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Born in Flames



I don’t want to embed because I don’t want it to somehow be taken down, but you really should watch the 1983 film Born in Flames. Imagine a world 10 years after a Bernie Sanders-style socialist revolution. The Party is leading the nation but women are as oppressed as ever. So a collective of black lesbian feminists who run a radio station start organizing and agitating for a real revolution. White feminists are uncomfortable. But when the state cracks down after one of the black feminist leaders visits the Western Sahara revolutionary movement to procure guns for the new revolution, the white feminists slowly start converting to the broader cause. One of said white feminists is Kathryn Bigelow, long before Zero Dark Thirty. It’s made for nothing and sure, there are some problems with script and plot. On the other hand, it’s a pretty unique film.

More than a little to my surprise, it turns out Richard Brody wrote a piece in The New Yorker in February about the film:

New York has a black mayor named Zubrinsky, the U.S. has a socialist President named Metzger, but, just as official socialist broadcasting proves indistinguishable from the corporate kind, so socialist party politics prove as inflexible and hidebound as those of capitalist times, and, under Zella’s guidance, women seek to take direct, and violent, action to break with both.

Borden constructs this large-scale social drama like a collage, with faux newscasts and talk shows, fictionalized documentary footage, police-surveillance tapes and the officials’ commentary on them, protests and confrontations, organizational meetings and strategy sessions, behind-the-scenes looks at the broadcasters Isabel and Honey on the air, musical performance, and intimate glances at private life in a time of conflict. She proves herself to be a far more imaginative and farsighted screenwriter than many celebrated Hollywood figures, because she sees the plot from a wide range of perspectives and circumstances, including one that she palpably views with hostility. Borden’s very sense of what constitutes a story, and how to realize it in images and sounds, is as radical as the social politics that she asserts.

The raw tone of her filming is nonetheless canny and precise; blunt closeups in contrasty light have a rough sculptural solidity, and the confrontational simplicity of the images evokes a rare blend of anger and analysis, affirmation and questioning. Leftism, Borden asserts, isn’t enough; a political revolution, to have any deep effect, must be a revolution in ideas and attitudes, a cultural and an intimate revolution that itself involves the media and the arts—and of which “Born in Flames” itself is an example.

Yeah, I think there’s more than a few relevant points for present left politics in this film.

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