Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thom Hoffman's BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DOLLAR opens at NYC's Quad

Chalk it up to inflation, folk. In fact, maybe our current "younger generation" won't even recognize the name, slightly amended, of this documentary -- BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DOLLAR? -- from first-time filmmaker Thom Hoffman. His movie takes its title from the song that was undoubtedly the most popular and famous to come out of America's Great Depression. Written in 1931, the original title was Brother (sometimes sung as "Buddy"), Can You Spare a Dime? What we learn about this song from Mr.Hoffman's film comprises one of its more interesting segments.

As documentaries go, Mr Hoffman's certainly wins the "Most Homemade Looking" award. Visually, it's not much, cobbled together as it is with homemade graphics (see poster above) and low-def video interviews with a few pundits (known and not), grainy newspaper clippings and photos from 80-odd years ago. At the beginning, the filmmaker, shown at left, explains that we now hear almost daily how we're going through a period similar to that of The Great Depression. But how different, he wonders, is our own time from that of the America in the 1930s? To find out, he interviews a variety of "oldsters," all of whom were born during this Depression and who talk about the attitude of their own parents, and that of their children, grandchildren and, in some cases, great grandkids. "Dad was a hitter," one fellow explains. "He beat mom, and he beat us kids." Long-term unemployment can do that.

Hoffman's aim here, I think, is simply to try to figure out what's going on, and why, and what we can do about it. In this sense his movie comes across as though we're meeting a relatively intelligent, though unknown man-in-the-street, and hearing/seeing him try to sort all this out. If not exactly bracing, his movie at least is thoughtful and has a kind of sad charm to it.

If there is not a whole lot that is new here, the filmmaker still manages to connect the dots in his own odd manner, linking Father Devine (with a little history of this unusual man) to Technocracy, FDR, Coney Island and that title song, written by "Yip" Harburg and Jay Gorney. (We hear some very interesting stuff from the latter's widow, actress Sondra Gorney, shown above, about how and why the song came into being.)

We see President Roosevelt talking about the need for national unity (isn't that a hoot in these lunatic Tea Party times?). Just underneath it all, but unspoken by any one of the actual pundits, seems to sit that peculiar idiocy we often hear from Republicans about government always being wrong and the private sector right.

We sit in on a meeting of some supposedly entrepreneurial and professional women (above) who talk about the younger generation being terribly spoiled. (We talk about this a lot, too, and I recall my own parents making that claim again my generation.) One of these woman is identified only as a Tea Party member, but I suppose that could count as "professional."

Noted stripper, the late Sally Rand (above), offers some words of wisdom, and we also view the Occupy Movement (at bottom). Wall Street, the dispensed-with Glass-Steagall Act, the SEC and a couple of seemingly intelligent college students (below) -- they're all here, and they're all connected, as we know. Seems to me that Mr Hoffman is on the right track, as are so many of us. But so what? Until this country has something approaching elected officials who actually serve us citizens, rather than serving the corporate and big-money interests that have bought off both sides well before the election takes place, there will be no real democracy in this country.

Public funding of all elections, rather than the winners being sold to the highest bidder, must eventually come to pass. But try to even get Congress or the President to address this issue, and you'll see how helpless we are. They want it this way, and they'll do nothing to change it until we force them. (Francis Megahy, in his first-class doc, The Best Congress Money Can Buy?, shows this to us in the clearest manner I have so far viewed. See it, please!) The French knew what they were doing back in 1789, and our own controlling elite -- that blend of bankers (shadow and otherwise) and politicians -- will need to feel the edge of the blade, I fear, before any real change occurs.

Meanwhile, you can view Brother, Can You Spare a Dollar (just 70 minutes long and self-distributed, of course), beginning this Friday, August 17, at New York City's Quad Cinema. If you miss it there, even as I write this, a DVD is surely in the works....

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