Monday, July 27, 2009

Water Workers Strike

Picketers outside the Baldwin Filtration Plant on Fairhill Road. Ninety Cleveland water plant workers went on strike July 17 after failing to reach a new contract agreement with the city. The union is seeking a retroactive 2 percent pay raise going back to 2007.

Mayor Frank Jackson called the demands unreasonable. Union President Frank Madonia says other city workers have received the same raise. (Photograph by Pamela Zoslov)

It ain’t quite this simple, so I better explain
Just why you got to ride on the union train;
‘Cause if you wait for the boss to raise your pay,
We’ll all be waiting till Judgment Day;
We’ll all he buried -- gone to Heaven --
Saint Peter’ll be the straw boss then.

-- excerpt, "Talking Union Blues" by Millard Lampell, Lee Hayes and Pete Seeger

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Bouquet for Obama

Having waited in the rain for President Obama's motorcade, a woman is overwhelmed after catching a glimpse of the President's limousine.

Shaker Heights, Ohio, July 23, 2009.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who Is This "Barry Serento"

And why do they want him to go home?

Protesters awaiting a visit by President Obama, July 23, Shaker Heights, Ohio.

UPDATE: Hooray, the hilarious website Wonkette has posted the above picture! Thanks, Wonkette.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Passion Ploy

Before Neda, the young woman who bled to death before the world’s eyes during post-election protests in Iran, there was Soraya, a 35-year-old mother of seven who was stoned to death on trumped-up adultery charges in 1980s Iran, during the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Soraya’s supposedly true story was told in French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s novel The Stoning of Soraya M.

The book has been adapted into an unrelievedly grim movie by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who wrote the screenplay with his wife. James Caviezel plays Sahebjam, whose car breaks down, conveniently, in a remote Iranian village, where the desperate, chador-draped Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo), tells him about the killing the previous day of her niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marnò). Soraya's terrible story then unfolds in flashback.

Soraya is married to the abusive Ali (Navid Negahban), a corrupt prison guard who wants to divorce Soraya so he can marry a 14-year-old girl. Although polygamy is allowed under
Sharia law, Ali hopes to avoid supporting Soraya financially. When Soraya takes a job housekeeping for a local widower, Ali seizes the opportunity to accuse her of adultery, a crime punishable by death. Complicit in the scheme are the village’s corrupt mullah and mayor, who subvert Sharia jurisprudence to justify murder. Dressed in angelic white, brave Soraya meets her awful fate -- stoning by an angry mob that includes, incredibly, her husband, her father and her young sons. Although the movie is set in the Islamic world, Soraya is depicted as the perfect Christian martyr. After she has been battered to a bloody pulp, the evil husband notices there is still movement in her eye. "The bitch lives!" he shouts, exhorting the crowd to finish the job. Clearly this is a movie designed to inflame the emotions.

The timing of the movie's release, while neoconservative hawks continue to beat the drums for military intervention in Iran, raises suspicion that it is a skillful piece of anti-Muslim propaganda. Its producers are the folks who brought you similar religioso-sadistic thrills in Mel Gibson’s
The Passion of the Christ (Caviezel was Passion’s bloody Jesus), and Nowrasteh’s résumé includes a TV miniseries that twisted history to blame Clinton for 9/11. The movie has been embraced as proof of Islam’s inhumanity by Watergate crook-turned-evangelical-Christian Chuck Colson, who provides links to "ministry resources based on the film." Colson writes: "This is barbarism. And it's the result of a belief system that ignores the humanity of every person. This is why Christians, who believe in the sanctity of every human life created in the image of God" -- unlike those heathenic Muslims -- "must fight and keep fighting for the rights of women like Soraya." Amnesty International, the human rights group, has denounced the movie as sensationalism, writing on the Huffington Post: "Aside from the numerous inaccuracies and implausibilities, the climax of the film -- a bloody and prolonged stoning scene with villagers pelting the victim -- is so sensationalized that the audience response is likely to be disgust and revulsion at Iranians themselves, who are portrayed as primitive and blood-thirsty savages."

There can be little doubt that The Stoning of Soraya M. has a crypto-political purpose, and a not very subtle one at that. It should be approached with the utmost skepticism.

Shorter version at

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On the Square

Horns 'n' Things concert, Shaker Square, July 4.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

At Least They Don't Call Her a "Cougar"

After devouring Colette’s 1920 novel Chéri, André Gide sent the authoress a breathless note. “What intelligence, what mastery, what understanding of those least admitted secrets of the flesh!” Proust was also a fan.

If you have not read the novel, or its sequel, The Last of Chéri, and saw only the new Stephen Frears adaptation, you might wonder what the fuss was about. The film is exquisitely produced, like all of Frears’ films (The Queen, Dirty Pretty Things), but the novel has lost much of its spirit and charm in the translation. Set in 1912 Paris, Chéri is the story of Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a retired courtesan who takes up with beautiful, spoiled playboy Fred (Rupert Friend), 19, nicknamed “Chéri” by Léa, whom he calls “Nounoune.” Their affair lasts six years, until Chéri’s mother, mercenary ex-courtesan Madame Peloux (heartily played by Kathy Bates), marries him off to the wealthy young Edmée (Felicity Jones).

Both Léa, who worries about her fading beauty, and Chéri, who cares little for anyone but himself, realize too late that theirs was a genuine, if impossible love. (Interestingly, Colette, at 42, later seduced her 16-year-old stepson, a case of life imitating art.) The movie’s Belle Epoque settings are lovely: art nouveau furnishings, ravishing costumes, enhanced by Darius Khondji’s fine cinematography. But it’s hard to look past the casting of Pfeiffer, possibly the last actress you would think of for a French courtesan. Pfeiffer emotes valiantly, but her slender California beauty and disturbingly unlined forehead do not suggest a voluptuous, aging concubine, or a Frenchwoman of any kind (though Frears also cast her as one in Dangerous Liaisons). Friend, on the other hand, is perfectly cast as the narcissistic Chéri.

Screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement) preserves much of the book’s arch dialogue and adds a healthy dose of eroticism, but without the benefit of Colette’s ironic narration, the story seems trivial and unsympathetic. The movie, while aesthetically charming, does not demonstrate why this story is worth telling, much less why Colette said she had “never written anything as moral.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Curb Your Expectations

As an actor, Larry David is a great comedy writer. His blunt, declamatory line readings on Curb Your Enthusiasm make you appreciate how well Jason Alexander channeled David’s neuroses on Seinfeld. Surprisingly, David is a pretty serviceable Woody Allen surrogate in Allen’s latest, Whatever Works, which finds Allen on New York home turf after a string of movies set in England and Spain. Casting about for a new movie, Allen dusted off and updated a script he wrote in the’70s for Zero Mostel.

The great Zero is long dead, so we have David as Boris Yellnikov, the misanthropic ex-physicist who rants against everything from religion to love and dismisses most human beings as “incompetent morons” and “inchworms.” “The basic teachings of Jesus and Karl Marx — all great ideas with one fatal flaw,” he declaims. “The fallacious notion that people are fundamentally decent.” The persona is as familiar as a cranky old friend, and while Woody is still best at inhabiting it, David is far from the worst fit — that honor would go to Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity, hands down.

The story is a sporadically funny farce centering on Boris, a divorced hermit who walks with a limp after a failed suicide attempt (he hit a canopy after jumping out a window) and spends his days waxing philosophical with his friends (Michael McKean, Adam Brooks, Lyle Kanouse) and teaching chess to children, which provides the opportunity for funny scenes of Boris verbally abusing the kids.

One night Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a pretty teenage runaway from the South, appears at the doorstep of his dismal apartment. Boris, who has given up even on sex, is reluctant to take her in, but schools her in his obsessions and attitudes, which she adopts with precision. He marries the girl, and her honeyed optimism has a tonic effect on him. The farce cranks up when Melodie’s mother, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) arrives, her Bible Belt faith providing a target for Boris’ unending derision. Manhattan is seductive to Marietta, who transforms herself into a bohemian artiste. Her estranged husband (Ed Begley Jr.), comes looking for her and finds a new identity in the big city as well. As always with Allen’s romances, the young woman tires of her cranky, neurotic older mate, and a series of un-couplings and re-couplings occur. The redemptive finale, reminiscent of Hannah and Her Sisters, is unexpectedly uplifting.

We could quibble for days over Allen’s recurrent themes of older males romancing inappropriately young females (a scene in which Boris sits with the camisole-clad girl watching Fred Astaire on TV is iconic), and admittedly it’s a strange fixation in art and in life. Some people still have not forgiven him for what they perceive as his sins, but his attitude is reasonably expressed by the movie’s title.

(A shorter version of this appeared on the Cleveland Scene website.)