Archive | March, 2013

Whores’ Glory (2011)

24 Mar

Whores'_Glory_(US_dvd_cover)Any documentaries involving real sex are going to draw in and intrigue viewers. Rather than being a gratuitous nudy romp, Whores’ Glory, directed by Michael Glawogger, shows the human side of the sex industry in three international cities: Bangladesh, India; Reynosa, Mexico and Bangkok, Thailand. The film focuses mainly on the women involved in sex work, their lives inside -and in some cases outside of- the brothels, and their motivation for working in this dangerous and usually degrading work. This movie is an interesting counterpoint, or perhaps more of a missing puzzle piece, to The Great Happiness Space, which focused on male escort clubs instead of female brothels.

I have studied about women in sex work before, (see Sex at the Margins by Laura María Agustín), so I was not surprised at the various factors that led these women to the sex industry. Nonetheless, the movie is a great sociological exposé about the men who receive their services, and the society that creates the contradictory climate where sex work is stigmatized and shunned, yet in high demand, as it has been since the beginning of civilized society. This film is a geographic and social dissertation in movie form, and yes, that means it gave me an academic boner. (Pun intended).

I found India to be the most eye-opening chapter in this three-part documentary. The caste system at play and the words of the informants in this chapter highlighted some key societal elements that lead to prostitution, at least in the case of Bangladesh. Though I would argue that the message extends far beyond those borders and sheds light on not only prostitution, but on a prevalent rape culture in many nations across the world. You may have noticed that we are beginning to open up dialogues about rape culture, most recently in the fore due to the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that has made headlines across the world.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned 2-digit number.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned number.

The madame of one of the Indian brothels talks about the vicious cycle that befalls women in sex work there:

This is our whole life. What else do we have? Think of my daughter. Because her mother is a whore, no one will marry her… When I am very old, I won’t be able to support her. She’ll have no choice. She’ll become a whore. The outside world pushes us out of the way to make room. Those people are our clients. Outside they are disgusted by us; in here, they love us and our bodies.

A barber in Bangladesh speaks out as an advocate of the brothels and an apologist for rape culture in India:

Without the… brothel district women couldn’t go out in the street without being molested. Men would be so horny they would rape them. Without those women, men would be screwing cows and goats.

A fascinating slew of vignettes make for an enlightening documentary for those viewers who still have an image of a crack-addicted street walker when they hear the word “prostitute,” Whores’ Glory is certainly worth the watch.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2002)

8 Mar

VZ movie posterI have a particular interest in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and revolutionary movements of Latin America, as you may already know if you read my review on South of the Border, an Oliver Stone documentary on the topic of Chávez and Venezuela. In that review I also mentioned that there is a better doc out there that gets a little more down and dirty into the details of Chávez’s rise to power, from the 1989 Caracazo (Chávez’s failed military coup) to the 2002 political and media climate surrounding the now-deceased Hugo Chávez Frías. That documentary is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (a.k.a. Chavez: Inside the Coup). This movie is a must-see for novices and experts alike, especially in light of Chávez’s death, and the inevitable turmoil that will come of this.

I would like to do something a little different in this post. It is less of a movie review and more of a reflection on Hugo Chávez. Just know that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is, in my opinion, the best documentary out there on Hugo Chávez, and it is available online for free (link below), so there is absolutely no excuse not to see it. Of course as the holder of a Latin American Studies MA, I am somewhat partial to keeping yourself informed with Latin American politics. But Hugo Chávez has reached throughout Latin America and beyond, right to the US and George W. Bush’s dumb face to deliver a bitch slap. His death spells uncertainty for the future of not only Venezuela.

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

I traveled to Venezuela on a Witness for Peace delegation. That short, 10-day trip, was an eye-opener and, dare I say, life-changer. We spoke to Venezuelans from both ends of the political spectrum, to Chávez supporters and dissenters. My overwhelming conclusion was that Chávez has done much more for Venezuela than any other president ever has or could. I will try to keep this brief, but I want to throw my two cents in on an on-going and heated debate between the pro- and anti-Chávez masses…

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. The political elites of the nation had enjoyed the profits of this wealth for decades, leaving the majority of the marginalized poor in the mire of poverty. For the most part, these old school elites are the ones who speak out against Chávez because he messed with their money, and they didn’t like that. What he did was use this oil revenue to help bring the poor out of their horrific conditions. This money was filtered into Chávez many “Misiones” or Missions, social programs that were benefactors of the Venezuelan poor. These

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

missions have provided free education to children, the illiterate, and college students. They have reforested areas of the country, built and re-built ramshackle settlements in the mountains of Caracas, and brought FREE healthcare to anyone and everyone in the nation. One sight that will stay with me forever was the in-progress mission involving the lighting up of the poor hillside neighborhoods of Caracas. We landed in Caracas at night, and on our trip to our hotel we could see these communities in the distance. They started out as a speckle of yellow lights nestled in the hills. As we approached the city center, the lights became bluer and denser. The government had been providing free compact fluorescent bulbs to these communities, and along with that, electricity to many houses that did not have it previously. It was a beautiful sight that summed up the changes happening because of Chávez.

We spoke to those who had been helped by Chávez, many of them in La Bombilla, one

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

of the poorest communities in Caracas (much like the favelas of Brazil). Many of these people had framed and hung photos of the President in their homes because they loved him so much. They spoke of him as if he were family. They showed us the parts of their house that used to be made of cardboard, homes that just recently received plumbing and electricity. We visited the schools and health clinics in these neighborhoods which helped keep the community healthy and children off of the streets and put them into the classroom. I heard them sing the praises of Chávez with tears of gratitude in their eyes. Compared to the elites who spoke out against Chávez, these people seemed so much more thankful for their happiness, for what little they had all thanks to government assistance.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

Conclusion: Critics of Chávez were (and still are) afraid of him NOT because he is a heartless dictator who stole elections and power in Venezuela. They fear him because he took away their access to oil wealth and reallocated these riches to the nation’s poor. The US fears him because he refused to be a third world puppet to their demands. They fear him because he is not afraid of them, not afraid to call them out. I will conclude with some of my favorite Chávez quotations. Que descanse en paz, Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías.

In a 2006 speech at the UN, he said the following of George W. Bush:

“The Devil is right at home. The Devil, the Devil himself, is right in the house. And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world”

On Condoleeza Rice in 2005:

“She is sexually frustrated. I could invite her on a date to see what happens between us”

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

3 Mar

Deliver us from evilDeliver Us from Evil is a very relavent documentary in these times of Pope/Catholic Church sex scandals. This documentary gives just one example out of the many pedophilia cover-ups in the Catholic Church. It tells of the decades of child sexual abuse at the hands of Father Oliver O’Grady, and exposes how deep the coverups go within the Catholic Church. This movie includes interviews from the victims and their families, Father O’Grady and other priests, and the therapists that work to help victims of clergy sexual abuse to pick up the pieces and get their lives back.

It is tough to watch and absolutely nauseating because it is all real. O’Grady

Father O'Grady, Catholic pederast, was free to walk the streets even after admitting to sexually abusing 25+ children

Father O’Grady, Catholic pederast, was free to walk the streets even after admitting to sexually abusing 25+ children

describes, in detail, the ways in which he abused these children (as young as nine months old), and he doesn’t shed a tear, bat an eye, or convincingly express his remorse for the lives he has ruined and the crimes he committed. Throughout the movie, O’Grady is interviewed in various surroundings, including: in a church, at his home, and at a playground! You spend most of the documentary wondering how the shit is this guy able to be around children!? And then you find out, after being moved around California for decades, he was finally charged, sentenced to fourteen years in prison (he served only seven), and later deported back to Ireland, where he roams free at the time the documentary was filmed. (Yeah, I think I just threw up a little, too).

Some recent Googling has shown me that O’Grady is now incarcerated in Ireland for possession of child pornography. So much for his reformation.

Stroszek (1976)

1 Mar

Stroszek coverIt is a pleasure to review one of my favorite foreign films by one of my favorite directors, Werner Herzog. Stroszek is a poetic Herzog take on the American Dream as an unattainable myth for immigrants to the US. There are many subtle laughs along the way, but overall the movie leaves you with heartache on behalf of the title character and his attempt to improve his life by starting anew in the US.

While it is not a documentary, Herzog based this story on Bruno S., the actor who plays the title character, and there are several scenes that are shot in his actual tiny apartment. Herzog has a knack for picking out interesting human subjects to showcase in his movies. And although not based on the true story of one particular German immigrant, it isn’t hard to imagine the story that unfolds as one that is based in the reality of those who immigrate to the US these days.

The film introduces us to Stroszek as he is being released from jail where he was serving a short stint for some drunken misconduct of stroszek-Brunosome sort. He is released and heads straight to the nearest bar to pick up where he left off. Stroszek is motivated to leave his native Germany when he and his lady-friend, Eva, are both tormented and abused by her pimps. The two of them set off for Wisconsin with Bruno’s elderly neighbor, Mr. Scheitz, in search of the American dream. In the states, however, they are met only with obstacles and people who either take advantage of them or simply don’t understand them.

"Can't stop the dancin' chicken."

“Can’t stop the dancin’ chicken.”

I have a penchant for melancholy movies, and Stroszek is one of the best. This is a must see in my book; it is a movie that graces my current Top 10 list.

P.S. If you listen to Ratatat, you may recognize a sample from this film in the song, Drugs. ^^^Please watch that music video, it’s hilarious. It practically had me in tears of laughter when I saw them perform at Camp Bisco 10.