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Movie Review: State and Main

After SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, I was really in the mood to see the new Coen Brothers’ film O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?. I had even timed things out so I could waltz right into it, as long as I left VAMPIRE right as the credits started (thank you Hollywood.com for putting movie runtimes on your site). However, there was one little snag.

The Manhattan megaplex where I was consisted of more than one floor with an escalator separating them. While VAMPIRE was on the third floor, there was no way I could sneak by the ticket taker at the base of the escalator to get upstairs to see O BROTHER.

So, and I really have to bless this movie theater for its commitment to modernization, in the lobby of each floor there is a giant support column with a digital readout of what movies are playing on that specific floor and how many minutes until the next screening is. When I realized I couldn’t sneak upstairs, I checked the digital readouts and saw that STATE AND MAIN was about to begin so I snuck into that instead.

STATE looked like it was just about sold out, but I crammed myself in like a sardine way, way in the back in the very last row of the stadium seating. As the previews started to roll, I could look down and see people keep entering. And that’s when I sort of felt bad: What if I had taken the last seat away from someone who had legitimately bought a ticket for the film? But, of course, that guilty feeling went away pretty quickly and I stayed for the film.

I don’t have much to say about STATE AND MAIN. It’s a comedy about a Hollywood movie production crew taking over a small Vermont town. It’s also written and directed by David Mamet, which is why I wanted to see it. It is a pretty funny movie, but not overly insightful or grueling like other of Mamet’s work. And while Rebecca Pidgeon is a total babe and a half, she’s married or shacked up with Mamet so that somewhat takes the fun out of ogling her.

So, then, what I’d like to do now is follow up a review I wrote the other week for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. In that review I wrote about my dislike for an animal rights activist named Debbie on an email listserv for the NY Green Party. Due to her comments, plus many made by other of the members (but I decided to pick on Debbie in the review for some reason), I made myself unsubscribe to the list.

Since I quit the Green listserv, I started reading a book about the tumultuous history of the U.S. Green Party called ECOLOGICAL POLITICS: ECOFEMINISTS AND THE GREENS by Greta Gaard. About three-quarters through the book I read an excerpt of a letter that Greta reprinted. It was a letter of resignation from 1996 by a member of the Green Council and the Editorial Board of the newsletter “Green Bulletin”. Even though I’ve only been a Green since 1999 and I’ve never read “Green Bulletin” or this book before, one of the comments in the letter sounded suspiciously familiar. Since Greta had only referred to the person who wrote it as “a woman” in the main part of the text, I looked up the name of the author in the endnotes and, yup, it was Debbie. Four years ago, she was writing the same exact thing to criticize those in the Greens she didn’t like as she was on the NY Green listserv in 2000.

Basically Debbie’s argument is that if a supposedly ecologically based political organization like the Greens defends the rights of other cultures to harm animals, such as defending the rights of Native American tribes to hunt whales, then the Greens will have to defend Debbie’s cultural heritage of the Irish performing ritual human sacrifices. I don’t know very much about Irish culture, so I have to take Debbie at her word on this one. However, I think most cultures practiced human sacrifice sometime in their past.

Reading Debbie’s letter of resignation, it got me thinking about a lot of things. First of all, I had to somewhat admire Debbie for sticking to her principles for four years. Second, since Debbie had quit an editorial position on a Green newsletter, it didn’t make me feel so bad about quitting the listserv.

Finally, in the rest of the book, one of Greta’s main points is that a truly radical, unifying political organization, which the Greens was attempting to do but failing at, is going to have to recognize that each of its constituents is an individual with unique concerns and incorporate those divergent viewpoints into the larger whole. By reprinting a portion of Debbie’s letter of resignation, Greta was giving an example of the Greens’ intolerance of dealing with the beliefs of animal liberationists, an intolerance that left one animal liberationist so frustrated it forced her to quit the group.

And yet, it seemed to me that Greta was being guilty of the very thing she was trying to speak out against. Suddenly, Debbie was not an individual with a unique personality, but an exemplifying force of all frustrated animal liberationists in the Greens. Greta didn’t take into account Debbie’s own intolerant, argumentative personality, a personality I witnessed myself on the listserv.

I can’t defend the Greens by saying it’s a perfect political party and that Debbie and Greta are both simply cranks or whatever. I do have to agree somewhat with Debbie’s concerns even though I find her personally distasteful.

One of the first questions people ask me when they find out I’m a vegetarian “Do you not eat meat for health or animal rights reasons?” My answer: “Both”. And I do somewhat feel like a complete hypocrite for not being a vegan, i.e. I still eat dairy products like eggs and cheese. If I think slaughtering animals is wrong, then why do I not think subjugating them for any reason isn’t wrong? Eggs I could probably live without, but I love eating cheese too much.

So, despite Debbie’s venom and scorn, maybe I actually deserve it.