Weather Reports

Documentary DVD: The Weather Underground — In the wake of Republicans trying to use former Weatherman Bill Ayers as a cudgel against Barack Obama, this Oscar-nominated look at the radical faction that grew out of the Students for a Democratic Society becomes relevant again, and is required viewing for anyone who wants to understand the radical left of the 1960s. Interspersing documentary footage with recent interviews, it details the state of mind that led to these young activists going underground and engaging in a campaign of bombing government and corporate targets. Though parallels can be made between America’s long military involvement in Vietnam and the still-ongoing US occupation of Iraq, this film brings back to life the distinctive atmosphere at home as the Vietnam war dragged on and how the brutality of some military and the bombing and napalm and Agent Orange attacks in both North and South Vietnam horrified politically active youths. With liberation movements sprouting up around the globe and government actions against the radical left at home—from the killing of Black Panther leaders to the COINTELPRO campaign to destroy the radical movement—the spirit of revolution and genuine social change seemed tangible at the 1960s grew to a close. The reflections of the former Weathermen (and women) on what went wrong with the antiwar/revolutionary movement and how society changed once the Vietnam war ended are thought provoking, especially those by imprisoned for life radical David Gilbert in the bonus features. Looking at everything from best intentions to huge mistakes, this unflinching look at this pivotal group at an important historical juncture is a valuable document and a quite riveting intellectual exploration of radical politics at the edge.

Comedy/Music DVD: The Secret Policeman’s Balls — If you enjoy English comedy, this three-disc set is a treasure trove that comes with the bonus of some notable musical performances, all from the first four London benefit shows for Amnesty International from 1976 to 1989. Led by John Cleese, members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Beyond The Fringe troupes are joined by such other British comics as the Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) and Dawn French team, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and Billy Connolly. The shows also included the first solo performances by Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and Jeff Back, classical guitarist John Williams, Sting and others. The Balls were influential on such later benefit shows as Live Aid, Comic Relief and the Amnesty US and international music tours and instrumental in bring both attention and funds to the admirable human rights organization. Laughs abound and the package includes lots of bonus material, all of which provide hours of pleasure and delight.

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 1, 2009

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