Political Film Society - Newsletter #114 - October 1, 2001



October 1, 2001


 

TWO FILMS FOCUS ON HOW POOR CHILDREN SEE THE WORLD
HardballDo filmviewers need to see another film in which a white man brings black boys to the Promised Land? Paramount Pictures, which produces many films focusing on African Americans, evidently thinks so. Based on a true story, as recounted in Daniel Coyle’s Hardball: A Season in the Projects, the film Hardball focuses on Connor O’Neill (played by Keanu Reeves), a compulsive gambler who has no job, drinks and swears a lot, and is seriously in debt. When he asks for a loan to pay a $7,000 debt, his friend Jimmy (played by Mike McGlone), an executive at an investment firm, promises $500 per week for him to take over coaching African American Little Leaguers on Chicago’s South side. The money keeps creditors at bay, and the coaching enables O’Neill to find a purpose in life. But the real story is about the lives of the Little Leaguers, who live in substandard housing projects where drug wars take place, and whose articulation of English is so muffled that subtitles are sometimes needed. To avoid casualties in the battle zone, nobody can go out, look out of their windows, or even sit at a chair after dark; bullets rule the night. The baseball activity is the one joy in the lives of all the teenage children, though O’Neill provides more pep talks than actual coaching and appears helpless as members of his team are disqualified or killed because of the battlefield around them. Although Jimmy initially took up coaching as a way of giving something back to the community, he presumably cops out rather than face the reality that he is getting richer while African Americans in the projects are getting poorer. Directed by Brian Rob-bins, Hardball seemingly refers less to the baseball game and more to life in the housing projects. But in actuality the power elites of Chicago are the ones who are really playing hardball by leaving the black ghettoes in Third World conditions while George W. Bush proposes to cut federal funds that provide security to public housing residents. MH

LiamLiam, directed by Stephen Frears, is an English film that focuses on how a precious seven-year-old boy views life as he looks for role models in his long path from childhood to adulthood. Based on Joseph Keown’s novel The Back Crack Boy, the story is set in Liverpool as the Great Depression deepens among the working class. Liam Sullivan (played by Anthony Borrows) views the various authority figures in his life with trust, though they clearly misbehave. His mother (played by Claire Hackett) argues vehemently with her sister Aggie (played by Julia Deakin), a neighbor, and his father (played by Ian Hart) over matters that Liam does not fully understand, though he is fascinated by the drama of the altercations.

 

His older brother Con (played by David Hart) also has words with his father. Nevertheless, Liam is close to his sister Teresa (played by Megan Burns), who is approximately ten years older. At Catholic school, Mrs. Abernathy (played by Anne Reid) puts the fear of God into all the schoolchildren, while Father Ryan (played by Russell Dixon), the parish priest, delivers homilies to members of his congregation, pointing out that the flames of Hell await sinners. Abernathy and Ryan, because they are so extreme in their need to find filth lingering in the hearts of innocent children, actually provide the only comedy relief in the film to twenty-first-century filmviewers (who have only recently been told by a religious fundamentalist that the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were God’s punishment for the oversecularization of America). At home Liam is quiet, shows proper respect, but converses easily only with Teresa. Outside the home, Liam stutters, fearful that the whole world will erupt into intense anger, as that is what he sees at home when words fly. Although Liam is unaware, the Great Depression is not an ideal time in which to grow up, as the quarrels often involve money, which is in short supply. His father is laid off by a Jewish shipyard owner, spits on a representative from management, and then is denied severance pay; on one occasion, he interrupts Father Ryan’s sanctimonious irrelevancies by pointing out economic injustices that the church is ignoring. Indeed, protests among the unemployed break out and are suppressed by police. Some out-of-work English organize a fascist rally, articulating the view that Jewish employers have hired thousands of Irish to take their jobs at lower wages, while some Irish rough up Jewish merchants. Liam’s mother tries to hock clothing at a Jewish proprietor’s pawnshop, which is later burned. Teresa accepts the position of maid for the Samuels family, who are Jewish, to bring money and food to the family, but she is ordered by Father Ryan to quit when she confesses that she was forced to aid in an extramarital affair. On the day when Liam accompanies Teresa to the Samuels residence to announce her resignation, his father bring a Molotov cocktail to the house; inarticulate, Liam tries to stop the violence, because his sister is inside, but his father instead lobs the fiery missile, which hits Teresa, and she is permanently disfigured. How Liam could endure all the pressures of the time while maintaining a cherubic appearance is a testament to the hope that comes with youth but fades with age due to many adult Pied Pipers, whom we observe throughout Liam trying to find scapegoats for social problems that are larger than themselves. MH

NEW WORKING PAPER AVAILABLE
Philip John Davies of De Montfort University has provided Hollywood in Elections and Elections in Hollywood, which was presented at the recent annual convention of the American Political Science Association, as Working Paper #27. All Working Papers are available for a donation of $5 each.