Round-up of Films seen in 2018

Dear Under Southern Eyes Readers and Followers,

So 2019 is already upon us – which means a Round-up of the films that I believe are significant for viewers is in order!

I certainly saw far more films in 2018 than I did in 2017 – perhaps I saw more films last year than the previous two years’ combined total! – so my list will very large indeed. As you already know, the films I consider significant won’t necessarily be films the general public or even those deemed expert film critics will consider good. They may even be films that fall far short of what they intended to say.I

Of the many dramas, comedies and other films falling between these two categories that had their first release in 2018, one of the most impressive of these was the very last film I saw in 2018 and this is Adam McKay’s “Vice”, as a study of evil at its most cynical and hollow, even though it was significantly compromised by its obvious anti-Trump / anti-Republican and pro-Democratic stance and the lack of depth in its study of former US vice-president Dick Cheney’s character. Another excellent film was J van der Welde’s “An Act of Defiance”, though I did note its treatment of black people as rather passive actors or bystanders in their own defence and in supporting the central character of Bram Fischer and how that treatment could be construed (ironically perhaps) as discriminatory and demeaning.

I saw many good documentaries and those I would most recommend include Diljana Gaytandzhieva’s “Diplomatic Viruses” for its focus on US bioweapons research in Georgia as part of the general Western drive towards war against Russia; Clayton Swisher’s four-part series “The Lobby” for its analysis of the Israeli government’s insidious reach into the British political establishment, extending well into both the major political parties and their structures; Michael Oswald’s “The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire” on the transformation of British imperialism transformed into a financially based global network that continues to dominate the world, impoverish and enslave nations, and threaten the very survival of the planet itself; Jenan Moussa’s “Undercover in Idlib”; Hernando Calvo Ospina’s “Venezuela, the Hidden Agenda”; and Alexander Korobko’s “NYC to Donetsk & back”. (Since the last mentioned documentary was made, Donetsk head of state Alexander Zakharchenko died in a terrorist attack in August; he will be sadly missed by his people and many others around the world.)

Of course there were many disappointing films and films that should never have left Development Hell: those in the latter category include Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for its prudish and homophobic treatment of the life of British rock star Freddie Mercury; and Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” for being a typically hack Ridley Scott film. Andrei Zvyagintsev (“Loveless”) continues to plough ever deeper in his circular rut making films portraying Russian society under Vladimir Putin as materialistic, greedy and self-obsessed, and increasingly fascistic, as though such characteristics are unique only to Russia and not to Western societies as well. As for disappointing films, I single out Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” (for portraying a passive view of Mexican society in the early 1970s, not explaining or attempting to understand the various incidents that occur in the film); Bjorn Runge’s “The Wife” (just plain over-rated by film critics); and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” (another very over-rated flick).

As for what 2019 will bring, I expect that the quality of Hollywood product will continue to decline, and foreign directors and actors will dominate as film industries in their own countries dwindle under austerity programs or commercial and government pressure to make bland propaganda films, and they are forced to go to wherever the opportunities exist. The British film industry will concentrate more and more on producing historical propaganda mush that idealise a 1930s Britain that never existed, in which a small upper class elite dominates and everyone else knows their place in the hierarchical pecking order, as part of its role in prodding and pushing Western publics towards supporting war against Russia and China that will enrich arms manufacturers and their shareholders (some of which are the very individuals and corporations mentioned in Michael Oswald’s documentary I mentioned above).

Whatever happens in world film in 2019, I wish you all a Happy New Year and Happy Viewing!

Regards, Nausika.

Round-up of Films seen in 2017

Dear Under Southern Eyes Readers and Followers,

Another year has come and gone and 2018 has dawned!

I feel I’ve probably seen a lot more films in 2017 than I did in 2016 – I certainly saw twice as many in the second half of 2017 than I did in the first half. Of course not all the films I saw in 2017 were great or even good – quite a considerable number were disappointing. On the other hand there were films that, while falling far short of what they could have been, nevertheless served up some interesting ideas and lots of food for thought.

The best recent films (as in films that had their first release in 2017 or the year before) that I saw were Rosie Jones’ “The Family”, Sinan Saeed and Tom Duggan’s “Aleppo Renaissance”, John Pilger’s “The Coming War on China”, Alex Apollonov and Aleksa Vukovic’s “The Haircut”, Erik Poppe’s “Kongens Nei {The King’s Choice)”, Dome Karukoski’s “Tom of Finland”, Jan Hrebejk’s “The Teacher” and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing”.  Note that most of the films listed are either documentaries or films from northern and central Europe. The TV series “Adam Ruins Everything” was entertaining if not always as informative and educational as it could have been; the half-hour format is much too short for the series and at least 45 minutes per episode would have been adequate for a series aimed at adults down to young teenagers. 

Disappointments were various and most of these were Hollywood films or British / American fictional historical drama collaborations. Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” had a thin plot and one-dimensional characters, in spite of its themes and contradictory attitude towards women.  The current Hollywood trend of giving women roles that in the past would have been given to men, adding to a new stereotype that whatever men are or do in real life, in film fantasy land women can do even better – whether as underground guerrilla rebel leader or as chief sadistic enforcer to a money-hungry billionaire – is becoming ever more silly and unrealistic. This isn’t what I believe feminism was supposed to achieve. Likewise, David Leitch’s film “Atomic Blonde”, boasting a female James Bond character, came across as more cartoon comic than Cold War bleakness and its plundering of 1980s German punk culture and music was shallow and manipulative. The less said about Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant”, the better.

Of other films outside Hollywood that could have been better, D Kobiela and H Welchman’s “Loving Vincent” said very little that couldn’t have been done in a live-action film. Tadashi Miike’s “Blade of the Immortal” probably should have gone back to story-board stage to get more of the original manga in and more of the sword fights out.

So I found myself relying on films of the past to remind me that, yes, there can be such a thing as movies with more substance than style and which make you think even if the questions they ask and the issues they raise are treated quite cursorily. Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show”, Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” and Phil Noyce’s “The Quiet American” were three such films that interrogated and criticised aspects of Western (and in particular American) culture of their time.

What 2018 is likely to bring, and whether the films to come will be any better than what they were in 2017, we cannot predict but one thing that seems obvious is that as the English-speaking world continues to decline politically, economically and culturally, its cinematic products will also be worse. Two films I saw – “Blade Runner 2049” and Kenneth Branagh’s ego trip “Murder on the Orient Express” – had endings suggesting that sequels were in the works; it seems that no film concept or idea is too sacred, that Hollywood can’t resist flogging it to death through endless sequels. Another Hollywood trend likely to continue is the industry’s plundering of other countries’ acting and directing talent to make up for its own shortfall in producing the successors to the Scorseses and Coppolas, the de Niros, Pacinos and Hoffmans of today.

Whatever transpires in 2018, I wish everyone a great year in 2018 and happy film viewing!

Regards, Nausika.

Review of Films I’ve seen in 2016

Review of Films I’ve seen in 2016

Dear Under Southern Eyes Readers,

Another year gone and another round-up of the most interesting films seen in 2016!

On the whole the quality of new mainstream films seems to descend lower and lower into slice-n-dice identity politics (this is true particularly of British historical dramas) and trawling through the equivalent of last night’s dinner thrown into the bin for more inspiration (always true of Hollywood over the past 20 years, only more desperate in the last 12 months or so). Even so, there are occasions where Hollywood allows an up-coming young director to present a film, often one set in the past, that ends up being a wry commentary on present-day social, political and economic trends. Such films included “The Big Short”, “Spotlight”, “Trumbo” and “The Founder”: all of them set in the past yet with a lesson relevant to modern audiences, and all including a cast who believed completely in the narrative of the film, the ideas and themes highlighted by the narrative, and whose acting was inspired to be the very best as a result.

Outside Hollywood, there haven’t been very many memorable movies released over late 2015 / most of 2016. “Son of Saul” and “Embrace of the Serpent” were two very impressive films for their messages. “Marguerite”, based on the life of American singer Florence Foster Jenkins, was a good film with a cast who rallied to the themes and ideas in the plot and who gave their very best.

As for the lesser lights of the year, Studio Ghibli predictably disappointed yet again with the insipid and pointless “The Red Turtle”. Another significant animated clunker was “Batman: The Killing Joke” which, for all the esteem the original comic is held in, should never have seen the light of day.

Legendary rock star David Bowie’s death in early January 2016 prompted me to look up “The Man who Fell to Earth”, “The Image” and a documentary which at the very least was entertaining if not very informative. Of other golden oldies, Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” made a huge impression on me as a showcase of Liza Minnelli’s talent (more so than “Cabaret”) and Kaneto Shindo’s “Onibaba” has lost none of its power as a post-apocalyptic shocker. I finally also got to see Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” and Todd Dawson’s “Freaks”.

If there is a lesson for me to learn from the films I saw in 2016, it is never to trust anything again from Studio Ghibli and to avoid the new Wonder Woman movie coming in 2017. I have seen the trailer for that film and it sure did not impress me.

I’m always ready and willing for any new surprises and I’m sure that 2017 will bring some new gems to treasure even as more and more dross is churned out.

Wishing all my readers a happy and healthy New Year in 2017.

Nausika / Under Southern Eyes

Review of Films I’ve seen in 2015

Review of Films I’ve seen in 2015

Dear Under Southern Eyes Readers,

Another year, another summary of the films seen over the past 12 calendar months!

I must say that of the films released in 2015 that I saw, most were mediocre. A trend I’ve noticed of late is for recent British historical drama flicks like M Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game”, J Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything” and S Gavron’s “Suffragette” is to take actual historical events and fictionalise them with the intent of inserting a current political agenda not at all relevant to the original events themselves. This may be intended to make the events and their historical context seem more “real” or “authentic” to modern audiences but also has the potential to distort these events and their context in ways that do not do justice to the events themselves and the people involved in them. At worst these events can be used to justify actions or policies that could go against the public interest, serve agendas that are plainly undemocratic and unjust, and/or even backfire against those groups whose interests are supposedly being upheld by the films. This is something that I noticed especially with “Suffragette”, in which a working class character is essentially being exploited by a middle class movement and whose relations with her family, her community and her class are destroyed as a result. The film purports to support women’s rights, particularly their rights to custody of their children during family break-ups but the way in which this is done in “Suffragette” looks deliberately confrontational to the point where it seems stereotyped. 

As usual Hollywood continued on its merry way churning out tired and unoriginal blockbuster dreck based on Marvel and DC Comics characters and I managed to avoid seeing most such new releases. On the other hand, free films at the New South Wales Art Gallery and DVDs borrowed from my local library cheered me up – proof that finding and seeing good quality cinema does not need to burn holes through your hip pocket. One unexpected bonus was finding old Charlie Chaplin films at my local library.

Of the films I saw at the cinema, the best were A Garland’s “Ex Machina”, an intelligent if modestly budgeted sci-fi flick in which a robot proved more human and the humans proved more robot in mind if not physically; J Vanderbilt’s “Truth” which worked fairly well in detailing how governments force the news media to massage their product into propaganda; G Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers”; and Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St Matthew”. The most entertaining documentary I saw (either on Youtube or on the big screen) was Zachary Maxwell’s “Yuck! A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary about School Lunch”

At the other extreme, J Oppenheimer’s “The Loss of Silence”, the companion to his earlier “The Act of Killing”, was boring and pointless, and Avi Lewis’ “This Changes Everything” was quite shallow. Kim Kiduk’s “Pieta” was a frustrating waste of my time and all I can say is the less I say about it, the better. Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan” was another film that mocked ordinary people and their efforts to survive and thrive under circumstances in which everything was pitted against them.

So onwards into 2016 … while I have no hope for Hollywood and the British film industry, I am hopeful that there’ll be some pleasant surprises from far below (and above) my radar. Let’s hope 2016 is a better year for film than 2015 was!

Cheers to all!

Nausika / Under Southern Eyes

Late but not entirely forgotten – a 2014 Review Round-up!

Dear Under Southern Eyes Readers,

Yes I did forget to post my customary round-up of the films I saw in 2014 and before we knew it, January 2015 had already gone and February 2015 was set to fly past as well!

Well the usual bad news is that whatever Hollywood put out that I deigned to watch was not great even where it covered subject matter that I was interested in. Point in case was Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” which in spite of its ambitions and production was an underwhelming experience. Other disappointing films were the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”, a work which I felt did a disservice to the life and outlook of US folk guitarist Dave von Ronk whose experiences provided source material for the movie; Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” which used its source material to create something that was frankly pornographic and depraved; and Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” which for me was frankly dishonest in brushing over the suffering of people during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake in Tokyo and the fire that followed, and whitewashing the course of militarism and aggression that Japan followed in the 1930s – 40s.

So the main cinematic joys of my year came down to independent cinema and old Hollywood crackers like Frankenheimer’s classic “The Manchurian Candidate”; the Spierig brothers’ quirky “Predestination”; Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” and Michael Leigh’s sprawling “Mr Turner”. Some movies that could have been very good but ended up being sunk by their plots or narrative structures were Bandele’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” and Sissako’s “Timbuktu”.  The Acquisto / Reis film “A Guerra da Beatriz” was a moving story of justice and reconciliation and a welcome highlight of the year.

Well it’s time to put my head and neck back to the grind-stone to find more interesting, informative and, above all, entertaining films that actually have some integrity and which mean what they say. Happy film-going for 2015!

Nausika / Under Southern Eyes

Review of Films I’ve seen in 2013

Dear Readers,

Another year has passed, it’s time for another summary of what I consider to be the best films I’ve seen at the cinema, on DVD, Youtube and whatever other medium I’ve seen any moving picture on!

As usual, I didn’t expect much from mainstream Hollywood film culture and even much so-called independent or alternative film culture didn’t offer a great deal that challenged audiences to think beyond their mental cocoons. Several film-makers who have done great work in the past now seem pigeon-holed into repeating themselves or have been cowed into making pretty films about safe subjects. This is obviously the effect of an overbearing political and economic climate in which all-out global war seems just one push-button moment away. Recent revelations of all-embracing surveillance by the National Security Agency in the United States by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, while not surprising, are just the edge of a deep and hitherto unknown universe in which control of information and what goes into, through and out of people’s minds into what they say and do is paramount; this leads inevitably into an increasingly roboticised society where thoughts and actions have to be predicted, and their consequences known, measured and quantified. This is all done for the purpose of blackmail (so that targeted victims end up self-censoring their actions) or for exchange with corporations serving hidden agendas for profit (so that people’s thoughts and actions can be monitored, with a view to companies anticipating and pre-empting such activities).

On the whole then, this year’s lot of theatrical film releases I’ve viewed has been dismal with very few outstanding films and nearly all of them documentaries. Of course when it comes to viewing films on DVD or other media, I can pick and choose what I want to see and so the calibre of past film releases has been far greater than what I’ve seen at the cinema recently. A boon to my film-watching has been the Japan Foundation Sydney Library which I joined very late in 2013 despite that library being close to my place of work since 2007! (Oh well, better late than never!) This fount of film archives has yielded some great classics of Japanese film culture which I had almost given up hope on.

Enough from me, let’s roll out the Good, the Bad and the Plain Ugly of 2013!


The Good

H Babenco, “Kiss of the Spider Woman”

P Berger, “Blancanieves”

Ingmar Bergman, “Persona”

Ingmar Bergman, “Wild Strawberries”

S Carruth, “Upstream Color”

Jean Cocteau, “La Belle et La Bête”

G Cowperthwaite, “Blackfish”

A Cox, “Repo Man”

M Curtiz, “Casablanca”

K Fukasaku, “Battle Royale”

A Gibney, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”

A Hitchcock, “Shadow of a Doubt”

M Kobayashi, “Kwaidan”

H Korine, “Spring Breakers”

A Kurosawa, “The Hidden Fortress”

S Kubrick, “2001: A Space Odyssey”

G Lucas, “THX 1138”

H Miyazaki, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”

S Suzuki, “Branded to Kill”

S Suzuki, “Tokyo Drifter”

R Wise, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”


The Bad

Richard Fleischer, “Fantastic Voyage”

P Larrain, “No”

T Miike, “Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai”

Claude Miller, “Thérèse Desqueyroux”

J Oppenheimer, “The Act of Killing”

C W Park, “Stoker”

M Szumowska, “Elles”


The Plain Ugly

J A Bayona, “The Impossible”

K Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”

Temujin Doran, “Obey”

S Gervasi, “Hitchcock”

Trey Parker, “Team America: World Police”


And fingers crossed, let’s hope that 2014 delivers a batch of new films that will improve on 2013’s lot!

Thanks for all your support and best wishes for the year.



Review of Films I’ve seen in 2012

Hi all,

Those last 12 months have passed so quickly and now I face the task of deciding which were the best films I’ve seen in 2012 that I thought fit to review!

Generally at the cinema, the quality of films I deigned to throw hard-earned money away on was quite mixed with some films simply failing to meet not just my expectations but those of most people, Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” being perhaps the most egregious example for its woolly plot which had characters doing strange things completely out of character for them and for the mere purpose of pushing the story along or to generate tension and sensationalism. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” was a major-league Hollywood lapdog disappointment as I expected. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by Tomas Alfredsson was another disappointment though nowhere near as bad as the Batman film. Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” was well below the master’s best and really quite pointless.

When it comes to choosing films on Youtube or at my local library, or stumbling across them during Google searches for other things, my BS detector is still active with the result that I have a surfeit of interesting animated shorts to choose from for best films. I still find it hard to privilege some animation above others as they’re all enjoyable and often very experimental and adventurous in their own way.

Given the way in which Hollywood is in thrall to political conservatism and the continuing need to pull in bums onto seats in spite of the continuing Global Financial Crisis which has all but demolished the US middle classes, I feel it’s too much to expect anything significant or important to come out of that particular dream propaganda factory in 2013 and so I’ll continue seeking out interesting films wherever I can find them!

Everybody have a wonderful year in 2013 and let’s hope the year will end on a better note than 2012 has!




Best Films

Aleksandr Andriyevsky, “Gibel’ Sensatsii / Loss of Feeling” (1935)

Luis Buñuel, “The Exterminating Angel / El ángel exterminador” (1962)

Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation” (2012)

Louis Feuillade, “Les Vampires” (1916)

Mikhail Kalatozov, “The Cranes are Flying / Letyat zhuravli” (1957)

Aki Kaurismäki, “Le Havre” (2011)

Jean-Pierre Melville, “Le Samouraï” (1967)

Jindrich Polak, “Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea / Zitra vstanu a oparim se cajem” (1977)

Hans Werckmeister, “Algol, Tragedy of Power / Algol, Tragödie der Macht” (1920)

Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)


Best Documentaries

Sally Aitken, “Seduction in the City: the Birth of Shopping” (two episodes) (2011)

Herman Axelbank and Max Eastman, “Tsar to Lenin” (1937)

Dave Dahl, “Skywatcher” (2012)

Aaron Franz, “The Age of Transitions” (2008)

Ron Fricke, “Samsara” (2011)

Mitchell Hawkes, “Heavenly Pop Hits: the Flying Nun Story” (2002)

Sut Jhally and Bathsheba Ratzkoff, “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” (2003)

Marie-Monique Robin, “The World According to Monsanto  / Le Monde selon Monsanto” (2008)

Jean Vigo, “Taris, Roi du L’Eau” (1931)


Best Animated Films

Walerian Borowczyk, “Les Jeux des Anges” (1964)

Walerian Borowczyk, Chris Marker, “Les Astronautes” (1959)

Robert Breer, “A Man and a Dog Out For Air” (1957)

Robert Breer,”Fuji” (1974)

Jan Lenica, “The Labyrinth / Labirynt” (1963)

Georges Méliès, “Le Voyage dans la Lune” (190

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole and the Eagle” (1992)

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole and the Medicine” (1987)

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole in a Dream” (1985)

Priit Pärn and Hille Kusk, “Aeg Maha / Time Out” (1984)

Priit Pärn and Hille Kuusk, “Eine Murul (Breakfast on the Grass)” (1987)

Changing Your Mind (The Nature of Things): informative documentary on neural plasticity spoiled by breathless commercial presentation

Mike Sheerin, “Changing Your Mind (The Nature of Things)” (2010)

Hosted by David Suzuki, “Changing Your Mind” is an episode from the long-running science documentary “The Nature of Things” which is aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Seems funny in a way as the CBC is Canada’s equivalent of Australia’s ABC and the UK’s BBC so I sort of expected something less commercial in orientation and more impersonal. The emphasis in this program is on the recent discovery that the adult human brain is much more changeable or “plastic” as neuroscientists term it and the implications this has for our understanding of what the brain is capable of and what can affect it. One positive is that people, unlike old dogs, can continue learning new tricks and even compensate for limitations or damage once thought to be irreversible; the negative is that trauma and mental illnesses can affect the brain in ways that, once reinforced again and again, become major and chronic disorders that can severely limit quality of life and happiness.

First up, issues like obsessive compulsive disorder and repeated traumas such as childhood sexual abuse that cause post-traumatic stress disorder are dealt with through a narrative structure made up of several personal cases in which people explain their problems, how these arose and the treatment they sought to deal with the problems. The tone tends to be upbeat even in what seems to be hopeless and extremely traumatic and upsetting cases.

Knowledge of the brain’s chemical and neural plasticity has encouraged scientists to enquire into treating and even curing schizophrenia by changing the brain’s neural networks. Cognitive training using specially designed computer and video games that target problem-solving abilities and social cognition is shown to have promising results for treating and moderating some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

While the episode is informative, it’s rather breathless in style and has the air of an infomercial which has the effect of making its topics and the people involved seem less serious than they really are. It’s just too upbeat for me: the treatments used to help and cure the conditions mentioned are presented as holy grails and anyone watching who has reservations about some of the treatments isn’t exactly encouraged to voice their criticisms. The section on schizophrenia which takes up half the film’s running time does show one patient saying she still takes her medicine. One constant irritant throughout the  doco is the overly dramatic music soundtrack which has the effect of drowning out some of the patients’ testimonies about their condition and its treatment.

The message that neural plasticity in the brain is not necessarily a good thing comes through clearly throughout the film and is reiterated in the film’s conclusion; understanding neural plasticity and using that to develop therapies to treat mental illness and disorders is our friend.

Over 300 reviews as of March 2012

Dear USE Readers,

As of 1 March 2012, over 300 films have been seen and remarked upon by Yours Truly. Quite some feat! The majority of them have been enjoyable and the only duds I’ve seen are those Hollywood flicks or their commercial equivalents in other countries I felt I had to see because people were talking about them.

This month I want to get some music reviews done for The Sound Projector and so I’ll be going easy on reviewing films and not chase them down as if today’s the last day of my life. (Is that a flaming-red meteor I see through the window hurtling towards me?) There’ll be some movies I want to see in March: Iranian Best Foreign Film Oscar winner “A Separation” has just opened in the cinemas today and “Coriolanus” starts next week. Not sure if I want to see the new Polanski flick “Carnage” as I’ve heard it’s one of the master’s flimsier efforts.

Thanks for all your support.


An exceedingly demeaning portrait of a significant feminist / anarchist figure in “Emma Goldman – An exceedingly dangerous woman”

Mel Bucklin, “Emma Goldman – An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman” (2003)

This portrait of Emma Goldman, the American woman anarchist / political activist / writer / feminist / advocate for socially liberal causes, is as much a survey of politics and society in the United States from the 1890s to 1940, the year of Goldman’s death, as it is of her life; it also reflects in its narrative some unpleasant aspects of our current society of which more will be said later. The style of the documentary is deceptively straightforward: it’s a chronology of Goldman’s life, her work and the people she worked with, told through a mixture of photograph and picture stills, interviews with historians, artists and writers, and re-enactments of significant episodes in Goldman’s life, all laid over by voice-over narration. The pace is leisurely and the narrator and interviewees speak and explain particular aspects of Goldman’s life clearly yet paint a very complex picture of Goldman, the life she led, the contrast between her beliefs and ideals on the one hand and the reality she lived on the other, and how she navigated her way through a conservative society that was (and in many ways still is) unready for her politics, thinking and message of sexual equality in both private and public life. The film is part of the “American Documentary” series issued and distributed by PBS.

Goldman’s life is picked up in her teens when she has already emigrated to the US from Russia, has started working in a factory and is becoming political and radicalised through associations with radical workers and after-hours socialising. In those days (1850s – early 20th century), talk of revolution, socialism and better working and living conditions was popular with working class people (or it just seems that way from the viewpoint of our current self-absorbed cocoon society). After a short failed marriage, Goldman moves to New York City and meets anarchists Alexander Berkman and Johann Most: Most starts training Goldman as a public speaker and Berkman becomes her friend and eventual lover. Goldman and Berkman are involved in a factory strike which indirectly leads to Berkman being sentenced to 20 years in jail (the actual cause is that he tried but failed to kill the factory manager). Goldman later breaks with Most, and keeps up a busy life that includes jail-time (during which she studied nursing and read many books), lecturing in the US and abroad, writing a magazine called Mother Earth, and being implicated by Leon Czolgosz in his murder of US President William McKinley. After Berkman is released from jail, having served 14 years, the couple try but fail to pick up their relationship; Goldman later marries a doctor called Ben Reitman (the marriage is short-lived). She switches from advocating revolution and worker freedom to talking feminism, freedom in love, sex and marriage, and birth control. Come World War I and Goldman and Berkman oppose conscription; after the war, they are jailed briefly as traitors with the option of deportation. They go to the Soviet Union to live but although they follow politics and events in that country, they become disillusioned with Lenin’s government and its methods of repression and leave the country. Goldman spends the rest of her life travelling in Europe and Canada, lecturing and writing on various topics, maintaining her friendship with Berkman until his death in 1936, before dying herself in Canada in 1940.

The film concentrates heavily on events in Goldman’s life and not much on her anarchist philosophy or other writing and on her thoughts and opinions on subjects such as capitalism, fascism, feminism, prisons and criminal justice, atheism and homosexuality. Goldman’s life is split in phases depending on her relationships with men; there’s nothing about any women who might have been significant influences on her life. The structuring of Goldman’s chronology in this way does the woman a great disservice, given that she believed strongly in men and women being equal partners in all aspects of life even if she didn’t necessarily always practise what she preached. One woman who must have been a great influence on Goldman’s beliefs was the birth control advocate Margaret Sanger whom Goldman supported and whose pamphlets she helped distribute. Some significant events are brushed out of the film completely: there is no mention of the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 9) in which Goldman took great interest and followed. Makes you wonder what else the film deliberately left out. There is no mention of Goldman’s influence on philosophical thought, feminist theory or popular culture after her death.

My impression is that the film packages Goldman’s life in a way that makes it palatable to a politically and culturally conservative audience and pigeon-holes her as an idealist naive about the reality of human nature and the society around her, and its capacity for improvement; this fits in with current ideas about humans as biologically rather than culturally predetermined in their behaviour. Goldman is made to sink into a funk after Berkman’s death and the ultimate message seems to be that even a rebel like Goldman needs a man psychologically if not physically to give meaning and structure to her life. Goldman’s continuing interest in politics, her opposition to World War II and her disgust at late-1930s life and society in Britain and France which led her to retreat to Canada to live are glossed over. It’s as if Goldman is just an interesting minor footnote in American political, social and cultural history and is mentioned in a documentary series aimed at the general public because some kids in high school might have to do a project on a historical American female personality.