Movie Review: Aaltra

If your complaint up to this point has been “not enough movies about disagreeable men in wheelchairs” and/or “not enough non-Russian films about tractors” then I direct you to the Belgian film AALTRA. It also features Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki (Leningrad Cowboys) in an acting role.

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I cannot recommend to you highly enough the film Rubber. The world does not have enough metafictional absurdist films about tyres.  Not nearly enough.

Rubber is a film about a tyre named Robert who rolls around making things explode while an audience watches. I need tell you no more of this story. That should be enough to pique your interest. If it isn’t, then this is not the film for you.

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“Non-human electoral candidates”

Our old friend Wikipedia provides a page listing non-human electoral candidates, including Pigasus who was a candidate for president of the United States in 1968.

Pigasus and the Yippies were charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and bringing a pig to Chicago. At the trial, defense counsel William Kunstler accused the Democratic Party of doing exactly the same thing.

The trial transcript provides this exchange between Kunstler and folk singer Phil Ochs.

MR. KUNSTLER: Did you have any role yourself in that?
THE WITNESS: Yes, I helped select the pig, and I paid for him.
MR. KUNSTLER: Now, did you find a pig at once when you went out?
THE WITNESS: No, it was very difficult. We stopped at several farms and asked where the pigs were.
MR. KUNSTLER: None of the farmers referred you to the police station, did they?
MR. FORAN: Objection.
THE COURT: I sustain the objection…
MR. KUNSTLER: Would you state what, if anything, happened to the pig?
THE WITNESS: The pig was arrested with seven people.
MR. KUNSTLER: When did that take place?
THE WITNESS: This took place on the morning of August 23, at the Civic Center underneath the Picasso sculpture.
MR. KUNSTLER: Who were those seven people?
THE WITNESS: Jerry Rubin. Stew Albert, Wolfe Lowenthal, myself is four; I am not sure of the names of the other three.
MR. KUNSTLER: What were you doing when you were arrested?
THE WITNESS: We were arrested announcing the pig’s candidacy for President.
MR. KUNSTLER: Did Jerry Rubin speak?
THE WITNESS: Yes, Jerry Rubin was reading a prepared speech for the pig—the opening sentence was something like, “I, Pigasus, hereby announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.” He was interrupted in his talk by the police who arrested us…
MR. KUNSTLER: Do you remember what you were charged with?
THE WITNESS: I believe the original charge mentioned was something about an old Chicago law about bringing livestock into the city, or disturbing the peace, or disorderly conduct, and when it came time for the trial, I believe the charge was disorderly conduct.
MR. KUNSTLER: Were you informed by a police officer that the pig had squealed on you?

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[The genesis of this post being a link
from Sara Lachman greatfully acnowledged.]


Portland’s communist bench

Disclaimer: This article is about a communist plot.

Recently in Portland, OR I waited in line to sit on the communist bench. The bench is so popular, at least it was that day,  I waited an hour and the  man on it never left. He sat there, reading a newspaper, like he owned it. This might require revolution.

The problem is, there are not enough communist benches to go around.

John Reed Bench, Portland, OR

John Reed Bench, Portland, OR

This bench, which looks just like the other, empty, benches in Washington Park is communist simply because it is dedicated to Portland’s homegrown communist revolutionary, John Reed. Reed was a journalist who traveled the world covering war and strikes. When in Russia in 1917 he wrote a book about the Russian Revolution 10 Days that Shook the World. He returned to the USA and formed the first of two rival Communist parties in the USA, which soon merged.

The bench says little of this. It just says he was a writer and bears a quote about the beauty of the local area. It mentions his book but provides no context. It should bear a quote more in line with the spirit of Reed:

“All I know is that my happiness is built on the misery of others, so that I eat because others go hungry, that I am clothed when other people go almost naked through the frozen cities in winter; and that fact poisons me, disturbs my serenity, makes me write propaganda when I would rather play…”


Reed died in 1920 in the Soviet Union, at the age of 32, and is buried at the Kremlin Wall. The Multi-Oscar winning 1981 film Reds is about his life. Some of the action in my short story More Than One Day in the Life of Igor Igoravitch takes place “at the Kremlin wall, near the grave of John Reed.”

John Reed Bench plaque

John Reed Bench plaque

[See also A Taste of Justice by John Reed, a short article.]

A Taste of Justice by John Reed

John Reed

A Taste of Justice

Published: The Masses, April, 1913  | via John Reed Internet Archive

As soon as the dark sets in, young girls begin to pass that Corner—squat figured, hard-faced “cheap” girls, like dusty little birds wrapped too tightly in their feathers. They come up Irving Place from Fourteenth Street, turn back toward Union Square on Sixteenth, stroll down Fifteenth (passing the Corner again) to Third Avenue, and so around—always drawn back to the Corner. By some mysterious magnetism, the Corner of Fifteenth Street and Irving Place fascinates them. Perhaps that particular spot means Adventure, or Fortune, or even Love. How did it come to have such significance? The men know that this is so; at night each shadow in the vicinity contains its derby hat, and a few bold spirits even stand in the full glare of the are-light. Brushing against them, luring with their swaying hips, whispering from immovable lips the shocking little intimacies that Business has borrowed from Love, the girls pass.

The place has its inevitable Cop. He follows the same general beat as the girls do, but at a slower, more majestic pace. It is his job to pretend that no such thing exists. This he does by keeping the girls perpetually walking—to create the illusion that they’re going somewhere. Society allows vice no rest. If women stood still, what would become of us all? When the Cop appears on the Corner, the women who are lingering there scatter like a shoal of fish; and until he moves on, they wait in the dark side streets. Suppose he caught one? “The Island for her! That’s the place they cut off girls’ hair!” But the policeman is a good sport. He employs no treachery, simply stands a moment, proudly twirling his club, and then moves down toward Fourteenth Street. It gives him an immense satisfaction to see the girls scatter.

His broad back retreats in the gloom, and the girls return—crossing and recrossing, passing and repassing with tireless feet.

Standing on that Corner, watching the little comedy, my ears were full of low whisperings and the soft scuff of their feet. They cursed at me, or guyed me, according to whether or not they had had any dinner. And then came the Cop.

His ponderous shoulders came rolling out of the gloom of Fifteenth Street, with the satisfied arrogance of an absolute monarch. Soundlessly the girls vanished, and the Corner contained but three living things: the hissing arc-light, the Cop, and myself.

He stood for a moment, juggling his club, and peering sullenly around. He seemed discontented about something; perhaps his conscience was troubling him. Then his eye fell on me, and he frowned.

“Move on!” he ordered, with an imperial jerk of the head.

“Why?” I asked.

“Never mind why. Because I say so. Come on now.” He moved slowly in my direction.

“I’m doing nothing,” said I. “I know of no law that prevents a citizen from standing on the corner, so long as he doesn’t hold up traffic.”

“Chop it!” rumbled the Cop, waving his club suggestively at me, “Now git along, or I’ll fan ye !”

I perceived a middle-aged man hurrying along with a bundle under his arm.

“Hold on,” I said; and then to the stranger, “I beg your pardon, but would you mind witnessing this business?”

“Sure,” he remarked cheerfully. “What’s the row?”

“I was standing inoffensively on this corner, when this officer ordered me to move on. I don’t see why I should move on. He says he’ll beat me with his club if I don’t. Now, I want you to witness that I am making no resistance. If I’ve been doing anything wrong, I demand that I be arrested and taken to the Night Court.” The Cop removed his helmet and scratched his head dubiously.

“That sounds reasonable.” The stranger grinned. “Want my name?”

But the Cop saw the grin. “Come on then,” he growled, taking me roughly by the arm. The stranger bade us good-night and departed, still grinning. The Cop and I went up Fifteenth Street, neither of us saying anything. I could see that he was troubled and considered letting me go. But he gritted his teeth and stubbornly proceeded.

We entered the dingy respectability of the Night Court, passed through a side corridor, and came to the door that gives onto the railed space where criminals stand before the Bench. The door was open, and I could see beyond the bar a thin scattering of people of the benches—sightseers, the morbidly curious, an old Jewess with a brown wig, waiting, waiting, with her eyes fixed upon the door through which prisoners appear. There were the usual few lights high in the lofty ceiling, the ugly, dark panelling of imitation mahogany that is meant to impress, and only succeeds in casting a gloom. It seems that Justice must always shun the light.

There was another prisoner before me, a slight, girlish figure that did not reach the shoulder of the policeman who held her arm. Her skirt was wrinkled and indiscriminate, and hung too closely about her hips; her shoes were cracked and too large; an enormous limp willow plume topped her off. The Judge lifted a black-robed arm—I could not hear what he said.

“Soliciting,” said the hoarse voice of the policeman, “Sixth Avenue near Twenty-third—-”

“Ten days on the Island—next case!”

The girl threw back her head and laughed insolently.

“You —” she shrilled, and laughed again. But the Cop thrust her violently before him, and they passed out at the other door.

And I went forward with her laughter still sounding in my ears.

The Judge was writing something on a piece of paper. Without looking up he snapped:

“What’s the charge, officer?”

“Resisting an officer,” said the Cop surlily. “I told him to move on an’ he says he wouldn’t—”

“Hum,” murmured the Judge abstractedly, still writing. “Wouldn’t, eh? Well, what have you got to say for yourself?”

I did not answer.

“Won’t talk, eh ? Well, I guess you get——”

Then he looked up, nodded, and smiled.

“Hello, Reed!” he said. He venomously regarded the Cop. “Next time you pull a friend of mine—” suggestively, he left the threat unfinished. Then to me, “Want to sit up on the Bench for a while?”


Transcribed: Sally Ryan for in 2000

The movie Reds is about John Reed:

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