Friday, July 29, 2016


One of my feeds is Steven Pressfield Online ( who wrote a much praised book called “The War of Art.”  It’s meant to echo a first century Chinese treatise about actual military theory.  I didn’t catch on for a while.  The blog is encouragement and guidance for writers, like those struggling with

His first book, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was published in 1995, and made into a film of the same name, starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Matt Damon, and directed by Robert Redford.  His second novel, Gates of Fire, is about the Spartans and the battle at Thermopylae. It is taught at the U.S. Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, and the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico.  In 2012, he launched the publishing house Black Irish Books with his agent Shawn Coyne.

So he’s out of the Hemingway context, tough guy, focused on success.  he says “I am a writer. I write about war—external wars and internal wars, wars ancient and modern, real wars out of history and imagined wars that exist only in speculation. Why? I don’t even know myself.”  

He fits very well in a specific American culture, which is not so much about war as it is about money.  That is, he does write, he knows how and does it well, but he also is selling to wannabe writers, which is far more a “certainty” than selling another book about war.  He’s our idea of being a leader, right down to a best buddy who has his back.  Recently he recommended a movie, though he had only watched the first half.  It’s called “I Am Not Your Guru.”  Actually, that’s the title after the colon, the more primary one is the name of the not-guru, Tony Robbins.

Tony Robbins

Pressfield was impressed.  I was, too, but I didn’t even make watching it to half.  This guy is like Burt Lancaster on steroids.  (Actually, they say Robbins had a pituitary tumor during adolescence.)  Maybe you don’t remember Lancaster — Pressfield is only four years younger than I am, so he remembers.  Most of the people in his movie are maybe thirty — just about old enough to hit their first real crash in life.  They come eagerly, easily swept away by the profanity, overwhelming confrontation, and a mosh pit of a crowd.  The course costs thousands.  Where do they get that money?  You could get about the same “hit” from a skillfully done church retreat.  Maybe not quite that level of adrenaline since they would be constrained by taboos.  

It’s New Age stuff.  He presses all the pretty well-dressed girls until they exude every Oprah cliché they know, and indeed he has cohosted programs with Oprah.  He’s like a toy superhero who folds into being a bulldozer.  Realistically, he got into trouble over “fire walkers” who evidently had too little faith and were badly burned by the hot coals they crossed.  He was from a Croatian immigrant family and as a child took a lot of abuse, plus responsibility for his sibs.  I find that relevant.

So then I watched a very different movie — also a documentary streaming on Netflix — called “Even the Rain.”  It was dedicated to Howard Zinn.  The extraordinary figure here is Juan Carlos Aduviri, who has multiple roles:  indigenous amateur actor, a John the Baptist figure in an historical film about the early Spaniards oppressing the indigenous people, and himself.  Or is his movie contemporary role, as a leader of demonstrations and a father, not actually himself?  He studied cinematography in the Municipal School of Arts of El Alto, where he became a professor.  He’s a little guy (has alway lived at a high altitude with a limited diet) with an incredible face.

Juan Carlos Aduviri

This is the trailer for the film.

I didn’t realize for a while that I knew some people who watched this revolution from an upstairs hotel window but also filmed some of it.  What was it about?  The diversion of water from the people by privatizing the government water sources.  Someone should force Missoula citizens to watch this over and over — they sold their water system and no one even noticed.  Now they're in court and lucky to be there.

The idea of this movie is simple: that people stay pretty much the same over the centuries; but the film is complexly layered as the actors and crew struggle to get their own project done on time and under budget while portraying the early Spanish taking cruel measures to get their gold. 

"Pocahontas" figure on the right.

There is a Pocahontas figure, a young girl who appeals to the producer.  A recent paper on H-Amerindian, the Humanities people, reflected on the enduring popularity of Pocahontas.  So the enlightened sophisticated people from the privileged world are there to “help”  the oppressed masses, who end up saving them instead.  

One of the most interesting passages is the attempt to recreate an historical event in which the mothers of the indigenous babies drowned them to keep them from the more cruel death of being torn apart by Spanish dogs.  The contemporary indigenous actors simply refuse.  No matter how much the director explains that they won’t really drown their babies, just wade into the water holding them, at which point the babies will be taken to safety, replaced by dolls.  The mothers explain that they won’t even depict such an atrocity.  And they make it stick. 

Later, in a scene where those opposing the Spanish invaders are crucified atop bonfires, it is so convincing that we are paralyzed in spite of knowing it’s a simulation — until the director calls “cut” and the victims step down.  But then, when we see rioting in the streets and soldiers shooting demonstrators, it’s hard not to half-expect someone to call “cut” so everyone can go home.  If reality, actual experience rather than theory, is a keystone of ethics, then no wonder we have a problem these days.  All is assumed to be trickery.

The privileged folks — who do have a conscience represented by a sympathetic woman with a videocam on her shoulder — operate on credentials, connections and bribery.  They work.  But the indigenous people are working for the survival of their children, a far more powerful motive.

It would be easy to displace this film onto our current Trump/Clinton fiasco.  Good guys on one side and bad guys on the other.  But the strength of the film is that it is packed with ironies, empathy that has no place to go.

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