The slave Spartacus and reading Dalton Trumbo

Reading Dalton Trumbo

(Spontaneous thoughts.)

It was Hollywood that got me. In particular the film Spartacus, produced and starring Kirk Douglas, directed by Stanley Kubrick and screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. The other main roles were played by Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov. The film was inspired by Howard Fast’s wonderful novel, also called Spartacus. The film was a Hollywood spectacular, with a “casts of thousands”, huge battle scenes between the rebel slave army and the Roman Legions. There was no CGI then, back in the 60s, just extras from the Spanish Army. I saw it first when I was quite young, so the spectacular romance and adventure would have been very appealing to a boy from the boring Western suburbs of Sydney.

Dalton Trumbo

But the story was also inspiring. Millions of so-called ordinary people, oppressed under a violent and anti-human slave system, led by their most militant section – gladiators – rise up and refuse to be slaves and keep the most powerful army in the world at bay for years. And they do it right in the heart of the Roman Empire – in Italy.

It is a beautiful film, both visually and its words; its dialogue. In today’s world, ridden with cynicism, in general, and on the intellectual Left, with cynicism over-layered with layers of artificially created “nuance”, some may react to this beauty as corny. But there is nothing corny about an idealistic desire to be free so that human beings can savour the beautiful things around them without the embitterment of being treated as an animal or a thing: the stars, knowledge of nature and the world, a kiss and embrace. “A tool with a voice”: that was a slave.


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ARTICLE: THE ACT OF KILLING – A puncture in the hegemony by Max Lane

The Act of Killing did not win Hollywood’s favor. The activist-oriented systematic promotion of the documentary, however, has helped it to have a significant impact on public discussion of the mass killings of 1965, both in Indonesia and internationally. A single film could never overthrow the hegemony of half a century of indoctrination, but it has — especially given the guerrilla activism that has got it around the traps in Indonesia — punctured that hegemony. Activities and processes aimed at ending that hegemony embodied in the scores of Indonesian and foreign books, articles and independent video documentaries about what happened in 1965, exposing the mass killings and repression, have received an important boost through the film.

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ARTICLE – After THE ACT OF THE KILLING: Indonesia, 1965: rehabilitating victims, rehabilitating revolution by Max Lane

Indonesia and 1965: rehabilitating victims, rehabilitating revolution under a counter-revolutionary state.

Max Lane

Text of notes used for talk delivered at Conference: “After The Act of Killing: Historical Justice and the 1965-66 Mass Killings in Indonesia”, University of Melbourne and Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat, Jakarta, August 30, 2013.

 It is very heartening to see the increased and more open discussion of the 1965-68 mass killings of supporters of President Sukarno and the Indonesian Left, including the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI),  internationally and within Indonesia. The stark and cruel brutality of the 1965 murders revealed by the confessions in the film THE ACT OF KILLING has played a very important role in provoking this discussion. The public release of the main findings of the KOMNASHAM Report affirming the systematic role of the state and the military in the killings and the passing of this report to the current Indonesian government has also been very important. The ongoing work of former members of the pre-65 political left, now mostly aged, in raising the issue of their plight, digging up mass graves, and through other campaigns has been crucial.  Former GERWANI leader, Sulami, played a heroic role in pioneering this process among her comrades. There have also been court cases seeking compensation for loss of property and violence suffered, sometimes successful, sometimes not.

The role of younger activists has also been crucial at certain times. The first digging up of mass graces was carried out under Suharto by PRD founder, Danial Indrakusuma, working with English film-maker, Max Stahl. Indrakusuma led two further mass grave efforts during the short Habibie interregnum.

This increased activity has certainly won more profile and more space for campaigning and lobbying on the issue of rehabilitation and justice for victims of the 1965-68 terror.  At this point, however, we would have to register that the main gains won have been at the level of a small increase in public discussion, not of broader public opinion shifts, nor changes at the level of state policy.  The state, via the current Yudhoyono government, has ignored the  KOMNASHAM report: in fact the Minister for Politics and Security made a comment that he thought the 1965 mass killings were justified as it was those killings which guaranteed the creation of the Indonesia that exists today. There were rumours that the President may “minta maaf” but that did not eventuate. Indeed, the rumours provoked a string of organisations, including the Nahdatul Ulama, to make statements rejecting such a stance.

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Film Review: THE ROAD, with updated POSTSCRIPT

After postponing the decision several times unsure whether I wanted to spend my leisure time watching a film that was universally being described as a harrowing depiction of humankind’s return to barbarism after an apocalyptic Armageddon event. The reviews kept pulling me back to the cinema – they all hailed the script, acting and direction. In addition the film was based on a book by author Cormac McCarthy, who had also won the Pulitzer Prize. So eventually I went to see the film. The film was also been widely watched in Australia and the United States. It was directed by John Hillcoat.

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Film Review: the miracle of AVATAR

According to Miranda Devine, one of Australia’s loony right newspaper commentators, watching AVATAR felt like being “hit with a leftie sledgehammer”. It appears that in America too, the loony right has been severely irked by the immense popularity of James Cameron’s epic hi-tech science fiction film. Devine tips her hat to the talent involved in the visual art of the technological advances in the film; but she can’t stand its ideology. This is the same syndrome exhibited by the US loony right. Devine gives a list of the film’s alleged leftie clichés where she includes “Humans bad”, “Capitalism bad”, “America bad” and “noble savages good”. One example from the US is American loony right commentator John Podhoretz, of the Weekly Standard’s film critic, complaining that the “conclusion does ask the audience to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency. So it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism.”

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INDONESIA: Documentary review: “Tjidurian 19”.

Tjidurian 19, directed by Lasja Susatyo and M. Anduh Aziz, screned Jakarta, November 17, 2009

This film is about some of the people who were leading writers and artists in the Peoples Cultural Institute (LEKRA) in the 1960s. LEKRA was aligned with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and like the PKI was banned after 1965. Many of its leading figures were imprisoned for lengthy periods and tortured. Their writings were banned. In fact, they are still banned today even though since 1998 and the fall of Suharto these works have been easier to buy in bookshops.

The film focuses on those LEKRA writers and artists who worker out of the LEKRA office in Jakarta, a house at Jl. Tjidurian.

The film is easy to watch and flows well. The personalities of the various writers come across clearly, often their emotions stirred by memories. The film is also interspersed with clips from newsreel or official government footage from the period before 1965. The focus of the film makes it clear that one purpose of the project was to counter the demonisation of LEKRA writers that took place during the Suharto period and which has a strong legacy.  More than 1 million people were murdered; thousands more tortured and imprisoned for up to 14 years without trial. And there still has been no process to either end the demonisation, or to tell the truth about these events to all those who were brought up under the New Order regime who systematically told lies for 33 years. The efforts of the producers, the film-makers and the participants to defy this demonisation should be supported by all. However, I think the dominant framework in which this de-demonisation takes place does not make good political education. Continue reading “INDONESIA: Documentary review: “Tjidurian 19”.”

Film Review: 2012

Judging from the news coming in from the US box office, this film will make a lot of money for its investors. Such is the irrationality of contemporary society. As a commodity to be marketed, of course, it has everything you need. The main thing though is the promise that you will see the biggest ever disaster special effects. While previous movie volcanoes and earthquakes destroy California, or sink it, or see the US east coast flooded by a tsunami all the way to the White House or a movie meteor has wiped out Paris or London, in this film you get to see, so the marketing promises, the whole world wiped out. 2012 is the year that the Mayans predicted the Sun would destroy the world – or at least it is that year, I presume, when you convert the Mayan calendar to the one we use today.

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