Game of Clothes: Decoding Cersei’s and Dany’s power wardrobes

Game of Thrones

Lena Headey in “Game of Thrones” (Credit: HBO)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the season 6 finale of “Game of Thrones.”

Say what you will about the swords and the dragons—there was no element of Sunday night’s “Game of Thrones” season six finale more rapturous and provocative than Cersei Lannister’s dress. Until now, Cersei’s wardrobe has represented the essential paradox of her character: she wears only the most vibrant and luxurious fashions with her supple hair falling to her waist in flawless ringlets—and yet she is ruthless, conniving, and scrappy in a way that would ruffle anyone else’s golden hemlines.

Yet, in the first scene of season six, episode 10 of “Game of Thrones,” Cersei casts aside all pretensions and finally dresses for the job she wants. The viewer watches as she, Margaery, Tommen, and the High Sparrow all prepare themselves for a trial at the Sept of Baelor. The High Sparrow dresses himself simply and quickly, Tommen readies himself with finery and a sense of seriousness fitting of his new commitment to a fusion of the church and state. Margaery faces away from the chambermaid dressing her, mirroring her conflicting feelings over sacrificing her brother for her own safety.

Cersei does none of this. Cersei luxuriates in readying herself. She stares out the window, taking in the Sept of Baelor one final time as its fate is already in the works. The camera pans, and we see she is already clothed. Her dress is dark, heavy, and high-necked. Beaded epaulets at each shoulder proclaim power. There is no passionate red robe here, but commandeering oblivion that is masculine and authoritative. She is Darth Vader styled by Alexander McQueen, and she is ready for war.

As the others arrive at the Sept to commence the trial, Cersei remains safely inside the Red Keep. While she waits for her plans to unfold, Cersei pours herself a glass of wine—she is still Cersei, after all. An anonymous assistant adds a final flourish to her dress: a chain linking at each shoulder. The chain is a symbol of the vengeance she will seek for her time in prison. Its openness tells us that she will never allow herself to be shackled again. Wearing an outfit that readies her for both battle and mourning indicates she foresees at least a glimpse of Tommen’s fate, even if she doesn’t fully comprehend it yet. And yet the boldness of the outfit also says she won’t be deterred—she is ready for her time.

“Game of Thrones” tells its tale as much with fabric as it does with complex political plots. The costumes of every character are not only a reflection of one’s origin and status in the world of Westeros, but also a direct representation of that character’s story arc. The life of Daenerys Targaryen, for example, could be entirely recounted via pleats and seams.

Daenerys is a character who has been through momentous change in the series’s six seasons. She began as a child, a nervous victim of her brother’s torment. The first time the viewer witnesses Daenerys, back in season one, she is naked. This vulnerability is hardly masked as her wardrobe consists of sheer, wispy tunics that leave little to the imagination. Slowly, she gains affection for her Dothraki husband, Khal Drogo, and acceptance of her role as Khaleesi. Thus her Valyrian sheaths are replaced by the customary Dothraki leather. In the final scene of season one, Daenerys emerges from the flames, as naked as she was in that very first episode. Yet the newborn dragons in her arms reveal she is no longer the same young girl, susceptible to the whims of men. She has reclaimed her identity and will move forward, guided by her own power.

In seasons two through four, Daenerys’s outfits, while differing in style and decoration, consist mainly of a knee-length tunic, pants, and boot, a reflection of her emotional flux between Valyrian elegance and Dothraki ruggedness. She is a woman in transition, a queen in search of her people who is willing to march alongside her followers.

Floor-length white gowns are Daenerys’s exclusive choice for season five. The simple and clean designs mirrors her naïveté and purity as she attempts to abolish slavery throughout the city of Meereen. She is frequently taken advantage of and politically targeted by the cunning Masters. Though she is a gentle-hearted ruler, she clearly has much to learn about “The Great Game,” as Tyrion, her future Hand, so aptly describes it.

In the most recent string of epsiodes, Daenerys appears to have found a balance. After a final brush with the Dothraki khals, she emerges from the flames once more as a much shrewder politician. In the season finale, she shares a tender moment with Tyrion during which she names him Hand of the Queen. The Grecian-style gown Daenerys wears in this scene, full of flowing fabric and pleating instead of her usual, more-structured style, communicates her comfort and ease around Tyrion. They share a bond of trust and respect, which is something both of them have rarely encountered in their tumultuous lives.

In the final scene of season six, Daenerys is shown at the helm of her fleet of ships, presumably headed directly for King’s Landing. Her gown, off the shoulder with a triangular neck and silver clasp, is identical in cut to the white gown she wore while holding court in season five. The only difference is the color: this gown is a deep-sea blue, almost black. Despite her struggles, she has maintained the ethical foundation of her political platform to which she clung so fiercely in season five. Yet she is now wise, risk-taking, and has formed genuine alliances that will help her reach her ultimate goal: the Iron Throne.

Though arguably no other character has experienced as many highs and lows as Daenerys has, throughout the cast, wardrobe changes reflect the arc of many of the characters. Take Jon Snow’s hair. This season, upon returning from the dead, Jon began wearing his hair back in a ponytail. Though I’m sure he had a desire to keep those luscious tresses out of his eyes during the Battle of the Bastards, the ponytail is also representative of his father (well …) Ned Stark, who wore his hair in the same way. After Jon Snow fights to reclaim his home Winterfell, he physically steps into Ned Stark’s role as the official Lord of Winterfell, head of the Stark family, and King in the North.

Though the world of “Game of Thrones” is lush and full of adornment, the narrative functionality of fashion is also another way in which the show subverts male claims to power. The most recent season relied on the characters of Sansa and Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Yara Greyjoy and Daenerys Targaryan to advance the story and set the wheels of Westeros in motion. Jon Snow was perhaps the only male character this season with any real narrative power.

For many women, fashion poses a constant contention between empowerment and restriction. High heels limit one’s movement while skirts liberate it. So are the women of “Game of Thrones” faced with constant entrapment and freedom. The clothes they wear while fighting battles and scheming for power do not make the character—Yara Greyjoy would still undoubtedly have the same steely personality if she traded outfits with quietly scheming Littlefinger—but the clothes do contribute to our understanding of the motives and inner life of a character, a necessary task for taking in 60 characters in 60 minutes.

Sometimes, fashion has even more direct implications for the plot of “Game of Thrones.” The Red Woman’s age-defying necklace sparked inquiry and debate for days after the episode. Audiences were stunned when the physically flawless Melisandre removed her hexagonal choker and transformed into a wizened crone. Not all costumes on “Game of Thrones” are enchanted, but like her necklace, they do all function as both sleight of hand and revelation. They can conceal and trick, providing yet another layer to an already complex character—as in the case of Cersei’s sultry kimono robes—or they can signal a character’s very destiny, like Jon Snow’s ponytail.

The finale of season six sets up fashion to be more significant to the future of “Game of Thrones” than ever before. While Daenerys sets sail for King’s Landing, Cersei takes the Iron Throne. Her studded black dress with metal epaulets causes her to blend seamlessly with the seat she has coveted for as long as viewers have known her. Her short hair creates a silhouette eerily similar to Joffrey’s and Tommen’s—her two sons and former kings who she has sacrificed and replaced. In “Game of Thrones,” fashion and politics merge so completely that asking who will be ruling whom is the same as asking who will be wearing what.

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A tale of two It Girls: Chloë Sevigny, Greta Gerwig and the generational likability divide

Chloe Sevigny, Greta Gerwig

Chloe Sevigny, Greta Gerwig (Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau/Hannibal Hanschke/Photo montage by Salon)

What charms grant the power to channel a zeitgeist? What talismanic guise gifts girl with “It” in the sway of her wrist or tilt of her head? “Unselfconsciousness, and self-confidence,” asserted author Elinor Glyn in 1926 for a story in Cosmopolitan. “And indifference as to whether you’re pleasing or not.”

Over the nine decades since Clara Bow lassoed her boss’s son onscreen, It Girls have often blithely scoffed at standards of pleasing behavior. Take Edie Sedgwick’s pill-popping, Angelina’s pendant of hubbie blood, or Kristen Stewart’s refusal to get a carwash (not a euphemism). For the preternaturally cool, public aplomb (and the work of securing it) has seemed a major waste of coolness. Why care about being liked when time could be spent, like, not caring?

But the climate of cool is changing, perhaps especially for women. These days, the patent aim to please needn’t forecast a public hailstorm. And having some ineffable “It” doesn’t have to mean that you’re shy of 30. This summer, two profoundly different Girls still have got It going on in excess—even when, by most definitions, their girlhoods ended some time ago.

Greta Gerwig, millennial sprite, meet Chloë Sevigny, Gen X sister. You may both be 5’8″ blondes with comparably enviable bone structure, but your versions of cool do not comply. And you two could learn from each other.

As far as It goes, the gap between their 32 and 41 might as well be a chasm. Where Gerwig is zany and expressive, Sevigny wields an ironic detachment that defined a generation. Where one made her start in late-aughts mumblecore, the other was scouted in the early ’90s by a Sassy editor smitten with her overalls. The two couldn’t be more opposite had their personas been scripted; think roommates Laverne and Shirley, “Golden Girls” Rose and Blanche, or, given their flaxen manes, Sweet Valley supertwins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield.

“Gerwig officially owns her own genre,” affirms Indiewire’s Eric Kohn in a review of her latest effort, “Maggie’s Plan,” a “surrealist-screwball comedy” from director Rebecca Miller.  As in her earlier roles (many of which she wrote, or co-wrote, herself), as Maggie, Gerwig dutifully tills goof turf for gravitas—slapstick swerving into flashes of sincerity. Within the film’s first ten minutes, she shuttles from helping an old man cross the street to hunting down a sperm donor (a bearded Brooklyn “pickle-entrepreneur” resembling an extra from “The Revenant”). “I just felt like she had this frank stolidness,” Gerwig explains to W Magazine of the heroine’s appeal.

Though “stolid” is a questionable term given how bouncily she zips from borough to borough, that sense of contradiction is key to the actor’s allure. Directing an academic-administrative branch of the New School—a “bridge between art and commerce”— Maggie serves as allegory for what Gerwig is today: offbeat enough to attract indie directors and accessible enough to help them go mainstream. Openly guileless, Gerwig Girls make clear that they care whether they’re liked—as does the actor and writer herself. “There’s probably something wrong with me,” she tells Elle’s Emily Zemler when recounting a history of pilfering tchotchkes (a motif in Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America,” which she co-wrote and starred in), adding sheepishly, “This makes me sound crazy.”

If there’s one person who doesn’t seem to care if she sounds (or looks) crazy, or at least wouldn’t cop to it if she did, it would be Chloë Sevigny. See her bleached eyebrows circa “Gummo” in 1997, the infamous “Brown Bunny” blow-job of 2003 (for which she’s “no regrets”), or, more recently, her crustacean bikini briefs for a Marfa Journal photoshoot (“Consider the Lobster,” indeed). She exhibits equal lack of shame when it comes to the proverbial resting bitch face; fluent in the countenance long before it ever had a label, it remains one of the actor’s most reliable, and redeeming, qualities. Similarly, both onscreen and off, any effort Sevigny exerts in speech often seems better devoted to staring into space or placidly smoking a Camel.

In pithy Gen X fashion, Sevigny defends the front of presenting one in the first place. “Cool has a certain mystery to it,” she tells The New Yorker. “It’s being removed. To me, the coolest thing is to keep something to yourself.”

Keep something to herself she has, even when courting controversy. In a 2015 interview with V Magazine, she called Cool Girl Jennifer Lawrence “annoying” and “crass,” but what shocked just as much was that Sevigny remained “unfazed” amidst the media hoopla aftermath. More recently, she told The Guardian that she has “total disdain for directors,” citing the exploitative sexist behavior of “so-called auteurs” like Lars von Trier.

A stark exception to said contempt would have to be her pal Whit Stillman, whose fizzy period piece “Love and Friendship” serves Austen fresh with a dash of bitters. In the role of Alicia Johnson, an American who plays confidante to the scandalous Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), Sevigny layers insouciance into lavish corsetry. As an actor, she seems about as Georgian as a denim romper, but it couldn’t matter less: her affect is what we’re after, after all.

So what happened in the decade from Chloë to Greta? When did it get cool to flaunt awkwardness as endearing? And how, amidst all the so-called oversharing, has any sense of guarded chic survived?

For starters, the ubiquity of social media has all but mandated conspicuous self-awareness as a posture de rigueur; when strangers can access your public profile, and acquaintances are “friends,” the prospect of maintaining a private air seems virtually impossible. Compared to the “down-low” nature of Sevigny’s ’90s scene, the difference is striking; it’s no wonder she delayed joining Instagram till 2015, claiming she’d rather “kill myself” than Google her own name.

Consider also that whom the “It” is meant to target isn’t static from age to age. In her “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating,” author Moira Weigel links the rise of the “It” Girl in the early 20th century to the then-novel “idea that your personality might be part of what made you desirable.” Here desirable meant a personality attractive to men, which certainly remains relevant today. But contemporary Girls like Gerwig and Sevigny are arguably just as, if not more, bewitching to other women—reflecting not only what we’re like but what we’d like to be. In that way, the Greta / Chloë poles often appeal to the same women, especially those torn between competing generational values.

“There’s something so pure about you…and a little bit stupid,” Maggie is told near the end of the film by Georgette, a Columbia intellectual played by a risibly frosty Julianne Moore. “But I just can’t help to like you.” What appears “stupid” about Gerwig Girls is how knowingly they make themselves vulnerable—a conscious self-consciousness that, to many a Gen X sensibility, comes across as simultaneously uncool and enviable. Like so many late millennials, Maggie (as Gerwig) does care about whether she is liked, and she doesn’t care if other people know it. At the same time, a woman a generation older can respect and even admire that risk; the performance of nonchalance can take its own hefty toll. “Conversations about likability always assume that there are only two kinds of women in the world,” points out Salon’s Arielle Bernstein, “ones who want to be liked, and ones who want something more…. The terms themselves are deliberately vague—what is likable is ultimately subjective, and as we’ve seen in the past few years social pressures for women, and everyone else, can change over time.”

In other words, the fact that both Girls still got It says something for how culture has broadened its borders of How to Be Cool, a province historically admitting precious few demeanors. That Gerwig and Sevigny still got It past thirty and forty also says a lot for how notions of charisma outlast the eras that ushered them. At 32 and 41, the two still very much seem to be Girls, and I say that in the very best way; unmarried and without children, they owe nothing to their ovaries, and their It-ness is grounded in a youthful zest of which neither seem afraid. As Robin Wasserman cogently put it in a recent essay for Lit Hub, “[T]o call yourself “still a girl,” can be empowerment, laying claim to the unencumbered liberties of youth…girlhood can be a battle cry.”

With Chloë and Greta leading the way, it’s time to rally the troops.

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“The Innocents”: A powerful fable of rape and rebirth in a Polish convent

The Innocents

Agata Kulesza, Joanna Kulig, and Lou de Laâge in “The Innocents” (Credit: Aeroplan Film)

Although it’s based on a remarkable true story from the immediate aftermath of World War II — and a story that is actually true, rather than true-ish or grossly inflated — Anne Fontaine’s quiet and powerful new film “The Innocents” is also a story for our time. Our society is more willing to discuss issues like “rape culture” and sexual assault and the complicated ways women can support each other or betray each other than any known previous society, but none of those things is new. What a brave and ambitious young French doctor discovers in a Polish convent in 1946, where many of the sisters are pregnant, is more than a melodrama of female suffering and solidarity. It’s more like a complex social allegory, delivered in a film of masterful restraint and great compassion.

Fontaine is a highly respected director in France, although her best known work on both sides of the Atlantic is not necessarily her best: “Coco Before Chanel,” the plodding 2009 biopic in which Audrey Tautou was (in my view) miscast as the legendary designer. Formally, “The Innocents” is more in the vein of earlier Fontaine films like “How I Killed My Father” or “Nathalie,” subtly wrought and beautifully rendered character studies that reveal their surprises gradually and never tell the audience what to think.

In the French context, “The Innocents” is also a film about a national hero, played by a rising star. Although the fearless Red Cross doctor portrayed by magnetic young actress Lou de Laâge (who rose to fame in actress-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s 2014 French hit “Breathe”) is named Mathilde in the film, Gallic viewers will recognize that she is closely modeled on Madeleine Pauliac, a pioneering French doctor and Resistance fighter. Apparently Pauliac, a fervent left-winger with no religious belief, really did provide medical aid at a rural Polish convent where many nuns had been raped by occupying soldiers, and helped the sisters to guard their secret.

Some viewers in search of a parable of feminist liberation may find the constrained universe of “The Innocents” oppressive or claustrophobic, but I would say that if this movie is about anything it’s about the importance of being open to the world as it is, and to the manifold possibilities it already contains. Mathilde and the French Red Cross have come to Poland amid the postwar chaos to deal with urgent humanitarian matters: Emergency medical care and immunizations, rescuing orphaned children, resettling stateless refugees and Holocaust survivors. At first, Mathilde is a little irritated by the Benedictine nun in her old-school habit — a creature of the old Europe, in Mathilde’s eyes — and her mysterious tale of a sister in dire peril.

What follows after Mathilde agrees to visit the convent, where of course she finds a young woman about to give birth, is far more nuanced and intriguing than some formulaic tale of sisterhood across boundaries: the atheist radical and the brides of Christ, united in struggle. Many of the sisters regard Mathilde with intense suspicion at first, and the fearsome Mother Superior (played by Agata Kulesza, the Communist aunt in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning “Ida”), a woman of undoubted faith in the most morbid Catholic tradition, is keeping multiple levels of secrets. What Mathilde has to reckon with is that beneath their robes, the nuns are all individuals who came to this life by different paths, and also that their cloistered retreat is simultaneously a zone of oppression and a place of physical refuge and spiritual nourishment.

As far as what actually happened in the convent, it’s not much of a mystery but neither the characters nor the filmmaker feel the need to discuss it in detail. (Fontaine co-wrote the dialogue with Pascal Bonitzer, from a screenplay by Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial.) We know that Red Army soldiers came there three times, and Maria (Agata Buzek), the sister who talks most freely with Mathilde, says she wishes they had killed all the women before leaving. But they didn’t, and in its own way “The Innocents” makes a vibrant case that even the worst kinds of trauma can be overcome by those who remain alive, and open to life. One relentlessly cheerful young sister keeps going under the delusion that the Russian soldier who raped her will now marry her, if only she can find him, but Fontaine doesn’t present this with any hint of mockery. We all need illusions to survive; hers are just a little more obvious than most.

Mathilde, a beautiful young woman who is far too heedless of her personal safety, comes close to being raped or killed herself during a random late-night encounter with some drunken Russian soldiers. (No, that isn’t anti-Soviet propaganda; although the war crimes committed by German soldiers were far worse, there is little doubt that the Red Army raped its way across Eastern Europe and into Berlin.) She calmly tells her Jewish colleague and part-time lover (Vincent Macaigne) that she worked as a stretcher-bearer while the Allies fought their way into Paris, and pissed herself in terror several times. No one in the film ever directly mentions how unusual it is to find a young female doctor in a war zone, and Mathilde never stands before the frozen Polish landscape to deliver a monologue about the rights of women. She doesn’t have to; she has visibly put her life and her body on the line to assert her humanity and her equality.

There is also no moment of redemption and reconciliation in “The Innocents,” as would be required in the Hollywood version. Mathilde doesn’t come to believe in God, and the sisters don’t rip off their robes and follow her to Paris to drink with Sartre and Beauvoir. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) But Fontaine and cinematographer Caroline Champetier create many subdued and unexpected moments of simple humanity, or of what a more generous Catholic than the Mother Superior might call grace. There’s a shot late in the film, no more than a few seconds long, when Mathilde enters the vaulted main corridor of the convent and a group of nuns rush to embrace her, that has an almost religious intensity. You could say that in that moment Mathilde understands what the sisters have together, and they understand what she can bring them, or simply that despite the terrible things that have happened, they are glad to be alive and be together.

“The Innocents” is now playing at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema in New York, and the Landmark in Los Angeles. It opens July 8 in Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis, New Haven, Conn., Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., Santa Barbara, Calif., and Washington; July 15 in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Ithaca, N.Y., Newport, R.I., and Sarasota, Fla.; July 22 in Monterey, Calif., and Salt Lake City; and July 29 in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Ore., and Fort Worth, Texas, with more cities and home video to follow.

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Report: “Serial” subject Adnan Syed granted new trial

Serial Podcast-Appeal

Adnan Syed enters Courthouse East in Baltimore prior to a hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in Baltimore. (Credit: Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Adnan Syed, convicted murderer and subject of breakout podcast “Serial,” has been granted a new trial, according to the Associated Press.

Syed — sentenced in 2000 to life in prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee — and his case were the subject of the first season of the hugely popular true-crime podcast “Serial,” hosted by NPR’s Sarah Koenig.

Baltimore’s Judge Martin Welch handed down the order on Thursday afternoon. He cited the defense team’s “ineffective assistance” in failing to “cross-examine the State’s cell tower expert” and “contact a potential alibi witness.”

“The court finds that trial counsel’s performance fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment when she failed to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert regarding a disclaimer obtained as part of pre-trial discovery,” Welch wrote in a statement.

The new trial date has yet to be set. Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, celebrated the decision on Twitter and announced a 5:15PM (ET) press conference:

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Albert Brooks fans, rejoice! His genius films are coming to Netflix — and they feel more relevant than ever

Albert Brooks

Albert Brooks (Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

There’s a lot of bad news in American life these days. So here’s something to be grateful for: The films of Albert Brooks are coming for the first time to Netflix for streaming.

To kids, Brooks is the voice of Marlin in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” Young art-film fans may know him for a chilling role in “Drive.” He’s been in everything from “Taxi Driver” to “Broadcast News” to “This is 40” to “Concussion.”

But his greatest achievement may be the films he’s directed. They include “Mother,” a movie in which a divorcing science-fiction writer moves back in with his mom (Debbie Reynolds) and “Defending Your Life,” one of the strangest movies ever made about the afterlife (and co-starring Meryl Streep.)

But my two favorites are “Real Life,” Brooks’s first film as a director, from 1979, and “Lost in America,” from 1985. The two of them contain much of what is the most distinctive about the director’s approach.

The first is a film about the making of a film, or at least, a documentary. Brooks plays a director who’s gone to Phoenix to make a film about a “typical American family,” like the one PBS made about the Loud Family a few years earlier.

Things, of course, go awry. The film’s self-consciousness, and look at the way media shapes our perceptions and lives, comes years before MTV’s “The Real World,” before the fourth-wall-breaching shows of Garry Shandling, before “The Truman Show,” before the explosion of reality television and everything else.

“Real Life” was actually so eccentric that some people weren’t ready for it. Roger Ebert seemed to get the film’s ideas but not its humor, and panned it. But later critics, like Matt Zoller Seitz, appreciated the social criticism and weird ironies, among them the strange distortion that recording an event brings to it. Brooks character talks about how he wants to discover the real life of America by watching the Yeagers, but he can’t get there. Here’s Seitz’s assessment:

Brooks hopes to record mundane truths that elude Hollywood, but his academic bromides were never heartfelt (an introductory press conference in Phoenix ends with Brooks crooning “Something’s Gotta Give”; while backed by Merv Griffin’s orchestra). As the experiment unreels, delivering muted footage of middle-class domestic angst rather than conventional movie thrills, we’re appalled but not surprised when the director tries to liven things up by showing up on unannounced in a clown suit, proposing a family trip to a day spa, and plotting to seduce Mrs. Yeager… It investigates the tangled assumptions behind documentary cinema itself.

“Lost in America” is not quite as meta, but it’s even funnier. This is a film by a Boomer that gets at Boomer self-deception. Brooks plays an advertising executive who loses his job, and leaves his comfortable life, driving a Winnebago across town with his wife (Julie Hagerty.) They expect their adventure to be their own, yuppie-ish version of “Easy Rider,” and he’s full of the optimism and misguided entitlement of someone who grew up during the years of postwar expansion. “Easy Rider” plays. “We have to touch Indians!” he exclaims. We have to see mountains and prairies and the whole rest of that song!” (The “nest egg” speech is too good to quote here.)

Though the film was released during the ‘80s economic boom, its darker side took on new meaning during The Great Recession, as optimists talked about the “Plan B” with with formerly employed people would “reinvent” themselves. This, folks, was a real Plan B.

His other movies aren’t all this good, or all this prescient. But they’re reasons to wish that Brooks, who hasn’t helmed a movie in 11 years, would get out of the water and back into the director’s chair.

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Brexit vs. Braveheart: Will the Celtic nations seek revenge on England for its historic blunder?

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle (Credit: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

In the wake of Britain’s startling vote last week to leave the European Union — which even took most “Leave” supporters by surprise — the entire nation finds itself in an uproar. That very much includes the professional historians who will presumably be entrusted, somewhere down the line, with explaining what just happened. “Everyone I’ve spoken to is in a state of shock,” says Tom Bartlett, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and a leading authority on British-Irish relations. “No one has a clue where to go now.” Fearghal McGarry, a historian at Queen’s University in Belfast, adds, “Anyone who explains to you right now how Brexit is going to move forward is likely to look foolish in a year or two.”

Many people in Britain are already calling for a repeat referendum, apparently on the principle that the whole country got drunk last Thursday and now repents of its actions. (Anyone who has spent significant time in Britain would admit this seems plausible.) Others have observed that the British Parliament has no legal obligation to do what the public has apparently demanded. Even in a society still bound by the remnants of a centuries-old class system, I don’t think “yes, you silly people, we had a referendum but we didn’t really mean it” will play particularly well.

McGarry, who has written several major books on Irish history, observes that one possibility already floated by the victorious Leave campaign is negotiating a new deal with Europe that “might not look terribly different from the relationship that exists now.” If the deal that emerges “retains British access to the single market and freedom of labor across national borders,” he adds, that leads to an obvious question: “What was it all for?”

Both of Britain’s major political parties find themselves in a state of total meltdown: Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron bet his political future on a “Remain” vote, which I guess proves that an upper-crust upbringing and an expensive education doesn’t make you smart. On the other hand, Cameron sounded positively giddy about his impending resignation during the delightful British ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, quoting Smiths lyrics and challenging opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to meet him “at the cemetery gates.” Whoever replaces Cameron as Tory leader will also become prime minister, at least for now, and faces the unpalatable choice between enacting a policy the party’s City of London financial backers abhor or ignoring the expressed will of the electorate.

Meanwhile Corbyn, the left-wing insurgent who has been at the Labor Party helm barely nine months, is embroiled in his own post-Brexit crisis. He was a tepid supporter of the “Remain” campaign at best, and is widely suspected of having followed his old-school socialist heart to “Leave” in the privacy of the voting booth. After losing a confidence vote among his own party’s members of Parliament this week, Corbyn now faces an intra-party insurrection and another leadership election, in which the mainstream Labor center-left hopes to regain power. That’s not going to end well no matter what happens: Either the party’s London power structure or its rank-and-file membership will come out of this struggle bitterly unhappy. (Which is, yeah, not entirely unlike the Democratic Party.)

All that London political soap opera is juicy. But I reached out to scholars like McGarry and Bartlett because Britain and England are not the same thing. One of the most intriguing post-Brexit subplots involves the other nations (or bits of nations, in the case of Northern Ireland) on what used to be called the “Celtic fringe” of the British Isles. Scotland, of course, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the E.U., although not quite as overwhelmingly as the “Remain” campaign had hoped. Scottish Nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon has already suggested a new referendum on full independence for Scotland, less than two years after the last one was defeated. A leading JP Morgan analyst wrote to his financial clients this week that the firm now assumes a “base case” in which Scotland separates from the United Kingdom, sets up its own currency and rejoins the E.U., all before the year 2020.

But each of the three Celtic nations of Britain is a special case that underscores the fragility of that strange and antique political entity. If a wave of Celtic payback is on the way, to punish the smug “Little England” bigotry and nostalgia that (in some cases) drove the “Leave” campaign, it will take different forms in different places. Voting patterns across the U.K. defied any rational analysis, says McGarry. “Some of those who voted to leave will probably be most disadvantaged by the consequences, by what’s likely to happen,” he adds. “There’s a tendency to assume that people will vote in their rational interests, but factors like culture and identity tend to cut against that.” (Do I need to bring up the parallels to Trump and the contemporary Republican Party? I didn’t think so.)

Northern Ireland, where McGarry lives and works, is a divided province of a divided country that has seen significant economic growth since the end of the sectarian civil war known as the “Troubles” in the mid-‘90s. It voted to remain in Europe, which may reawaken the nationalist dream of a united Ireland, almost a century after its political partition. McGarry says he’s surprised the result wasn’t even more one-sided. “A significant section of the Northern Ireland population voted to leave, about 45 percent,” he says. “It strikes me that was largely a Unionist vote [meaning Irish Protestants who want to remain in the U.K.], and that Unionists are putting their dislike of the E.U. ahead of a potential threat to the stability of the Union. I find that very surprising.” Although it’s unlikely that the bloodshed of the 1970s and ‘80s will return, the sectarian bitterness that fueled the Irish conflict lingers on under the surface, and this seems to be the decade when unlikely things happen with regularity.

Then there is the peculiar case of Wales, a beautiful country with a long tradition of working-class activism and a rich cultural and linguistic heritage, which once again finds itself Britain’s odd man out. If you look at the numbers, it appears that the Welsh voted to leave in virtually the same proportions as the rest of Britain did. But behind the raw vote totals lies a complicated tale of a small, struggling nation undergoing an identity crisis, well explained in this essay by Ellie Mae O’Hagan for the Independent. In brief, rural regions of the north and west, the home of Welsh nationalism and the Welsh language, voted to remain in Europe, while depressed industrial regions of South Wales, which are largely English-speaking and dominated by English culture, voted to leave.

“Across England and Wales,” says McGarry, “you can see a strong pattern of economically depressed areas with relatively little immigration voting to leave.” Wales has long been a stronghold of the Labor Party, which was clearly unable to get its supporters to vote Remain in large enough numbers. So while the voting patterns appear irrational, you can’t assume that racism and xenophobia were the only important factors. “A lot of people were voting for things that are not directly connected to Europe,” McGarry continues. “They’re voting out of their sense of political disconnection, they’re voting because they feel that they’ve lost out through globalization. I don’t think the political elite anticipated that all these things would converge around this referendum.”

People on the left, McGarry says, should resist the temptation to express “contempt toward these people who are responding to the economic predicament of being left behind, feeling not represented, feeling that they don’t have much of a future. When you look at the spatial map of how people voted, there’s nothing irrational about people in areas that have been left behind for decades now rejecting the current economic and political status quo.”

In the spirit of Celtic solidarity and to placate the ghost of my dad — who spoke both Irish and Welsh, and could probably fake Scots Gaelic and a little Breton as well — I would like to insist that we can’t overlook the true abandoned stepchildren of the Celtic world, the Cornish and the Manx. Except that there isn’t much to say about them. Cornwall, on the extreme southwestern toe of England, voted 56 percent “Leave,” significantly higher than the nation as a whole, even though it’s one of the U.K.’s poorest regions and receives about $82 million a year in direct E.U. subsidies for infrastructure, education and economic development. Which sums up the shortsightedness and stupidity of the whole Brexit phenomenon in one sentence. The Isle of Man is something called a “Crown dependency” and was never in the E.U. in the first place, so the Manx didn’t get to vote. I can only hope my aunts and cousins in Dublin can still go there to play the slots and buy cheap cigarettes.

Scotland has gotten plenty of attention both before and after the Brexit vote, including the bizarre spectacle of Donald Trump’s visit to his golf resort at Turnberry, which was attention most Scots could have done without. Voters in England were repeatedly told that Scotland might bolt the U.K. if Brexit actually happened, and apparently decided that if the whisky was still for sale and if they could pop across the border for a golfing holiday once in a while, they simply didn’t care.

Let me set aside the traditional rivalry between the Irish and the Scots to observe that Scotland has accomplished something remarkable, which may ultimately serve as an example for Britain, Europe and the world. Perhaps because of the long-running debate over independence — which is about to enter a new chapter — Scotland has built an identity as a 21st-century nation with traditional roots and a traditional culture, that is also multicultural, cosmopolitan and connected to the outside world. Lots of people in London and Manchester and Liverpool thought their nation was like that too, of course, but have just received a telegram informing them otherwise.

That’s a bit simplistic, no doubt. I don’t need Scottish readers to remind me that some areas of Glasgow are truly dire or that there’s too much Trump-style resort development or that not all immigrants have been welcomed with open arms. But with the rest of Britain (and, let’s face it, a whole bunch of America) trying to crawl into an imaginary past like frightened children, the nation of bagpipes and kilts and haggis looks to the future like grownups.

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RIP, big 4th of July movie: “Independence Day” then and now and monoculture’s slow demise

"Independence Day," 1996

“Independence Day,” 1996 (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

If George of the Jungle had to worry about running into a tree, there’s an even more treacherous obstacle in Tarzan’s path: Watch out for that box office.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is set for a collision course this weekend when the David Yates-directed apeman reboot swings into 3,450 locations. Currently, is projecting that the film, which stars Alexander Skarsgård (“True Blood”) as Tarzan and Margot Robbie (“Suicide Squad”) as Jane, will open to just $23 million—en route to finishing with $50 million in the bank by the end of its run. For a movie with an $180 million tab, those numbers are abysmal, yet another of 2016’s pricey misfires.

Its fortunes will not be aided by reviews, which have ranged from bad to savage. The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde compared it to notorious bombs like “The Lone Ranger” and “John Carter.” David Ehrlich of IndieWire was even less kind: “There’s a whiff of desperation about pulling a literary figure like Tarzan down from the tree line and forcing him to live at our level—it’s why you’ve been laughing at the marketing of this film for months. And now the finished product is finally here, and it earns the worst of your preconceptions, reintroducing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immortal character as just another overpriced commodity.”

If you’re asking yourself why we needed another Tarzan movie in 2016 (200 films with his name in the title have already graced screens large and small), there’s another question at hand: Whatever happened to the Fourth of July movie?

In the 1990s and early 2000s, our nation’s birthday became a lynchpin of the studio release calendar, arguably the centerpiece of summer movie season. The face of the moviegoing holiday was Will Smith, the former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star who made his name on the silver screen as a staple of mid-summer tentpoles.

After making his name as a major draw in Michael Bay’s “Bad Boys,” Smith launched the movie that would announce his status as “Mr. July”: the aptly-named “Independence Day.” Co-starring Bill Pullman (“Spaceballs”) and Jeff Goldblum (“Jurassic Park”), the Roland Emmerich-helmed disaster film all but printed its own money in 1996. At the time, Its $817 million worldwide haul was the biggest ever for a studio film (the unstoppable behemoth that was “Titanic” would be released the following year).

While “Independence Day” is undoubtedly cheesy, there’s a reason that the film has proven so iconic in the two decades since its release. Its cheerfully naïve optimism about the human condition is difficult to resist—from a presidential address delivered in accidental couplets (“We will not go quietly into the night!/We will not vanish without a fight!”) to a drunken Randy Quaid flying into the mothership to save humanity from destruction. “Independence Day” is brainless jingoism, but it’s damn fun, and the sight of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s bandmate beating up an alien (“Welcome to Earth!”) never gets old.

Following “Independence Day,” Smith put out a miracle string of films that did huge numbers on the July 4th holiday weekend. The next year boasted the release of “Men in Black” ($589 million worldwide), and in the next decade, Smith would have comparable success with “Men in Black II” ($441 million) and Hancock ($624 million). “Wild Wild West” ($222 million) would have been another feather in his cap if not for its hefty price tag and very poor critical reception; it won the Razzie for Worst Picture in 1999.

Smith’s success with the July 4th release date paved the way for a number of other blockbusters to launch on the day of barbecues, hot dogs, and family picnics. Bay released all four “Transformers” movies on Independence Day, while “Spider-Man 2,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Armageddon,” “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” and “War of the Worlds” all bowed over the holiday weekend.

The quality of these entries varies widely, but they had one thing in common: They put butts in seats.

Hollywood has struggled to match that success since. The last unqualified Fourth of July smash was “Despicable Me 2” back in 2013, while the holiday has been beset by a series of disappointments in recent years. “Earth to Echo,” Disney’s found-footage “E.T.” ripoff, finished with just $45 million in 2014, while its competition, “Tammy,” marked Melissa McCarthy’s first-ever critical and commercial clunker. Last year, a pair of sequels both underperformed: “Terminator: Genisys” and “Magic Mike XXL.”

“Tarzan,” which cost $180 million, looks to continue that trend. Meanwhile, none of this weekend’s Fourth of July entries—not even Steven Spielberg’s family-friendly Roald Dahl adaptation, “The BFG”—is slated to end its run with more than $100 million domestically. Even “Independence Day 2” couldn’t break the curse: The Liam Hemsworth-fronted sequel nobody wanted is likewise flailing in theaters.

To a certain extent, this is a matter of happenstance. Studios can’t control which movies make money and which don’t (or Taylor Kitsch would be a much bigger star than he is), and many of the movies that flopped were—at one time—expected to do well, or at least better than they did. Disney sunk $225 million into “The Lone Ranger,” and releasing it on Independence Day was a sign that the Mouse House hoped to milk it for every dollar the notorious bomb was worth. When it comes to making big-budget tentpoles, you market the hell out it and hope for the best.

But the fact that the July 4th holiday has been associated with so many duds in recent years may have convinced studios to push their surefire hits to other dates. In 2016, the biggest movies of the year so far all opened well before schools let out: “Captain America: Civil War” opened in early May, while “The Jungle Book” debuted in April. “Zootopia” was a March release.

This has to do with the strange voodoo of deciding when to release a movie—which is based less on exact science than outright superstition. For instance, when “The Help” made bank at the beginning of August, a number of other movies with black casts were all put out the very same weekend in the following years: “Get on Up,” “The Butler,” “Sparkle,” and “Straight Outta Compton.” This year’s contribution to the trend is “Morris From America.” The A24 release is about a 13-year-old boy who moves to Germany with his father, played by Craig Robinson of “The Office.” Is there a logic to that strategy? Not really. Black audiences want to see good movies whenever they open, not solely on one weekend a year.

But that’s how it works in Hollywood: When something does well, you replicate its success until it’s no longer profitable. That leads to a surfeit of industry dogma that’s based on nothing more than that’s the way things are done. For example, until recently, February was reserved for rom-coms and studio trainwrecks (see: “Jupiter Ascending”). The idea was that people don’t see movies in the winter a) because of the weather and b) they’re cutting back on expenses after the Christmas season. Then “Deadpool” and “The LEGO Movie” debunked that myth.

But if the industry is letting seasonal tommyrot guide its decision making, that’s a shame. During the Will Smith era, the Fourth of July was the third-biggest moviegoing day of the year, one of the few times that Americans were all expected to go to the movies together. When I saw “Independence Day” in the theaters 20 years ago, the movie was standing room only. People squatted in the aisles and sat on each other’s laps, breaking nearly every fire code imaginable to see humans fight off space evil.

That mass participation is also part of the film’s appeal. Lindsay Robertson, the former digital editorial director for the Tribeca Film Festival, argued in a critical round-up of 4th of July films that “Independence Day” is “less like a movie and more like a sports event.”

“I saw Independence Day five times in the theater,” Robertson said. “The reason I kept going back was the thrill of being part of an audience all experiencing the same emotions at the same time—and cheering, yelling, clapping, jumping up, whooping at the end together. … It’s easy to forget that one reason we go to the movies is to see them with other people.”

The universal experience of film (part of what’s often referred to as “monoculture”) is increasingly rare in a fragmented entertainment landscape where we have more options than ever. If yet another movie about a jungle boy being raised by apes doesn’t sound appetizing, audiences can stay home and watch Netflix, HBOGo, or Hulu. Movie theater attendance has been steadily declining since 2002, and if current ticket sales hold, 2016 will be one of the worst years since 1995, the year before “Independence Day” was released.

Don’t let the nostalgia fool you: “Independence Day” is no masterpiece. But facing down yet another year without an heir to its summer movie throne, it’s looking pretty good.

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When “I’m sorry for your loss” doesn’t cut it: “Orange Is the New Black” explores the limits of easy apologies

Orange Is The New Black S4

Alan Aisenberg and Taylor Schilling, “Orange Is the New Black” (Credit: Jojo Whilden/Netflix)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the season 4 of “Orange Is the New Black,” including the final episodes. 

In “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again” the final episode of this season of “Orange Is the New Black,” Baxter Bayley, the baby-faced correctional officer who accidentally kills Poussey during a peaceful protest, runs into Piper, overwhelmed with the horror of what he has done. Out of uniform, his hoodie up and his eyes red and wet, he stammers like a little boy, “I have to get to them. I have to tell them I am sorry. I am so sorry.”

Piper is compassionate, but resolute. “You cannot go into C dorm,” she tells him. “They’re grieving. They are not ready to hear you.”

Season 4 of “OITNB” calls for responsibility over contrition, especially in the face of systemic injustice. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Caputo gently tells a distraught Taystee, who is understandably outraged that Poussey’s father hasn’t even been contacted about her death. “I’m so sick of people saying that, man, my loss,” Taystee replies. “Like it was my hundred-year old granny who kicked it, or like it was some tragic accident instead of cold-blooded murder.”

This season, Litchfield is full of characters trying to make amends, from Mendoza attempting to do right by Sophia, to Donuts directly apologizing to Pennsatucky for raping her. But while Judy King, the Southern celebrity chef enjoying a relatively posh stay at Litchfield, firmly advises C.O. Luschek that apologies work as long as you really mean them, it’s clear that repentance is simply self-indulgent if not backed up by direct and tangible actions.

Caputo may be depicted as a well-intentioned man, for example, a person who genuinely wants his prison to be a place of rehabilitation, but he is also complicit in a system that outright abuses its inmates, from tolerating overcrowding and sadistic guards to accepting that prisoners are no longer afforded necessities like maxi pads. He even, sadly, allows his educational program to be transformed into straight unpaid labor, because he is confused and unable to stand up to the corporate board (and knocking boots with the colleague who helped pitch the initiative).

Likewise, well-intentioned guards may treat prisoners with dignity, but they also consistently turn a blind eye to abuse. Caputo may be proud when Bayley comes to him in order to report how a sadistic new guard forced inmates to fight one another, but his advice to Bayley to leave the prison compounds the sense that there is nothing he or anyone else can do to improve the status quo.

Over the past few years our society has already grown incredulous about apologies, from the ubiquity of #sorrynotsorry to the feminist rejection of how women are socialized to apologize constantly. This movement away from the easy sorry is more than about digging in your heels. It’s about who gets to say they are sorry, and who has to deal with the actual repercussions of a mistake. In particular, Season 4 highlights how deep seated and systemic racial injustice can’t be “sorry’d” away, even when people try to. Judy King is convinced that her racist puppet show from the ’80s is simply not reflective of who she is as a person, and tries to erase this history with some staged interracial lesbian photos she leaks to the press, but is quick to abandon her black friends when any kind of strife emerges, happily locking herself away in her private jail cell complete with a seltzer machine.

The flagrant privileges granted to white inmates, especially pretty, blonde, blue-eyed white inmates like Piper, who doesn’t really get the damage she is causing until she has a swastika branded on her arm, is especially painful to watch. Yoga Jones might be embarrassed and troubled by the fact that she is the recipient of newfound advantages after being selected to be Judy’s roommate, but despite her awareness that the treatment she is receiving is unfair, she ends up buying into it too, seltzer machine and all. Likewise, Piper might try to make amends by standing in solidarity with the other prisoners, but her body has also never been in the same explicit danger as the women of color in Litchfield. From the way that Sergeant Healy tried to make Piper’s stay at Litchfield comfortable when she first arrived, to the way that Piscatella trusts her initial declaration that the C.O.s should be aware of a Latina gang, Piper’s wealthy white WASP background has given her a tangible advantage over other prisoners.

When Bayley tries to apologize to Poussey’s friends, he tells Piper, “I’m a good person—you know that.”

He may be, and it also doesn’t matter. As part of a system, which is abusing its power and perpetuating injustice, Bailey’s tears are both genuine and frustrating. His backstory provides similar examples of the ways in which his character is shown to have good intentions, but is also easily swayed by peer pressure. He eggs the house of the manager who fired him for giving out too many free ice cream cones to pretty girls, and throws eggs at Litchfield inmates too, when being goaded on by his friends.

It’s telling that Bailey was let off with a slap on the wrist for a crime similar to the one that Poussey was actually convicted for—a low-level drug arrest. Both Bailey and Poussey are presented in the show as kind-hearted people who are operating in a world with immense double standards when it comes to race, class and gender. In this season’s bleak finale, we don’t yet have the resolution of what happens in the minutes after Daya points a gun at an abusive C.O. who has been terrorizing inmates, especially the women of color. We end instead with a shot of Poussey’s smiling, exuberant face looking out onto the bright lights of New York City, knowing that neither apology nor vengeance will ever bring her back.

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Holocaust escape tunnel discovery a blow against deniers: “It was dug out by spoons. By people who were shackled around the ankles”

Dr. Richard Freund and Dr. Harry Jol at the lip of the WWII-era pit at Ponar.

Dr. Richard Freund and Dr. Harry Jol at the lip of the WWII-era pit at Ponar. (Credit: Ezra Wolfinger/NOVA)

The awful story of the Nazi treatment of European Jews may be most awful in Lithuania, then a part of the Soviet Union in which 95 percent of the Jewish population was killed. But a recent discovery near the nation’s capital, Vilnius, offers a glimmer of something a bit brighter: a tunnel through which a handful of Jews, awaiting execution underground, were able to escape.

The tunnel’s exact location was only confirmed this month, as archeologists investigated near the place where 100,000 people, 70,000 of them Jewish, were killed by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.

The full story will be told through a NOVA documentary next year on PBS. For now, we spoke to Paula Apsell, a NOVA senior executive producer, at her office at Boston’s WGBH. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

So before this month, what did we know or suspect about this Lithuanian tunnel? Did we have hard evidence? Just rumors?

Eleven people actually escaped, and survived the war. We’re trying to hunt down their families, but we haven’t done it yet. But they told the story. Additionally, there was a team in 2004 that located the mouth of the tunnel, which they then for some reason left unmarked.

But as time passed, according to the archeologist Richard Freund, people were starting to say, “Well, maybe it never happened, maybe it was an exaggeration, maybe they tried to escape, and could never make it.” And you know what happens to memory, and with all the Holocaust denial… It fits into that category very well.

So there was a kind of uncertainty around it. It was a story, with an incomplete finding. The fact that this was found by ERT — electrical resistivity tomography — and then confirmed by another technique, GPR — ground penetrating radar…

Before we get into the technical issues, tell us a little about the tunnel — how it was made, what it looks like, how long it took to dig.

Well, it was dug out by spoons. By people who were shackled around the ankles. Which eventually, in order to escape through the forest, they filed off their shackles. I believe it was 100 feet, somewhere between five and nine feet below the surface. One hundred feet doesn’t sound that long, but when you remember that it had to be dug out by hand, and with spoons, which were the only instruments they had, it’s pretty amazing. I believe it took them 76 days to do it.

And you’ve seen the tunnel and the mouth of it yourself. What’s the setting like?

It’s a woods. If you didn’t know there were 100,000 bodies burned there, and buried there, you’d think it was a beautiful and peaceful park. Then you see these circles enclosed by walls. You’d think it was a great setting for family picnics. It’s only when you begin to realize it’s a graveyard…

Before the war, when the Russians controlled Lithuania, they thought this would be a good location for oil and gas exploration, so they dug these pits, and got them all ready to put oil and gas in. But that never happened. And when the Germans decided that they were going to kill all the Jews from Vilnius, plus 30,000 other people — homosexuals and dissidents and undesirables — they thought, “Oh, this is really convenient, what a place, we can store the bodies here.”

This was just the beginning of the Final Solution – they had concentration camps, but they didn’t have the kind of death-camp structure with gassing… The Germans ran this camp, but they had to go out and find Lithuanians to do the killing. They found 150 Lithuanians who were in a riflery alliance, and got them to do the killing, but they could only do 10 killings at one time. They weren’t set up to do the factory-style murder that they later did at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. It was a slow, torturous process. [Jews and others] would come in and be in these processing trenches – which you can see there – and then 10 by 10 by 10, they’d go to get shot. It took a long time to kill 100,000 people.

It’s kind of a horrible story wrapped around a triumphant story, or vice versa.

That’s right.

NOVA is a science series, and archeology is a science… But archeology is now being revolutionized with help of this technology. What it means to me, as a science journalist, is that while memories fade, we have hard evidence in the form [technology], data about exactly where the tunnel is. And that’s something you can never take away.

It presents irrefutable proof at a time where there is so much Holocaust denial, and survivors are dying out. That’s really important…. In 10 years when all the survivors are gone… Man’s inhumanity to man is always hard to fathom.

When I was there, walking around the ghetto in Vilna – that’s Yiddish for Vilnius… Jews made up 35 percent of the population of Vilna. This was a highly prosperous, highly cultured, vibrant society – just like we are. And I’m sure they didn’t have any idea this was coming. In a way it shakes your confidence about the future. It really haunted me when I walked around there.

How will NOVA tell the tale? And what kind of footage do you have?

We haven’t edited yet. But we deal with two sites. One site is the Great Synagogue, which is being excavated by the archeologists. They’ve found what they think are ritual baths… It was a community center.

Then they worked at Ponar, which were the pits, they found a twelfth pit where 7,000 to 10,000 people were buried and burned there, and you can see the ash.

The film will be on the archeological excavation, and on the history. One thing we will try to do is to recreate – take these haunted, empty streets and show how vibrant they were. They called it the Jerusalem of Europe. This wasn’t a dying community.

We’ll also be profiling the archeologists, Richard Freund and Jon Seligman, both of them had relatives in Lithuania. Jon Seligman lost an untold number of people. So this is a really personal mission for them. They are really invested in it, really emotional about it.

Piece by piece, through archeology, this place is being restored. That to me is really touching.

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“Turkey is at war with itself”: Experts on the Istanbul bombing and Turkey’s policy toward the Islamic State

Turkey Airport Blasts

A police officer guides people outside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding others, Turkey’s justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fired at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. Turkish authorities have banned distribution of images relating to the Ataturk airport attack within Turkey. (AP Photo) TURKEY OUT (Credit: AP)

One day after three suicide attackers killed 41 people and injured more than 230 others in a brutal assault on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport Tuesday evening, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early signs indicate that the operation was carried out by the Islamic State.

“I hope that the Ataturk Airport attack, especially in Western countries [and] all over the world, will be a milestone for the joint fight against terrorist organizations, a turning point,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday.

Tuesday’s events in Istanbul are the latest in a series of at least 14 terrorist attacks that have occurred in Turkey over the past year, which have been attributed to ISIS and Kurdish militants.

Salon asked experts on Turkey and the Middle East to explain the conditions that led to the airport bombing and reflect on how the attack might impact regional geopolitics going forward.

Mohamad Bazi, associate professor of journalism at NYU, former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday, and former adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

Basically, one of the reasons that ISIS was able to grow and get to the stage it has gotten to in Syria is because in the early part of the war, elements of the Turkish government were allowing militants and volunteers and jihadists to enter Syria through the Turkish border. These radicals would travel from Europe and other places and they would travel through Turkey and then they would enter Syria

A little over a year ago, Turkey began to clamp down on the border. Part of it was a response to U.S. and European pressure to stem the flow of fighters to ISIS. And once the Turks began to do that[…] ISIS began to turn against Turkey and target Turkey. So, as far as any change, we’ve already seen some change from the Turkish government, which is the series of changes that led us to this point.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Because Turkey has increased border cooperation with the U.S. and because Turkey is fighting the Islamic State through Turkey-backed rebels in Syria, I think ISIS really wanted to up the battle. But this might be a miscalculation on their behalf, because it will align Turkey more closely with the U.S. I think the silver lining of the cloud is that this is going to be the end of U.S.-Turkish discord over whether or not ISIL is a primary threat. It was a primary threat for the U.S. before yesterday. It was considered a secondary threat to Turkey, after [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad.

Now I think Turkey will prioritize ISIS and focus on that, because Erdogan cannot let this group, which has hit the country’s economic capital, get away with it. He’s a guy who runs on a strong man right-wing presidential image, and he won’t let ISIS get away with an attack which would tarnish that image.

Robert Naiman, policy director at Just Foreign Policy

Obviously, the attack is horrible. It’s certainly true that Turkey has played a double game in Syria with respect to ISIS, as the Turkish government basically admitted when it tried to suppress the reporting of Turkish journalists about it.

Turkey is certainly not the only country that has played a double game with respect to ISIS — so have the Gulf Sunni monarchies, so has the U.S., in the sense that the CIA is arming groups, as The New York Times has reported, that the President claims with little dispute that he could target under the 2001 AUMF as “associated forces to Al Qaeda.”

But Turkey is paying a higher price, obviously, for the double game because it is closer to Syria.

Bulent Aliriza, founding director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Turkey continues to argue, to a far greater extent than its Western allies, that the reason ISIS is a threat today is because the West did not provide the military means to achieve the common goal of ousting Assad, and eventually the frustration led to increased radicalization among the opposition groups and ultimately to the emergence of ISIS itself.

The Turkish position still remains that ISIS is an outgrowth of the failure to move against Assad, but Turkey’s Western allies have become focused almost entirely of the threat posed by ISIS, while de-emphasizing the need for Assad to leave. In Washington,that’s still stated as the objective, but the means for its realization have not been provided. The Turkish position after this attack, I think, is going to move more in the direction of its Western allies: that ISIS is a threat and maybe more of an immediate threat than the continued survival of Assad.

David L. Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights

[Editor’s note: The PKK and YPG are secular leftist Kurdish rebel groups that are fighting for independence from Turkey. Turkey sometimes blames attacks on Kurdish rebels that were actually carried out by non-Kurdish Islamist groups.]

It’s terrible that so many innocent civilians were killed.

ISIS kills civilians. The PKK targets security services with whom it is at war since Turkey attacked in July 2015.

ISIS resents Turkey for allowing the US to use Incirlik [air force base] for operations. Turkey was the midwife that created ISIS. Now ISIS has turned on its benefactor.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accused of tacitly supporting ISIS in its fight against the Kurds. It’s not tacitly. Erdoğan and ISIS are both fighting the YPG and they cooperate.

The YPG is about to connect Azzaz and Jarablus, which would form a security buffer along the Turkey-Syria border. Turkey wants to establish the security buffer but its arch-enemy, the YPG, controls this route.

Turkey is isolated and enfeebled. It’s at war with its neighbors and, by virtue of its unjustified attacks against the Kurds, Turkey is at war with itself.

Source: New feed