Saturday, February 15, 2014

United States of Amnesia.. and Armament

Two exceptional documentaries screened yesterday at the Mardi Gras Film Festival... and both providing perceptive insight into America, and I suppose what it means for me to be American looking at America from the outside. 

Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia explores the life of this towering figure - and the director was in attendance last night. Vida's notable spars with the likes of William Buckley and Norman Mailer are far more entertaining and enriching than any of the claptrap reality programs that have replaced it.

Vidal was an acerbic wit and giant intellect who ran for office twice, and lost twice. In his last years, he was often trotted out for his incisive, always biting, commentary on world politics and the frightening "empire" mentality of the US. He said the reason he was able to see so clearly was because he got out of politics, and that Presidents/CEO's weren't even conspiring at the top because they didn't need to: they all think alike. The American public, he said, swallows over and over things that no reasonable person would ever accept.

Of course, Vidal shot himself in the foot with his refusal to play the game. The reason he could never be elected was that his integrity also included openly living with his male partner for 50 years, and having dared to publish the first ever gay novel, The City and the Pillar, way back in 1948. The NY Times refused to review him for decades after that. In 1968, he wrote a novel about a transsexual, Myra Breckenridge. Who but Gore Vidal can do that, and also write brilliantly on the founding fathers, American expansionism and the military industrial complex? No wonder he was bitter. It must be hard to live so far ahead of your time.  More than wishing he had ever been elected to office, I wish we lived in an age where a man like him - not a people pleaser - could be elected to office.

For something much less lofty, we go to Oxnard, California, and Valentine Road. Nobody in Australia understands American's fascination with guns (you don't need Gore Vidal to tell you that the US congress is wholly bought by the gun lobby), but not only do they not understand it (neither do I), they believe everyone has a gun (my family never did). The execution of 14-year-old Larry King by his classmate Brandon McInerny back in 2008 did nothing to quell that belief.


Larry was dressing in heels, wearing makeup, calling himself "La Shonda" and Brandon hated him. Then Larry humiliated Brandon by asking him to be his Valentine. The next day, during computer lab, Brandon shot Larry point blank twice in the head. Valentine Road follows the aftermath. At EO Green Jr High School, Larry's teachers are honestly split on whether he deserved it. One of them, the one who had encouraged him to express himself (who even gave him a dress) was fired. The school wanted the bad press to just go away, and students who were interviewed said they never received any counseling; that the teachers spoke about swine flu, but never about the killing they witnessed that one day in class.

Brandon isn't made out to be a monster either; he had it rough and so did his mother. There is more than one victim here, that is clear, but just when you think this disturbing film is going to wrap up, it goes down an even more disturbing track. White supremacy! And a trial painting Larry King as having asked for it. A few ladies from the jury were horrified by what Brandon suffered at the hands of the gender-bending, unabashed gay Larry King, refused to convict him and went on TV to express their support for him wearing "free Brandon" bracelets. Could there be another instance where suburban housewives join forces to get behind a killer? It was like watching a badly acted farce. Even weirder, Brandon's defense attorney tattoos Brandon's name into her flesh because she "loves him" and his prosecuting attorney (who received hate mail from another juror in a letter that had also CC'd "God") leaves audiences irrevocably and forever damaged when she says in the final scene that Larry King's death was indeed in vain; that the trial was neither here nor there, because Americans still live in a society where our prejudice follows us everywhere – even into the jury box.


Tony said...

Hey Jesse -
Thanks for posting the trailer for "United States of Amnesia." Hope they release it soon on DVD, as it's unlikely that it'll show up in theaters around here.
Which is too bad, because as you say, Vidal was one of a kind. His tangle with William Buckley on "Firing Line" is legendary. Two of the sharpest wits ever sparring on an intellectual level that has completely disappeared from public discourse. Looks like some of that is in the movie. Cool.
Vidal's historical novels, especially "Burr" and "Lincoln" are incredibly good, despite being overshadowed by the scandalous (at the time) "Myra Breckinridge." Did you ever see the movie?
Starring Raquel Welch, Mae West(!!!),Farah Fawcett, John Huston, Tom Selleck - can you believe that cast? Unreal! Great post; let us know what else appeared at the festival

Jesse Archer said...

Hey Tony,
Yeah I love Mae West in MB (the only reason to see it, really, aside from Raquel in that flag bikini) and it was her big film comeback, post censorship. I believe they plastered Hollywood with billboards of her laying down seductively that read, "Mae West is coming"...
I heard Vidal disavowed any relation to that disaster. I would've liked a bit more gossip from him, but I hope you see the doco - really great and we got to speak with the director who told us he really was a kind old man, despite his cantankerousness...