What does Edward Snowden mean to you? Snowden’s name is beguiling. The wintry moniker evokes cozy mornings. Being “snowed in,” with some hot chocolate. The imagery of a solitary figure near the fire, isolated from the masses. I suppose it’s fitting that he’s forced to live as an exile in Russia, probably “snowed in,” during blizzard season. The now 31-year-old former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor leaked classified government documents regarding global surveillance. The story of Snowden as global messenger unveiling a dystopian reality is the focus of Citizenfour, the current documentary by director Laura Poitras. The film spotlights the 11 days Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Poitras spent in a Hong Kong hotel room during June of 2013. The result is alternately mesmerizing in its suspense and illuminating in its simplicity.
The film captures Snowden as a calm, eloquent and reasonable young man. Deeply disturbed by what he discovers in his job as an NSA contractor, Snowden is determined to spread the knowledge to a global citizenry, by way of respected journalists. Amazingly, Snowden betrays almost no alarm. His anxiety over the scope of what he’s taken on is hidden behind his neat rectangular glasses. Stubble frames his somewhat angular face. Red marks show acne scars. Though we don’t discover all that much in the way of background information (his father was in the military; he was born in North Carolina but grew up in Fort Meade, Maryland, between Baltimore and D.C.), we learn about Snowden by watching him respond to the questions of Greenwald and Poitras. We learn about his relationship with his girlfriend by hearing him explain that his bank account has been frozen and their rent checks are no longer going through. We learn that he left when she was on vacation, telling her nothing so as not to implicate her. These mundane details carry the weight of the world, as we await the broadcasting.
HBO will begin airing Citizenfour on February 23. Don’t miss it.
Richard Linklater’s films have always unfolded in an effortless way, without attention on the act of filming itself, but on the people he films and the way time breathes itself into each conversation. Nothing is hurried and nothing is glossy. They’ve always been conversational, existential, and curious. The topics are expansive and the intellectual spontaneity rarely comes off as pretentious—instead, the characters are free to unleash their thoughts and we are given a chance to explore the bigger questions. There is a relentlessly questioning, brilliant mind at work in his films, full of warmth and humor.
Why are we here?
Why don’t we value ideas and give our minds time to think?
Why must we pretend to know all the answers?
For some, the films might be short on plot, too heavy on dialogue and character. When I was in 9th grade, I dated Helen, a girl whose parents came to the Boston area, from Russia via Israel. Helen spent her childhood in Israel and came to the U.S. when she was in third grade. Her family watched big budget action movies. There were always explosions coming out of her screen. Not a typical boy, I merely tolerated these films. One night we finally had a conversation about it.
“Why do you love action films so much? You know what’s going to happen most of the time, and when you’re watching at home, you don’t even get the over-the-top dramatic experience of the theater.”
“Why do you love TALKIE movies so much? All they do is TALK. Nothing happens.”
Needless to say, we didn’t get anywhere. My indie-film-loving self was ready to take off. I was ready to find Cambridge’s Kendall Square Cinema and watch films from other countries with subtitles, some of which ended without warning or any conclusion. I started reading film and music reviews. I went into Harvard Square to see jazz shows. I wanted nothing to do with Dependent Cinema. If you’ve seen Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, I was trying not to become a “philistine,” as Jeff Daniels’ character might have said. This desire may be slightly inevitable if you grow up in an NPR household as a sensitive boy.
The Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996), Todd Solondz’ Happiness (1998), and later, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) became some of my favorites. I love dialogue. I love conversation. These three films treat the art of communication delicately. In Happiness, Solondz’ characters are barely able to leave the confines of their four walls. The outside world is a threat, as is the interior world of their minds. The humor is painfully dark. The words they speak come with great effort. As a self-conscious teenager, I appreciated that fact. Fargo is filled with the colloquialisms of the Northern Midwest. Polite and friendly people gradually losing their control over life. Conversations between shady characters. Steve Buscemi is never not losing his shit. The plot is topsy-turvy and the film is certainly filled with action, but the intimate moments between characters are what make the film memorable. The moments between the very pregnant Frances MacDormand and her sweet, balding husband, who makes oil paintings of ducks and submits them to contests. William H. Macy’s agitation growing, interaction by interaction, as his world dissolves. The Coen Brothers’ command of the long-suffering bastard in a chaotic world, through intimate moments of internal agony.
Anthony Davis is 21 years old.
Anthony Davis is not the Commissioner of the Intergalactic Superheroes League.
Anthony Davis is from Chicago, Illinois.
Anthony Davis is not capable of turning water into red or white wine.
Anthony Davis is an NBA basketball player.
Anthony Davis is not a leprechaun who owns a pot of gold.
Anthony Davis is a blocker of shots that most other players can’t even imagine jumping for.
Anthony Davis is not going to help you walk your dogs.
Anthony Davis is capable of touching the very top of the backboard.
Anthony Davis is not a round trip plane ticket to Costa Rica.
Anthony Davis is a very unique athlete.
Anthony Davis is not a steaming cup of Peet’s Italian Roast coffee.
Anthony Davis is one of the NBA’s best defensive players and he’s just getting familiar with the league.
Anthony Davis is not a set of four new tires for your old car.
Anthony Davis is one of the reasons many of the citizens of New Orleans are smiling.
Anthony Davis is not going to undo Hurricane Katrina.
The sarcastic voice inside me rants: “Now that American football season is over, when will we get a chance to see horrific concussions happening right before our eyes, before the television broadcast quickly cuts to commercial? Which millionaire sporting commissioner will we hear spew blatant lies when forced to talk about subjects he and the owners would rather slide back out of sight? (Don’t pretend that the other major American sports commissioners are even close). Now that the NFL season is over, how will we learn about the physics of air being pumped into and out of leather balls? Where will comedians go for their puerile ball-jokes? Where will we turn to hear phrases like, ‘Beast Mode?’ Now that the NFL season is over, which overly-macho, insanely violent game will we turn to next? What are we supposed to do on Sundays?”
Now that the NFL season is over, let’s take a minute to collect ourselves. The pragmatic voice reasons: “On a serious note, football is not entirely evil. It brings people together. It allows them to scream and shout, and slap each other silly. It allows men who need a certain kind of primal bonding to have just that. It provides a sense of identity, teamwork, sacrifice and discipline for countless young men in our society. It provides a physical and emotional outlet for many young boys, young adult males, and even adult males in our society. But let me ask you this: at what cost?”
What other sport condones the expression of rage so implicitly? (Rugby? Maybe Ice hockey? Curling?)
What other sport so endangers the actual brain?
What other sport enables men to divide off so resolutely from women, into their “man caves?”
What other sport pumps endless machismo into our culture?
America is now deflated. How will ESPN function, without any NFL-driven controversy? What will become of Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith? Will they dig up dirt on NBA players? College basketball players? Hockey doesn’t capture the animal spirit of Americans the same way that football does. ESPN will be forced to wait another few weeks before Alex Rodriguez joins his reluctant Yankee teammates for Spring Training in Florida. Without free agency or playoff games, what will become of the 24-hour sports-news worldwide-leading gossip-centric bullshit machine?
I played football as a kid. I loved running with the football. I loved escaping from tacklers, just as I loved escaping from my older brother’s grasp. Fortunately, I stopped playing when I was 11. I chose to stop because I was tired of the macho environment that surrounded the game, the bullying boys, and the over-grown boys who coached the youth teams.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate comments and questions, so send them my way @darkoindex or firstname.lastname@example.org. Many say you’re supposed to write for yourself first, and worry about readers after that. It makes sense, and there is undoubtedly value in writing simply to explore your own thoughts. In my experience, it can feel masturbatory to write only for myself. I write to share thoughts. To share passion and (hopefully) humor; to persuade; to allow myself to wonder, and hopefully to move you, the reader.
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