Occupy the Silver Screen? 10 Films to Get You Ready to Occupy Wall Street
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One of Sean Penn’s bravest roles as the San Francisco politician and gay rights hero, Milk was a compelling look at how what appears to be a small bit of activism can transform into world change. The film depicts Harvey Milk’s early activism, beginning with wheatpasted signs on the lampposts of the Castro, through mobilizing a crack team of ragtag campaigners who stand behind him until he finally wins a spot as a city supervisor–and one of the first-ever out gay politicians elected to public office in the United States. An unequivocal inspiration for change—as is Penn, whose on-the-ground activism is renowned and constant. As for Penn and OWS? He’s been down, of course, and told Piers Morgan that he is “prouder than ever to be an American” as a result of the actions.
8. Werckmeister Harmonies
This one’s for the artier (and more patient): a three-hour-long, abstract black-and-white picture by acclaimed Hungarian art director Bela Tarr, it’s a very intense allegory for the invasion of corporate behemoth (and/or political evil) into the natural world, and how it ultimately drives humankind to madness (at least, that’s one interpretation). Of course, the natural world is represented by a traveling whale carcass that eventually drives a provincial town to riots, but you get the idea. Film nerds only—difficult, but gorgeous. (For similar filmic revolution but slightly lighter fare, try Repentance, a surrealist critique of the Soviet Union that managed to make it through the Iron Wall from Georgia in 1984.)
After the dark allegories, Newsies is a great change of pace. One of the kickiest, most inspiring pictures about union organizing, this Disney (!) film follows cash-strapped young newsboys in 1899, who revolt after publishing giants Pulitzer and Hearst raise the distribution prices of their papers. General strikes and powerful speeches are one thing. But when a young Christian Bale, as Cowboy Kelly, breaks out into song about being an orphan and dreaming about a better life? Waterworks. A reminder that the industrial revolution wouldn’t have worked without unions—and some new anthems, perhaps, to sing while you’re down at OWS.
The Warren Beatty-penned script tells the story of John Reed, the author and sociologist who chronicled the Russian Revolution in his 1920 book Ten Days That Shook the World. At the turn of the century, Reed moved to the ever-magnetic liberal enclave that was the West Village, New York City, where he became a labor activist inspired by the American Communist Party, setting the stage for his eventual move to Russia. He’s there when it all goes down, and it’s the spirit—if not so much the politics—of the revolution he seeks to capture. A worthy feeling to aspire to.
Honorable Mention: You still haven’t seen Inside Job yet? You won’t be finished watching last year’s crucial analysis of the crisis before you start writing slogans on posterboard and packing a Zuccotti-ready tent.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.