Monday, January 11, 2021

Relevance of Socialism a Century Before

Her Socialist Smile (2020) - Gianvito

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Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf but overcame her disabilities and became a renowned women's rights activist and socialist is the subject of John Gianvito's documentary, Her Socialist Smile.  She made her first public speech more than a century ago and have written numerous books and her words are as relevant and powerful as back in 1916.

She became aware of economic disparities causing preventable diseases - such as blindness, and radicalized. Reading Marx and other philosophers, she decided that capitalism is the source of these inequalities and became an activist, opposing American involvement in WW1 under president Woodrow Wilson. She travelled the world advocating her pacifist stance and against militarism. She was disillusioned by the left's infighting and sympathized with syndicalists who sought action, such as IWW by general strike. 

Through series of fires - including one in 9/11/2001, destroyed much of Keller's records and archival materials.

So how do you make a film about a woman who was blind and deaf? Gianvito resort to a narrator Carolyn Forché reading some of the texts in a sound studio and use nature footage around Keller's childhood home in Alabama as well as some archival footage of her. The rest is her white texts in black screen with no sound. I understand it is important to read her texts on screen and Gianvito graciously grants enough time for us to read it. But it is a lot of texts. I mean A LOT. 

There are some graceful moments visually. Some of the close ups of nature accompanying the narration is beautiful and gets its sensory message across. But better alternative will be getting a copy of her book Out of the Dark and go out to a field and read it.

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