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American Graffiti | The Nation

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American Graffiti

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KATHLEEN CLEAVER

About the Author

Susie Linfield
Susie Linfield is the author of The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence. She teaches journalism at...

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, lawyer, professor, former member of the Black Panther Party.

AMERICAN HEART

Directed by Martin Bell. 1992.

It's a feature film set in a rundown section of Seattle where runaway kids, prostitutes and drug peddlers gravitate. The main drama concerns the efforts of a young boy to re-establish a relationship with his father, played by Jeff Bridges, who has just been released from prison. It's about the ex-convict's efforts to rejoin society and the boy's efforts to have a family. And their efforts are met with failure.

The film says a lot about the very painful, and unassisted, struggles of ordinary white people to navigate the very high barriers placed on participating in so-called American prosperity. Which is not a subject that's typically dealt with in film, and mainstream electoral politics ignores this reality. But it affects millions of people, especially young people.

The whole insidious right-wing campaign around family values refuses to admit how many families are devastated by economic hardship, and what this new global order, this high concentration of wealth, is doing to American families. It's intolerably destructive, and that's what this film is about. It's heartbreaking.



LEON GOLUB

, artist.

BLADE RUNNER

Directed by Ridley Scott. 1982.

In the early part of the twentieth century, there was science fiction, and there was science. On the one hand, you had a fantasy world; on the other, a world of experiments, results, logic. But at this point in time, science trumps science fiction. Science fiction will have a hard time keeping up with science, which is on a trajectory to the future at an increasing velocity. Blade Runner is as close as anything I can think of to our suspicions about what that may portend. It moves with speed. Reality veers into the unreal, and the unreal veers into reality. We're on firm ground, and we're not; things are slipping, and things are stable.

I have mixed feelings about it. The film is saying that there may be no distinction between real and unreal. Is that pessimistic? Optimistic? It's a fantastic, exciting prospect.

Science fiction, and Blade Runner in particular, are not only provocative as fantasy--they're also telling it like it is. Or like it will be, tomorrow.



CHRISTINE VACHON

, film producer of Kids, Happiness, Poison and Swoon.

SAFE

Directed by Todd Haynes. 1995.

Is it awful to mention a movie I produced? Because I'm thinking not just about the American experience but about the millennial experience. Safe takes place in 1987--just before the bottom dropped out of Reaganomics, when the culture of excess was starting to turn the corner. And we were making it when AIDS was at its peak.

It's about an LA housewife who gradually realizes that she's become allergic to everything around her--the "American disease." It shows her gradual decline, until she goes to a New Age retreat.

It's a film about excess: about how your acquisitions start to kill you. But it's also an examination, and a critique, of the American impulse to take charge of everything, including illness. It sums up the last ten or fifteen years of the American experience.

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