The fascination is rooted in the 6th century in early Shinto and now Buddhist philosophy. These beautiful beetles, fireflies and crickets are a part of animist nature. According to Japanese beliefs, where the natural and the spiritual are more closely related, the universe is alive and breathing, and willing to teach -- as long as we're willing to listen. They give us insight even into ourselves.
The Most Dangerous Man in America:
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. (2010)
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. (2010)
Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
Equal parts historical documentary, love story, government conspiracy thriller, and biography -- with keen, compelling insight for a locked-in president with a stronghold on a going-nowhere war -- the Oscar nominated doc reveals an American hero who practically leaked an administration out of office and took the Viet Nam conflict by the balls. It makes you more excited than ever for places like Wikileaks.
Dan Ellsberg was an MIT professor with a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, also ex-military, working the "inside" during the early days of Viet Nam reporting directly to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The reports he made, combined with a split from his anti-war wife Patricia, brought great disillusionment to Ellsberg, who eventually photo-copied the 7,000 page report titled, "United States-Viet Nam Relations, 1945-1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense," later known as the "Pentagon Papers," which were leaked to the New York Times and almost twenty other papers, damning four administrations leading up to Nixon and promting the president himself to job out "plumbers," the thieves responsible for Watergate and breaking into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.
Ellsberg and his wife were (and are) incredibly media-saavy. Their interviews now are as rewarding as their courage on news shows from the early seventies. The couple form the two sides of the story; though they're interviewed separately and they tell it their own way, the story is unified when relayed and edited together.
The Nixon tapes are heavily incorporated in the story as well, showing a war-mongering man who brought us within a finger's touch of nuclear annihaltion. This was a scary, scary man in scary, scary times. He sounds as horrible as any criminal dictator you've ever read about in a trial. He sounds evil, and narcissistic, too -- a combination that can blow up a planet.
The doc is highly recommended for those of us old enough to remember events surrounding Nixon from when we were children, but young enough to not be aware of the details -- probably most of us under 40.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon. (2006) David Leaf and John Scheinfeld
Functioning as the perfect second film in double-feature with The Most Dangerous Man in America, the doc zeroes in on therocker-cum-protester, who was also considered dangerous by the Nixon administration. He was even put on trial with young wife Ono in an effort to be deported for treason.
I've never really been all that much of a Beatles fan (I thought if you're a Doors fan you're not supposed to be), but the doc made me see John Lennon as more than a hippie, more than a talented musician, even more than an artist -- he was also an outspoken political activist and a defender of human rights. And he used his talents to showcase his thoughts. In particular, some of the performance art with Ono was simply genius. He knew he would get noticed, he knew something had to be said, he did it and went to trial because of it.
It's an inspirational film that makes you want to stand up for what's right -- and listen to more of Lennon's music in the process.
The Atom Smashers. (2009) Clayton Brown and Monica Ross
The mystery behind the veil plays out in The Atom Smashers, which never received theatrical release. One of the better aspects of modern viewing is that good material will find its way to DVD whether created for theatrical run or released via television. This little doc, a PBS special, is available either through iTunes or Netflix, and it is well worth a look.
I have to admit I have a vested interest -- I grew up less than twenty miles from Fermilab, the mysterious atom smashing facility that it covers. People in the western suburbs of Chicago tend to think of this place as a little creepy. I've heard there have even been protests from those who think Fermilab is going to blow up the world (probably aging hippies who have run out of drugs).
I've been there once. I have a friend who works there in IT. I've asked him about the doc, but he didn't have much to say. He works there every day, perhaps it's too much to see the film as well.
Particle physicists at Fermilab operate and observe the collision of particles in a four mile-long particle accelerator (a very, very large and expensive microscope) called the Tevatron. The doc pits them racing against the LHC, a 15 mile-long accelerator being built in Switzerland, for the discovery of the theorized Higgs boson -- a particle which would actually explain matter. So we are looking at the microverse to figure out the universe, a similar idea to Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. But of course in that film we are dealing more in the realm of philosophy and man-and-insect relations. Here we are dealing with cold, hard facts. The scientific standard is empirical evidence.
But the goal in approach is somewhat the same. Here, it's a search in math analysis to understand the natural world. It's a fascinating concept which brings life to regular science, and the scientists are nearly religious in their passionate search to prove the theory.
It is an important documentary for its reminder of America's original strength found in scientific research, and how research is now politicized, cut back and underfunded (so we can continue an unjustified war). The U.S. was a world leader from the sputnik-era on, advancing science from the microscope to the military, from the bottom of the ocean to NASA. The idea of science still making an important contribution, a difference in the world, is now eroding in the face of recession and the fiscal budget.
But when politics funds your experiment, you've got to nod and hope for the funds to keep flowing. At the end of The Atom Smashers, the Higgs boson still hasn't been found. And Switzerland is now fully functional and in the race to be the first to find it. The funding goes up and down, back and forth. It gets taken away and handed back again. The politicians can't decide whether this is still important after twenty years of research.
You may not have thought of science as being "fun" in a while. The Atom Smashers takes a look at the daily lives of ordinary scientists, and for all their intelligence and over-scrutinized theories, there's a passion for their work that's great to watch. Definitely worth a look.