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(en) US, Media, Anarchism in America; The Free Voice of Labor (2006)

Date Mon, 27 Nov 2006 09:23:51 +0200


Informative but technically-lacking documentaries on an interesting social
movement. The first of these two documentaries deals with anarchism in general,
with emphasis on its origins and history. It runs 75 minutes. The second film is
55 minutes and concerns the Jewish anarchists who were active in the labor
movement and published an anarchist newspaper in Yiddish for 87 years. Its title
is the same as the documentary, and historian Paul Avrich narrates this film.
Well-known anarchist writers such as Kenneth Rexroth, Karl Hess and Ursula
LeGuin are interviewed or speak in the films. There is archival footage of
anarchist leader Emma Goldman. Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys speaks about
his anarchist motivations in the punk rock movement, and writer Murray Bookchin
visits a Libertarian Party convention and opines that they are really anarchists
underneath - even though Libertarians don't want to eliminate central government
entirely (as do anarchists) - just to minimize it. There are some informative
clips from Yiddish dramatic films illustrating some of the early history and
struggles of the anarchists.

Some man-on-the-street interviews establish that most people connect anarchists
with the image of a fat bearded man holding a ball-shaped bomb with the wick
sparking. Yet those in the films who have dedicated their lives to the movement
believe strictly in nonviolence and feel that anarchism is actually a peace
movement. They are strongly antimilitarist and were persecuted for protesting
against the First World War. The movement was founded by Russians and Europeans
who came to America thru Ellis Island hoping for a better life who often found
conditions as bad or worse than in their homelands. They organized, helped one
another, launched protests, and worked for better working conditions. Their
basic aim has been ultimate human justice for all, not just for the few. They
oppose the idea of authority itself. Some anarchists refer to the state and the
church the twin evils of society. There is a split among anarchists between
free-market (right) and socialist (leftist) anarchists. Their Yiddish newspaper
was down to 1700 subscribers and had to close because it was only charging $7 a
year subscription and just the mailing alone cost double that, but if they
raised rates their elderly subscribers couldn't afford it anymore. All the
tireless workers on the paper had become very elderly and no young people were
interested in continuing the effort. Parents said they didn't insist because a
primary anarchist rule is that people should be totally free to do their own
thing and not be dictated to.

Both documentaries cover a fascinating political and philosophical area which
is unfamiliar to many, and the various personalities are intriguing people.
However, both are among the most amateurish documentaries I have viewed in the
current spate of such films. The one of the newspaper staff is a bit better,
but both seem to have been made some years ago and just now being offered on
DVD. Several of those speaking on screen have a serious and distracting
sibilance in the mike pickup, and the framing of the subject speaking is often
very odd. In one interview we see a straight-on view of the interviewer, who
sounds off-mike because he is pointing the mike at the subject; yet the subject
is shot from behind and to one side almost as if it was important to keep him
anonymous. The historic stills are very dark and murky and there is much zooming
in and out on shots.
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