, aerobars fit him too, hand on the shifters and elbows on the elbow pads. He sat on the bike well. Pedaled well. No rocking. Knees straight up and down. Snappy Cadence, about 86 RPM. Good for a time trialist or triathlete.

I don’t know who he is, but he can ride. Really ride. Straight. Smooth. Good cadence. Pre-acts to other riders up the road before he passes, doesn’t shout “ON YOUR LEFT!” when he goes around them. Like I said, not sure who he is, but he can ride.

Got on his wheel. When you get on someone’s rear wheel to draft your front tire is only about 4-6 inches at most from their rear tire at over 20 MPH. Ride off to one side for “safety” and the first time they decelerate imperceptively and alter their line just a trifle- you go down. Your X-ray is on Facebook on Monday morning.

So, I lined up on his rear tire and used the back of his saddle as a reference. Focus. Hold. Relax.

He shifts when you are supposed to, and I can’t even see him do it. His body does not move when he shifts, only his right thumb and index finger. Smooth. When the resistance starts to increase with the gentle roll of the flat road he touches his shifter for one easier cog. Me too.

This is a luxury. The perfect wave. The perfect draft. The perfect wheel. The perfect rider.

He rides straight, smooth, predictably and holds a steady effort just a few percent above my fitness level. Given the smooth, comfortable draft swirling off his body just four inches in front of me I can go 2-3 MPH faster than I normally would be able to at the same effort.

So he tows me along. In utter perfection. I’ve caught the perfect wave.

It’s rare to see a U.S cyclist ride this well. Smooth, calm, confident, skilled. Even his clothes fit him correctly and he is wearing bib cycling shorts, not triathlon shorts, even though he is out on his tri bike.

This was likely my best wave of the year. My best free ride. I don’t know who he was, but he could ride.

 

 


Tom Demerly is old, fat and slow, but occasionally still rides.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Be careful with Stefano Sollima and Taylor Sheridan’s latest blockbuster, “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”.

It’s sinister, seductive relevance carries a sobering slap-in-the-face wake-up call or toxic political venom. It’s your choice. But either way you lean with the theme, the relevance and mastery of this knock-out sequel make it a rare case of a follow-on achieving everything its predecessor did, and maybe even more.

Chalk it up to timing and headlines, but “Sicario, Day of the Soldato” is laser-guided relevant with weighty themes of Mexican immigration and political subversion. The real-world significance cause the movie to do something few films do now: you actually care about the story.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldato” follows the original 2015 “Sicario” with much of the same cast. Gone are character Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) and Icelandic composer and Oscar winner Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Director Stefano Sollima.

New to “Soldato” are Isabela Reyes (16-year old actress Isabela Moner) and the ominous, throbbing soundtrack strains of Hildur Guðnadóttir (say “GWON-A-doh-ter). Also from Iceland, Guðnadóttir was previously a classical cellist who is relatively new to bigtime soundtracks. This is her break-out moment. The two opening notes from her main theme to the movie are resonant and foreboding. It’s the “Jaws” theme for the Mexican border.

Character Isabela Reyes, a youthful character forced into the story, replaces the role of Kate Mercer from the previous film. In the original “Sicario”, Kate Mercer was symbolic of all of America struggling to understand the drug cartels, immigration issues and complex injustices surrounding the U.S./Mexico border. In “Soldato”, the juvenile Isabella Reyes performs a similar function but from a different perspective. She never had youthful innocence, is resigned to a violent life and is calloused and durable. While Kate Mercer represented the U.S. relationship to the border issues, Isabella Reyes serves as a character metaphor for all of Mexico trying to understand the border crisis, and also falling victim to it.

Young actress Isabela Moner’s masterful portrayal of character Isabela Reyes is the dramatic delivery tool to “Soldato”.

There is a complex lineage to the plot of “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”. The genetics of the story can be traced back directly to master story mechanic Tom Clancy. Clancy’s 2011 book Against All Enemies followed the path of Middle Eastern terrorism to central America and up to the United States across the Mexican border. That theme was also woven into the 2012 film “Act of Valor”. While this theme could have been structural to “Soldato”, it is, in reality, the only accessory to the main plot. The idea of terrorism entering the U.S. through illegal Mexican immigration is presented, and then seemingly abandoned in the film. If “Soldato” has a singular shortcoming, that is it. But this relevant footnote interlocks on the plot fairly smoothly.

An integral part of both “Sicario” and “Sicario: Day of the Soldato” are their remarkable thematic economy. There is no fluff. It’s all meat. As a result of this tight plot and orderly story you can never look away. Every scene matters, every detail engages. While the writing and organization of the theme facilitate this thematic economy, what delivers it is flawless visual production.

The visual experience of “Soldato” is beautifully textured with a subtle hint of well-done graphic novels. Composition of shots provides a true feel for the barren Sonora desert and the southern border region. It conveys something many people in the United States don’t get about the Mexican border issue: this is a different world from the rest of the United States. This writer lived near the Mexico-United States border for nearly three years, crossed the badlands between Arizona and Mexico numerous times and has stood across the wall from Juarez, Mexico. I’ve also lived in the Middle East and travel across North Africa. The border region has more in common with the Middle East and North Africa than it does with anywhere else in the U.S. As a result, most Americans have a tough time putting the border crisis into perspective. “Soldato” provides a visual insight that dramatizes the reality of the Mexico/U.S. border.

There is another brutally relevant gut-punch in “Soldato”. One that is as accurate as it is politically inflammatory. “Sicario: Day of the Soldato” acknowledges the weaponization of illegal immigrants. Whether they are Libyan and Syrian immigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Malta or Greece, or Mexican immigrants trying to gain entry to the U.S., the exodus of distressed populations has been subversively used by nations to impose discord and hardship on neighboring countries. As the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has degraded over the border debate, the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. has, by nearly all accounts, accelerated to a point where the question of what to do with the increasing number of people who cross into the U.S. has become deeply divisive. “Soldato” pulls no punches in editorializing that illegal immigration is being used as a tool by drug cartels and a corrupt government to destabilize the U.S. After the last two weeks of illegal immigration headlines in the U.S. and a couple hours in the theater with “Soldato” this light bulb goes on over your head pretty brightly.

Given all the relevance, economy, visual luxury and masterful execution of “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”, this film gets a spot on the very top shelf of the best dramatic thrillers as sharp as a paper cut from today’s headlines. “Soldato” is a rare sequel masterwork, durable and abundant with visual and thematic relevance.


 

Tom Demerly writes for TheAviationist.com and appears in Business Insider. His articles and editorials are read by millions around the world.

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Film critics acknowledge just a few revered gems of action filmmaking as reference icons of the craft. The two Michael Mann films “Heat” and “Miami Vice” demonstrate the highest level of depicting moral dilemma, pragmatic reality and violent consequence set against an artful film canvas woven from the intricate threads of plot, cast, soundtrack, scene and nearly every other dramatic element.

“Heat” and “Miami Vice” are prefect films, without flaw and packed with subtlety that makes them viewable again and again. They engage the viewer in exactly the same way the eccentric Howard Hughes was drawn to obsessively watch and re-watch the remarkable 1968 John Sturgis film “Ice Station Zebra” based on the Alistair MacLean novel of the same name. As he descended into insanity, Hughes obsessively watched “Ice Station Zebra” several times per day for at least a year, hunting through the intricate film analyzing each scene and searching for new subtleties in the plot and dialogue. Such was the richness of this production, and the depth of Hughes’ dementia.

To an even greater degree, the 2015 masterwork “Sicario” (Spanish for “hitman’) by Director Dennis Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan is not only a masterfully made film, but a remarkably relevant commentary and observation of the ongoing U.S. border and immigration dispute with Mexico.  This combination of technical mastery and social relevance make “Sicario” an important movie.

“Sicario” is packed with plot details. The movie is remarkably lean, edited down to only the “meat” of the story. There are no accessories, no distractions. By contrast the recent 2018 film “Den of Thieves”, by director and writer Christian Gudegast, tried to achieve a similar level of mastery and subtlety. But “Den of Thieves” ultimately failed to reach the level of either one of Michael Mann’s films, “Heat” or “Miami Vice”. Gudegast’s “Den of Thieves” crumbled on overdeveloped characters and plot diversions that made the film feel clunky and forced. The visual and sound elements were all there in “Den of Thieves”, it just did not execute the lean subtlety of “Heat”, “Miami Vice” and especially “Sicario”.

While every scene in “Sicario” is structural to the overall film, one scene consistently grabs viewers by the throat and leaves film students and writers in awe. The Border Scene.

The border scene opens with a voiceover radio narrative from somewhere, an anonymous voice of authority on the radio that describes the situation at the border. The traffic jam at the U.S. border is an allegory to the delays prevalent in the U.S. immigration process.

The scene quickly cuts to character Kate Marcer (Emily Blunt) who appears observant, apprehensive and confused by the evolving situation. Her face shows puzzlement, reflective of the general mindset of most U.S. citizens when trying to understand the Mexican border situation.

Character Kate Marcer is all of America trying to understand the immigration issue. She is experiencing apathy and fear, but she is naïve of the actual reality of the border situation. Her character is hastily thrust into the environment of the border, forced to make sense of an impossible and violent situation.

Kate Marcer tries to preserve her integrity, but she is reluctantly pulled into a world with violent rules. She resists the second command to “Get out of the car” from character Alejandro Gillick (Benecio del Toro). She tries to slow down the action for a moment of reflection and analysis. It nearly costs her life.

There is no music in this short opening part of the scene, a chance for the audience to join in Kate’s experience of taking in the puzzling border environment and trying to understand it. The early lack of music in the scene also leaves it feeling sparse and tense.

Alejandro Gillick is hypervigilant. He maintains his situational awareness and calm mindset, becoming the first character to perceive a subtle threat emerging when he spots a carload of military age males who don’t belong in the setting. Alejandro does not reveal his observation initially, but tells Kate to “Take your service weapon out.” Uncomfortably, Kate complies with this first command and removes her pistol from her holster.

Then we are introduced to a key, but subtle character, Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan). The character of Steve Forsing is based on a photo of an undercover U.S. Army SFO-D operative taken during the Gulf war. The character appears vanilla plain, generic and anonymous, almost to the point of being conspicuously anonymous. He begins the scene as an observer, transitions immediately and tensely to an active participant observing, “Gun. Gun left…”. The radio crackles to life giving the characters in the scene the disjointed and ambiguous rules for trying to moderate a deteriorating and threatening circumstance soon to spin out of control.

The rest of the scene is filled with subtlety and incredible tension quickly contrasted with horrific violence. Every nuance of the scene is finely crafted. Notice the dog barking in the beginning of the scene when the visual cuts to outside the vehicle as the soundtrack music booms into the forefront. The aural tendril of the barking dog continuing quietly in the back of the soundtrack below the musical narration maintains a subliminal tone of alarm and panic underlying the entire scene.

Alejandro pleads in Spanish, “En paz, en paz”. This quick Spanish dialogue to a non-Spanish speaking audience will be most effective. The situation becomes tense and difficult to understand as it accelerates. Director Dennis Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan rely on the reality that most viewers cannot speak Spanish, and that Alejandro’s pleading caution to the cartel gunman adds to the building chaos of the scene. The subtitles read, “In peace, in peace”. It is a last, feeble attempt to interject reason and civility into a barbaric setting. The English dialogue appears in a subtitle to complete the subtle message that few real-life characters embroiled in the border conflict recognize a peaceful alternative to the prevalent violence in the region.

Every visual tool is used in Sicario to deliver the sense of tension and conflict.

Finally, the scene concludes with contrasting reactions from characters that include Josh Brolin as team leader Matt Graver. Graver’s reaction to the border shoot-out is pragmatic acceptance and detached calm. It contrasts with Kate Mercer’s terror and confusion.

“Sicario” is not just a great film, it’s an important one to view, contemplate and analyze in the ongoing discussion of the war on drugs and the Mexican border security conversation.

This Friday, June 29, 2018 the sequel to “Sicario” opens in U.S. theaters. While the original 2015 masterpiece will be hard to follow, writer Taylor Sheridan is back for “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”. With a new director, Stefano Sollima, it will be interesting to see if “Day of the Soldato” will be able to deliver with the same subtlety, technical mastery and relevance as the original “Sicario”.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

They are among the most famous images in human history. The Robert Capa Life Magazine D-Day photos.

Blurry, poorly exposed and framed in terror, the images transcend photography and achieve a higher level of journalism: they are visual experience.

Robert Capa, whose real name was Endre Friedmann, was a Hungarian willing to go where no other war photographer would. He was the only news photographer on Omaha Beach with the early waves of the allied invasion force, hitting the beach with the second wave. Capa went on to shoot photos in five wars. His friends included Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.

Photojournalist Robert Capa, the only photographer on the beach during the second wave of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.

Robert Capa cut a dashing figure with handsome features and a jaunty smirk on his face. He did, in fact of matter, laugh at danger. He seemed to revel in it. Capa was 30 years old when he landed at Omaha Beach and shot his photos. His mannerisms and exploits defined modern journalists like Dan Rather, Wolf Blitzer, Christiana Amanpour, Geraldo Rivera, Peter Arnett, Robert Pelton Young, Evan Wright, and John Simpson.

The enormity and perfection of Capa’s D-Day photos cannot be overstated. They are, in every way, perfect photographs. Robert Capa’s D-Day photos not only depict what it looked like to be in the first wave of the Normandy landings, they demonstrate how it felt to be there. Horrifying, Chaotic, disorganized, polarized, distinctly black and white and desperate. Had Capa’s photos turned out to be well composed, in focus and correctly exposed with the negatives arriving to the darkroom undamaged our perception of D-Day and, in fact, warfare overall, would be different today.

The black and white medium speaks to the absolute polarization of the conflict. The battle of Normandy was not just the allies against the axis, it was a clash of good against evil. No battle since has been so clearly delineated in the public conscience.

The blurriness of the photos accurately chronicles the chaos of D-Day. Troops landed in the wrong place. Landing craft were swamped. Soldiers drowned before firing a shot. Those who survived the landings were shredded by machine gun fire from fortified concrete bunkers. Artillery from naval ships rained onto the beach indiscriminately killing both friendly forces and the enemy. More so than even Dante’s Inferno, the Capa photos are the visual depiction of hell.

In point of fact, Robert Capa’s D-Day photos changed the world to a similar degree the invasion itself did.

Along with photos of the Apollo Moon Landings and the funeral of John F. Kennedy, the Capa D-Day photos are the most famous photos in history. As media evolved into the video and then internet age the relevance and impact of still photos waned. People were hard to shock with a single image. Our brains became trained to interpret visual information differently, cameras became more common and higher quality, the transmission of images became instantaneous and every person with a smartphone became a reporter. But even with this evolution and proliferation of media Capa’s D-Day photos still stab with a sense of horror and violence.

Capa shot the D-Day images using two Contax II cameras both fitted with 50mm lenses. He carried redundant equipment in case one camera malfunctioned or was destroyed in battle. Capa shot 35mm film negatives. He carried additional rolls of film with him, but changing the film without accidentally exposing it and keeping it dry was nearly impossible on D-Day.

Although Capa shot a total of 106 frames before, during and after the landing of the second invasion wave he accompanied, most were destroyed by a fifteen-year-old lab assistant named Dennis Banks working for Life magazine in London. Banks accidentally set a film negative dryer too high and melted three complete rolls of film. In a bizarre allegory, it is as though those lost images symbolize the soldiers lost on Omaha Beach that day. Even Capa’s ruined images remain significant.

Page layout from the original Life Magazine D-Day issue on June 19, 1944.

Only 11 total photos by Robert Capa of the D-Day invasion survived the darkroom error. Capa never mentioned the loss of the images. He took the matter completely in stride, the horrors and loss of battle having hardened him.

Life magazine published ten of the eleven photos on June 19, 1944. The feature was a splash-photo spread with short captions that were partly inaccurate. The captions didn’t matter. Capa’s photos told the story of the horror of D-Day most effectively without words. The images live on, almost more impactful now in retrospect than in the month following the D-Day landings.

On May 25, 1954 Robert Capa was killed when he stepped on a landmine while reporting on the French involvement in what went on to become the Vietnam War. Two journalists accompanying him, Jim Lucas and John Mecklin also from Life magazine, reported that Capa held his camera even as he was evacuated to a forward area field hospital, where he died from his wounds at the age of 41.


 

Author Tom Demerly is a U.S. correspondent for TheAviationist.com, the foremost military aviation blog in the world. He is a former U.S. Army Long Range Surveillance Team member and has visited all seven continents. He has written for TACAIRNET, Outside, Business Insider, Velo-News, Bicycle Guide, Bicycling, Inside Triathlon, Triathlete, Triathlon Today!, USA Triathlon Magazine and many other publications around the world.

SaveSave

SaveSave