Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Railway Man, Finding Vivian Maier, and Cesar Chavez

        Worthy Historical Considerations

                Review by Ken Burke         The Railway Man

A former WW II POW has traumatic flashbacks to horrible torture; when he finds that his interrogator is still alive he sets out to settle the score in order to stop his nightmares.
                                                                    Finding Vivian Maier
This documentary about a previously-unknown photographer reveals much about her work but little, despite great research, about the mysterious woman creating the images.
                                                                   Cesar Chavez
Based-on-fact account of the great leader of the exploited 1960s farm workers and their national boycott against the grape growers that finally led to better protections.
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This week at Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark we’re focused on history, either in the case of real events that have been put into a somewhat fictionalized structure—The Railway Man and Cesar Chavez—or a pure documentary of a largely-unknown-photographic-artist—Finding Vivian Maier—although all of them are having trouble finding a substantial audience, with the competition from the likes of wronged-women-revenge-fantasies (The Other Woman, Nick Cassavetes), superheroes-dealing-with-internal-corruption (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Anthony and Joe Russo; review in our April 10, 2014 posting), religion-reasserting-itself-in-an-increasingly-secular-society (Heaven Is for Real, Randall Wallace), and southern-hemisphere-animated-animals (Rio 2, Carlos Saldanha) taking in the lion’s share of the current box-office dollars.  But even though none of the films under scrutiny this week are monetary-champions they all have more substance to offer for appreciative audiences than the current turnstile-turners (although I’m glad that Transcendence [Wally Pfister; review in our April 23, 2014 posting] was at #6 for last weekend before it totally falls into the abyss and forces Johnny Depp back into a pirate costume in order to pay his rent).  With that in mind, I’ll start with The Railway Man (Jonathan Teplitzky), a tragic tale of WW II torture, extended PTSS, and final reconciliation between the 2 men still haunted by the situation in their POW-camp in Thailand, following the 1942 takeover of British-run-Singapore (and the rest of the huge Indochina peninsula) by brutal Japanese overlords intent on building a railroad into Burma, no matter what the cost of human life to accomplish such a near-impossible-mission—so far this tragic tale has made just under $900,000 despite being out for 3 weeks, but it’s just expanded to 156 theaters (maybe more to come?) so better recognition may soon be on the way.  As with everything under review this week there’s not much to concern you regarding Spoiler Alerts (despite the constant attempt to warn you about them in the weekly boilerplate reminder above) because everything presented in these films is based on available records so there should be no surprises in terms of content, but possibly the chosen presentation of the material will still intrigue you so please decide how much more you want to read at this point, especially about The Railway Man which has been in release for the least time and may be available for further expansion while the others are at best holding their own or facing inevitable decline.  None of these 3 under consideration this week will give you any sense of exaggerated action, spectacular revelations, or enhanced plot twists as do the movies that are pulling in the much-bigger-bucks, yet all of them have more going for them than do the money-makers (excepting Heaven Is for Real for the true-believers, but if you’ve read much of my chatter by now you know I’m not in that category) in their various ways, with our opening emphasis on the grim story of WW II English soldier-engineer Eric Lomax (played by Jeremy Irvine as the younger man, Colin Firth as the older version still trying in 1980 to come to terms with the atrocities he faced while held captive in the mid-1940s).  Despite Eric’s fortunate meeting, then marriage to former-nurse Patti Wallace (Nicole Kidman), he’s yet to overcome the nightmares that pull him back to that earlier terrible time, even with Patti’s desperate attempts to get her newlywed-husband to reveal what happened so long ago that still keeps him in a frequent state of extreme dysfunction.

Teplitzky’s film is effectively-structured on a series of current-day-vs.-flashback-scenes (and supported by consistently-effective-acting from the entire cast in both time periods) so that we understand that Eric has never grown past the criminal treatment he suffered during his imprisonment, making him so removed from Patti that she turns in desperation to his old squad-mate, Finlay (younger version played by Sam Reid, older one by Stellan Skarsgârd), to find out what haunts her husband so terribly.  Finley doesn’t know the full story either, just that when Britain had to surrender Singapore to the Japanese army that they were all hauled off in freight cars to an inhumane POW camp in Thailand where as engineers they were expected to aid in the construction of a difficult-beyond-all-conception-railway into Burma (many, including the imperial British, had previously abandoned this idea as being impossible to construct, according to history-hound-railway-enthusiast Lomax), no matter how many died in the process.  (As has been reported in many accounts, including Ken Burns' PBS World War II series I’m finally watching years after its first appearance, the imperial Japanese officers already saw any surrendering Allied troops as being unworthy of humane confinement because they should have either fought to the death or killed themselves rather than be captured; another flashback I had when Lomax and his colleagues are first brought to this work-until-death-camp is a memory of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [Steven Spielberg, 1984] where similar prisoners from a similar time are simply stone-wall-digger-slaves, toiling away endlessly at the rock that either holds a treasure or prevents the railway passage, but in both cases—purely fictional in the WW II-era or horribly-accurate during that period as well—the indifference to humanity-treated-as-an-expendable-resource should hopefully give insight to those too young to remember the horrors of the mid-20th-century when they learn of ongoing land-grabs and imprisonments that are still occurring today in areas from the Middle East into the shadows of the former Soviet Union.)  Lomax and his fellow captives fight back in the only manner they can (short of a fictional demolition of a Bridge on the River Kwai [David Lean, 1957—this cinematic masterpiece is also based on the horrors of building the Burma Railway, though], a reference even noted in a current-day-scene in The Railway Man), which is to construct a crude radio to allow them to listen to reports of Allied victories over Germany and Japan (maybe I missed some obvious clues in this film, but it seems we skip over several years of imprisonment before seeing traumatic events that seem to be in the later years of the war, as Lomax is aware of Allied bombing of the Japanese mainland, a truth that his captor-commander doesn’t want revealed to his brainwashed troops).  Takashi Nagase (played in the flashback scenes by Tanroh Ishida, the contemporary ones by Hiroyuki Sanada) is Lomax's assigned-interrogation-officer who oversees a vicious use of a hose forced down Lomax's mouth in a primitive form of what we now call waterboarding; he realizes the truth of what Lomax reports but does nothing to stop the brutality, even as Lomax's revelations are dismissed as lies by the Japanese commander (which leads to an odd scene where Lomax is released with a few of his colleagues to be taken somewhere [a hospital to attend to the wounds he suffered under torture?], a situation I never could figure out unless the camp commander simply wanted to remove the Brits who knew of the devastation now occurring in his homeland [pre-atomic bombs—I think—but still fierce enough] but didn’t want his troops to lose heart as defeat was becoming inevitable).  Later, Lomax returns to Thailand to confront and castigate Nagase who neither killed himself upon capture nor admitted his role in the execution of POW’s, claiming instead that he was merely a non-combatant-translator—if you care to read Lomax’s 1995 autobiographical book (same title as this film), that would likely be of great interest as to how it’s been adapted to this film but for a faster understanding of what happened in the brutal building of the Thailand-Burma Railway you might want to consult this resource.

Ultimately, The Railway Man is about how Lomax finally returned to Thailand (shamed/ motivated by the suicide of Finlay, who apparently hung himself in an effort to push Lomax into taking revenge upon Nagase for the horrors visited upon the captives under Finlay’s command [although Nagase’s superior was even more ruthless in demanding punishment for any infractions of prison rules by the emaciated, emotionally-beaten-down-inmates—even as they were being punished for transgressions they might not understand while being also verbally abused in a language that offered no explanation—but apparently this higher officer was already dead).  It’s at this point in the film that we finally get a visual understanding of what happened to Lomax, a rebel from the beginning who answered “jack” rather than “eleven” in an early-prisoner-countdown-scene after the man to his right had said “ten” (although they’d all learned better survival tactics by the time they’d been incarcerated for awhile—a major-motivation-factor in Eric claiming responsibility for the forbidden radio [which his captors erroneously assumed was used for transmission until Eric challenged them to find any device on it capable of such] in order to prevent brutal beatings to his comrades who were less-responsible for constructing the contraband item than he was).  Through a news report located by Finlay that Nagase was still at their old location, now giving tours of the place, Eric travels (by rail, of course, a passion of his before, during, and after the war) back to Thailand, confronts his former captor, almost breaks his arm, locks him in a prisoner cage, and contemplates using the knife he brought to finally cleanse his memories of the horrible time that had haunted him for decades.  Ultimately, though, he determines that “the hating has to stop,” so he returns home to a more stable marriage with Patti, receives an apology letter for the atrocities from Nagase, writes an acceptance-of-the-apology-letter of his own, but returns in person to deliver it, with the 2 men then building a friendship until Nagase died in 2011, followed by Lomax in 2012.  Such an unlikely-reconciliation might seem like a fast-induced-César Chávez-delirium-dream of a peaceful settlement of grievances between grape growers and pickers but it was the reality depicted in The Railway Man—which seems to have actually taken place in the mid-1990s as best I can piece it together from Internet sources, although the film implies that Lomax would have made his return journey in the early 1980s, so I guess once again that you have to read Lomax’s book to get the details clarified or explore this documentary film of the events to learn more (to some lesser/more-hostile-degree in 1970 the UFW strike was settled as well; more on that in the Cesar Chavez commentary below)The Railway Man cinematically signals its seriousness with many static closeups of grim faces pondering past and present anguish, but this serves the purpose of the film well, to acknowledge that even after the most intolerable of situations some path toward resolution and closure is possible, not just with a UFW-style-contract forged under confrontational-circumstances but with a sincere desire for forgiveness and forward-movement, despite the reality of atrocities committed.  The Railway Man might seem to some like an extended history lesson set up to teach a moral lesson, but it’s a history that needs to be remembered and a lesson that needs to be embraced.  (Hey, Israel and Palestine, Russia and Ukraine, North and South Korea, I’m talkin’ to you, ya hear me, damn it?)

History informs Finding Vivian Maier (John Maloof, Charlie Siskel) as well; unfortunately, it hasn’t found much of an audience yet, who would also benefit from its presentation, given that this documentary’s been out for 5 weeks and has taken in not quite $700,000 playing in a mere 62 theaters so far (although I encourage you to check out this schedule [you'll have to scroll down a bit after you open the link] to see where another 74, from Daytona Beach to Honolulu, will soon be coming).  In a way, this parallels the life of the subject of this film, a talented photographer but very mysterious woman whose images were hardly seen in her lifetime (1926-2009) as she voluntarily worked as a nanny for various families (including TV host Phil Donahue) while piling up about 150,000 negatives (many of them on around 2,000 rolls of undeveloped film) along with roughly 150 8mm and 16mm movies (mostly footage of the children she was overseeing but some landscape scenery as well from the many countries around the globe to which she traveled) plus piles of audio cassettes of interviews she did with random strangers in public places, clothes, various knickknacks of personal interest, and uncashed checks (even though she was so poor in later life that 3 of her former nannied-kids paid for an apartment until her death).  While the other archive material provides some further context of her life, maybe answering some historical curiosity about the locations she lived in or visited, the photos are a powerful revelation of a previously-unknown-talent whose work is now being celebrated after her life concluded.  The film follows co-director Maloof’s journey from a chance purchase of a box of Maier’s negatives for $380 at a Chicago auction house taken from a storage locker after her death, his amazement at the quality of the images, his tracking down and purchase of the rest of her undiscovered cache of personal items from other auction buyers, followed by his extensive search for gap-filling-information about her purposely-secluded-life (in which she used various spellings of her surname or the alias of “Smith” to hide herself) as tracked through piles of store receipts (she was quite the packrat—full-blown-hoarder more likely when you see a couple of shots of how many piles and containers filled the small living spaces of the families that she lived with), then culminating with his efforts to get her work seen with shows which have now spread from Chicago to New York to Europe.  Often using a twin-lens Rolleiflex view camera she was able to get thousands of candid shots of a vast “cross-section of the American public” (to steal a line from Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941]), along with more-consciously-allowed-portraits, stunning self-portraits, and marvelously-composed-object-based-images that in their totality recall the masterpieces of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, and Robert Frank among others (if you don’t get a chance to see this film you can view her work here and here, which gives you information on upcoming exhibitions [in Chicago and Highland Park, IL; Berkeley and San Francisco, CA; and various European cities], purchase of books of her work, etc.; given that Vivian had no family to lay claim to her secretive output, Maloof is now the owner and chief curator of what’s called the Maloof Collection working in conjunction with NYC’s Howard Greenberg Gallery—for comparison purposes you might want to look over images by Cartier-Bresson, Arbus [use the tiny controls at the middle bottom of the book in this link to flip through the many pages of her shots], and Frank, with the clear understanding that whether you buy anything from any of these sites or not I get no benefit from it whatsoever, except the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve been exposed to great photography from all of these celebrated artists, masters of visionary-image-capture).

Maloof’s personal interest in the quality of Maier’s work led him to post about 250 prints online to see if others shared his enthusiasm, which they did, leading eventually to a show at Chicago’s Cultural Center, then other exhibitions, consistently positive response to the photos, and now this film (which admittedly is a big promo-piece for the Maloof Collection, but even as he’s now likely making a solid profit off of his chance-auction-house-find he’s also helping verify the artistic credentials of a worthy contributor to American culture and aiding thousands of people in seeing Maier’s work, which is an admirable addition to arts-awareness worldwide as with any other agent, curator, or gallery owner, even as all of them earn their own livings in the process).  Sadly, we don’t get much chance to learn about Vivian first-hand; there’s a good bit of biographical information (from the first website link in the above paragraph's ending cluster), but it doesn’t really explain what drew her creative mind and watchful eye to the many subjects that she recorded, why she seemed to have such a dual personality as recounted by various testimonies in the film (she’s described as someone who loved kids, yet some of those now-adult-kids note how mean and short-tempered she could be; it’s also questionable how reasonable it was for her to bring along her young charges when she wandered into seedier parts of their cities in her quest for captivating pictures).  Other curiosities about Vivian include why she spoke in what some call a stereotypical French accent (she had French heritage from her mother but was born in NYC; however, they did live in France for a time in her youth after her father was long gone) and who took some of the portraits of her which clearly don’t have her camera in the frame nor seem to be the result of a self-timer-controlled-artist-composed-shot.  About herself, she once admitted that “I’m sort of a spy,” but what motivated that spying is simply one of the questions that Maloof raises in this film with no hope for answers.  You could easily content yourself with lingering looks at Maier’s photographs from the sources cited above because they offer a nice variety of her output (such as we know it to date; Maloof is still in the long process of bringing other negatives into prints), but if you should get a chance to see either Finding Vivian Maier or attending one of her exhibitions I heartily encourage you to do so because from I’ve now seen of her astounding work I feel that she should become a known-name within the canon of great photographers, just as I applaud Maloof for constructing a fascinating search for insights about this elusive woman, in the process yielding a documentary that doesn’t just show lost possibilities as with Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich; review in our March 28, 2014 posting)—interesting as that may be—but also gets us really involved as to what was the driving force behind this reclusive creator, even though we’re never likely to find out because a detailed diary was one thing that Vivian Maier didn’t leave along with those numerous boxes and suitcases full of mementos and lasting images from the sum of her life.  She often dressed in men’s shirts and shoes, wore long coats in the winter, and generally tried to make herself somewhat invisible (although her gait with military-march-like-swinging-arms as described by many in the documentary must have made her into a more memorable image herself that she probably wanted), but now her photos are bringing extensive attention to both her presence and absence, for which we can thank John Maloof, although Vivian might not have wanted the notoriety and counter-“spying” that now follows her after death (just as his followers say that César Chávez would not have cared for the acclaim that has been attached to his life's details, with both of these unique individuals preferring that their work speak for itself without a focus on biographical trivia).

For our last history-based-film of this posting we turn to Cesar Chavez (Diego Luna; officially, the film is subtitled An American Hero, but I'm going to just use the shortened version in this review), an inspired-by-fact-story of the great leader of U.S. farm workers who rose to prominence in the 1960s with what became a nationwide—ultimately international—boycott against California grape growers in an effort to establish the validity of the United Farm Workers union (originally called the National Farm Workers Association, which may be a bit confusing as I didn’t get the distinction from the film’s script as one morphed into the other in 1966 but had to look it up afterward) as a bargaining agent for these poorly-treated, underpaid field laborers.  I’ve saved this one for last for two reasons: (1) I’ve been lax in getting out to see it, now it’s almost finished its first-run-cycle—so your options of finding it if you haven’t already are diminishing by the day—playing in just 45 theaters, a number which is falling fast almost insuring that the box-office-take will not much exceed the existing total of about $5.5 million, sadly verifying that not that many who didn’t already know about Chávez, his allies and ongoing leaders of the UFW, and the continuing need to give better protections and wages to some of the most maligned workers in our country probably won’t see this film nor understand why this soft-spoken-man is revered as such as a great social revolutionary (one strong reason why this film has been so poorly supported surely lies with its critical reception; I don’t mean to advocate that critics have that all-powerful an impact on movie attendance [in fact, various academic and anecdotal studies have shown that we don’t], but when the reactions have been as consistently low as 40% positive with Rotten Tomatoes, 51% with Metacrtic [as always, more details if you want them in the links below] that kind of negative word does contribute to movie-going-dollars finding their way to less-socially-conscious-stories, despite our collective need to better understand and remember lessons from our heritage, such as are on display in Cesar Chavez, although maybe his life is a bit better known in California, Colorado, and Texas, all of which have state holidays to celebrate his memory), (2) I do have some very minor connections to Chávez (appropriate Spanish-language-accents for his name aren’t used in the official title of the film) and his colleague, Dolores Huerta, so I wanted to close with my memories of those encounters.  Chief among reasons cited by reviewers of Cesar Chavez for the failure of the film is too much glorification of its chief protagonist making him so saintly that Pope Francis is likely to have him up for beatification soon; I disagree because as we see Chávez in the film (played by Michael Peña) there are scenes where his male chauvinism about his wife, Helen (America Ferrera), going to jail in protest of the growers’ ridiculous legally-sanctioned-injunction to prevent the strikers from even using the word “huelga” (strike) rears its ugly head (he expects her to be home caring for their many children while he's busy with public political activism; this brings back memories of the great Blacklist-response-to-Hollywood-ostracization, Salt of the Earth [Herbert Biberman, 1954], which deals with labor-protests of Hispanic New Mexico zinc miners but then flows into sexism among the strikers as well), just as we have several instances of her clashing with him over his duties to his children—especially rebellious son Fernando (Eli Vargas)—being lost in his devotion to the strike, as well as a bitterness from Fernando that’s still not fully resolved by the end of the film, with the final scene of the film being the young man tearfully reading a letter from his father hoping for an eventual reconciliation between them.

As a speaker notes in the PBS documentary listed with the links below for this film, when he first saw Chávez, after only hearing about his reputation as a champion of the working man (another echo from Citizen Kane; you’ll just have to forgive me for not finding a way to reference it with The Railway Man—unless you want to compare Charlie's bedroom-busting-tantrum when second-wife-Susan leaves him to Eric Lomax's flashback-prompted-emotional-breakdowns, but I don't want to trivialize Eric's legitimate problems in the process), he was shocked to see this small-statured, soft-spoken person as the embodiment of so much passionate support from California Hispanics, so maybe that was a problem for critics as well: this seemingly-ordinary-guy wasn’t stirring up the majestic grandeur that accompanied another advocate of nonviolent tactics in Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982) or the fiery leader of the oppressed in Malcolm X (Spike Lee, 1992), he was just making a never-say-die-stand for his principles, even when he had to subject himself to a gruelling-25-day-water-only-fast in 1968 in order to recommit his UFW allies to his own demand for nonviolence, despite the brutal attacks by those supporting the growers (including the police) against the strikers.  Maybe the depiction of this icon of justice (at least that’s the image you’d get from such sources as this official UFW biography, although I’m sure you can find others that aren’t nearly so supportive, including any that cite incidents of him being opposed to undocumented immigrants being brought in by the growers as strike-breakers, but many misunderstood that stance as anti-Mexican [Chávez was born in Arizona, 1927, of Mexican heritage but moved with his family to California during the Depression after his father was swindled out of their land] when it was actually about maintaining the impact of the strike that eventually was successfully settled in 1970 after 5 brutal years of engagement, leading to national support from Robert F. Kennedy [played in the film by Jack Holmes, while other political leaders of the era are shown in grainy black-and-white-newsreel-footage that gives further substance to the film’s depicted events] and other democrats, opposition from California Governor Ronald Reagan [elected in 1966] and U.S. President Richard M. Nixon [elected in 1968]—who almost broke the strike by arranging for the grapes to be sold to European buyers until Chávez and a small band of supporters traveled to London to gain labor support there for not unloading the grapes from trans-Atlantic ships, once again stymying the growers until they finally capitulated) presents him as too saintly (as the photo above subtly implies), and it’s true that Cesar Chavez doesn’t attempt to follow its main character through an almost-full-life-cycle as does Gandhi, Malcolm X, or the more current Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Justin Chadwick, 2013; review in our January 15, 2014 posting—another cinematic biography of a great man chastised by critics as failing to capture the essence of the subject matter, which in that case I was more inclined to agree with), but I can understand Luna’s decision to focus on Chávez’s rise to fame because that was probably enough of a history lesson for those who don’t know much about him anyway while allowing for a presentation of a great triumph for those who revere him today for seeming to accomplish the impossible for a segment of our population long ignored because of the great cultural/language-gap between these descendants of Spanish (then Mexican) colonizers of the Southwest and Pacific areas of what would become the U.S.A. and those from more northern European countries who eventually claimed this western land for the ever-growing “Yankee” expansion (a special screening of the film was held in Kern County’s Delano, CA, where the grape strike first gained substantial momentum, on March 25, 2014 although it was dubbed into Spanish for the benefit of the 1,200 invited guests rather than providing subtitles for the predominant English spoken in the film—I guess Spanish speakers don’t like reading those visual-intrusions either).

César Chávez at the 1978 boycott
of Chiquita Bananas
Ultimately the film may seem an overly simplistic account of decent, defiled underlings trying desperately to get humane concessions from money-grubbing-growers, characterized by the stubborn-but-finally-relenting-landowner Bogdanovich (John Malkovich) and his “law-abiding” support from Sherriff Smith (Michael Cudlitz)—as best I can tell, a fictional-composite; Cesar Chavez has been criticized for not showing more complexity of the opposition (and, from another negative perspective, the larger context of the UFW, although it’s also found support from current and long-time UFW members, all of which echoes for me 2 opposing statements from the film itself, an indignant UFW member saying during the fast that “We need a leader, not a martyr” vs. Chávez’s justification to his colleagues about his actions, “We need to stop acting like victims”), but where class and race boundaries and “superiorities” come into play I’m not sure that we need much more investigation than what we see here (as evidenced by a conceptually-related-situation now boiling over regarding L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his offensive past and present statements about Blacks and Latinos—but at least his gross conduct was addressed quickly with a lifetime ban from the NBA whereas the California grape growers held on for years in their attempts to break the UFW strikes and boycotts).  Where the constantly-simmering (at best) issue of race in our society is concerned, there’s no easy way to address it, although other biographical films—especially Malcolm X in my opinion—have had the opportunity to be more overtly dramatic than the events depicted in Cesar Chavez where the “action” scenes focus on picket lines (including attacks on the strikers) and the grueling 250-mile solidarity march from Delano to Sacramento; I don’t know what sort of budget Luna had to work with, but maybe if he’d been able to construct more than a 100-minute compression of just one major event in Chávez’s life (Malcolm X ran over 3 hours) he might have won better support from the critics.  As for my marginal connections to Chávez and UFW cofounder Huerta (played passionately in the film by Rosario Dawson, matched in impact by all involved), I did see him once in Austin, TX speaking at a community church auditorium in either 1971 or 1972.  Given that he addressed his large audience in Spanish (a language which I’ve studied twice but have retained little of given that I haven’t properly tried to stay in practice with it), I didn’t understand much that he said but I did have a clear sense of the crowd’s admiration for him as I walked around the balcony surrounding the room taking photos of him (nothing of the quality of Vivian Maier, though).  You could literally feel the admiration from the attendees as he spoke to them, encouraging them to keep up the fight for justice that he’d dedicated so much of his life to.  Then, just a few years ago at the October 1, 2010 Convocation ceremony at Mills College, Oakland, CA, my business place of residence since 1987 (teaching—among other things—film history, theory, and criticism, along with the visual communication aspects of painting, photography, film, video, etc. [which is why I feel somewhat appropriate in making evaluative judgments about Maier’s images]), I was honored to be on our Music Building Concert Hall stage with the rest of the faculty listening to a keynote speech from Dolores Huerta, which has been preserved for you here if you like in Part 1 (14:44) and Part 2 (8:14)—fortunately you don’t get all of the ceremonial poop that preceded her rousing speech.

Similar to Mandela, Cesar Chavez may not be the best film you’ll ever see about its titular character, but anything that keeps alive the memory of the great work that this great labor leader did to better the lives of long-unfairly-castigated-members of our society is still a positive contribution to our self-awareness as a nation and a culture (although I do think it's a more effective film overall than Mandela).  As for a musical metaphor to cap off these history-based films, I’ll suggest “De Colores” (“[Made] of Colors” or “In Colors”) at, a traditional Spanish folk song celebrating diversity and freedom, here done by Joan Baez in a purely joyful mode (with a translation at ment/media/Scott/SONGLYRICSWITHTRANSLATIONS(COMBINED).pdf for those of us non-Spanish-speakers in the crowd; if you can open two Web browsers at once [click on the first link for the music, having previously copied and pasted the URL from the second one into your other browser's URL bar for the translation] you can see/hear both if needed) but sung in Cesar Chavez on that long, hot march to Sacramento; I find it applicable to themes of forgiveness and discoveries from The Railway Man and Finding Vivian Maier as well.  Until next time with Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, may you all continue to celebrate “the great love of infinite colors” that we all need to know more about from our various forgotten, unknown, or neglected histories.
If you’d like to know more about The Railway Man here are some suggested links: (UK official site but with many more areas of information than what’s being provided on the USA one at (33:10 press conference for The Railway Man [after the opening promo for TIFF] on September 7, 2013 Toronto International Film Festival with actors Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine, and Tanroh Ishida, co-scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, director Jonathan Teplitzky, and Patti Lomax [real-life-wife of the Firth/Irvine character, Eric Lomax)

If you’d like to know more about Finding Vivian Maier here are some suggested links: (12 min. documentary on the life and visual works of photographer Vivian Maier)

If you’d like to know more about Cesar Chavez: An American Hero here are some suggested links: (53:20 PBS documentary, “The Struggle in the Fields,” about the United Farm Workers [UFW] strike in the 1960s as part of the Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement mini-series)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

Please note that to Post a Comment you need to either have a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Five stars for The Railway Man from me. Worth looking for if it's not at a theater near you. Not too bad on the violence and excellent acting all around. A grown up's film.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for the comment on The Railway Man, which I agree is well worth anyone's time to seek out and be inspired by. Ken