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Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Gavin McInnes (in white shirt and tie) at a rally in Berkeley, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Metro Minute

Boys’ behavior

A weekend altercation in New York spotlights a nationalist group called the Proud Boys

A New York moment:

The media here are buzzing over incidents surrounding an event the Metropolitan Republican Club hosted with Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes on Friday. First and foremost is the surprising decision of the club—with its staid, establishment Republican reputation—to host the leader of a nationalist group that appears to be a sort of counter to the antifa movement. It’s no wonder then that violence broke out.

The Republican club was vandalized before the event (the Met Club attributed the vandalism to antifa), and then some Proud Boys apparently fought with protesters and sent at least one of them to the hospital after the event. Police are still trying to sort out all the details, but plan to charge nine Proud Boys and three others. Prior to this event, I was unfamiliar with the Proud Boys, and it’s hard to tell how much weight to give them. McInnes has about 100,000 followers on Facebook.

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Carlos Somonte/Netflix

Alfonso Cuarón and actress Yalitza Aparicio working on Roma. (Carlos Somonte/Netflix)

Metro Minute

A ‘town hall’ with a film director

Sitting through a press conference with director Alfonso Cuarón following his lovely film Roma

A New York moment: 

Last week I sat in a press conference with Alfonso Cuarón, one of my favorite directors, who discussed his new film Roma (see end of column). These film festival press conferences are always a mixed bag, sort of like a town hall meeting. There are sincere and ridiculous questions—I remember one member of the press last year asked a director what the “takeaway” from his movie was. People also stand up and make statements that are not questions as much as an attempt to impress whichever famous person is in the room.

Roma, a wonderful film, retells Cuarón’s childhood in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City through the eyes of the family servant. Cuarón and two of the lead actors showed up to answer questions after the screening. About halfway through the press conference, one man stood up and asked, “Why is it called Roma?” 

“Roma is the name of where the story takes place,” replied Cuarón, with good humor. As the microphone went to the next question, the questioner stood up and left the press conference, apparently with his only query about the film satisfied. 

My question that I didn’t get to ask was about the role of religion in Cuarón’s childhood. One shot in the film shows a Buddha statue on a bookshelf, but the grandmother prays Catholic prayers over members of the household. If any readers know of good resources on Cuarón’s religious upbringing, drop me a line. 

His film Children of Men includes overt Christian references, but he concluded that film as well as Roma with the Sanskrit phrase, “Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.” That’s the final line from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Worth your time:  

Meth is making a comeback, but it is getting less attention in the midst of the opioid crisis. 

This week I learned: 

Some people with blindness have a subconscious “seeing.” In a 2013 study of a blind patient with a destroyed visual cortex, researchers showed him pictures of people looking directly at him or averting their gaze. Researchers noted an eightfold increase in brain activity in his amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, when they showed him a picture of someone looking directly at him.

Walker Percy wrote in Lost in the Cosmos: “Why is it that the look of another person looking at you is different from everything else in the Cosmos? … Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?”

A court case you might not know about: 

Imbler v. Pachtman, a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case that gave prosecutors immunity from civil liability when they commit misconduct like suppressing exculpatory evidence. I came across this case in reading a Wall Street Journal column by John Grisham (yes, that John Grisham) about New York’s new commission that will punish prosecutor misconduct. The commission, the first of its kind in the country, came to be through rare bipartisan agreement.

In most places around the country, prosecutors face few consequences for blatant misconduct, like hiding evidence that would help the accused. Those instances are rare, but now when they happen in New York, prosecutors will face some consequences.

Culture I am consuming: 

Roma, Cuarón’s new film, will be out in theaters in December before hitting Netflix. The film is so achingly good I wanted to run through a brick wall after I saw it—if you know the sort of feeling I mean.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org

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screen grab from trailer

Scene from ‘End of Life’ (screen grab from trailer)

Metro Minute

Second-rate silver screen

Seeing a bad movie at the New York Film Festival, and wearing the wrong clothes to a premiere

A New York moment: 

I’m covering some of the films at the New York Film Festival, and saw one documentary over the weekend. Titled End of Life, it was supposed to follow five people on the threshold of death. The pitch sounded interesting: a close look at a topic that Americans avoid discussing or thinking about. The screening was packed with young and old. 

The film was so, so bad. The first shot was utter darkness, with audio playing over the shot, and it went on and on and on. It was uncomfortable, and people were squirming. I thought, ah, maybe this is an interesting way to start a film about death. Make the audience feel suffocated with darkness. 

But the film got less meaningful from there. The next shot seemed about 10 minutes long, just resting on the face of a man struggling to speak. Then another long shot without cuts. Then another, then another. 

The pretentiousness of the style was a shame, because the subjects seemed extremely interesting. There certainly were tender moments—a hospital visitor tenderly rubbing lotion on a face, a woman with cancer going through her makeup routine. But it never amounted to anything. For all the long, lingering shots, I came away not knowing much of anything about the five subjects. 

I left the film a little bit angry—not because I wasted my time, but because I know how few documentary filmmakers get opportunities to make a film and show it in a theater. In this case, as a reporter I perhaps also resented that someone had time with a person, in such a vulnerable moment near death, and then didn’t do a good job of telling his or her story. If the directors were trying to say something profound, it went over my head. 

A.O. Scott wrote his own reporter’s notebook recently about the continuing value of film festivals, which challenge filmgoers in a communal setting rather than handing them solo entertainment that suits their interests (Hello, Netflix). I know I’m not any sort of artistic standard-bearer, but this film at least undermined that thesis. I hope I will find other films at the festival that are meatier. 

This week I learned: 

Some New York City ambulances have changed their sirens to the sound we associate more with Europe in order to decrease noise pollution. As traffic in the city has worsened, emergency vehicles get stuck on city blocks more often and blare noise into the surrounding buildings. It’s interesting to think that the “American” ambulance sound is louder, perhaps designed for less densely populated areas, where cars need more advanced warning to get out of the way. The city is considering requiring all emergency vehicles to adapt their sound.

A court case you might not know about: 

What happens when an impeached state Supreme Court justice sues in federal court over her impeachment? We’ll find out! The drama at the West Virginia Supreme Court, where all the justices have been impeached, continues.

Culture I am consuming: 

Free Solo, a documentary about climber Alex Honnold going 3,000 feet up El Capitan without ropes or harnesses. I showed up to what I thought was a regular old screening in jeans, not realizing it was actually the swanky premiere! It all worked out because there were a lot of crunchy climber types in regular-people clothes. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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