If you've been wondering about the paucity of posts in the past few days, here's at least a partial explanation: From last Thursday through Sunday, I was attending the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. Over that four day period, I sat through 16 separate screenings of new and classic films, some of which included panel discussions with the filmmakers or experts on the movie or the period in which it was made.
As I mentioned to festival director Richard Herskowitz after the final screening -- the world premiere of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, starring Dame Joan Plowright -- if someone watched 30 or 35 hours of television over four days, it wouldn't have much of an effect on him. But watching 30 or 35 hours of movies in a darkened theatre over the same period is far more intense and draining. Watching film requires far more attention, concentration, and focus than watching TV does. It is far more engaging intellectually and emotionally.
So it came as no surprise to me that, after the festival was over, I went straight to bed. What did surprise me is that I ended up sleeping all through Monday, finally waking up just before the 11:00 p.m. news. The whole day had gone by and I hadn't felt any time at all.
Now that I'm recovered sufficiently, I can write a few words about the festival, retaining the option to write more over the next few days. Some of what I write will later appear in The Metro Herald, through whose good graces Tim Hulsey and I obtained press credentials to cover the festival. (Thanks also to festival publicists John Kelly and Cara White, who could not have been more helpful during a weekend of much pressure and huge responsibilities.)
The weekend began with a screening of The Fever, a new film starring Vanessa Redgrave and featuring Michael Moore and Angelina Jolie in small supporting roles. The Fever was directed by Redgrave's son, Carlo Nero, and financed by HBO, which will broadcast it early next year.
The Fever is an unremitting, unveiled attack on Western democratic capitalism. In Redgrave's words, anyone who earns a middle-class income or more lives a life of unredeemable corruption. The Fever actually shows Redgrave's malaise-besieged character reading Karl Marx's Capital and being transformed by it the way a normal person might be transformed by reading Atlas Shrugged.
The movie was met with warm applause by the hundreds of academics, film lovers, and other guests at the Culbreth Theatre at the University of Virginia. Disgusted as I was by the leftist politics of The Fever, I could easily have left quietly. Quietude, however, is not in my nature.
So I stood up during the discussion period, moderated by Herskowitz and featuring Redgrave, Nero, and Jason Blum (rhymes with plum), the movie's primary producer, and asked:
"I don't want to be cheeky, but it seems to me that the underlying philosophy in this film represents an old-fashioned [I should have said anachronistic] and ahistorical view of economics as a zero-sum game. Have any of you ready any books about economics published after 1945?"
I wasn't really looking for an answer; I was trying to make a point. Redgrave did answer, however, saying she had read books by Jeffrey Sachs (meaning, I think, his new book The End of Poverty) and George Soros (who has done a wonderful job rebuilding civil society in the former Soviet empire but whose views on economics can best be summed up as "I've got mine, sorry you can't have any more yourself"), and the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Report, which has "hundreds of sources." When I suggested, in return, "Friedrich Hayek?", I was met with blank stares by the panelists.
In reporting on my question, the Daily Progress said:
One audience member questioned Redgrave’s simplification, both as an actress and as a person, of the issue of poverty. He asked Redgrave if she had read any economics books published after 1945.No one said caring is wrong, of course. Compassion is an important emotion-cum-virtue. Nevertheless, compassion, like any other emotion, should not be permitted to overwhelm rationality. (Perhaps I should have asked Redgrave if she's ever read Plato's Republic.)
Redgrave responded by listing a handful of texts and said, "I don’t think it’s old-fashioned to care."
It is "old-fashioned," in the sense of anachronistic, to think that for you to be rich, I must be poor, and vice versa.
My question caused quite a stir, since at events like this (I suppose) everyone is supposed to fawn over the celebrities.
While trying to leave the auditorium, I was approached by one man who thanked me for asking my question, and as we chatted, we drew a crowd around us. A young woman accused us both of being "middle class, white males" who couldn't get "outside [our] minds." Tim Hulsey asked how it is possible to be outside one's mind, and I suggested that possibility would be schizophrenia.
I thought it would end there, but Tim told me that at a screening the next morning, he overheard two other people talking about my question, and on Saturday night, while I was chatting with an on-line friend who asked if I had been attending the film festival, I indicated I had asked a "dissenting question" at the Redgrave event. He asked, "Did you ask if she had read any post-war books on economics?" I said yes, I had, and asked if he had been there. No, he said, but he had heard about it from someone who was there.
The Fever wasn't the end of my tiny battle with the left. On Sunday I saw an excellent new German film called Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which tells the story of a courageous young woman who was executed by the Nazi regime for daring to dissent. This is a great movie and I recommend it highly, both for its content and for its dramatic structure.
In the audience discussion afterwards, I brought up the point that the movie has relevance for today because "things like this happen every day in places like North Korea, China, and Cuba," to which the moderator -- an academic whose name I did not write down -- replied, "You mean Guantanamo."
"No," I said, "I mean Havana."
"Guantanamo," he insisted.
"There are no guillotines in Guantanamo," I added (a reference to the final scene in the movie).
"I know something about the Caribbean," the academic said, "and I guess we'll have to agree to disagree."
I can only imagine the dinner-table conversation that night, when that "scholar" said to his wife and kids, "You can't believe what I heard today: Some crazy guy compared Hitler to Castro and the Cuban government to Nazi Germany!"
Thursday update: The Hook, like the Daily Progress, has reported on my "cheeky" question posed to Vanessa Redgrave. Here's how Lisa Provence reports it in today's edition:
"Have any of you read a book about economics since 1945?" Local Richard Sincere, an alum of the London School of Economics, causes a stir after the screening when he poses that question to Redgrave and Nero. To which Redgrave responds, "I don't think it's old-fashioned to care as much as ever." Insert audience applause here.It's not exactly what I said, but close enough to catch the flavor of the moment.