Yellow Cake: A Modern Parable of Terrorism and Devastating War

Yellow Cake: A Modern Parable of Terrorism and Devastating War

Yellow Cake is a short animated film by the award-winning Canadian animator Nick Cross.  Cross explains that he got the idea for the film in 2003, in light of speculation during the Bush administration that Iraq was buying uranium powder called “Yellow Cake.”  Yellow Cake Uranium was one of the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Iraq allegedly possessed.  Cross’s fantastic animated epic becomes a modern parable of terrorism and catastrophic war, a lamentable tragedy featuring geopolitical bullying, social unrest and worker revolt. In the end, as with most revolutions, the revolt is both crushed by foreign intervention and corrupted from the inside until it becomes as evil as the regime the workers had originally fought.

Yellow Cake initially lures the viewer into a tale of pleasant mirth, filled with adorable blue creatures who spend all day baking and then eating their own  exquisitely delicious yellow cakes.  However, by the end of the film the small town of happy little bakers has been driven to terrorism by the greed of their leader and cake-hungry fat cats, resulting in the town’s ultimate catastrophic destruction.  It seems that no matter what they do, the oppressed have no hope left.

Yellow Cake: A Modern Parable of Terrorism and Devastating War

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Standard Operating Procedure: People Behind the Abu Ghraib Abuse

Standard Operating Procedure: The People Behind the Abu Ghraib Abuse

Academy Award winner and documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure is an inquiry into the prisoner torture and abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. It is, predictably, a very bleak and depressing movie. But the very scale of Standard Operating Procedure, which in its expensive-looking production values, special effects and elaborately choreographed re-enactments, shows that Errol Morris has grown weary of working in the dimly lit outer fringes of motion picture productions, to which documentary filmmakers are still too often relegated.

Standard Operating Procedure is a big, provocative and disturbing work, although what makes it most provocative is that its greatest ambitions are for its own visual style. In sweeping strokes, the documentary addresses many of the issues that abound when government-authorized torture is accompanied by that very government’s public denial of responsibility, leaving young male and female soldiers bereft of anything except their own poorly-informed tactics.

Morris explains that a major force driving the project was the profusion of photographs that were taken by the American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison that document, in horrifyingly graphic detail, the prisoner abuse that those very soldiers helped to perpetuate. Morris and his documentary crew “set out to examine the context of these photographs,” attempting to uncover what had happened within the accepted narrative about the torture. For him the photographs functioned as both an exposé and a cover-up because while they revealed the horror, they also “convinced journalists and readers they had seen everything.”

Morris wasn’t convinced that he had seen everything. He made this movie, which at its finest and most focussed, tries to investigate how seeing both does and does not evolve into understanding. To that end, Morris employed two familiar documentary strategies: direct-address interviews and re-enactments in which actors re-enact actual historical events. As a tactic, the interviews with some of the soldiers who actually carried out the torture and abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison could have enabled the documentary’s subjects to speak for themselves, to raise their own voices.

Unfortunately, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that even when those subjects are able to speak from the vantage point of looking back in retrospect, they are only capable of providing, or willing to provide, anything more than defensive testimonies on their own behalves.

It is testimony to a government’s pervasive moral vacuum.

Standard Operating Procedure: The People Behind the Abuse

Abu Ghraib Iraq Prison Abuses, 2003

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Obama, Stop this Nonsense: No, You Can’t!

No, You Can’t is a satirical music video that responds to Barack Obama’s political message of Hope, as well as to the acclaimed Yes We Can celebrity music video. It stars a look-alike for the infamous Republican neo-conservative, Vice-President Richard Cheney.

Obama, Stop This Hope Nonsense: No, You Can’t!

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Line Up: Bush Administration Mug Shots

Line Up Mug Shot: Dick Cheney

Line Up Mug Shot: Donald Rumsfeld

Controversy has flared up from the sleepy third-floor hallway galleries at the New York Public Library, where a modest exhibition of contemporary prints called Multiple Interpretations is on view. The work that has prompted protests from some library patrons is called Line Up, a series of politically inflammatory prints by the team of Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese. Each black-and-white digital print is a mug shot-style print in which a member of the Bush administration appears in profile and face forward, holding a police identification sign and the date on which he or she made a statement of questionable veracity relating to Iraq.

A video accompanying the prints allows you to hear an actual recording through headphones as you view each speaker’s fake mug shot reproduced on screen. President Bush announces the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s effort to purchase uranium in Africa. Dick Cheney says, “Nobody has produced a single shred of evidence that there’s anything wrong or inappropriate here,” presumably a reference to Halliburton.

It is at first mildly shocking to come upon such bluntly partisan artwork on a New York Public Library wall. Biting political satire is deeply a part of printmaking history, but handmade prints are no longer a significant form of political communication, and many people don’t expect anything so brazenly controversial in the public library context. Seen elsewhere, the prints would not be so provocative. That said, Ligorano/Reese’s piece does pose a challenge to the rest of the exhibition, which looks quite docile by comparison, even taking into consideration that the show is not meant to focus on political work.

Organized by the library’s curator of prints, Roberta Waddell, the display is intended to present the range of contemporary printmaking styles that the library has collected during the last 10 years.

Line Up

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