Let's all go to the lobby. Let's all go to the lobby
Hello, and welcome to movies versus capitalism and anti capitalist movie Podcast. I'm Rifka Rivera.
And I am Frank Capello. So it is an extremely exciting week, as I'm sure some of our audience knows the Writers Guild of America has struck a deal. The strike is over. Huge, huge, huge win for for for the writers for organized labor for solidarity and a huge blow against the studios and the streamers who really thought that they were going to starve everybody out.
Hey, Frank, let's have some empathy. You're right. It's probably been really tough
for Bob and David and Carol. Let's not forget about Carol.
Oh, Carol. Oh, Carol.
Yeah, we're friends with a few guild members. And I know that there's a lot of excitement. People are very happy with how the deal shaped up. Rick, have you talked to any friends in the WGA? About the strike being over?
Yeah. Well, Jesse, one of my best friends who y'all know, because she came on and did the Barbie episode with us was I spoke to her when she was going to meeting WG West. And she was talking just about how emotional it was how moving it was, you know, I think there is like, we just have such it's hard to not be cynical when you're fighting such grotesque, evil. Like, you know, I mean, it's hard to be like your fight, we're fighting it and to truly because unions, the conversation is coming back. But you know, from our, from what we've learned from speaking with Harvey, who has been on the podcast as well, labor historian like, they're not where they were not in, like, the strong moment for union power. So and we certainly no, not even close, and we certainly haven't been we haven't been alive for something where you really understand in such a visceral way, why union power is union power, why solidarity works, why withholding labor frickin works? So there is an understandable amount of you know, we're out doing it, but like, is this actually going to? I've heard I've seen it historically. But is this gonna work and it fucking works. So I think people are very emotional, overjoyed, to be clear, sag is still on strike. So you are still out there. And but it does mean this precedent set by what WGA has gotten for themselves, which I think frankly, we'll get into right the details of it.
And most importantly, Bill Maher was proven wrong, Bill Maher can shut the fuck up forever. He doesn't know what he's talking about. No one should ever listen to him again. But we want to take the top part of the podcast to go over what was in the deal, because there was a lot of sticking points at the WGA was very, you know, we're holding ground on and we're just gonna go through it real quick. And I'm going to be pulling a lot from an article from Mashable just to give credit to where we're reading this from. So number one, one of the most important points that the strike was over was the use of artificial intelligence to write movie and TV scripts. So the new agreement affirms that AI is not considered a writer and anything that generates cannot be considered literary assigned or source material. It leaves room for writers to use AI as a tool if the production company consents, but writers cannot be compelled to use AI to create material and the company must disclose if they give a writer AI generated material to work with, then there's a separate issue of of writer's work being used to train AI models. And this is actually pretty interesting, I guess, like the legal landscape like, you know, whenever new technology is introduced, like there just aren't the laws yet to regulate it. So in fact, a number of bigger writers like George RR Martin and John Grisham are actually suing open AI right now for copyright infringement. So lawsuits like this will end up shaping the way that AI is able to source writers material to train the AI, which I think it's great that these lawsuits are taking place, because I think there's still very much an open question about how AI will be used, but it's but it looks like the WGA got a lot of the the main points that it wanted in this contract.
Absolutely. Okay. There is a little bit of bad news that I wanted to bring up with you. I don't know if you saw this, which is kind of related. Like, you know, this, all of this is big wins. But there also was an article that I saw that came and I've heard rumblings of this, but I thought there was an article on Yahoo. streamers are banding together for lobbying power in Washington.
I mean, to be expected,
yeah, like to be expected, obviously. So like capitalist solidarity.
So that's not great. New trade organization called the streaming Innovation Alliance. says launched as of Tuesday, September 26, and will represent top streamers, including Netflix, Max, Paramount plus Peacock, all of Disney streamers, as well as niche companies.
I love when lobbying groups give themselves really like quaint names like the Innovation Group, or it's, it's, or it's like, like the freedom of the Freedom of Information Group or like, like, or like free speech Incorporated. And meanwhile, it's just like, see, the democracy and freedom lobby, but actually, that's just like an oil lobby or something. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm sure they've been already throwing their weight around in Washington, but now I guess they they're apt after going through official,
that's official, we have a name.
Especially in because, you know, we hear the refrain, as you know, as leftists all the time of like, you know, organize it, you got to organize it, organize your workplace, organize your community, organize your apartment building, and organizing takes a lot of fucking work. It is so easy for the capitalist class to organize because they are much smaller. So literally, you only need like, I don't know, eight people to get on a phone call and be like, Hey, are all of our corporations and all of their legal and financial manpower behind this thing? Okay, great. We did it. That's why That's why class war is very real and very difficult to wage from the people's perspective. Yeah. And
that's not like, that's not like a nothing. Attack. No, like, by accident. We just this happened to happen at the same time that we made this, like tremendous deal in favor of labor, that they're not happy about it. So just keep that on the horizon. That's just in the back of our minds. How exciting. Yeah,
when you see the streaming innovation group or whatever, bullshit, just know that they're
actually evil. But let's get back to some of the good stuff.
Yeah. So another big one was better streaming residuals and transparency. Regarding streaming numbers. That was a huge point. For this strike. writers working on streaming shows like Netflix, Hulu, Apple, we're not getting paid nearly as much and definitely not getting paid residuals as well as people as shows written for networks. So the new deal will see the writers pay get boosted in a big way with increases to foreign streaming residual payments, and a new bonus based on streamer viewership. So like, the more successful a streaming show is, that means that the writers will actually get to see some extra money because of how successful it is. And then in terms of transparency, because the streaming services, especially like Netflix, it's been known for years that they just don't share their viewer numbers with anybody. It's like black box, like no one has access to these. And the streamers were like, We're never telling you who is watching your show. So with the new agreement, streaming companies agreed to provide the WGA subject to a confidentiality agreement, the total number of hours streamed both domestically and internationally, of self produced high budget streaming programs. So that's pretty cute. That's kind
of fascinating, though, that they wanted to keep that shit confidential, because it's tied to Wall Street, right? Like, is it? That's 100%?
Right? If you don't have to tell anyone, how many people are actually watching your service, then no one actually knows how valuable your services so Alright, next is increased a minimum rates for writers. So at the beginning, the WGA was demanding five to 6% increases for minimums for writers, the a&p DP was offering two to 4%. And what the WGA got was a 5% increase this year, followed by 4%, in 2024, and 3.5%, in 2025. So compounded, you know, it's a nice raise in pay for sure. And then the last big thing was minimum staffing for TV writers rooms. So this was another big thing, writers, especially on streaming shows, I've been complaining that, you know, the streamers to cut costs would just be like, hey, you know, this show that would usually that historically would have, you know, taken eight to 10. Writers, you're actually going to just produce this with two to four writers, which was much more of a labor burden on the writers without any sort of increased pay. So now, the new proposed deal outlines outlines minimum staffing numbers for writers and writer producers across seasons of varying lengths. The deal also gets a guarantee of at least 10 weeks of work for writers working on shows that have yet to be given the greenlight. So I mean, from what I've been hearing, it sounds like the WGA got pretty much everything it was asking for. You know, I think we'll we'll probably see a bunch of like, strike retrospectives in the next few weeks. But I think, I think the combination of the unwavering solidarity between WGA and not only WGA but sag and the teamsters plus also the PR war that was being waged, I think the writers did such a good job in the news and the media and especially on social media, playing the heroes like playing the Little guy.
Well, not even they didn't have to play it, but definitely, definitely narrating and, and sharing. They had the narrative power and prowess and certainly left all. All of the companies without writers to speak for themselves. And it didn't go well
did not go well, it was scripts, not well written. And I think luckily, we're starting to enter an era in American political culture where the CEO is no longer like idolized, like they were in like the 80s. Like the Lee Iacocca is of the world I think, hopefully, that was just a passing fad of the last few decades. And now people are starting to wise up and being like, actually CEOs don't fucking do anything, and are paid way too much. So I think, you know, a combination of all of that led the writers to to victory. And it is a huge victory, and hopefully will be inspiring to not just entertainment workers, but anyone else striking. I mean, the auto workers are on strike as we speak. So hopefully this bolsters union activity across the country. And like you said, sag is still on strike. So we'll keep tabs on what's going on with sag as that develops.
Yeah, fingers crossed. That would be I mean, WGA has historically always sort of led the way in terms of this. And, you know, our at our last actors strike, the outcome wasn't great. I wasn't like the best contracts. So fingers crossed, you know, it's especially it would be especially historic for actors just tend to usually get very, very fucked,
and not in the good way. In a good way. All right. Well, that's I think all we wanted to touch on with the strike should we should get to our conversation for today, but but first want to let you know that this podcast is brought to you by the lever, a reader supported investigative news outlet, you can go to lever news.com, to find all of their original reporting.
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We're gonna take a break but we will be right back with our guest Matthew Donovan talking about the movie Heaven's Gate. We have the pleasure of being joined on the podcast today by Matthew Donovan. Matthew is currently a student of sociology of gender and internet at Columbia University, co host of the neoliberal health podcast and co founder of the future left. Their work has been covered by NPR, New York Times, Washington Post and LA Weekly. Within the future left Matthew has led international activist groups organized local and national educational events, produced a documentary on the corruption of the LA police unions and developed a data tool to highlight the relationship between local elected representatives and the police union. Wow, Matthew recently organised cultural events with Chris smalls and Steven Donziger, in New York and Los Angeles, which we were actually at, so we got to see you there. Matthew, welcome to the pod.
Thanks for having me.
You're so happy to have you on I there's so much here that's really fascinating about your bio, but I want to just jump in first and ask about your studying sociology of gender and internet. Yeah. What what is that? Right.
And just so you know, you're talking to a couple of former former theater majors. So like, that's where we're coming from. Very,
that's amazing. That's very interesting. Yeah, totally. I basically am studying D transition. I'm a D transition er. So I D transitioned around 2012. And kind of combating the you know, the kind of like rigid thinking that we see that is pushing against a lot of legislation for gender affirming care and this kind of thing. So I'm doing research that focuses on both the internet because the transition is largely like an internet phenomena. And so like I broke down 1000 different tweets, for instance, as one form of digital ethnography to like look at, like, how do our identities actually get changed by the way we interact online? Or how do we form community around that? And how does the community inform whether or not we transition or D transition, this kind of thing. So, wow,
what do you what do you what do you do after that? Like, what do you do with like those studies in a degree like that,
right now, I'm thinking about going into like a PhD program, basically, like I am doing a lot of just research and I kind of just like, want to write about this and kind of be a person who, I guess, is on the frontlines of like dealing with some of this too. Along with like activism, we have things like people that are actually working on legislation. So just like doing the things that allow for me to turn this knowledge into some form of action, you know, but also, just curious about this. It's kind of like understanding myself, as I'm researching all of this, me search and all that, you know,
that's amazing. That's so cool. And I mean, you're clearly an academic because we were talking a little bit before on error about this movie that you chose for us to watch and how you have it sounds like studied it over a long period of time. So the movie you chose for us to watch is the notorious Heaven's Gate, written and directed by Michael Cimino starring Kris Kristofferson. Isabel who pair Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, and John Hurt its budget was $44 million, and it only made 3.5 million at the box office becoming again one of the most notorious box office flops in Hollywood's history. If you've never seen this movie, Heaven's Gate is an epic Western loosely based on the Johnson County War in 1890, Wyoming, which was a deadly clash between wealthy land barons and the European immigrant class. The film tells the story of Jim aberle, played by Kris Kristofferson, a Harvard educated rich kid and now Marshall of Johnson County, who learns that the wealthy Wyoming stock Growers Association are plotting to murder 125 European immigrants on the justification of land encroachment and cattle thievery. As the story unfolds, Jim tries to stop the ethnic cleansing with help from local business owner John bridges, played by Jeff Bridges, his semi rival named champion Christopher Walken, and his lover slash brothel operator Ella Watson played by Isabel who pair
and some historical context for the year that this film was released. It was released on November 19 1980. On February 2 of that year, FBI personnel target members of the US Congress in the abscam sting operation. In March, US President Jimmy Carter announces that the United States will boycott the 1980s Summer Olympics in Moscow cool the video game Pac Man is released and the TV channels CNN is launched. In July, former California governor and actor Ronald Reagan wins the Republican nomination for US president and goes on to defeat incumbent Jimmy Carter in the November election. And in December, John Lennon is shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of the Dakota permit building in New York City.
So Matthew, the first question we asked our guests is, why did you choose this movie to talk about on this podcast? Well, I
think there's striking parallels with this film and the the time we live in. Right now, obviously, we live in a time where there's heightened inequality. People have compared that to the Gilded Age or like, to the robber baron age. And basically, this film deals with what is believed to be, you know, one of the a lot of people think of this romantic time where America's creating more jobs for people in the Western frontier, we have people who are making lots of money off of this, right, and we have people that don't really have their story ever told in American history, we don't often talk about the history of European immigrants on the frontier. So it's interesting to think about a Western as being the you know, the context for that, because the Western is one of the most American films, and in some ways, it contradicts, and also drives home values that we often overlook when we're thinking about patriotism. You know, like, if I was to be proud of my country, I would be proud for the reasons that allow us to have certain freedoms, allowing others to have those freedoms as well. And when you see this film, you start to think about like how the context of this is basically, two years before the film, The Johnson war actually takes place. We you see that basically, the western frontier, the battle against the Native Americans has has ended right. And so now we see that the war starts to become intense. All right, towards the end the grants towards the poor, and these poor these wars are already happening. But then also you see that the Monroe Doctrine and these these, these American aspirations for colonial empire start to expand. So once we've taken over all of the area we've taken over in North America, now we have to expand that, that that type of exploitation. And so the film kind of takes place rewriting this American history. And I had a couple of passages from Howard's and if that's chilled to give the historical context, oh, it's in a very gentle, so basically Howard's in, if he had watched this movie, it'd be he had, I don't remember what year he died. But he would have said there's two important historical connections with when this not when the film was made, but like when the actual story takes place. So basically, the frontier was were being sold off. And then there's a heightened amount of racism, xenophobia, and the beginning of like, colonial empire. So as the frontier had closed, basically, it was announced by the census in like 1890, that the the frontier wars would now become basically an internal war. The way it's talked about is theater, Roosevelt wrote to a friend in 1887, in confidence, saying I would welcome almost any war because the this country needs one
And what as in says it was officially declared by the Bureau of the Census that the internal war was closed, the profit system with its natural tendency for expansion had begun to look overseas, the severe depression that began in 1883, strengthen an idea developing within the political and financial elite of the country, the overseas markets for American goods might relieve the problem of under consumption at home and prevent the economic crisis that in the 1890s brought class war. So basically, the under consumption and the economic crisis is an issue for the rich, and especially on the in the on the frontiers, where basically all of these Eastern European immigrants are not being supported by anyone, right, the frontiers were like, you know, the Wild West, so there's like little to no support. And during the same time, Congress had introduced an a vote called the southern Homestead Act. It was supposed to be a north south capitalist cooperation, reserved for all federal lands, and basically included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, etc, to farmers who would work the land, but this is when it was repealed as well. So this enabled absentee speculators and Liberman to move in, and in this case, cattle ranchers to move in and buy up the lands. So if, in this case, you know, these people are taking over land and farming it, and they're basically being killed, basically, the speculators could kill them if they wanted to, or they could put them in jail or whatever, because they're poor and not, you know, doing what they wanted, at one time, but then it became official law. So basically, eventually, all of this land was put into the hands of the wealthy, even though it was quote given to people who are willing to be part of the Western frontier.
Yeah, no, that's like, that's like all of the context. definitely much more important than knowing that like Pac Man came out in identity.
I'm glad you shared that. And it's supported sort of my big takeaway from watching this film, which don't let it deter anyone who hasn't seen it, but it is longer than the Titanic. I'll just put it that way. But it was good. It was It challenged my, you know, tick, tock addled brain. But I did appreciate it. And my big takeaway was that this film was ultimately about the unholy American Trinity, capitalism, patriarchy and law enforcement, and particularly in how it just just Raleigh demonstrates how law enforcement and patriarchy aren't only essential components of capitalism, but basically, especially American capitalism, but how they're these inevitable outcomes, and they are like our American capitalist children, if you will. And that this movie just made so clear that law and law enforcement was not created with the intention of safeguarding people or human rights. But and similarly, patriarchy isn't genuinely about just male leadership. It's about property. And both systems primarily exist and they were created to seize and protect property power in class and maintain the status quo. And did these acts of brutal violence and degradation of human dignity aren't just necessary, but inevitable to maintaining this system. And I think all of this was articulated in the plot of this film really profoundly. And mainly, it's clarity that the bad guys in this movie are the capitalist cattle barons who literally create like we watch them in a pretty tremendously written Cena I thought create a police force to kill off these immigrant settlers who are buying who are farming the land. And and if there's if they're taking cattle, which is also roaming rather freely it seems in this in this land, they're doing it to feed their families because as you mentioned they are immigrants migrating looking to just like everyone else work this land, which is you'd mentioned that it was stolen native land. Yeah, there was a line there that said, when they're in that scene, when they're kind of creating a police force as we know it today, unenforced law is an invitation for anarchy. There are some great lines in this film, but I thought the clarity of that messaging was amazing. And it's wild that when this film is talked about, all that's talked about is the drama behind the making of this movie and the wild antics on set. And yeah, that there was a lot of wild bad shit going down, but you you never hear about, like, what it's about. So I think that's quite interesting. So I'm grateful we rewatched it. What was your experience, Frank?
Um, same dude. Exactly. No, it was, I think like one of the most, like brutally honest depictions of class war and film that I can really remember like it is it's very, very explicit for all the things that you just laid out rybka but it's a very violent movie that like pits two factions that are very clearly one is paint like the capitalist class, the ranchers, the land barons, very clearly painted as the villains. And then the immigrant and then the immigrant class who are all just essentially, peasants just trying to live their life. And as it is very, very clear political messaging. And yeah, this refrain that just keeps getting repeated throughout the film is that the landowners are on the side of the law, or the law is on the side of the landowners, they are one in the same. And there's no use of trying to fight within the system, because the system is the is the thing perpetuating this violence. So you really get the sense that not even the sense. So you really are shown this reality of how these poor immigrants are left with nothing to fend for themselves. They're already you know, they're already starving there. They already have no land of their own to work. And they just have all of these oppressive forces literally trying to like ethnically cleanse them from this land. It's a very, it's a harrowing story. And not surprisingly, a very, very political film. And we can maybe use this as a chance to talk about the production itself because and that you probably know more about this. But if you haven't ever heard of this movie, basically like, you know, the new Hollywood in the 70s like Scorsese, Coppola, all those dudes, pretty much all dudes come in and kind of up end the old studio system, there's much more freedom and leeway given to two directors at that time. And so Michael Cimino the director of this film, the previous year, before he started production had directed the movie, The Deer Hunter, another very deeply political film, which ended up going on to win Best Picture and he won Best Director. So he was kind of given carte blanche to he was hot baby, there was buzz, everyone was talking about this kid camino. So he was given carte blanche to produce this Western, which ended up taking a year longer to shoot than they had attended. It quadrupled the budget. And then ultimately, when it was released, it became a massive, massive flop. So I think these political messages were completely overlooked at the time of its release, because of all of the drama that just had solely been surrounding the production of it. But it's now if I'm wrong, it's sort of been reclaimed by if not only film historians, but maybe also like, you know, creative leftists who were like, No, this is like actually a very important film about class war.
Yeah, totally, totally. I think that the production's interesting because I mean, it's obviously like an expression of like artistic largess and maybe even like dictatorship politics or whatever, you know, the idea of the tour is kind of like basically they get to be the dictator on the set. And you know, the autour is just like the French name for an author and basically like a lot of films during this time yeah this kind of like idea that like the dictator was like the true artists or whatever, which I think is funny to put in those terms. But also like it's interesting because the reason they like said that or like the reason they like did this film and were like so desperate was because basically they had relights UAE basically their like whole brand was built on these films that had already come like I'm trying to think was it like the gods I can't remember the other ones but basically, like they knew that they had this like legacy, but basically a lot of people had left to form what's called Orion Pictures during this time, and they were kind of desperate so they put a lot of a lot of eggs in the basket of this like new and hot yeah, film maker and writer from Deerhunter, which I think deer hunter is interesting because it was like one of the first films to be outright critical of the Vietnam War. And basically, when this film is made, you know, he goes really, really far like he probably in some way we can think about this as a film. But if we want to think about this through like a leftist lens, we could think about this as Utopia building of some kind, or at least presenting a form of realism through these classical, you know, mediums of film, because that was ultimately what he was attempting to do was to give it an element of realism that Americans would not otherwise have about class warfare and the warfare that basically created their identity. Yeah, so he like builds an entire town including the interiors, he like ships in like this crazy, old railroad train, and like basically, like just goes really like goes as far as you can to, like, make them live in this like old fashioned way that even like end up living in camps. And I think one of the things that was probably the most controversial was he made a lot of the people who were supposedly playing the role of like a sex worker to go live with sex workers, you know, like, they had to like embark in some kind of ethnography. Oh, holy shit. Yeah. Like, it's like this whole thing, where, like, people on the left are always saying, like, Well, why don't you like, quit talking about leftist politics and go do the work of a factory worker or something like this? You know, it was kind of like he was doing that. But he was doing it through this, like, very, I would say, out of touch, but slightly out of touch, at least slightly out of touch kind of perspective of Sure. Being a person who's imposing this experience. And I guess like, nobody had a problem with any of this, really. But he did do things like he would like, push them to their limits when they should be like having lunch breaks. And so these, like, labor conditions, were not very good. Yeah,
I'm guessing people had a problem with it. Yeah. I mean, like, people were
afraid to, like, approach him and talk to him about it. There was like one person who was like, What about lunch? And he's like, this is bigger than lunch. Like, they had been seen shooting the same scene like 50 times. And it's like, you know, Charlie Chaplin talks about, like, how you had to do the same scene, like 350 times or something like that. They're doing this, like, at a large scale, you know, like, with lots of money, there's a scene where like, he's like, in bed, and he has the whip, and he's like, wasted and there's all these men in his like cabin, and he has to like whip everyone. And he had to do that seemed like so many times, and they just kept on slapping him. And he's like, I just got so used to getting slapped. And basically, there is like this, like, requirement of like method acting and being in depth that brought up this realness, but there's also this like, aspect of like, real life where like, I wouldn't want to be a part of the film. You know, like, I don't think that part of the I think that part of the film needs to be like talked about, but I don't, I wouldn't necessarily say it was good. You know,
I think it's really interesting that it shares a title. You know, when I was like, Oh, I'm watching Heaven's Gate. My partner got excited. I thought we were gonna watch a cult movie. I think it's interesting that it given what you just shared about that the making of sounds like a cult to me, built a town made everybody think that like their rights and dignity was not as important as like the mission at hand, which was to get the best take. And unfortunately, like, this sort of golden age of this, like you were saying this all tour, aka dictator, always male driven. I mean, you know, we were talking about patriarchy, and its role in capitalism is like this godlike figure who could just It's always fascinating when you're telling a story about oppression and abuse, but you recreate the oppression and abuse like you're not learning a damn thing, which is always very frustrating. Like I find that really disappointing.
Do you see that in his character, though, like his sons are in the Ivy League. His friends are the ones killing every
Yes. You're talking about the Leeds character Kris Kristofferson. This character.
Yeah, so I don't know what do you guys think about that aspect of it like the the PMC? It's like the PMC critique almost or something, you know,
I thought it was really interesting. I it added a layer of complexity to Jim everal, to the lead character that he is like, in essence, a class trader in a lot of ways and that he was born into wealth. He is Harvard educated, but he chooses to side with the the immigrant class, because those are, that's his community. That's the people and even prior to this whole conflict unfolding, like he's clearly he is, maybe not a man of the people, but he is of the people. You know, he knows everyone in town. They know him. He has good relationships, and I thought it was really smart that the way that they contrasted his character with John hurt's character Billy Irvine, in the prologue of the movie, we see them at their Harvard graduation. 20 years prior, it's Kris Kristofferson, and John Hurt John hurts like the valedictorian and give this speech where the you know, the Reverend Doctor is basically talking about how you know they They're all these nice young cultivated minds now and they're going to go out and mix with the uncultivated. And then John herd gets up and give this speech like, you know, actually, I don't know, if we're going to do much mixing with the uncultivated, I don't know if we really give a shit about that. So you kind of are set up with, you know, it's like a class trader and a class apologist and getting to see both of their arcs throughout the movie. And that, especially when we see John Hurt again later, and he's just like, now just completely subsumed by his alcoholism. He's clearly clearly internally, you know, grappling with his decision to you know, maintain his class position by backing the association. So I thought was a really nice, like, layer of complexity that the story didn't need, but I thought benefited from because I thought like Avril could have very easily just been like, you know, a Wyoming dude who just grew up in Wyoming and just likes his people and wants to help them. But I appreciated that they added that layer of like, No, this is actually like a guy who knows better because he comes from money.
See, I thought it was so I thought his character arc was so fascinating. I will be honest, I didn't know that. Kris Kristofferson gave the best performance in that role. I thought there was like, written in hints of a lot more nuance there. But he did the job. But I just maybe this is what you get when you aren't limited by I mean, I think this is what everyone writes in a vials or morning when you're like, you're limited by films that are just like, playing to an audience's attention span. And you don't get the opportunity for this nuance, which is really important in this political storytelling, because what I got from Jim admirals character, and it was important, it was not his line, it was someone else's line said, You're a rich man with a good name, you only pretend to be poor. And it happened early on. And I didn't trust this man, most of this movie. And I was proven right at the end, I said, I knew there was a reason I didn't trust you because you've been cosplaying this whole time. And it was deeply disappointing. Like he was not a hero to me. And I think that was really, really brave storytelling. I mean, the aesthetic of this ship, he ends up back in, you know, he returns to his class with his college girlfriend who he's always had a picture of, by the way, which they make a point of, he's always has this picture of her and him which I think is a point to be like, he doesn't have to be here. He is playing some Western hero story of his own the whole time. And he's never really been true to him. If he was, he would have really been there for Ella which he wasn't she was the hero of this story to me the entire time. And I love that complexity like that to me, why was why this got the portrayal of patriarchy, right. Like they were he was caused playing this role that like, he always served his capitalist upbringing and instincts and the film made sure to let us know that Yeah, totally. Like, didn't like Batman.
I read the ending as you know, after Ella is killed by Sam Waterston and his gang that this that was just sort of like his the let the final blow that made him essentially retreat. So I guess Yeah, I guess you're right, I guess it is like, he could have continued to stay and fight the good fight.
He was actually was really interesting. Because the guy that you were talking about who gives the speech again, I thought it was brilliant. How maybe I do have to watch this movie again. There were so many little things, but that because for why I was like, why did we start here at Harvard, you jump around and you start there because like you were saying, Matthew, they're setting up this old Harvard professor saying, like, go out there. And basically tame the uncivilized, like, give them take this, your education and your and, and that's what this man is doing. Right? When he comes. He's not actually one of these people. Yeah, he knows them. But he comes in and out. And Ella points that out. She's like, so you're gonna come give me a horse and carriage and leave. You don't care about me. This man is offering the marriage,
I think part of the complexity is that he basically could have been killed. And like, in some sense, like it, it proves what you're saying that it gives like a truth and the kind of like, the class trader will always turn back return to his class, right? Even if he's at best a class trader. But I think the other side of that is that if you want to be a part of struggles, you know, if you want to be a part of the political struggle, you actually have to like, be with those people too. And you have to put your life on the line. And I think that there's a lot of parallel like I think there's a lot of contrast with like today's world, when we're talking about politics online, how many people would be willing to go live in Colorado and put their life on the line? And, you know, understand what Howard Zinn's often talking about, like the politics of survival, you know? So I think there's something very complicated of course, but I think that life is actually like, it's, the more complicated it is to me, the more it represents like real life because like, you know, this film is being made in 1980. Jimmy Carter is in office. Jimmy Carter is the first professional managerial class member of the Democratic party who's like Complete, basically, not connected to the labor movement. This is when the labor movement began with the New Democrats, yeah, became very managerial alized. And basically, like, you know, the the transformation that had happens, you know, like, yeah, we have this, like, you know, 60s movement in the United States that for a lot of people gives a lot of rights. But at the same time, the class element during this time was basically being pushed out of those movements, as well as the, the large, like, the large bureaucratic movements. And the new left, basically, like you're saying, is kind of like, you know, they're kind of in some ways, they're the PMC. They're the people that go to Harvard, like, people like Barack Obama, and they don't represent, you know, they don't represent the working class, or the immigrant class whatsoever. But I think there's like a lot of complication here, because like, you know, the person who gives the oration speech at Harvard does really well, and it's very accepted in that setting. But then when he goes to the west, and he tries to do the same thing, but just says something very basic, some kind of like, underlying human right value that you would think is universalized, like these principles and hopefulness of like the university doesn't actually transfer to these people, because like they, you know, he gives them the speech and saying, why would why would we consider killing people justice? You know, he says something along those lines. And those liberal hopeful ideas are completely thought, like, ignored, because this people did not care about this values at all. And like, the intellectual values and the kind of like educational values are never like those are only used by those people to get power. The people that often actually value those in America are people like immigrants, like the reason intellectuals are often hate, hated by like the white working class people, as Graber says is because you can imagine how, you know, you can imagine how your son could maybe be a billionaire. But could you imagine how they could be a critic, you know, at the New York Times? And it seems impossible, right? But and so there's a racialized element to that, because immigrants are the people that almost always value education. So it's another way of being racist, basically, the United States by saying, oh, there's a
scene that I think sort of captures a little bit of what you're talking about in the movie. You remember the scene where it's between Ella and Nate, when she goes, and Nate is played by Christopher Walken, just for reference, and he's sort of been the they've been in this love triangle. And he has proposed and she goes to this little cabin, that he's sort of gotten ready for her and she goes in. And it's such a simple line. It was so impactful to me, and she looks around and it there's wallpaper, and she says wallpaper and she's like crying. He says, Yeah, well, it's civilized as the wilderness, if you know what I mean. And I just thought that was Yeah, kind of in in two lines captured all the complexity. Because these are two of those characters that are not they're caught in between the classes. Nate is one of the hired mercenaries who's been hired to help kill all of these immigrants on this list, but he's in love with one of the people Ella's on the list. And Ella also sort of, she's got her own capitalist enterprise with her brothels. So they're both just caught in that complexity and like to be able to tell that story in two lines.
So that's good. Totally. Yeah, there's also the opening scene is with the immigrants like, carving out the meat, and then they're shot on the meat. And it's like that's the first introduction of them is like being in nature, in like the, you know, the civilized nature culture divide that we often see between the Ivy Leaguers, and then uncivilized people.
You had mentioned that Matthew about the effort that the director put in, and the cinematographer to ensure the realism of it, and also just that it felt they went through, I mean, millions and millions of dollars of effort to make sure that everyone's costume I read was like came from an actual photograph. And you can feel it, it looks like wow, like you're just everything is tinted with such realism. But also like Trude is sort of how we perceive history through photographs that we've seen. So it's all got sort of a slightly sepia tone, but and then also just the great American landscape of how it's captured on film. You know, this is an American telling, but there is no American dream in this story. It is a disaster.
One of the most beautiful moments in the film for me is near the end before the giant showdown between the association they're hired killers and the the immigrant class is the big town hall at Heaven's Gate. Oh, yeah. Also, that's why the movie is called Heaven's Gate because there's like a roller rink in town that's named Heaven's Gate, not because the director is a co leader, not because the dredges go later. So it's like this big town hall where You know, they've they've organized everybody and they're basically saying like, hey, like these men are coming to kill everyone, we only like this is our only chance now to either fight back or to run. And there's a really interesting dynamic where sort of like the the merchant class within this already pre existing immigrant class is you know, some of the slightly wealthier guys who have been there have set up shops or whatever they say like we're merchants, we're, you know, we're store owners and the like, we are not like these other poor peasant immigrants, you know, we like we're doing things right. We're doing things correctly. So honestly, I know that we're all from the same place. But you know, we could we could give these these guys up, and we're not going to lose sleep over it. And there's a moment and it's, it's, it's pretty much all done in other languages. And it's not just one it's like, there's people speaking German, there's people's speaking Slavic. There's people speaking Polish, and they're all arguing and then I thought one of the most beautiful moments was when I think it's Mr. Eggleston Brad drifts character who's from Deadwood. Have you ever seen Deadwood? But basically, like breaks through the like the dance of everyone arguing and in German, you don't even hear what he says is like, No, we have to stick together. Like there's only one way through this. And that is through solidarity. And at least that's what I was taking away from it. Again, I don't speak German. So
no, I watched this with captions once and there is like there is winds in the movie, you're talking about the road roller rink scene, basically,
yeah, near the end, where they're arguing about whether or not they're going to fight or whether or not they're going to sell out some of the 125.
Those are like the politics of survival that I often experienced, like within Howard Zinn, it's like, yeah, like, rationally, like, why did they decide that? You know, like, why, like, if you are in that situation, and like, you know, that, like, you're not trained to fight like, all of these, like mercenaries and like, you might not have the weapons and just like to be like, well, the most important value is like solidarity, and that we stand together, because are we going to survive otherwise? Are they just gonna kill us? Either way? You know, if they start killing these 125 people, that's probably going to be my brother next, or your sister or your onto your mother. And yeah, it was like real. It was like, a real sense of solidarity. And it was for me, I really felt it, you know, I really was like, wow, like, yeah, because I do feel like that's something that we just often miss nowadays, is that a lot of the foundations of like, what is leftism is built in a context that we're so divided from, you know, and people in that time period, we're probably writing about it very differently. You know, yeah,
I mean, it's something that I critique myself about constantly, where I'm like, Oh, I'm not, I'm not putting my body on the line nearly at all. And there are people who are willing to, you know, blow up pipelines, there are people who are willing to occupy forests, there are people who are willing to actually put their life on the line. And I looked at people like that. And I think I constantly grapple with internally of like, what more can I be doing to actually walk the walk, it's as if you think it's something that we all need to at least question within ourselves of like what we are actually willing to do in the name of justice and solidarity.
That makes me think about the thought put behind the female body in this film, as well. Because so many of the labors as soon as you know, there's this beautiful scene between Kristofferson and one of the, one of the immigrant women whose husband and just been killed, and they're, she's like, this is our land. And so then they leave. And you see this long shot of her just trying so hard to just work the land. And that what was happening as a result of all that they were killing the men and the women were left there as the laborers working the land dedicated to that. And it was just so interesting how you had that contrasted with the labor work of the, the women in the brothel, who were also using their bodies in labor. And I just thought that contrast was really amazing. And I wanted to ask you both about your thoughts around Ella, and her role in the film because I thought, I thought to me, she ended up being the hero of the film. For me, I was viewing it through a lens of just under this sort of like origin of capitalism and patriarchy where the land is to be owned and the female's body is to be owned. She was sort of the closest voice we had to that struggle, and certainly she was so her performance as well. And her character was effervescent and wild. And she could say what she wanted and was very like, to me, she had unabashed like, was just not afraid. And it was like what I want in in that hero character, but she was also very clear about I love to men. I see what I'm being offered. I understand my role in this, I loved that scene where she gets the horse and carriage and just runs it through the town and wants to be seen on it. Like, to me, she's actually has, she's the one that he is cosplaying through, like she's the connection to the town. She's the one sort of, she's almost the unofficial mayor in some ways, because everyone's looking to her as sort of like, the person who's running shit. And he asks her to leave. And the reason she can't leave is because she is of the people and like the fact that he's like, Well, we gotta leave, because you're on this hit list. She's the one who stays and puts her body on the line. And she ultimately does, because she's the one shot down.
She's definitely the most, at least for me, the most honest character in the film, and the most, like truthful, and the one who knows themselves the best and is able to articulate all of that. Whereas like, I feel like most of these men are just, you know, like grumbling and, you know, not able to articulate anything, they're actually, you know, thinking or feeling other than Nate.
Yeah, it's interesting, the parallels between like, the, basically like, the technology of the, and the grants, like coming into the town, and, you know, also like you, we see them on top of the train, and, like thinking about how dangerous that is, and how that would never happen nowadays. And like how they're like, a lot of them that didn't come in on the train are coming out on these like buggies. And they're like pulling them, they don't have horses, and they're not using like very advanced tools on the farm. And it's just like, they're working themselves to death, you know, and this idea that, like, in America, we need to work ourselves to kind of have salvation, you know, this was even part of the labor movement in the very beginning, you know, which was also very male focused, you know, yeah, and these people are basically in, in one way, they're fighting for their survival by farming, using all of their body and their, their energy, and every aspect of their life, their relationships are all built around survival. And then in other ways, you know, they're like, actually having to like fight, you know, like, they're actually having to fight or they're going to be shot, or they have to steal and like, think about, like, if we like, had designed a different frontier system, you know, like, what if in the frontier system, there was a stipends, like, think about, like, how, how different the life would be for everyone here, like people wouldn't be killed, you know, people would have free time to maybe develop the culture of the cities and to get to know each other. And there wouldn't be as much class tension, you know, just like simple things like that, you know, like the film for me, like, it presents a lot of things, we're not willing to talk about, whether it's patriarchy, or the legal system, or whatever it is. But it also allows us to remember that, like we could have changed what that system was, you know, we were giving people free land, what if would that free land, Kim tools, you know, these types of like this type of thinking?
I think the only other thing I'll say is, it was just a fascinating, I didn't research that this sort of context that we discussed about the production of the film until halfway through. And I was just very aware of how that shifted my, my viewing experience. And we talked about this a lot on the show, like the not only the politics of the film, but the politics of those making the film and how those are deeply intertwined. And, you know, the four horses or more were killed, it just made it really hard to watch on top of like, how many of the apparently, the extras were treated, horrifically. And all the things we discussed earlier, I just noticed, like, it just it's another broader context that I think, is important for people to always be aware of, because it does change it and it is important, I think, you know, we need to honor both of those things. But yeah,
and it's a it's a pretty massive contradiction that this film has pretty stellar politics while whereas on set the politics were horrendous. Yeah. All right, Matthew. Well, this is the point in the episode where we give awards to this movie, we got three of them. Okay, amazing. First one is called a point with a view goes to the character with the best politics in the movie. I would probably give this to Ella, I think Ella has probably the most clear, discernible politics and that she, you know, she's on the side with her community with the immigrant class and is very honest with the two men that she's in the love triangle with. I don't think really any of the men in this movie have near perfect politics. So I would say probably Ella.
Yeah, I'm Team Ella.
I feel like the moment of the film that I guess like I can't remember who it was. I can't remember if it was man or woman but like when the people are deciding you brought this up Frank like deciding on whether or not they're going to join in the struggle. I think that was like probably the most compelling point of the movie for me. And then also shout out to the horses taking one for the team that's they should get an award I think to I nominate them for real for some kind. Have an animal word if that's possible.
We've talked about on this on this show pretty much any animal always has perfect politics is what we've decided so
yeah, of course the horse is definitely the perfect politics.
All right, our next award is despicable you this goes to the character with you guessed it, the worst politics in the movie
probably got to be Sam Waterston ins character, Frank Kenton, which is also a bummer that he's named Frank but he pretty like slimy rich kid who clearly had never had was was new to war had never actually picked up a gun. But was the one deciding like, Yeah, I think we should do an ethnic cleansing all these people.
I'm gonna offer a I'm gonna offer a runner up. And that is Billy Irvine. Because really just the whole like, I'm a victim of our class, James like, I'm gonna drink and pretend be like, whine about all the things that are happening. Literally, like, it just gave it to me. That was like neoliberal like shit. You know what I mean? I was like, that was very, like, what was it? I'm gonna practically declare climate emergency like, Oh, I did not. And it was a shame because it he starts out and I think it was intentional being so charismatic at that speech at the top. So yeah, that's mine. Actually, I I'm not runner up in him. I'm pushing him to push.
Yeah, I mean, I'm gonna vote for Frank Canton, just because of his speech with all of this people, where he is like, saying, and the President of the United States is supporting this, like, that was just like, so evil. You know, it just felt so evil. Like, I was just like, wow, this is just like, there could be no evil, more evil person, in my opinion, to be like, I am coming up with the worst idea, the most evil idea possible. And it's supported by the our senator, our Governor and and the president of these United States to like, say these, if he didn't say these United States, maybe I would have liked him more. But that was just kind of embarrassing. So like, make it so dramatic. He was like comically dorky to me,
clearly was only good at giving speeches up until that point. So. Alright, and our last award is called a star is scorned, goes to the supporting character that this movie should actually be about.
Okay, for me, this is I think this is maybe less about the character and more about the performance. But Jeffrey Lewis who played trapper, you might not remember the character but you remember the scene because it was my favorite scene? It was. He can't, he can't bite you if you got a hold of his tongue.
This is dirt man, the guy who's just like covered in dirt. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah. That's Jeffrey Lewis. Juliette Lewis his father and also goes on to be a pretty amazing actor. Yeah. I thought that scene stole like the show. For me. I thought he was the best actor in the film. I thought he did a tremendous job. So I would like to know more. I also just had so many questions about him and his character. So that's my, my vote.
It's crazy. I just looked up. Jeffrey Lewis from Heaven's Gate. And it looks like he was one of the deceased heaven gates, Heaven's Gate members from the coal as well.
Get the fuck out it.
I don't Yeah, no, no, it's not the same one. But it just happens that there's another Oh, they just haven't read Lewis name. Name. Yeah, weird. Jeffrey Howard Lewis deceased on March 28 1987 41. Part of the Heaven's Gate cult.
This must be a conspiracy theory. We need to get Kevin on this. Somebody figured it out. Just threaded the needle it just happened. My pick for this award would be character Collie played by Richard Mazur Mazur. This is the Irish train conductor who lives in Casper and I was just I was just really taken by him. I love the performance. I just I love just like, I love a jolly dude with like a scraggly beard who's just clearly like a sweet guy who's just like part of town and sadly he you know, when he goes to try to warn apple and everybody else that the that the association is coming, they find him first and kill him. But I would I would watch a whole movie about like, how did he get from Ireland to the middle of fucking Casper, Wyoming and become a train conductor who put him in charge of the trains? I would I would watch a whole movie about that sort of runner up for
total politics, best politics, I'd put him in the category nominee.
He's like the Paul Revere of Heaven's Gate, but he was killed. For me. This is a hard one. I mean, I think the roller skating scene, like was pretty. It was a really huge expression of like freedom. meant togetherness. And I just like the circle and just like the person who's like playing the fiddle. You know this, you know, the the MO both the scenes together with like, you know, the scene in the beginning where they're at the Ivy League graduation and they're all dancing together, right? It's like those are supposed to be like to have the same seats and just showing that these people are like, basically the same in the in the fiddle was reappropriated to be played slightly different, but it's basically the same thing. So it's
interesting, my man on America's Got Talent, he's winning today.
He was like, rollerskating and playing the fiddle. That was pretty sick. Yeah. So he stole the show for me. For like, 20 minutes. Yeah, but that's realism, right? It's like you'd like you're like, like, think about like, all of these like moments of solidarity in real life. Like, at some point, you're like, kind of bored, but you're like, wait, what else mattered? Yeah, I'm gonna keep on rollerskating. You know, that's like real solidarity.
I'm so glad you brought that scene up, because we couldn't finish without talking about it. Because as you're talking about, I'm also like, yeah, that's the most joyous scene and we can't forget joy in our movement building. And you're right, how long and just to see he's, it's, it's a circle, which is an important structure of the town. And people are so hyped and when he when he passes, he'll, like get down low and like hike to the point where they like falling on their feet. Like just out of joy. It makes you feel like you're in Yeah, church or something.
Yeah, there's like an element of ecstasy and like togetherness of just like, yeah, like the idea of like that. And like the the kind of critique of anarchists is always like, they're there when to spontaneity. In this case, it's like, spontaneity is perfect. It's like, they just start skating around this being like, Yeah, we're gonna, you know, we're gonna fight to the death with each other, like, very chill, obviously, and fun in a very chill and fun way. Yeah.
Matthew, this has been such a joy, I've learned a shit ton, thank you for bringing your academic mind to people who never actually went to real college. So we really appreciate it. The last thing that we like to ask our guests is, as artists and just people in the world as we strive to practice our values, our anti capitalist values in our own lives, even with all of its complexities and contradictions. Is there one thing that you do in your life that you would like to share that helps you live your values? And that can just be like a daily practice? It could be an organization to work with, it could be anything.
Yeah, I mean, for me, I like to just like Michael Camino, I like to be a complicated person. I think that's my answer. I'm just kidding. That's like the evil answer.
I love to be historic, historically misunderstood.
That's like the Twitter answer for this era, right? Only bad ticks only bad ticks. Yeah, I know. I mean, honestly, I just like, I like do like, like I do, like, I'm in culture and try to make, like, people thinking about real life and like, real kinds of, like, kind of struggles, like a part of that, you know, in different worlds. And just trying to be consistent. I think, throughout my life, it's, you know, it's, I think that is really hard. Because we're always changing. Life is always going to be it's always gonna seem way different in different contexts, you know, but yeah, I mean, you listed a lot of the other things I've done, but yeah, I mean, I've just always done something, you know, whatever I can to be a connector for people or a teacher or like somebody who likes to make complicated things easier. That kind of thing. But yeah, nothing super special. Just like you guys just hanging out and trying to make complicated shit. He thinks cool. Yeah.
Awesome. And Matthew, where can our listeners find you in the culture? Where are the best places to? To find your work?
So I obviously I'm on social media, so you can find me on Instagram or Twitter or whatever? Yeah, so you can add me on Instagram. It's Matthew Donovan under two underscores and then I'm on Twitter. So you can find that all through my Instagram though, so yeah, but thanks for having me. Guys. This was so fun. You guys had a really like made this like really, really cool film to dive back into made me really excited to talk about it again. So thanks so much for having me.
Yeah. Thank you so much for suggesting it coming on.
Yeah, thank you for joining us. I probably never would have seen it. Had you not suggested it, so I appreciate it. Wow, Phil, this. I mean, I like I knew about all of the controversy and like I'd never heard, you know, I'd never heard a modern perspective about it. I'd only known it as sort of like the giant Hollywood disaster. So I just had always been sort of ended like the really long Hollywood disaster. So I'd always just been sort of avoiding it. So Oh, I'm so grateful that I finally got a chance to watch it. So thank now we
get to be the folks who are like, Oh, you haven't seen Heaven's Gate I'm not talking about.
It is kind of a cool thing to know about. Right? Actually
Heaven's Gate good. Yes.
Yes, yes. Oh, you don't have four hours. Oh, the credits didn't like that. That's because they're part of the PMC culture, they wouldn't have liked it. This is about class consciousness baby.
Matthew, thank you again, we really appreciate you. Thank you all so much for listening, make sure to follow us on Instagram and Tiktok and if you want to support the show and get access to our premium episodes, you can go to MVC pod to find all of that information.
And for next week's movie, we will be watching the 1980 Anti capitalist comedy classic nine to five with a very special guest Patricia Resnick, the screenwriter of nine to five so this will be a first for us having someone who is actually part of the movie to discuss the movie.
It was a great conversation. Very excited to share it with you all next week. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll see you later. Bye