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12 Years a Slave

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Anonymous
Jan 13 2014 11:02
12 Years a Slave

Anybody seen it yet?

Have watched it twice already and been very impressed.

Been up on Pirate Bay for a few weeks now.

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Jan 19 2014 07:34

How did you watch it twice? Its a tremendous movie, but once was emotionally gut-wrenching enough for me. At least for a while.

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Jan 19 2014 19:58

Ever since someone on this forum suggested Hunger I've loved every one of the Steve McQueen-Michael Fassbender movies (granted there isn't many of them) and this one was no different. Chiwetel's portrayal of Solomon was incredibly vulnerable and that is, in my opinion, one of the best things that can be said about a performance (That last scene in particular...fuck, made me cry like a baby).
I heard one reviewer say that this movie was all that Roots wanted to be but couldn't because it was being aired on television and that's about right.

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Jan 19 2014 20:11

Downloading now, but I use kickass torrents which I think is much safer than pirate bay (although I also run a script blocker so I always use protection anyway)

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Jan 19 2014 20:33
Soapy wrote:
Downloading now, but I use kickass torrents which I think is much safer than pirate bay (although I also run a script blocker so I always use protection anyway)

I'm not sure that's the case. I'd recommend using a VPN.

Thought the film was ok. Poor Omar

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Jan 19 2014 20:36
Tian wrote:
Soapy wrote:
Downloading now, but I use kickass torrents which I think is much safer than pirate bay (although I also run a script blocker so I always use protection anyway)

I'm not sure that's the case. I'd recommend using a VPN.

Thought the film was ok. Poor Omar

Like a proxy IP? I've tried to set that up a few times but I always get confused and fail. Don't I have to pay for one of those also? It might be worth it tbh, I'm sure that the government knows fucking everything about me

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Jan 20 2014 18:50

One thing I found really depressing about the film was that it was very keen to depict much of the worst cruelty and barbarity as a banality of evil type of thing. Even the people who you think might have a change of heart, like Solomon's first master or the white farm laborer (whose previous work as an overseer has driven him to alcoholism for fuck's sake) end up going along to get along. That theme set in real hard for me and got me feeling pretty hopeless. Then Solomon is set free not by organizing an escape or rebellion with the other slaves on the plantation, but by the fluke of running into a Canadian and a miracle of the legal system. Meanwhile Patsy is left behind, presumably to endure the same horrific torture for the rest of her life. I just couldn't stop thinking about Patsy when I left the theater. It'll be a while before I watch this movie again.

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Jan 20 2014 23:04

Haven't seen the film, but that critique, laborbund, is sort of what I though about Django. Perhaps I'm expecting way too much to find a class analysis in a Tarantino film, but it was, again, very much an individualist account of overcoming enslavement.

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Jan 20 2014 23:28

FWIW the World Socialist Website hated it:

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/10/18/twel-o18.html

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Jan 21 2014 11:43

^ Absolutely. McQueen is one of the few people still making serious cinema. Tarantino is just making Tom & Jerry for manchildren. There's no comparison between the films in terms of emotional maturity or political content.

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Jan 21 2014 11:51

Also I have to say that WSWS review is both moronic and pathetically sectarian.

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Jan 21 2014 12:53

I watched this about a week ago, and I am not sure what I am missing because I just thought it was really boring. I don't think I would have even watched it to the end if I had been on my own. Obviously people see a lot in it, but I just thought it was so tedious.

Devrim

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Jan 21 2014 14:48

laborbund # 8

I have not seen this film yet so cannot comment on its merits.
I have heard it discussed on Radio 4 and understood that the film was based on fact. If so, the story line was pretty well set. There is some circumstantial evidence that the fellow later went ‘underground’ and helped organise the escape of slaves.

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Jan 22 2014 04:06
laborbund wrote:
One thing I found really depressing about the film was that it was very keen to depict much of the worst cruelty and barbarity as a banality of evil type of thing. Even the people who you think might have a change of heart, like Solomon's first master or the white farm laborer (whose previous work as an overseer has driven him to alcoholism for fuck's sake) end up going along to get along. That theme set in real hard for me and got me feeling pretty hopeless. Then Solomon is set free not by organizing an escape or rebellion with the other slaves on the plantation, but by the fluke of running into a Canadian and a miracle of the legal system. Meanwhile Patsy is left behind, presumably to endure the same horrific torture for the rest of her life. I just couldn't stop thinking about Patsy when I left the theater. It'll be a while before I watch this movie again.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Haven't seen the film, but that critique, laborbund, is sort of what I though about Django. Perhaps I'm expecting way too much to find a class analysis in a Tarantino film, but it was, again, very much an individualist account of overcoming enslavement.

You realize this movie is based on a slave narrative / true story, right? Can't change the guy's life to fit political ideals.

And his escape as an individual, with everyone else left behind, helped make the point that these individual "happy endings" are not nearly enough.

Plus the guy got involved in the slavery abolitionist movement afterwards (said so in the text at the end of the movie).

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Jan 22 2014 10:55

I can't really fault the film for what it is, and what it tries to achieve. Great performances, three dimensional characters, good narrative, an important first person account of this harrowing period. Surprises me that the memoir isn't that popular, but I understand it was taken out of print for a while. The scene that stood out for me was when the lead character was on his tip-toes, trying to keep his head above the noose, while other slaves played in the background.

Saying all that though, there was something about the film I didn't like. It could just be personal taste.

I know they are two different films, but the subject matter, and close timing make Django Unchained comparisons inevitable. I prefer Django, as a film. It is too easy to indulge in melodrama, to dictate what the audience must feel. Django is far more bold in it's techniques in dealing with such a sordid time, and for that it's far more shocking and disturbing. 12 Years... comes across to me as a meek, safe, Guardian-esque film. The characters don't have to be three dimensional, and historically accurate to be effecting.

12 Years... is a better history lesson, Django... the better film.

I felt the passing of time wasn't conveyed well in 12 Years. Also, Bratt Pitt's character annoyed me. I think the process of getting him out could of been explored more, rather than, "nice man comes along, takes a risk, he's free." Reading abut the memoir on Wikipedia, it was a bit more complicated than that.

Still, glad I watched it.

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Jan 26 2014 09:55

I know its based on an autobiography and that the film makers couldnt change history just to suit my political tastes, but I think there are unavoidable political implications in a film like this and I kinda want to see those implications clearly articulated somewhere. Chattle slavery has been done for a while in the US now, and I can see the films value as a tool for history teaching, but what is it telling the audience about the world we live in now? Like I said above, the biggest take away I got was all this banality of evil shit, which is a legit theme for a topic like slavery, but its also really fucking depressing and demoralizing when you think about it.

The other kinda political message in the film, according to articles like this one and this one , is that standing up for yourself = masculinity = unacceptable, deplorable violence. I don't know if the authors of those articles are correct in their interpretation, but their whole line of reasoning falls short, imo. Its based on some romantic notions about women being meek and pure "moral guardians" while men are presumed to have a monopoloy on violence like the whole thing is set forth by natural law or something. I'll grant the Django was a childish, individualistic revenge fantasy, but who hasn't entertained such a fantasy? I fantasize about Steve Austin doing the stone cold stunner on my boss every day.

Its also kinda funny when you think about how slavery in the US really was ended by a spectacular act of redemptive violence carried out by a revenge-inspired nutter which led directly to a horrific war that resulted in abolition. Now there's a movie I would watch twice... I'm almost done scanning American Negro Slave Revolts and will put it into the libcom library upon completion.

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Jan 26 2014 09:53

While I'm at it WSWS articles nearly always suck and that one is particularly nauseating. WSWS are the least well dressed trots i've ever run into.

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Jan 26 2014 11:51

Thanks for the John Brown information. And yeah, the WSWSSWS review is plain fucking awful.

laborbund wrote:
... and I can see the films value as a tool for history teaching, but what is it telling the audience about the world we live in now? [...] I'll grant the Django was a childish, individualistic revenge fantasy...

Thinking about what you just said - and agreeing completely - I'd go as far as to say 12 Years a Slave is far more individualistic.

Django was granted freedom by Shultz because he knew his oppressors and wanted revenge so much he trained up to become a deadly fighter. He even freed other slaves along the way. Solomon on the other hand was given freedom after writing a letter - read petition - declaring his previous social standing, and left the others behind.

Granted, it's intentionally tragic perhaps, in order to highlight the unfairness of it all. But if Steve McQueen - CBE, and Turner Prize award winning artist, firmly part of the establishment - really wanted to make a historically accurate film about slavery, and to be truly tragic, then it would've been best served by making a film about someone born into slavery - without a real name - and dying in slavery. He's kind of gone down the middle-of-the-road here. Solomon became a slave because of the colour of his skin, but the character's feelings of injustice throughout the film always seemed to be hinged on his idea that he was of a higher social standing, and shouldn't of been there because of that. Flashbacks of him having the freedom to buy an expensive scarf for his wife didn't really help either.

I know 12 Years is far more historically accurate, and a lone vigilante roaming around enacting revenge isn't exactly the best way to garner freedom in the real world, but Django is far more empowering.

Freedom through physically fighting back vs. freedom though petition. Like you said, what's more valuable to current audiences now?

Saying all of that, it wasn't all bad, there were glimpses of interesting, useful points, and maybe a lot of this was intentional, like I said, to highlight the brutal unfairness of the system. It just wasn't that clear in my opinion. Politics aside though, the performances of the cast were phenomenal.

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Jan 26 2014 13:19

Standfield #21

Sorry I cannot agree with some of the comments above.
It is important for liberal democracy that petitions do succeed sometimes. It is an essential expression of the ‘fairness’ of their political system that the ‘rule of law’ applies and ‘natural justice’ eventually prevails. The system also seeks to incorporate anyone who may pose a threat – it is obviously stupid to leave someone in place with festering grievances. They must be neutralised – and often to ‘right a mistake’ is smarter than rubbing them out. No individual got rid of slavery.

The fantasy of the vigilante going on the avenging rampage is counterproductive as it feeds the delusion that as individuals we can become masters of our own destiny. Personally I like ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ though it is only a momentary escape from reality and offers few if any pointers to achieving a better world. Empowering I think not.

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Jan 26 2014 14:12

I never said "an individual got rid of slavery", nor do I believe that. I feel the contrary, of course. And, like I pointed out, Django is completely unrealistic. My gripe wasn't nessasarily with the act of petitioning, but of the circumstances of Solomon petition. I know its important for liberal democracy that some petitions succeed, and I agree with all of what you said. Maybe I didn't make my point clear.

But anyway, point taken. I shouldn't ever be too harsh on the politics of creative endeavours (who I am to say what's right and wrong - especially as I know so little about this subject). And you're right on my use of empowering, but I still feel Django is far more than 12 Years. Perhaps that is the beauty of 12 Years - the powerlessness. I don't know, I'm thinking too much on it's politics.

My main grievances with the film are aesthetic, and I should stick with that. It's not a great film, too much attention focused on lingering shots where they are not needed (you don't need 2 whole minutes watching a piece of paper burn, sorry - tediously melodramatic). Holding back a bit would've strengthened the longer shots that were needed, such as the noose/tip-toes scene. The passing of time is conveyed poorly. I believe the individual performances of the actresses and actors and the subject matter cloak that. Just my opinion.

(Edited a bit).

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Jan 26 2014 16:04

Stanfield #23

You’re absolutely right; you didn’t say anything about an individual getting rid of slavery. I did not mean to imply you did – apologies. I only inserted the comment because of course it was a result (initially unintended) of a civil war involving many thousands of people.

If I understand your position correctly, I too get disappointed in films when there appear to be possibilities to open out the usual right wing or liberal viewpoint into something more radical.

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Jan 27 2014 17:26
Quote:
women being meek and pure "moral guardians"

Having finally seen the film, one of the things that came across to me was that women were painted as primarily as victims (female slaves) or as really cruel, jealous, and vindictive (slaveowner's wives).

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Jan 27 2014 17:41

I watched this at the weekend and thought it was amazing. Left me speechless at the end which is pretty unheard of for me.

I thought it was a brilliant dramatisation of a personal memoir.

TBH I think some people's criticisms here are a bit ridiculous: it was a film made of a first person account. It wouldn't have been right to change it, to make it historically inaccurate for either entertainment reasons or to satisfy a personal political agenda.

LB: if you could upload that text that would be great!

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Jan 28 2014 05:02
Steven. wrote:
It wouldn't have been right to change it, to make it historically inaccurate for either entertainment reasons or to satisfy a personal political agenda.

I agree changing the story for any reason would have been wrong. What I'm saying is why not make a different film? The purpose of Northrup's 1853 memoir was to rally people to the abolitionist cause. So what purpose was served by releasing it as a film in 2013, other than as a tool for history teaching?

I agree that its a brilliant film in some regards. I guess I just have a weak stomach and if I'm going to watch people getting tortured from two hours I'd like to be left with something other than ''humans are mostly selfish and cruel and they'll go along with heinous shit if its normal.'' I get to see that all the time anyway.

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Jan 28 2014 09:49
Steven. wrote:
TBH I think some people's criticisms here are a bit ridiculous: it was a film made of a first person account. It wouldn't have been right to change it, to make it historically inaccurate for either entertainment reasons or to satisfy a personal political agenda.

I agree about the political point. I mean, if the audiences know what they want from art, what's the point of the artist?

But McQueen has changed it for entertainment reasons. Not necessarily a bad thing. Just the act of converting it from book to film is a change, and accuracy of of any original work of art is always compromised when converting it to another, whether it's from fiction or fact.

I haven't read the book - I will do now, thanks for putting it up in the library - but despite most agreeing that it's the most accurate depiction of slavery in film as of yet, there are reports of that the film deviates on more than one occasion from the book, sometimes putting in different scenes altogether, such as the rape scene on the boat, and even Patsey's request for Solomon to drown her (it was in fact Mistress Epps who requested that).

This is all manipulated for dramatic effect. I have nothing against this, as I think art should be about truth, rather than accuracy. Check: The Realism Canard, Or: Why Fact-Checking Fiction is Poisoning Criticism. So if we grant the artist licence to change a few things, like I do, why shouldn't we be able to criticise what the director has made? It's not as if he didn't have any decisions or choices to make.

Anyway, like I said, my problem with it is aesthetic, but that's purely personal taste and opinion.

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Jan 29 2014 11:15

So I actually think this is a pretty interesting conversation - and I think it's worth taking Standfield's point that anytime non-fiction is made into film, artistic license is an intrinsic part of that.

It's been probably nearly 10 years since I read the book, but I'm sure there are instances where that slaves act more individualistically and where they act more collectively. It does seems like McQueen has chosen to emphasize alienated, individualist actions of the slaves - and to be honest I think there could be worthwhile artistic reasons to do that.

On the other hand, there is evidence (I think even mentioned at the very end of the film) that Northrup was involved in the organised resistance of the Underground Railroad. Choosing to focus on, for example, the scene of him leaving all the other slaves behind as he was driven away is, of course, an artistic choice, but a political one as well. Similarly, not including any scenes of his work within the abolitionist movement or on the Underground Railroad is a conscious choice as well. And I think that's the point folks are trying to make.

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Jan 29 2014 13:47

I do not think it possible to render a book into film, as the mediums are too different – a book allows the reader to enter the writer’s mind while the making of a film requires a selection and adapting of material for visual presentation – never mind the contribution of the actor’s, etc.

Luckily there are some good adaptations which convey the germ of a book. There are also bad adaptations, though some of these are excellent movies in their own right. My understanding of ‘12 Years a Slave’, is that nothing is known of the author after he chose to disappear. There are only educated guesses (this based on a discussion I heard on BBC radio). Perhaps McQueen thought it would seriously compromise the film to add something he could not substantiate.

EDIT
Just thought of an example of a great film which was miles ahead of a crap book: 'The 39 Steps' (Hitchcock, 1935). Narrow minded rubbish by John Buchan was turned into a ripping (almost) sexy escapade

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Jan 29 2014 15:09
Chilli Sauce wrote:
So I actually think this is a pretty interesting conversation - and I think it's worth taking Standfield's point that anytime non-fiction is made into film, artistic license is an intrinsic part of that.

yeah, I would agree with this. However I think there are different ways of doing this. You can either completely rewrite history with some bullshit (like that u-boat film, whatever it's called U531 or whatever), or you can spice things up a lot to make them less boring (like Argo) or you can try to make them relatively true to life, like this one.

So on this note…

Quote:
On the other hand, there is evidence (I think even mentioned at the very end of the film) that Northrup was involved in the organised resistance of the Underground Railroad. Choosing to focus on, for example, the scene of him leaving all the other slaves behind as he was driven away is, of course, an artistic choice, but a political one as well. Similarly, not including any scenes of his work within the abolitionist movement or on the Underground Railroad is a conscious choice as well. And I think that's the point folks are trying to make.

I think this is silly. That stuff was not in the book, and it seems like almost nothing is known about it. You can't blame a movie adaptation of the book for not having stuff in that wasn't in the book because it would suit your political agenda better! Come on that's being almost as bad as that execrable WSWS review! (Which actually reminded me a lot of the MIM Maoist music/film/video game reviews, would basically criticised everything on the basis of it not being Maoist enough)

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Jan 29 2014 18:23

Yea, I've noticed a trend here on libcom these last few days browsing and posting. It's almost a conspiracy theoryesque interpretation of things. As if the bougouise(or whoever) was consciously trying to keep the working class down because of their own interests. I don't think its as simple as that. I think the person who made this into a film was probably just a liberal who found the book powerful enough to want to turn it into a film. If it appears to focus more on the individual escape from slavery or exploitation, I think this is a reflection of how our society looks at emancipation in general, and not a conscious effort by the director.

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Jan 30 2014 00:28

I don't know Steven, I get that he might have wanted to keep strictly to what was in the book.

As someone has already mentioned, the film included a rape scene on the boat that wasn't included in the book. Now, that was a very regular thing and I don't criticise McQueen for including that. Or, as an alternative example, I really don't think in the book Northrup talked about buying an expensive scarf for his wife. I mean, to function as a film, McQueen had to include scenes from Northrup's life that weren't strictly in the book.

On the other hand, given that there is evidence that Northrup was involved in the Underground Railroad (and, indeed, wrote his book as a contribution to the abolitionist movement), I think it'd be just as appropriate to include that in a film adaptation of the book.

But it's not really that important a point in my opinion; I don't watch films because I expect them to have a class analysis. I thought it was a really well-down film and pretty damn gut-wrenching. Given that I'd seen the Long Walk to Freedom the week before, I was very happy to watch a film that wasn't so painfully Hollywood.