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Battle of Seattle

Went to see the movie last night with a bunch of friends–about half of us were there in Seattle, drumming in the streets as the Committee for Full Enjoyment, where we also distributed this postcard and text, “Life Not Trade!” I wrote about the WTO/Seattle events a month or so after it happened, and I just posted that old essay “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle” here.

So it was with real curiosity that I went to see the new movie “Battle of Seattle” last night. It’s pretty bad. I’d already heard it was terribly sexist, that it has a weirdly pro-life moment tucked into it, that it sucked… It wasn’t as bad as I expected. But it’s a poor cartoon version of the real deal, and badly distorts historical truth to tell a clichéd Hollywood version of events. Notably it makes it seem as though there was one good-looking, charismatic guy who was somehow at the epicenter of events, omnisciently calling in various affinity groups to seize intersections on his walkie-talkie, bawling out black block window breakers, charming the semi-tough militant woman, and basically being the Hero where there really wasn’t one. Not a second of this film attempts to show the fascinating, complicated decision-making structure that actually drove events, that continues to this day in summit after summit, and represents a real break from old-style leftist organizing as much as it is a break from the conceptual universe of this filmmaker.

In essence, he’s made a propaganda film from the point of view of left-liberal critics of the WTO and globalization. The filmmaker wants to be on the team, so he shows the criticism of the WTO’s lack of transparency, its supranational governing powers, etc. He even ends the film with a quick rundown on the continuing opposition to the WTO and its failure to get out of the Doha round. OK, but there’s so much more to it than that. Why not include arguments from the more radical point of view? Why not include arguments from the pro-WTO leftists, like the Doctors Without Borders guy who is portrayed several times giving his sad lecture to delegates? The film is deeply unsatisfying–ideologically it’s one-dimensional; as narrative film it’s a cardboard cartoon; as history, it’s just plain false on key aspects. The horrible acting and dialogue really worsens the whole experience. (Woody Harrelson as a cop who goes to the jail to apologize to the Hero who he beat up? Ray Liotta as the sympathetic and humanist mayor trying to honor protesters’ rights and keep the cops at bay? Charlize Theron as a sales clerk in a fancy store, married to Woody Harrelson’s cop, who miscarries after being jabbed in the belly by a passing cop in the streets? What the f—?) The only thing that makes it worthwhile is that it features a great deal of documentary footage from the actual events (one of our gang last night even appeared for a split second, to our delight), and in no way falls for the self-justifications of globalizers… but given the money spent, this is a pretty weak movie as a movie, as history, as political education… oh well!

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