Thursday, November 29, 2007

Film Makes Point: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

A hushed, hypnotic history

By Mark Feeney
Boston Globe Staff
November 29, 2007

"Profit motive and the whispering wind," a film that for much of its length is every bit as distinctive as its title, is dedicated to Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," which John Gianvito, the director, also cites as inspiration.

Yet what's best about the film - "documentary" is too blunt a word - has far less to do with radical history than with the one-of-a-kind visual essays of Chris Marker. There's a similar sense of cool, unhurried appraisal and a viewer's growing awareness that he or she is in the presence of an unconventional intelligence eager to make us see things afresh.

Gianvito, who teaches visual and media studies at Emerson, spent several years filming graves and commemorative plaques associated with American freethinkers and radicals. They include Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer, Thomas Paine, Daniel Shays, John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony. The most expressive image in the film is the unmarked grave of Uriah Smith Stephens, a cofounder of the Knights of Labor. In this context, the absence of words takes on an eloquence all its own.

We see commemorations of the Homestead Strike, near Pittsburgh; the Bread and Roses Strike, in Lawrence; and the Ludlow Massacre, in Colorado. The people's names, as they get closer to us in time, shift from history (distant, done, dead) to politics (near, ongoing, ideologically animate): Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer (who has the glorious epitaph "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired"), Dorothy Day, James Baldwin, Cesar Chavez, Philip Berrigan.

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