Posts Tagged ‘labor unions’

As Labor Day comes to a close, I thought I’d recommend a movie that’s been one of my favorites for quite some time that deals with the highly appropriate themes of worker’s rights, unions, and freedom of expression. I’m talking cradle boxabout 1999’s Cradle Will Rock. Written, directed, and produced by Tim Robbins, Cradle Will Rock is set during the Great Depression, spanning the inception of the eponymous musical to its unorthodox opening performance after budget cuts to the Federal Theater Project (FTP), a branch of President Roosevelt’s Works Projects Administration (WPA), shut down all new productions. Surrounding the main story of the musical’s highs and lows are several interconnecting storylines that flesh out life in the Depression-Era America, including several well-known cultural icons and figures of note.

The movie itself is a semi-fictionalized account of The Cradle Will Rock‘s (Robbins dropped the The) original production and what blows my mind about this movie is the truth embedded in every point of connection. The Cradle Will Rock was a real musical, produced by Orson Welles and John Houseman, that was originally performed by the main cast from the audience of the theater when the show’s writer and composer, Marc Blitzstein, provided 00348w9gnarration and musical accompaniment on stage to sidestep union rules that forbid the actors to participate. Clearly it was a play that the cast and crew believed in, one that was unabashedly pro-union in a time when labor unions were the bane of industrialists looking to capitalize on cheap and disposable labor.

Circling The Cradle Will Rock are a number of stories containing their own measures of truth and fiction. These stories include the notorious Diego Rivera painting, Man at the Crossroads, commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center (recently featured in the Netflix series Sense8), the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ investigation into the FTP, and the complicity of American industrialists in providing funds to dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. All of it is tied together through the common themes of censorship in and of the arts, labor issues, immigration, and the disparity between the wealthy and the poor that does more to fully realize life in America than a typical event-based movie. Though Tim Robbins took some liberties with the various stories, the political and philosophical underpinnings of the script are fully justified by the characters and their actions.

The cast is a veritable who’s-who of character actors who, by now, are most well-known actors in their own right. At the time, though, many members of the cast were still operating below Hollywood’s radar. The cast includes Hank Azaria as Marc Blitzstein, Emily Watson as The Cradle Will Rock actress and singer Olive Stanton, John Cusack as cradle will rockNelson Rockefeller, Angus Macfadyen as Orson Welles, Cary Elwes as John Houseman, Ruben Blades as Diego Rivera, John Turturro as fictional actor Aldo Silvano, and Cherry Jones as FTP producer, director, and playwright Hallie Flanagan. Filling out the cast are Billy Murray, Joan Cusack, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Giamatti, Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Susan Sarandon, and Philip Baker Hall. Robbins also rounded out the cast with veteran Broadway performers for much of the musical scenes as well as minor roles for still-living members of The Cradle Will Rock‘s original cast. With such a massive ensemble it’s amazing that no single member of the company is given an elevated status that might signal them as the main character. Robbins as a writer and director is generous yet fair with the amount of time each character has to shine, assuring us that there are no favorites and that the story is properly served.

If you have the time and have an interest in this time in America’s history, or you’re looking for a good discussion about art and politics, Cradle Will Rock will most definitely give you something to talk about by the film’s end. And you get some pretty sweet Broadway songs to tap your feet to.

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Okay, we’re gonna go about things a little differently here. Since I’ve decided to strike out on my own – updates forthcoming – I don’t necessarily have the time or the funds to read every comic and write the fairly long, detail-oriented reviews I did in the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shirking my analytical duties of reviewing comic books. It just means these reviews are going to be much shorter.

What’s the approach? Your standard pull list of comics for the week and my thoughts on why you should read them with a specific Spotlight position set aside for what I think was a standout issue. There’s also room for highlighting new books from smaller publishers or collected graphic novels and such. Pretty much whatever I think is worth your time, which means – obviously – that this will be heavily biased to my tastes. In all likelihood, some of you may or may not agree with my picks and that’s fine. If anything, it leaves us open for discussion about what you think were the best books of the week and to make recommendations of your own.

Sound good?

I’ll take your silence as a sign of agreement. To the list!

 

C.O.W.L. #5 – Image Comics

COWL_05-1Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel with Art by Rod Reis, the first arc of the series comes to a close with the dissolution of C.O.W.L. Or does it? Higgins, Siegel, and Reis started their story of the first labor union for superheroes at the beginning of the end, but everyone knows that the end is only the beginning. In tumultuous post-WWII, Cold War era Chicago tensions have finally escalated to the point of strikes and rioting with the city content to wash its hands clean of C.O.W.L. Not that the heroes are too broken up about it, at least most of them. While the world of C.O.W.L. has been slowly built within the era of equal rights, paranoia, and disillusionment, one man’s story has been cutting through the narrative: Geoffrey Warner, C.O.W.L.’s Chief formerly known as The Grey Raven. From the beginning of the book, Geoffrey has been trying every tactic possible to keep C.O.W.L. alive only to see it crumble before his eyes. It’s his desperation that makes his actions at the end of the issue – the last panel in fact – all the more shocking. Does Chicago need heroes? Geoffrey thinks it does and he’s willing to do anything to prove how necessary C.O.W.L. is to the Chicago, if not the world.

 

Low #3 – Image Comics

low03_coverWritten by Rick Remender with Art by Greg Tocchini, Low #3 is a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing images and ideas set against what is ostensibly the end of the human race. While most of the people inhabiting the undersea city of Salus are set on counting down the days until they’re done for, Stel Caine holds on to the hope that humanity can be saved. The appearance of a long forgotten probe that may have found a planet suitable for human habitation prompts her to confront the decadent and corrupt councilmen who, like most people, see Stel’s optimism as some sort of disease. No one believes this more than her son Marik who, after being arrested for corruption and the death of a hooker, tries to kill himself because he can’t imagine his life could get any lower. Luckily, Stel manages to save him, which is debatable if you’re Marik, and takes him with her to find the probe. The issue mostly consists of a huge argument between Stel and Marik, a mother and son who’ve both experienced tremendous loss and have dealt with it in very different ways. But in this issue, there’s finally some catharsis and Tocchini’s art gorgeously captures the beauty and wonder of the ocean that Marik sees for the first time.

 

Wayward #2 – Image Comics

Wayward_02-1Written by Jim Zub with Art by Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Zub, Rori’s fresh start in Japan hasn’t exactly gone very smooth. What with the pressures of being in a new city, reconnecting with your mother, discovering you have strange powers that allow you to see monsters and getting saved by a cat-person – wait, what? Seriously, the worst thing that could happen after that is starting at a new school where you’re treated like an idiot and judged for your appearance while trying not to be a burden to the one parent you don’t want to hate you. Which is why that’s exactly what happens. Though I’ve never been to school in Japan, Zub finds a way to make Rori’s circumstances relatable despite the cultural shift. We can all sympathize with feeling like an outcast or a loner as well as the intense pressure that comes with being a student. Heighten that with the intense nature of Japanese schools and we see just how stressful Rori’s world has become. How she copes with that stress, however, left me gasping out loud. The art continues to be a lush and vibrant world of anime and manga influences. Even in the darkest settings, the colors still pop off the page as Rori tries to make sense and connect the dots especially when it comes to one of her new schoolmates.

 

Storm #3 – Marvel Comics

Storm-003Written by Greg Pak with Art by Matteo Buffagni, Storm’s solo book is only three issues in and, on the surface, the stories feel like vignettes in Ororo Munroe’s life between the myriad events going on in the X-Men universe. But what Greg Pak has been doing is taking the reader back to her roots, showcasing exactly what makes the former goddess and Queen of Wakanda tick, which inevitably leads her back to Africa; specifically Kenya where she was once worshipped because of her powers over the weather. After meeting the locals, she also finds herself confronted with another part of her past when Forge is revealed to be the one behind bringing her back so he can create a method of weather control so the local villagers can grow their crops. Unfortunately, Forge’s machine is too unstable and the leader of the village is a little too eager to harness the power of a god. Through the lessons she learned from being falsely worshipped as well as her time being de-powered and betrayed, Storm shows what makes her a true leader as she shows the wisdom necessary to strike a balance between Forge and the village. Neither are ready to move on, so she makes sure they find a way to do so together.

 

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5-6 – DC Comics

sensation5Written by Ivan Cohen with Art by Marcus To these two chapters serve as a full story that sees Diana’s belief in the gods challenged when she supposedly loses her powers. The writers and artists involved with Sensation Comics have been doing a stellar job of showcasing the various aspects of Wonder Woman and Ivan Cohen pushes the concept of belief into the forefront. Diana is a paragon of justice, truth, honor, and compassion, but even in this day and age her origins involving the Greek pantheon give people pause when she’s also wrapped up in the stars and stripes. The brilliance of this story, however, is Diana’s cleverness in sussing out who the true villain is and besting him through the sheer force of belief in one thing and one thing alone: herself. Without that she’s nothing and it makes all the difference.

 

Spotlight: Saga #23 – Image Comics

Saga23OneAs if there was any doubt! Saga is an ongoing emotional roller coaster and, as always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to pull the rug out from under the reader. The penultimate issue of the current arc finds Marko nearly giving into his feelings for Ginny after Alana kicked him out and Alana continuing to turn to drugs to cope with how miserable she is, but our favorite married couple find that even the greatest temptations can’t completely pull them away from each other. Oddly enough, it isn’t the calming and placating platitudes from Ginny to Marko or the story of lost love from Izabel to Alana that snaps everything into place, it’s Hazel’s toy Ponk Konk. Marko knows how much his daughter loves the toy and it spurs him to return to his home. Alana, on the other hand, sees how much she’s been missing out on by working the Open Circuit and getting high while Marko practically raises their daughter without her. Unfortunately, Dengo and the princeling show up before the family can reunite, fulfilling Hazel’s earlier statement that this is indeed the story of how her parents split up when Alana activates their rocket ship tree to blastoff, leaving the planet and Marko behind as a means of stopping Dengo. At the issue’s end, Marko is stranded, unable to reach his family, but he’s not the only father desperate to get to his family.

 

So those are my picks for the week. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what comics you’d highlight, either as regular pulls or new comics people should check out.