Saturday, November 29, 2008

Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections directed by David Earnhardt

Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections (2008). Written, directed, and produced by David Earnhardt.

I've questioned our country's system of electing presidents ever since I learned about the electoral college. The fact that a selected small number of elected officials really decide who their state's electoral votes go to, seemingly regardless of whom the actual majority of citizen chose, disturbed me deeply. However, that is the quintessential piece of evidence I use when discussing how the government of the United States is not, as is often stated, a democracy, but is in fact a republic. (Remember, the pledge of allegiance states "...and to the republic for which it stands".)

Uncounted, a 2008 documentary from Emmy-winning (though I can't seem to find out what he actually won for) director David Earnhardt, focuses on three major elections — of 2000, 2004, and 2006 — and all the problems and deceptions that led to the votes of many working-class and low-income people (and especially people of color) either not being counted or, in many extreme instances, discouraged from being cast at all through both threats and intimidation.

The primary reason being, the movie asserts, that they would be the most likely to vote Democratic.

In an engrossing collection of clips and interviews, Uncounted educates the viewer about such related topics as the myriad reasons electronic voting machines are unreliable (and hacker-prone), and why they were still used in a high percentage of voting precincts. Taken individually, these events are seemingly unimportant, but compiled in succession by Earnhardt, such things as 80 percent of voters in a single precinct not voting for a presidential candidate (while voting on other races), the known ties of a prominent voting-machine producer to the Republican party, and the mysterious practice of a vote for one candidate being counted for the opponent can hardly be seen as coincidence.

Earnhardt makes a strong argument for deliberate manipulation, and you know how we Americans love our conspiracy theories. What is important is that Uncounted gives a lot of food for thought, especially regarding the dangers of being a whistle-blower and how one person can truly make a difference in a small way. But the main question I'm still pondering after having seen it is this, why is the one day set aside for choosing our elected officials, Election Day, the second Tuesday every November, not a federal holiday?

I can only think it must be that somebody doesn't want all the working people of the country to be able to truly reach the polls in their representative numbers. But maybe I'm just spreading more conspiracy thought. Watch Uncounted as part of your civic duty to be informed about things that are generally unknown, and then and decide for yourself.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Review: The Making of The Lords of Flatbush by Stephen Verona

In the mid-1970s, a little movie was released called The Lords of Flatbush. Unbeknownst to any of those involved at the time, it would singlehandedly launch the modern era of looking back, inspiring other such nostalgia hits as Happy Days (which would make a star out of Flatbush actor Henry Winkler) and Laverne & Shirley.

But few people know very much about the story behind the movie that started it all. The film's co-director, co-writer, and producer — Stephen Verona, Academy Award winner for The Rehearsal — has rectified that with his memoir, The Making of The Lords of Flatbush.

But this book is not just for fans of The Lords of Flatbush. Anyone interested in the kind of talent combined with guts — even when you're a pioneering music-video director who's worked with The Beatles — that it took to get a film made during this period should also pick it up. Verona tells it all, from his own time in a motorcycle gang (the inspiration) through the writing process, fund-raising, and casting (the perspiration) to the shooting, editing, distribution, and afterward. The reader is along every step of the way.

Verona reminisces about stars Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler, Paul Mace, and Perry King — who replaced Richard Gere at the last minute — and the musicians he worked with (Joe Brooks and Paul Jabara) who would later go on to win their own Academy Awards (for "You Light Up My Life" and "Last Dance", respectively). Also mentioned in The Making of The Lords of Flatbush are such not-yet celebrities as Bette Midler, Ray Sharkey, Armand Assante, and Susan Blakely.

Verona writes this gripping memoir with a conversational style that, although very easy to read, lapses a little too often into digression, occasionally leaving doubt as to the true order of events. Follow his advice or learn from his mistakes; either way, know more about filmmaking than before from The Making of The Lords of Flatbush.
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