POEM: “Thought Our Film Would Say It All”

[This poem first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine. Read more about our film, From There To There: Bruce Ario, The Minneapolis Poet.]

THOUGHT OUR FILM WOULD SAY IT ALL

And then some scumbag wanted money for the footage
Of my friend. Well, HIS friend, as a fact
Was a ponderer’s poet, while he cannot

Think. Well, he IS thinking
Of himself, bobbing down a perfect sea
Storm loosened from the surface

Of our lens. Guess which had a brain
Injury and you’d guess wrong. Say CHEESE
Bitch! Or that’s what HE did at any rate

Offered. Not even poets deserve riches.

* * *

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What The Al-Ahli Hospital Bombing Really Meant

[This essay first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine. You can watch an in-depth discussion on the al-Ahli Arab Hospital bombing with Alex Sheremet and Keith Jackewicz here.]

Yesterday, the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza was hit by an IDF airstrike or a “failed rocket” launched by Palestinian militants. In some ways, this felt like an existential moment for Israel—more so than even the Hamas massacres on Israeli territory two weeks prior. That’s because despite America’s claims of an “existential threat” from terrorism in 2001, or Israel’s perceived security needs in keeping a stateless population at bay, terrorism rarely poses serious (i.e., existential) danger to nations, and most terror campaigns fail. Of course, there are exceptions. Jewish terrorism in Mandatory Palestine forced Britain to disengage in the midst of political assassinations, kidnappings, and a hotel bombing for which Israel was awarded the legal right to statehood. Palestinians soon adopted these tactics, yet lacked the strength, and, until recently, sufficient public opinion to achieve their aims. In the meantime, Israel has become a nuclear-tipped hegemon with an identity crisis. Many young Jews want nothing to do with what the UN and human rights groups call an apartheid state, while Israel itself has become increasingly corrupt, right-wing, and religious. So when news broke of (yet another) potential war crime in Gaza, Israel needed to respond—and quickly.

As in previous situations, Israel’s behavior inspired little confidence. Hananya Naftali, who works for Benjamin Netanyahu on “media content”, tweeted, then deleted, “breaking [news]” that “the Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza”, alluding to Hamas’s “heartbreaking…use of human shields”. This was soon replaced by a message blaming a Hamas rocket which failed to reach its target. Irrespective of whether or not the IDF was responsible, one could already detect hasbara in action, down to the evidence-free assumption of “human shields”. The IDF, for its part, released an analysis which concluded “an enemy rocket barrage…[aimed] towards Israel” struck the hospital. Once it was pointed out the video was dated forty minutes after the blast, the IDF quietly removed it from their statement. Such sloppiness is reminiscent of the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in 2022, wherein “Palestinian militants” were angrily blamed until CNN published its own analysis of the “targeted killing”. Likewise, in 2018, as Israel massacred hundreds of mostly-civilian protesters in Gaza, 21-year-old medic Rouzan al-Najjar was “intentionally targeted” by the IDF. Israel soon released a deceptively edited video purporting to show that she was a “human shield for Hamas” as journalists hunted down the actual source material. Naturally, these terrorist actions are long forgotten, but the al-Ahli Arab Hospital strike would not be. Jordan, the West Bank’s Mahmoud Abbas, and Egypt pulled out of a meeting with Joe Biden, while the United Arab Emirates—an ally of Israel after 2020’s normalization agreement—released a statement explicitly blaming Israel for the attack. If Hamas’s targeting of civilians provided respite for Israel’s flailing … Continue reading →

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Art As Masculinity In “The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie” (1976)

[This review of John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine.]

Though I’d been watching John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie quite regularly the past decade – had reared my second childhood upon it, as a fact – I only recently understood the import of a key anti-noir scene. As Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) breaks into a triad compound, he is not confronted by a benumbed gangster taunting him to shoot, but by an old man splashing water in a pool. It is as if he has regressed to adolescence, down to his childlike interest in the much younger woman bathing him. This much I’d already known, but this time, I realized Benny Wu’s (Soto Joe Hugh) mumbling wasn’t mere sound. “I’m real bad. Real bad,” Wu suddenly confesses to his killer. “I’m so sorry.” The triad is then shot dead, yet it is not so much the death that is tragic as is Cosmo’s inability to digest it: he was sent with a task, and is thus precluded from engaging with its largest moment. And how could it be otherwise? Time is money, the film suggests, whether it’s the time it takes Cosmo to get out of debt, the unconscious zeal with which he is once again indebted, or the fact that, as a private enterprise, criminality is as wasteful as any other – down to its paring away of “useless” self-indulgence, like pondering death and death’s dimensions. The triad knows he has wasted his life, but has been so pampered by hierarchy and habit that waste is the only logical outcome. Having lived transactionally, even his young lover shows no emotion and quietly slips out after he is killed, for she seems to understand this was but a business decision among a thousand other business decisions which may or may not erupt in mayhem.

Now, it would be wrong to blanch The Killing of a Chinese Bookie of its totalizing “point”, yet there is so much else moving in and out of the film’s outskirts that reducing it to aphorism is even worse. John Cassavetes plays with subterfuge, tension, winding trails that lead to dead ends and dead ends that fraction into avenues, down to the film’s enigmatic title. I mean, who is the ‘Chinese bookie’, if not – as Mort (Seymour Cassel) suggests then denies – triad boss Benny Wu? Yet the triad is too powerful to be a mere bookmaker and has almost certainly engaged in murder, himself. If anything, the film’s ‘bookie’ is both concept and adumbration, and it is telling that critics, who panned the film upon its release, never bothered to analyze its inner mythos. “They’re very resentful,” an Italian gangster says of the triads, “because they don’t know whether they’re Chinese-American, or American-Chinese…” Of course, the gangsters are shown to be correct – Wu has failed to cultivate a meaningful life-purpose – but the irony is that their words are just … Continue reading →

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Where To Find Alex Sheremet’s Work

This website serves as an archive for my writing.

The AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine features my latest work, and our YouTube channel hosts the ArtiFact Podcast.

The podcast features long-form analysis on art, literature, history, and politics, including discussions of Shakespeare, climate change, bitcoin and cryptocurrency, films like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, panels with Palestinian refugees, and more. Guests include Norman Finkelstein, Ivan Katchanovski, Benjamin Studebaker, Dan Schneider, Mouin Rabbani, and others.

Joel Parrish and I are working on our first feature-length film, From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet. It chronicles the life and work of America’s greatest unknown writer, drawing on Bruce Ario’s personal files, interviews with those who knew him, and original footage of Minneapolis.

Additional content is available through Patreon. I can also be found on Twitter at @automachination.… Continue reading →

DEEP WEB (Alex Winter, Ross Ulbricht) Is Libertarian Hypocrisy

 

Ross Ulbricht lies in grass

Let’s get aesthetics out of the way, first. If a film about a drug boss starts with an anarchic proclamation, it needs- at a minimum- for that proclamation to be well-phrased. This will at least offset some of the political clichés surrounding drug prohibition, and might make it easier to repeat them without hurting the film on more substantive grounds. But if after engaging with the writing- “giant Fuck You to the system”, “fascists”, “real base of power lies with us”- one wonders WHY the film was even made, that question IS a relevant lens through which to view the film’s subject. I mean, just consider any other work on any other drug dealer: from the experts’ self-pillory in Mr. Untouchable, to the dread and ennui of Mean Streets, to the dum-dum brutality of American Gangster, the world’s mobsters are rarely presented as unequivocal heroes. In most cases, they aren’t allowed to have childhoods, nor to wax philosophical from home videos (although, in the coming decade, some will). They do not earn science degrees, and certainly were not nurtured by a loving family driven to exonerate them. In fact, if they were street-peddlers, their stories simply gain no traction at all, and cannot, on an individual basis, ever be the face of a grassroots political movement. That Ross Ulbricht, the incarcerated founder of darknet website Silk Road, gets to enjoy all of these things, and more, is a story far more interesting than Alex Winter’s Deep Web allows it to be. Indeed, one ought to ask why Ross Ulbricht is a cult figure for so many libertarians, if only because the answer sheds light on how awful the parsing of more important questions has become. The war on drugs, I’m afraid, attracts dupes and hypocrites on both sides, and by stripping his film of all artistic appeal, Alex Winter gives an inadvertent glimpse into how both sides conduct themselves.

But, even more than these glimpses, I am interested in their framing- what makes it in, what is omitted, and the order in which each element gets polemicized. The story proper opens with the shuttering of Silk Road and an explanation of the deep web, which the narrator (voiced by Keanu Reeves) makes sure to differentiate from illegal activities on the darknet. We learn of the website’s sophistication and massive sales: over $1 billion at its peak, with additional details provided by journalist Andy Greenberg, the trope ‘voice of reason’ made more sympathetic to Ross Ulbricht than it perhaps is. He discusses Silk Road’s community of anarchists, while another expert opines that the website was not really about selling drugs, but “a political statement”. A former Silk Road dealer is brought in to corroborate this, as the over-voice primes the viewer for the film’s main argument- that there is insufficient proof tying Ross Ulbricht to the site’s admin, the Dread Pirate Roberts, or, failing that, at least insufficient proof that … Continue reading →