I thought twice about whether to review this movie on the Dark Stories blog because it's a documentary on current events. There are plenty of real dark stories in the news. You don't come here to read about them.
But I've written about another documentary recently, Three Identical Strangers (2018), and a docu-drama, American Animals (2018), because they are as suspenseful as any of the fiction on this blog. The Social Dilemma is too.
On one level, it's about white men around 30 years of age trying to put the genie back in the bottle. These are men who made social media what it is today: ubiquitous, addictive, powerful, and unregulated. They no longer work for companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
They know they created the most powerful propaganda tool in history and made it equally available to marketers and dictators. They relate their own struggles with setting aside their phones and explain why they don't let their kids have phones until they're teenagers.
A dramatization is threaded through the documentary. Mom, Dad, and three children all have different attitudes about cell phones. The oldest daughter worries about her younger siblings. The teenage brother is helpless without his phone. The pre-teen daughter knows people only through social media. It's an uncomplicated but effective illustration of the growing problem.
The suspense comes from the way each topic leads to the next as the former titants of tech testify to what they have done and what can be done about it. Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist, is in effect the moderator of this discussion put together from interviews with the others. By the time you've heard what they say about each topic (surveillance capitalism, conspiracy theories, rising teenage suicide rates, etc.) you are desperate to hear them address the next.
Fact-based dark stories feel different from fictional dark-stories, but when well-made can be just as suspenseful and just as scary.
"Kluge" is word used by engineers to describe "a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem." It's a gadget that works but is overly complicated and inefficient and prone to breakdowns. Psychologist Gary Marcus uses this word to describe the human brain.
Marcus cites many experiments in psychology to demonstrate the brain's malfunctions. For instance, if we are told something is true, we tend to see only evidence that proves it and ignore evidence that would disprove it. Similarly people who are told to go room 756 and guess the number of beans in a jar will guess higher than people told to go to room 110. These and other quirks are explained by the physical structure of the brain.
I've been reading books by psychologists recently. You can find my reviews under "Writing" on this blog. One of those books, The Confidence Man by Maria Konnikova, provided some research for The Con Man's Son.
The first three seasons of Search Party reminded my of how Twin Peaks felt when it burst upon the scene in 1990: scary, funny, surreal . . . So I recently watched the two-hour pilot, and sure-enough it feels as innovative as ever.
From the opening credits, which introduce the saw-mill town as a well-oiled machine set in a magnificent landscape, to the introduction of Agent Cooper as a guy who loves cherry pie and is looking for a clean reasonably priced motel, this show puts normalcy under a microscope.
And it finds lots of bacteria. There are the usual small-town diseases, corruption and adultery. And there are bizarre touches: the band at a biker bar plays a euphoric ballad, the local bad boys bark like dogs . . . what does it all mean?
I'm not a binge-watcher, but I think I'll wander through the original two seasons.
We always enjoyed seeing Movies at the Bridge. With its seating capacity of 350, it had the feel of a neighborhood theater. Around twenty years ago, we went to see The Station Agent one afternoon. While waiting to buy popcorn, we saw my brother-in-law and his daughter were there for the same showing. Love that small-town feel.
It closed in 2012, having operated as a movie house since it was built in 1939. Now the former auditorium offers baseball batting cages. Landmark was the last company to operate the Bridge as a movie theater, just as it was the last to operate the Clay Theater.
Enjoy this thriller as a typical heist movie with plenty of well-choreographed, MIssion-Impossible-style action sequences. The heist is pulled off (pulled off twice, in fact) by a crew of specialists played by A-list stars, headed by Robert Redford. There's plenty of straight-up entertainment value.
It's described as a "comedy caper," and perhaps it was in 1992, but nearly thirty years later some of it is not so funny. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so the movie contains references to an ambiguous relationship between Russia and the USA. The plot is complicated by conflicts among the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
Most of all, it's chilling how the film sees digital networks controlling the globe. As one character says, wars are no longer fought with bullets and bombs, but rather with ones and zeroes.
The movie was made before graphical user interfaces turned the Internet into the World Wide Web. The technology in the film looks primitive today, but the theme could not be more current. Recent events have turned this romp into a dark story. It has improved with age.
Yesterday the internet was full of photos of the ominous red sky over San Francisco at day break. I snapped a few but couldn't improve on the ones I'd seen.
Around mid-day, I ventured downtown and saw all the street lights on. This is what Market Street usually looks like around 6:00 pm in winter, not in the middle of a summer day.
The red sky at dawn and darkness at noon were caused by high-altitude layers of smoke from California's wildfires. No fires are near the city, but their smoke covers the state. Throughout the day, ash and soot rained down on everything.
Of the ten largest wildfires in California history, seven have occurred in the past five years. Why? 1. People living further away from cities and demanding, 2. suppression of small wildfires, which clean up "fuel" that accumulates in forests. 3. Climate change making the air warmer and therefore drier.
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, the first question Francois Truffaut asks Alfred Hitchcock is whether "the incident at the police station" is true.
Hitchcock: Yes, it is. I must have been about four or five years old. My father sent me to the police station with a note. The chief of police read it and locked me in a cell for five or ten minutes, saying, "This is what we do to naughty boys."
Truffaut: Why were you being punished?
Hitchcock: I haven't the faintest idea.
They begin Chapter Two by discussing The Lodger, which the master himself calls "the first true 'Hitchcock movie.'" It is about a man mistakenly suspected of being Jack the Ripper. Truffaut identifies this as "the theme recurs in almost all of your later works: a man accused of a crime of which he's innocent."
The psychology is obvious. As a boy, Hitchcock was put in jail, a punishment he did not deserve. He spent his career mostly making movies about characters falsely accused, chased and punished.
But he did not seem to be repeating himself. Although this theme is present in The Thirty-Nine Steps, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Frenzy and many more, each film has its own personality. I never noticed how consistent this theme is, until I read about it in the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews.
On the right, you can see people sitting at outdoor tables inside a blue fence with lights strung over head. Across the street you can see people seated in a similar enclosure. Each of these occupies two or three parking spaces at the curb in front of a restaurant.
The City of San Francisco began issuing permits for these temporary outdoor dining rooms in June. Restaurants had been closed since March, along with retail stores and most everything else. The idea was to give the owners a way to pay the rent and keep a few employees on the payroll.
San Franciscans are as eager as anyone to pay someone to prepare a meal. These have proven very popular, despite the climate here, which is . . . let's just say it's not like Southern California. Most afternoons there's a chilly wind off the ocean. As you can see both of these outdoor dining rooms have tall heaters.