THIS WEEK’S ryder filmS

We are continuing to screen first-run, award-winning, international and independent American films during the pandemic. Here’s what’s playing this week in our virtual theater.


You can watch Collective right here, right now

Journalism’s role at exposing corruption has rarely been as dramatically portrayed as in Collective, in which filmmaker Alexander Nanau follows an unfolding investigation in real time. Romania’s Gazeta Sporturilor newspaper isn’t internationally known, but its reporters are as dogged as any Pulitzer winner. One revelation leads to another as they uncover a vast health-care fraud that enriched moguls and politicians, and caused the deaths of innocent citizens.

The story starts in 2015 with a fire at the Bucharest nightclub Colectiv. The tragedy killed 27 people on site and injured over 100 more. Romania’s Health Minister promised the burn victims would get the highest-quality treatment, but, in subsequent months, dozens more perished. What was going wrong inside the hospitals? Gazeta Sporturilor‘s investigative team, led by Catalin Tolontan, digs into this with old-fashioned gusto, conducting stakeouts, analyzing data, and working sources like the whistle-blowing Dr. Camelia Roiu. Their revelations shake Romania all the way to the upper echelons of business and government. One target of investigation winds up dead. Was it suicide or murder? (Romania/Luxembourg; subtitled; 109 min)

ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES ABOUT JOURNALISM and the Dark Forces in Confronts…Alexander Nanau’s bracing, relentless documentary plays like a gripping real-time thriller, merging the reportorial intensity of Spotlight with the paranoid uncertainty of The Manchurian Candidate. When Nanau screened Collective to rave reviews at the Venice, Toronto and Sundance festivals, he had no idea that his exposé would prove to be all-too predictive of a world not prepared to cope with a rampaging virus pandemic.  – Indiewire

CRITIC’S PICK! Whatever questions you have are eclipsed by the bombshells that keep exploding. Collective sketches out an honest, affecting, somewhat old-fashioned utopian example of what it takes to make the world better, or at least a little less awful. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice. But as “Collective” lays out with anguished detail and a profound, moving sense of decency, it takes stubborn, angry people — journalists, politicians, artists, activists — to hammer at that arc until it starts bending, maybe, in the right direction. – The New York Times



You can watch Francisca right here, right now

A rising young novelist falls in love with the daughter of an English army officer. Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira made this amazing film in 1981, at the age of 72; as powerful as it is stark, it suggests a blending of the modernist, minimalist techniques of Jean-Marie Straub with the elusive spiritual subject matter of Max Ophuls. With its elaborate title cards, its abundance of shots in which the action is oriented directly toward the camera, its evocative interiors, and its show-stopping gala set-pieces, Francisca is an exacting, sumptuous and utterly inimitable cinematic experience, and one of Oliveira’s crowning achievements. (Portugal / subtitled / 166 min)

Francisca premiered in 1981 as an official selection in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. The new 4K digital restoration by the Cinemateca Portuguesa premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival in 2019.

co-feature: If you are a fan of movies about aspiring writers, you might also want to watch Martin Eden

A masterpiece of modern cinema!  A story of great subtlety, density, and emotional impact. – Dave Kehr, When Movies Mattered


You can watch Citizens of the World right here, right now

It is never too late to change your life. Three Italians in their seventies, all single and looking for a change, decide to leave their beloved Rome and settle abroad. But where? A rash decision?–perhaps. The Professor, retired after teaching Latin his whole life, is getting bored. Giorgetto, one of the last true Romans, struggles to make ends meet every month. Attilio, an antiques dealer, wants to experience once again the sense of adventure he had while traveling as a hippie-youth. Things will change for our three musketeers, but not quite as expected. Writer/director Gianni de Gregorio has been called “the Italian Larry David.” He also co-stars as “the Professor.”   90 min  / Italy / subtitled / 2020

co-features: if you like pasta and Italian-language films, then you might want to check out Martin Eden, The Mouth of the Wolf and Sicilia, all playing this week in our virtual theater


You can watch Martin Eden right here, right now

Based on the 1909 autobiographical novel by Jack London, young Martin Eden is a charming, impoverished, self-taught sailor who dreams of becoming a writer. If he becomes a success, he believes, he might win the affections of a young, wealthy university student. Starring Luca Marinelli. Directed by Pietro Marcello. (2020 / Italy / subtitled / 129 min)

Martin Eden might be the BEST FILM OF THE YEAR! The film is a masterpiece, so you should see it any way you can. But it’s also nice to know that even by viewing it at home you can help out a struggling, indispensable [theater].” – Vulture

CRITIC’S PICK! An INGENIOUS adaptation of the Jack London novel. The true miracle of this film is how Marcello translates London’s lush, character-revealing prose into pure cinema.The entirety of the 20th century — its promises, illusions and traumas — sweeps through the AUDACIOUS and THRILLING Martin Eden. – The New York Times

One of the most thrilling aspects of the novel is how well it dramatizes Martin’s intellectual hunger, as he becomes a voracious reader and, in time, a writer. It’s not easy for a movie to depict the acquisition of knowledge, but this one comes as close as any I’ve seen. Sometimes Martin Eden evokes Italian neorealism, and sometimes it has the mad stylistic energy of the French New Wave. There’s no denying that THIS GORGEOUS AND PASSIONATE FILM IS SIMPLY ONE OF A KIND. – NPR

Co-feature: THE MOUTH OF THE WOLF  Pietro Marcello’s debut film won major prizes at the Berlin and Turin film festivals. The Mouth of the Wolf interweaves two love stories: the 20-year romance between a Sicilian tough guy and a transsexual former junkie whom he met in prison, and a poetic reverie of the Italian port town of Genoa, depicted in all its mysterious, fading glory. Commissioned by the Fondazione San Marcellino, a Jesuit order dedicated to helping society’s poor and marginalized, the film masterfully combines documentary with fiction and melancholy home movies from the past century with poetic images, sounds, and music of the waterfront today.


You can watch Bungalow right here, right now

A major work of the celebrated Berlin School, the debut of Ulrich Köhler is a mesmerizing portrait of a young German soldier named Paul who goes AWOL and returns to his childhood home in the countryside. Over a few summer days, Paul evades the responsibilities of everyday life and falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend, disrupting the lives of everyone in his circle. With Köhler’s penchant for deadpan humor and subtle performances, Bungalow becomes a quiet mockery of militarism, familial estrangement, and youthful ennui. New 4K Restoration.

Critic’s Pick! Köhler’s first film, newly available in the U.S., is a secretive and beautifully observant study of teenage disaffection. The New York Times


You can watch Alone right here, right now

A cat-and-mouse thriller, adapted from a 2011 Swedish film and reset in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Alone follows Jessica, recently widowed, who is kidnapped and held captive in a remote cabin. She escapes but is lost in the heart of the untamed wilderness, with only her wits to rely on for survival. Meanwhile, her mysterious captor closes in.  Directed by John Hyams (98 min)

John Hyams directed last year’s fabulously zippy zombie series, “Black Summer.” Alone unfolds with elegant simplicity and single-minded momentum. -The New York Times


You can watch 12 Hour Shift right here, right now

12 Hour Shift is a heist-gone-wrong film set during one strange night in an Arkansas hospital. Nurse Mandy is desperate to make it through her all-night shift without incident. This is particularly hard to do when you’re involved in a black market organ-trading scheme. When her hapless but dangerous cousin Regina misplaces a kidney, Mandy and Regina frantically try to secure a replacement organ by any means necessary. Talk about bedside manner! 12 Hour Shift is an edgy, madcap odyssey directed by Brea Grant. This is actress Grant’s first film as writer-director, and she elicits wonderful performances from her largely female ensemble cast. 87 min


You can watch Sicilia right here, right now

Film has never seen a collaboration like that between Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, a fiercely intellectual husband-wife duo whose decades-spanning oeuvre aimed to spark a revolution among the masses. It contains adaptations of Kafka and Brecht, homages to D.W. Griffith, Renoir, and Bresson, and treatises on political matters both current and eternal.

One of Straub-Huillet’s most engaging and accessible works, Sicilia! is the story of a man who returns to a village in Sicily after 15 years to visit his mother. Adapted from Elio Vittorini’s novel “Conversations in Sicily,” the film is so exquisitely rendered that herring roasting on a hearth or a meal of bread, wine and winter melon, can take on the humble aura of a Caravaggio painting. The actors, all nonprofessionals, declaim their extended discussions with grand, high-relief diction, and the film’s starkly exquisite black-and-white images set the dialogue as if to visual music. (66 minutes)

“One of their great later works.” – The Village Voice

“Straub-Huillet’s aesthetic abounds in anomalies. One finds comfort, albeit austere, in encountering patented elements of the filmmakers’ approach in Sicilia!” – James Quandt, Artforum


You can watch We Are Little Zombies right here, right now

One sunny day, four young strangers meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost their parents, but none of them can shed a tear. They are like zombies, devoid of all emotion. Alone in the world at 13 years of age with no future, no dreams, and no way to move forward, our protagonists dress themselves in scraps from a garbage dump, track down musical instruments, and decide to form a kick-ass band. They call themselves LITTLE ZOMBIES. This is a story about their quest to retrieve their ability to feel.

Directed by Makoto Nagahisa, We Are Little Zombies bursts with hyper pop style and unbridled imagination. Mixing inspiration from film, television, music, and, most importantly, video games, Nagahisa dazzles with a myriad of cinematic tricks, and he pushes his script in zany directions while never losing sight of its sympathetic exploration of grief and loss. (Japan / subtitles / 120 min)

CRITIC’S PICK! Wry humor, absurd dialogue and unflagging energy propel this dazzling, manic debut from Makoto Nagahisa…. he throws an entire box of tricks at the screen. Splitting it in two, fading to black and white, writing over it, and dunking an entire scene into a fishbowl, he fashions a fantasia of pranks so unexpected and colors so intense (the splendid cinematography is by Hiroaki Takeda), they could make you hallucinate. – The New York Times


Do you have a comment or a suggestion for a film? Maybe you’d like to write something for our magazine. Send an email to We can be talked into almost anything.

Culture and the pandemic

A Letter to Brazil

By Darlene J. Sadlier

[editor’s note: Darlene J. Sadlier, a professor emerita at Indiana University, writes about  literature, arts and culture of the Portuguese-speaking world. Her 2016 book, The Portuguese Diaspora: Seven Centuries of Literature and the Arts, explores literary and artistic works resulting from population travel and displacement during and after the Portuguese empire.  Her most recent book is The Lilly Library A to Z: Intriguing Objects in a World-Class Collection.

As global pandemic and political divisions and economic hardships surge today, culture seems ironically to be flourishing under technologies like streaming and Zoom, but also struggling, like a boxer forced up against the ropes. I am thinking of especially vulnerable entities like museums, archives and theaters, whose survival depends upon public access and support. In troubled times like these, their future is decidedly more precarious. In many places, this culture might be regarded as unimportant or even troublesome, and either ignored or dispensed with like an unnecessary luxury. In my own country, the United States, necessary lockdowns for public health reasons have taken a major toil on cultural institutions. While our public schools are timidly reopening, most often remotely, cultural projects and institutions without federal or state support are trying to survive a pandemic that has already extinguished numerous small and large businesses across the nation. Without a national plan for addressing the virus here, museums, art galleries, archives, theaters, and other cultural entities are in peril because their existence in the midst of a raging pandemic depends on the protocols of keeping safe, which includes social distancing, which may or may not be tenable.


In the novella A hora da estrela (The Hour of the Star), written over 40 years ago and later adapted to the screen, Brazilian Clarice Lispector describes her protagonist Macabéa’s desire for knowledge when she listens to bits of information on Rádio Relógio. One of the words she hears is “culture,” which she asks her boyfriend Olímpico to explain. In his invariably insecure and irritated way, he gruffly replies, “culture is culture!”. 

Macabéa does not know it, but of course she already has culture, as we all do, in the broad social and anthropological sense. What she is curious about, however, is perhaps more like the learned culture of arts, sciences and letters—what Matthew Arnold described in the 19th century as “the best that is thought and said.” That sort of culture belongs to a humanist tradition about which Macabéa, as an impoverished northeastern migrant recently arrived in Rio de Janeiro, has no knowledge and no access. We can debate the sorts of things it ought to contain, but its value should be self-evident, and it should never be the property of a single social class. It should also be protected from the totalitarianism and populist ideology that has always threatened it and that threatens it today in many countries.

Four years after the publication of A hora da estrela, the British academic Raymond Williams wrote a seminal volume titled Culture, which addresses the complexities and the future of the word Macabéa seeks to understand. Williams was writing about the emerging discipline called cultural studies, or the study of cultural production in its artistic, socio-political, and economic contexts. He acknowledges that collaborative, interdisciplinary investigation of culture would likely encounter difficulties and resistances along the way from established cultural traditions or political forces, as indeed it did.

Unless a nation’s government deems culture and education as unnecessary for its citizens, which is not yet the case currently in the U.S., perhaps one possible solution lies in what Williams described as a more socially-engaged cultural effort firmly anchored in a broader, collaborative context. We are already seeing some evidence of the greater engagement between institutions that formerly used the Internet to publicize exhibits and performances and have embraced new technologies to open their doors virtually and potentially to larger audiences. However, as any theatergoer knows, what remains absent is the sense of community or attachment that cultural spaces as well as schools and universities provide. 

Culture should never be the property of a single social class. It should be protected from the totalitarianism and populist ideology that has always threatened it. 

A recent New York Times article described an innovative collaboration between arts and technology that enabled a New York City museum to physically open to the public. The museum purchased a new social distancing hardware called EGOpro Tags that buzz whenever a visitor gets too close to another person in the room. The museum also limits the number of people visiting at any one time and requires pre-entry temperature checks. Visits are limited to a maximum ninety minutes. This may not rival the enjoyment of pre-pandemic visits, where people cluster and roam freely, but it is a way to keep the institution and its art alive and accessible in person without placing individuals at risk. The virus, social unrest and political dissent in our streets have also become powerful catalysts for new forms of cultural expression. Ironically, the kinds of difficulties and resistances we are experiencing here and globally are driving new ways of thinking about and producing culture and surely will remain with us into the future.

As I sit in Bloomington, I keep my many friends in Brazil and elsewhere close through Internet exchanges about what is happening. Culture is not just institutions but also the substance of our lives — whether we realize it or not. While I am prevented from traveling to do research at places like the Cinemateca in São Paulo, which is vital to my profession (and now has been closed down by the Bolsonaro government, without regard for its staff, who have gone unpaid for months, or for the safekeeping of the film collections), I have enrolled in an online seminar called Na Real _Virtual, with classes involving film showings, critical readings and live interviews with twelve documentary filmmakers. Contained physically by the virus and restrictions that now separate our two countries, I travel virtually to Brazil and with over 150 classmates participate in the production and transmission of artistic culture. Our seminar has become a microcosm of a world that seems almost to have ceased to exist. Like Macabéa, we seek knowledge and eagerly write our chat questions to film directors in the hopes that, among the many that are sent, ours will be answered. Technical difficulties sometimes block transmissions, but culture continues to circulate. We are caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment and while we are isolated at home, we nevertheless see one another’s names and sometimes faces flash on the screen. Our questions go out to the group at large; often, as we begin the sessions, chat greetings to all appear on the screen, as if we were meeting one another not online but on a busy street somewhere or even (heavens!) in a crowded indoor space. 

My writer-friends often say that despite the horrors of the pandemic, the isolation has made them even more productive. At the same time, bookstores that sell their and other works are collapsing in domino fashion, plagued not only by the virus but online titans like Amazon and heavy real estate prices. And while there is a modicum of solace in Internet book acquisitions, the loss of the physical entity, the knowledge it holds and imparts as well as the sense of community, cannot be equated to online perusals and purchases. In the U.S., bookstores had been closing at a rapid rate long before the pandemic arrived on our doorstep. New York City is a prime example of this. But there are moments when technology can stop the bleeding. In Bloomington we have a used bookstore called Caveat Emptor that has been in business for decades. When the owners announced they were going out of business after weeks under lockdown, the community rallied to its defense. Small and larger donations were sent to try to keep the business afloat. On the Internet, a donation site was created by the owners which offered a care package of books to be delivered to those who donated. My donation resulted in the delivery of eight books to my front door by a man with a mask riding a bicycle. On the site, I marked the categories of modern literature and mysteries/thrillers and received volumes by authors such as Anthony Trollope, John Galsworthy, L.R. Wright, and May Sarton. The bookstore was flooded with donations by a community that values books as well as the physical space we associate with the joy of browsing and finding new and known authors and books. However, there is a caveat; until the pandemic is controlled, keeping businesses afloat, such as bookstores and theaters (including our city’s beloved The Ryder Film Series and its free magazine), requires more than a one-time donation. 

Despite the current hardships created by a tenacious disease and social repression, and possibly because of them, the production of culture continues. I suspect the future of culture everywhere will be forever changed by the pandemic, which has made us more conscious of our need to reach out, connect and collaborate and, most importantly, never to be daunted by any attempt to keep us from the knowledge and personal growth that is not a luxury but a human right and necessity.  

The Italian Larry David; The Lotus Lantern and Luminaria Project

It is never too late to change your life. Citizens of the World, three Italians in their seventies, all single and looking for a change, decide to leave their beloved Rome and settle abroad. But where? A rash decision? – perhaps.
The Professor, retired after teaching Latin his whole life, is getting bored. Giorgetto, one of the last true Romans, struggles to make ends meet every month. Attilio, an antiques dealer, wants to experience once again the sense of adventure he had while traveling as a hippie-youth. Things will change for our three musketeers, but not quite as expected. Writer/director Gianni de Gregorio has been called “the Italian Larry David.” He also co-stars as “the Professor.”   90 min  / Italy / subtitled / 2020 Citizens of the World is one of four first-run Italian films playing this week in The Ryder’s virtual cinema, along with Martin Eden, The Mouth of the Wolf and Sicilia, all playing this week in our virtual theater.


If you have not seen it yet, here’s a link to the current issue of The Ryder magazine.

The Lotus Lantern and Luminaria Project

The Lotus Lantern and Luminaria Project is an initiative to bring the glow of lanterns to our Bloomington community, as the days shorten and the nights get longer. To celebrate lantern traditions from around the world, Lotus is working with a few lantern artists to create templates for building lanterns that can be used decoratively in homes and businesses, or on walks, to light the way.

The project is designed to be welcoming and inclusive by focusing on lantern customs that represent several different world traditions. Lotus will supply the materials and will hold workshops, to enable both live, physically-distanced participation and participation via online instruction. Sign up on Eventbrite for our workshops.

Every celebration needs its songs to go with it. Lotus will be posting the music and lyrics for a couple of lantern songs, by mid-November, ideally with a live rendition as well. Singing during the lantern walk will be done with masks on, as required for safety. We hope to have a couple of different groups involved in learning these.

On December 4, Lotus will host the inaugural Lotus Lantern Walk. People who have built a lantern will be invited on a walk that begins at the Lotus Firebay, where they can pick up a free LED tea light candle. From the Lotus Firebay, we’ll head to the B-line, and continues to either the Showers Plaza or the Monroe County Courthouse (exact path TBD).

LIVE Author Talk with Rob Harrell
Join Morgenstern Books for another live author talk this Friday @ 5PM with cartoonist and graphic novelist, Rob Harrell. His most recent graphic novel Wink is hilarious, heart-wrenching story about surviving middle school with an unthinkable diagnosis, while embracing life’s weirdness. It’s based on Rob Harrell’s real life experience and is packed with comic panels and spot art. Rob Harrell also created and drew the internationally syndicated comic strip Big Top, Life of Zarf, as well as the acclaimed graphic novel Monster on the Hill. He also writes and draws the long-running daily comic strip Adam@HomeLearn more: Facebook event

The Covered Bridges of Parke County

Cycling in the Hoosier Heartland

By Mason Cassady

Sometimes I wonder, what does it mean to be a Hoosier?

Perhaps a futile question to ask as there is certainly more than one answer. Hoosier-ness could be found in a variety of things: Teeth-deep in the flavors of sweet corn off the cob on a summer night. Skippin’ rocks with a pal at your favorite local swimmin’ hole. It could be experienced in the hot mess of the Indy 500, chock-full of Budweiser and fried food. Maybe it’s seen in red barns on a backroad in autumn. Or it could be found in a forest hike searching for morels or chanterelles. Maybe it exists in the fruit of pawpaw and persimmon trees.

One avenue down Hoosier lane is Parke County, Indiana, the uncontested Covered Bridge Capital of the World, where a whopping 31 covered bridges stand today (Putnam County with nine is the second highest in the state). With such a large number of historic bridges in Parke County, it only makes sense to hold a Covered Bridge Festival every year. As leaf-peeping season takes off in October, visitors from around the world flock to Parke County. To my surprise, organizers say that the festival attracts up to 2 million annual visitors. As with much else in the year of COVID-19, the festival (which would have been the 64th) has been cancelled. That said, the bridges are still open to those who would like to make their own trip.

In my quest to uncover more qualities, character, and sentiments of being a Hoosier, I drove northwest from Bloomington with my bicycle in tow to tour this little corner of Indiana. Along the way, I visited restaurants and bars, talked with locals, camped at parks and perused antique shops in hopes of finding more answers to a uniquely Indiana question: What in the heck does it mean to be a Hoosier?

Night 1: Route Planning in Rockville

I arrived at Rockville, the recommended starting point for visitors. The county seat, Rockville is smack-dab in the heart of Parke county. The population is roughly 3,000 people and the layout includes an attractive town square, a picture-worthy limestone courthouse, a handful of eateries, antique shops and the historic Ritz Theatre. Rockville is home to the Old Jail Inn, where guests can Spend The Night Behind Bars. Nine cells have been turned into guest rooms named after fabled criminals such as Jesse James. Below the cells is the Drunk Tank Winery, where guests can do as the title says in their pseudo night in jail.

First on my to-do list was to pick up a color-coded map at the Rockville Visitor Center. Some route planning for my bicycle bridge odyssey was in order, so I went to the Thirty-Six Saloon, a local biker bar for grub and while I looked at the map. I sat in the Hog Pitsection, an offshoot of the main restaurant. Nascar memorabilia, taxidermy and neon signs lined the walls. I asked the bartender what he likes, and he said “I’m all about that Biker-Babe burger, which is topped with brisket, pepper jack, fried onion straws, fried pickles, all smothered in BBQ sauce…” I replied, “you had me at Biker-Babe, I’ll take that and a Budweiser.” I was tempted to order an appetizer called Hog Turds but I don’t think I would have lived to tell this story. As I devoured the burger, the luscious lyrics of Cardi B in the song WAP poured out through the speakers while a boozed-up biker chick danced her boots off in the middle of the bar. I reveled in the moment as I thought to myself, if I could choose to be anywhere in the world right now, it is right here. As I finished my WAB (wet ass burger), I found home for the night at a campsite within the Rockville Lake Park, a 400-acre facility just a couple miles from the town square.

Day 1

My Routes: sections of Blue, Yellow and Brown

Distance Covered: 50 miles

Bridges Visited: Narrows, Cox Ford, Wilkins Mill, Jackson, West Union, Melcher (6)

Other Highlights: Turkey Run State Park, Sugar Creek, Turkey Run Gas & Grill, and Bar Cooler Pub & Grill

Soon after I woke up from camping, I needed fuel for the road ahead. Coffee and donuts were the first obvious choice so I ventured down to Wheelhouse Donuts right away. I follow a basic American donut shop principle: never order just one and so I went glaze, Maple Nut, and the Cereal Special (Vanilla cake donut, strawberry icing, fruity pebbles). One hot cup of creamy coffee to wash it down and I was off like Dorthy in the Wizard of Oz, singing and pedaling to discover the bridges of Parke County. Most visitors of the Covered Bridge Festival travel by car, some by motorcycle and few go by bicycle. I am one of those few.

My first day consisted of exploring bridges north of Rockville and so I cycled on the Blue Route on Marshall Road. As I biked along country roads, between fields of corn and soy, it gave an image of scenes from Bloomington’s cult classic film Breaking Away. As a cyclist in a car-centric country, I felt a bit like Dave Stohler, the main character who is obsessed with Italy and at odds with his traditional father. In this situation, I as the young bicycle rider and Parke County as the traditional, conservative, “my way or the highway” father figure. (Makes sense?)

Within an hour, I found myself at the first covered bridge on my route: Narrows Bridge. This bridge stands above Sugar Creek on the eastern edge of Turkey Run State Park. Built in 1882, it is considered by many the most scenic of them all. I walked about the bridge and peered out through windows with a nice view of sugar creek. Families in kayaks and canoes floated down the river one by one, giving me another activity found in the Hoosier way.

Westward ho, I biked alongside Turkey Run State Park on IN-47. This is a beautiful stretch of road where the initial signs of autumn ignited leaves on throughout forest foliage and gave way to yellows, oranges and reds. As if covered bridges weren’t enough to bring you to Parke County, the addition of fall colors at festival time round out the experience. Can I get an amen? Or, actually, I’ll just take a Pumpkin Spice Latte from my neighborhood Starbucks.

Not far away, I reached two more bridges, Cox Ford and Wilkins Mill. I gave a quick glance at the two bridges and creeks below. Interesting as they were, I gave more time for a favorite Hoosier pastime: searching for pawpaws. Colloquially known as the Indiana Banana, are unique in that they are the only member of their plant family growing outside of the tropics. Out of luck on the fruit hunt, I pedaled forth into a sunny Hoosier day.

As I approached the small town of Sylvania, I took a left to go south where the Yellow and Blue routes join. A couple miles down the road and I was at Jackson Bridge, the longest single span covered bridge in Indiana. This bridge is painted white while many bridges are painted red. If that doesn’t knock your socks off, I don’t know what will. From there, I continued cycling and found myself at the West Union bridge, which is the longest two span covered bridge in Parke County at 315 feet.

Around lunchtime, I neared the town of Montezuma which is named after the last Aztec emperor of Mexico. I was in need of food and drink so a quick look at the map, and I found a place called Bar Cooler Pub & Grill, just across the Wabash river in Vermillion County. As I swung the doors open, it was as if time reversed with my steps into the tavern. Four older men playing billiards looked at me with a “who’s this guy” facial expression as I found a seat at the end of the bar. Dark and reeking of tobacco smoke, the barkeep said, “Whatcha havin’?” I looked up and down the fridge and replied “Give me a Miller High Life.” I began to look the menu over while a middle-aged man seated next to me gave a rundown of the menu items. Head-to-toe in a Trump hat, camo shirt and jeans, the guy was very friendly which caused a slight short circuit in my brain due to the arrogant and gut-wrenching behavior of the guy on his hat.

Among catfish and other things, I chose a classic Hoosier sandwich: the pork tenderloin. And in typical Hoosier fashion, the pork was about as round as a volleyball with a bun the fraction of the size. As I inhaled the sandwich, the man and his friends told me about the Newport Hillclimb, another popular festival in the region. From my understanding, the event consists of classic cars racing up a hill. My bar mate bought me another Miller High Life, and I teetered back to my bicycle to ride 10-some miles back to Rockport.

Along the way, I came across Melcher bridge on Strawberry road with three other names: Klondyke, Marion and Leatherwood.


Belarus or Bust

One Hundred Forty-Three Down, Fifty to Go

By John Linnemeier 

The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page. 

–St. Augustine 

A person’s lifespan is long. But it’s not endless.  The earth is immense. But it’s not infinite.  If you start early enough and make it your goal to see all 193 countries, it’s doable.  At 75, I’m unlikely to make it, but there’s a small band of travelers who are attempting to see them all, and they’re a darned interesting bunch.  All have incredible stories to tell, and all have been places you haven’t. You’re more likely to run into them in Djibouti or Somaliland than Paris or Mumbai.   

Belarus is a tiny, off-the-beaten-track, landlocked country of 9.5 million, bordered by Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. It probably isn’t on most people’s bucket list, though perhaps it should be.  I chose to visit, for three reasons:

  1. I’d never been there 

(B) Demonstrations aimed at toppling Alexander Lukashenko, the man who’s been called Europe’s last dictator, were ongoing, so I might see a historical moment. 

(C) Due to the pandemic, it was one of only 20 countries Americans could visit. 

Researching a trip is just another aspect of travel that I’ve learned to savor.  While attempting to better understand the country I was about to visit, I discovered a marvelous book, Voices from Chernobyl, by Belarus’s Nobel Laureate, Svetlana Alexievich.  The twenty stories narrated in the survivors’ own words gave me valuable insights into Belarusians’ character and their willingness to sacrifice and accept hardship. 

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor is located in Ukraine, but since Belarus is downwind, it received the brunt? of the deadly radioactive damage.  Even today a third of the land in Belarus has high levels of radioactivity.  There’s a joke here that after Chernobyl you can eat anything you want,  – but you have to bury your own shit in lead.  

I’d read that for $650 I could take a tour of the affected area, but weighing the pros and cons, I decided against it. Belarus is quite affordable, and there are far more pleasant ways to stretch a dollar in Minsk.

For under $100 I booked myself into the best hotel in the capital, a gorgeous ten story fin de siècle confection, that like most of Minsk was completely rebuilt after having been blown to smithereens during the ”Great Patriotic War.”  After several long arduous flights –including an overnight stop in Istanbul in the world’s largest terminal– I arrived at the pocket-sized Minsk airport, where I was shocked to find virtually everyone… maskless!  It may come as a shock to many people, but since Covid-19 began, Belarus has never shut down a single school or business, and no one has ever been required to wear a protective mask, though a few choose to. 

Their Covid-19 deaths per million are roughly one seventh ours.  Make of it what you will.

A gentleman in a Mercedes, who spoke not a word of English, picked me up at the airport and drove me through fertile gently rolling farmland into the heart of the spotlessly clean capital city of Minsk.  Every night the streets are washed down by large noisy trucks, and during the day uniformed babushkas bustle about in an attempt to sweep up non-existent trash.  

In Belarus it’s easy to break out of the tourist bubble since tourists hardly exist.  For my first three days at the Europa Hotel I actually thought I was the only guest. That’s not to say that Belarus is cut off from the world.  Many people speak English.  You can watch CNN, RT, Nickelodeon or the BBC any time of the day or night, and internet speed is super-fast.  There’s even a booming IT sector.  The hugely successful massively multiplayer online game, “World of Tanks,” was created at a nearby technical park by a Belarusian company named Wargaming.  All support for it is done locally. President Lukashenko once appeared to gloat when a multi-million-dollar hack was discovered to have originated in Belarus and he said, “Of course we abhor such activity, but one can’t help but be impressed that our people are capable of such things.”  

I developed a real fondness for this miniscule country and its noble citizenry.

Belarusians know far more about us than we know about them.  I could have watched demonstrators stream below my balcony while listening to Westerners comment on politicians and reporters ejected from the country and demonstrators arrested by the police… all from the comfort of my luxurious hotel room… I detected no censorship. 

Curiosity about the demonstrations aimed at unseating Lukashenko hadn’t been the main reason I’d chosen to visit this small nation bereft of snowcapped mountains, ancient ruins, tropical reefs, or ferocious wild animals–the kinds of things that ordinarily draw visitors to a place–but since I was here, why not check it out?  

Despite my deteriorating physical condition, I was looking for trouble, and not having much luck finding it.  For the first several days all seemed to be peaceful and quiet, though to compensate, the food was scrumptious and the women were smoking hot.  What I hadn’t yet realized was that demonstrations in Belarus are a Sunday activity.  Walking around town on a Saturday I thought I’d survey how many people were wearing masks.  By my count out of 193, only 3 were wearing one, and that included a schoolyard full of kids. 

By Sunday morning, crowds were beginning to form, and I could hear supportive horns honking, so I decided to hit the streets.  The concerned young woman at the desk advised me to stay clear of riot police, and I assured her I would.  First though, I wanted to dive into a hearty Belarusian breakfast of eggs, cabbage, bacon and pickles, washed down with a strong cup of coffee, served up by a typically gorgeous young waitress.  

Fortified, I was prepared to face the challenge of the new day. 

The demonstrators were a joyful bunch.  There was a sea of colorful red and white flags that have come to symbolize the rebellion, with several signs lauding a local grandmother who’d achieved celebrity through a picture of her tussling with several oversized riot police.  A couple of people were dressed as dinosaurs, meant to mock the man many Belarussians see as a relic from another era. 

From my limited point of view, he didn’t appear to be one of those dictators who requires all businesses to display his photo, nor are there statues of him on every corner, striking heroic poses.  I’ve seen worse.  Working in Iran during the reign of the Shah before the revolution, I observed what had seemed to be universal adoration turn to disgust and hatred for the same man when he looked like he was on the way out.  It made me more cautious in judging how much weight to give to the support people claim to have for any strongman in a dictatorship.  There’s a calculation that goes on in most people’s heads… you don’t want to be on the losing side. 

As I walked along with the happy throng, I was approached several times and politely asked where I was from and what I was doing here.  When I told them people I was American, they were both amazed and delighted.  They all thanked me profusely for taking an interest in their struggle.  When I pressed them to explain their objectives I never heard anything other than a desire to be rid of an odious dictator.  They never spoke of joining the EU or NATO, nor did I detect any pro or anti-Russian sentiment. Surprising to me, I didn’t see any support for Sviatlana Heorhiyeuna Tsikhanouskaya (maybe they couldn’t fit it all on a protest poster,) the runner up to Lukashenko in the most recent election. What I did hear over and over again was that they saw themselves as a unique people, with their own language, history (way too convoluted to explore here!), customs and heroes.  They wanted to go their own way… independent and free from alliances with any particular camp and their over-arching agendas.  

I told them I agreed with them totally but feared that the great powers would attempt to co-opt their revolution.

As I marched along, I noticed something peculiar.  Along the main drag was a small coffee shop with customers lined up out the door and around the block.  Curious, I peeled off from the river of demonstrators and made inquiries with the apparently caffeine-starved line-standers (none of whom, incidentally, were observing social distancing).  They informed me that the café doors had been smashed-in by the cops, and everyone wanted to make sure that the owner wouldn’t suffer any financial loss.  

I was beginning to develop a real fondness for this miniscule country and its noble citizenry.

I witnessed one shocking event. As I was walking along with the ebullient but peaceful crowd, I heard a tremendous commotion and everyone began running away fearfully.  In no more than fifteen seconds several heavy-duty trucks erected a substantial twenty-foot barrier that totally blocked off an intersection…an amazing display, and very intimidating.  Safely back in my hotel room I turned on BBC to discover that a dozen demonstrators had been seized by police and some dissident had been detained at the Lithuanian border.  It didn’t appear to me that Lukashenko was about to fall any time soon, though circumstances change and I could easily be wrong. 

By Monday the city was calm again, so on my last full day, I visited the massive WW2 (referred to in Belarus, as in Russia, as the “Great Patriotic War”) Museum.  It’s impossible to overemphasize the effect that great cataclysm had on this land and its people.  They paid far more than their share of the butcher’s bill.  During the Second World War the US suffered four hundred thousand casualties, while twenty-six million Soviets, who included Belarussians at the time, died during the same conflict.  In other words, for every American causality, sixty-five Soviets died.  Patriotism runs deep in this part of the world. 

I noticed an imposing war monument in front of the museum where a press conference was being held.  Some VIP was speaking to half a dozen TV cameras.  Curious, I sidled up to the crowd and asked what was going on.  An attractive middle-aged woman who spoke excellent English informed me that the VIP was the Russian ambassador to Belarus who was speaking on the anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad.  I assume the underlying motivation for the speech was to emphasize the historic bond between these two countries that would be a shame to compromise regardless of whatever happened as a result of the current unrest.   

I guess I looked like I might be a threat to the Russian Federation since two burly goons, obviously packing heat, peeled off from the ambassador’s entourage and began aggressively snapping away at me with their cameras.  At my age I felt flattered to be deemed a threat to anything. And with that, my journey was complete: Not only had I finally found trouble, but I was the trouble. Nostrovia, goons!

[editor’s note: John Linnemeier’s book, How an Average Man Lived an Adventurous Life, is a must read for average people everywhere. Even for those of you who are slightly above average. In 2016, John ran for Mayor of Bloomington.] 

A Fable of Capitalism in a New West:

 Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow

By Tom Prasch

[editor’s note: The IU Cinema hosted Kelly Reichardt in 2016.   Her new film, First Cow, is streaming on Netflix.]

As King-Lu, the well-traveled Chinese immigrant (he tells tales of London and Egypt and Canton), leads Cookie, the chef who saved him from pursuing Russians (“I might have killed one of their friends,” King-Lu ambiguously confessed earlier), back to his cabin a mile distant from the territorial fort that marks the early creep of civilization into Oregon territory, to share a bottle (but Cookie will end up staying, a partner and ally at the margins), stopping now and then along the way to pluck squished squirrels from his primitive traps (rocks balanced over twigs, waiting to crash down on whatever passes), he waxes philosophical, as he tends to do: “I see something in this land I haven’t seen before. Pretty much everything has been touched by man. But this is still new. More nameless things around here than you can shake an eel at.” Cookie doesn’t quite see things that way: “Doesn’t seem new to me. Seems old.” “Well, everything’s old,” King-Lu concedes, “if you look at it that way.”

But King-Lu is not about to let that interfere with his vision: “History isn’t here yet. It’s coming, but we got here early this time. Maybe this time we can be ready for it. We can take it on our own terms.” Dreams of beating history, filmmaker Kelly Reichardt argues in First Cow, are what Western settlement is made of. And such dreams, she notes as well, albeit wryly, with a comic sensibility, with deep empathy for her downtrodden pair of wannabe heroes, are doomed to be dashed.

We know that from the film’s outset, from its present-set first scene, when, in the barren mudflats alongside a river, a nameless woman and her dog—the dog really gets, to be fair, most of the credit—unearths a pair of skeletons, side by side, less buried than just covered over by time’s mud. As soon as the bones are uncovered, the movie shifts us back nearly two centuries, when the site was far more lush, and when hapless Cookie, a hole in one of his shoes (that bare toe the first we see of him), hunts for mushrooms. He is the cook bound to an expedition of ill-tempered beaver trappers (“soft gold,” they call those pelts) a few days out from Fort Tillikum, and however talented he may be at finding fungi, he’s not particularly good at his broader job, as one of the disgruntled trappers reminds him: “It’s the Cookie’s job to improvise. This is a land of abundance … and you are charged with finding our vittles until we reach Fort Tillikum.” There was a “digger squirrel,” Cookie says, but he got away; when we watch Cookie net-fishing at a river full of leaping salmon, we can sort of see how that might have happened. And that night, as the trappers snore in their sleep, Cookie is out foraging for something more when he meets King-Lu, hides him from those Russians and his trapper companions, and creates the bond that will be renewed when they re-encounter each other in the fort’s tavern. 

History isn’t here yet. It’s coming.

“I didn’t know there was Chinese in these parts,” Cookie observes when he first meets King-Lu. “Everyone is here,” he responds. “We all want that soft gold.” And indeed, as we see when Cookie’s party arrives at the fort, everyone is indeed there. The trappers. Chinook Indians, wearing the woven cedar-bark capes and hats that serve so well as raingear in the wet climes; it’s so useful an item of apparel, some of the white settlers adopt it as well. English authorities coming from Canada administer the fort; one of the men at the bar mockingly says, “The Chief Factor wants milk in his tea, like a proper English gentleman,” which gets a round of laughter all around. But the RWP flag over the fort, and the denomination of the local scrip that gets gambled at the tavern (“One Pound Sterling” offered by the “Royal Western Pacific Trading Company”) suggest the British stakes are high. But Americans like Cookie (who learned his baking skills when apprentice in Boston) and his trapper crew seem increasingly dominant. At least one black man, his presence unexplained but unquestioned. King-Lu hails from northern China, coming via Canton. There are those Russians as well. 

The key for Reichardt, as for all this assorted crew: this is not Oregon yet. It could be anything. All that nameless stuff King-Lu “can’t shake an eel at” (who shakes eels, anyway?) will come to be named, but at this point it could still be anything. And anybody’s.

This is the stuff that King-Lu’s ever-changing dreams are made of: linking this unsettled place into worldwide networks of trade. “Furs are fine,” he tells Cookie, “but there’s a precious oil in the beaver, too. That’s worth something in China…. If a man could take a batch of that precious beaver oil on a ship to Canton, he could make his fortune.” “What I’d really like is a farm,” he tells Cookie a bit later. “The world wants filberts. Or walnuts. Or almonds.” Cookie has a more consistent dream: “I’d like to run a hotel someday…. Or a bakery.” King-Lu is willing to sign on to that dream, too. But for all of it, there is a problem: “It’s the getting started that’s the puzzle. No way for a poor man to start. You need capital,” King-Lu explains. “Leverage,” Cookie echoes. “Or a crime,” King-Lu foretellingly adds.

The spare story that First Cow tells amounts to a fable of capitalism, complete with downbeat moral, linked to the titular beast, the first cow brought to the territory (we, along with a half-dozen silent Chinook, watched it arrive, brought by poled raft across the river), and to what can be done with its milk. Cookie tells King-Lu one day: “Saw the cow today. It wasn’t far from Chief Factor’s house…. I’d like some of that milk.” “I’m not a milk drinker,” King-Lu responds, “It doesn’t agree with me. “I wouldn’t drink it,” Cookie insists, “I’d use it. For cookies, or scones. Nothing better’n buttermilk biscuits. I’m tired of this flour-and-water bread.” With the milk they filch that night (Cookie chats with the cow as he milks her), Cookie cooks up his first batch of “oily cakes,” and the ever-enterprising King-Lu wonders, “How much do you think someone would pay for a biscuit like that?” So, with their next night’s filching, they head up to the fort to sell their goods (“Secret Chinese ingredient,” King-Lu insists to mislead inquiries), and they sell like…

Well, you know what they sell like. (If you can’t guess, see pretty much any review of the film.) But that creates a problem: the product is so popular, they need to make more. To make more, they need to steal more. “Another cup is another dozen cakes. That’s another 60 silver pieces at least,” always-bigger-dreaming King-Lu tells Cookie, the last night they go a-thieving from the cow. Meanwhile, the Chief Factor already laments how unproductive his cow has become; barely enough cream for him to serve tea to visitors. The gambit will only last, King-Lu recognizes: “There’ll get tired of it, and there will be more milk cows here soon.” Or they will get caught. But meanwhile, “We got a window here, Cookie,” and the two need to make the best of their moment.

It’s a spare sort of fable, barely enough plot to fill a film, but it’s not really story Reichardt is interested in anyway. Two other interests center her focus. First, she is fascinated with the material culture of early settlement, and she lingers with an anthropologist’s delight over those cedar capes and the trappers’ fringed leathers, over the stone tools used to split open nuts, the mix of scrip and beads and sometimes cut-apart coins that constitute currency, the ceramic cups whisky gets served in at the bar, the range of foraged foods Cookie can come up with, the assorted goods hawked outside the fort’s wooden palisade (oysters and clams and tobacco chews and the new, or at least less used, boots on which Cookie spends his first coins). Second, she focuses on the friendship that develops between Cookie and King-Lu, spawned by accident but developed over common interest and congenial camaraderie. That theme of friendship Reichardt signals in an epigraph borrowed from William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” But that’s a deeply ambiguous epigram, if you think about it; a nest and a web are not exactly the same thing, and which friendship might be is an open question. Blake’s proverbs—from his Marriage of Heaven and Hell—are, indeed, all about paradox and ambiguity, so we should expect nothing less here.

Meanwhile, the fable is spun out, and you can guess where all of it leads. You don’t, in fact, need to guess, because the film’s first scene gave that away (although it’s one of Reichardt’s true feats that we have almost forgotten the fact by the time we get there). As King-Lu lies down beside Cookie on the bank, Cookie tells one last, deeply appropriate joke: “What do a baker and a beggar have in common? They both need [knead] bread.” We are brought back to King-Lu’s observation about what all their dreams need, and lack, for fulfillment.

For, finally: if territorial Oregon is open possibilities, unnamed things, a realm of anything, the direction of the film, like that of Oregon’s historical future, constitutes the closing off of options, a set of exclusions and narrowings and shuttings-down. It is a winnowing as well, the trimming of that abundance into something less. Captain Rudy, Chief Factor’s house guest, already sees it, noting of the trappers: “they’re tapping out the whole country. There won’t be any pelts much longer.” The Chief Factor may think “The beaver here are endless,” but we know he’s wrong. The Russians already report the vanishing of the elk. The salmon-thick stream will soon be tapped. That is the history King-Lu sees approaching. It will no longer possibly be Russian or Canadian territory; it will no longer be possessed by its Chinook first inhabitants. It will no longer be the place of King-Lu’s, or even Cookie’s, dreams. But such sweet dreams those nevertheless are.

Social Psychos

American Psycho at 20 and The Social Network at 10

By Brian Stout

Easily lost in the midst of this chaotic year, two cinematic landmarks of toxic masculinity had milestone birthdays–David Fincher’s increasingly relevant The Social Network turned 10, and Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1990s lightning rod novel American Psycho turned 20. Is there a connection between a 1980s yuppie losing his grip on reality, coping through serial murder, and the ruler of a social media empire that has been blamed for playing a role in the deepening divide in the nation, potentially interfering in the 2016 election, and making your holiday meals more uncomfortable?

Both films are adaptations of noteworthy books–Bret Easton Ellis’ novel was so controversial that it was dropped by its initial publisher Simon & Schuster (Vintage eventually put it out), and the source for The Social Network was a book that relied heavily on accounts from Eduardo Saverin, one of the displaced founders of Facebook. American Psycho provides a critique of late 20th century greed and The Social Network offers a snapshot of the post-dot com landscape and our time in this century. In many ways, the Wall Street Masters of the Universe are quite similar to the toxic Tech Bros from recent revelations. Both films call attention to how the concerns of the elite–wealth and status–haven’t changed much; those who feel they are just outside of that exclusive circle are driven to extremity by their desire to achieve the acceptance of those around them.

Zuckerberg and Bateman are already members of these rarefied groups, but they are still outsiders. Bateman is a blueblood, but he is dismissed by those around him and seen as deeply uncool. By his own admission he is a concept, not a real person. He does not exist. Zuckerberg’s lack of acceptance into a Final Club and rejection by women drives his purpose. And access to these exclusive clubs does not produce happiness or satisfaction for either.

The novel that inspired Harron’s film was either a misogynist fantasy or a savage critique of the greed-is-good mindset or both, depending on who’s asked, but the film adaptation presented a more nuanced take that pushed the satire forward and left most of the gruesome, at times unreadably detailed, violence against (mostly) women off screen without sacrificing the critique of the 1980s Wall Street Masters of the Universe. By emphasizing the dark comedy over the horror, Harron was able to distill the point Ellis wanted to make into a more accessible work without diluting it, and anchored by a phenomenal performance by Christian Bale, American Psycho has outlived its mixed reviews and modest theatrical success to become a cult classic. 

Conversely, The Social Network enjoyed near universal acclaim from the start, a box office hit nominated for eight Oscars (including a Best Actor nomination for Jesse Eisenberg) and winner of three. And while it is based on a book that purports to be non-fiction, Zuckerberg claimed “they [the filmmakers] made stuff up that was hurtful,” but that’s unsurprising given how he comes off in the film, burning bridges, exacting revenge when he felt slighted or jealous, and potentially orchestrating situations that made him appear justified in cutting his business partners loose.

We learn about our protagonists through different means. Bateman provides an incessant voiceover describing his fitness and wellness routines and a little of his mindset, but Zuckerberg becomes known mostly through his actions and others’ responses. He rarely voices his own opinion about anything, except to assert his own brilliance.

Bateman and his peers never seem to work; although they go through the business motions and are all Vice Presidents according to their similar-looking business cards, which provides one of the best running jokes. Their interchangeability and uselessness are the point. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and team devote their lives to The Facebook. A less complex film would have set him up as the success story from modest means, but The Social Network does not settle for that; Fincher sets his sights on Zuckerberg’s motivation and ambition. We should want Zuckerberg to succeed, outsmarting and outperforming the bluebloods, but his cunning and casual misogyny make it difficult, and the film has no interest in him as a hero. 

Both films call attention to how the concerns of the elite–wealth and status–haven’t changed much. Zuckerberg and Bateman are already members of these rarefied groups, but they are still outsiders. The most exclusive and hippest restaurants elude both of them.

In addition, the leads’ motivations are closer than they appear on the surface. Throughout American Psycho, people are constantly mistaken for each other and asking out loud if they see 1980s icons like the current President, or his wife at the time. Bateman even learns that many of his peers dislike him because they think they are talking about him when they are actually talking to him. These mistakes set the stage for his ability to get away with murder. His status affords him the luxury of being able to commit and cover up his crimes. When he goes to clean up a murder scene, it appears that the realtor has beaten him to it, seemingly afraid to risk the notoriety of showing a property where multiple murders occurred.

Zuckerberg is also trapped in a sense, fighting against the anonymity of being just another Harvard student, angling for how to stand out among a sea of perfect SAT scores and summers spent making money on oil futures. The now classic opening scene sets the tone for his portrayal. His monologue betrays his obsession with proving himself by gaining an entree into a Final Club at Harvard. He is barely engaging his date, Erica, critiquing her words, insulting her education, and later critiquing her body and her family name in a blog post right before he starts the genesis of Facebook, a site where users rate women’s physical attractiveness.

Despite Bateman’s life of expensive meals, easy drugs, Broadway shows, and exclusive nightclubs, he and his friends never seem to fit in when they go out. They party in their business suits around fashion victims at nightclubs they would be turned away from otherwise. Bateman bought his way in, but the most exclusive and hippest restaurants elude him, just as Zuckerberg never got punched for a Final Club. He tries endlessly to get a reservation to no avail throughout the film, and he chops up rival Paul Allen, who has been to Dorsia, with an axe, screaming about how he won’t be able to get a table now. Both Bateman and Zuckerberg are still on the outside looking in, despite Bateman’s apparently born-on-third-base success and Zuckerberg’s relentless drive to be known as the sole creator of Facebook. Zuckerberg gave us a place to see our friends while cutting ties with all of his. Bateman runs in elite social circles, but is seen as a “loser” and a “dork” by peers, and pontificates passionately about the deeper meaning of glossy pop songs by Genesis and Huey Lewis and The News.

It could be argued that they both deal with the situation by acting on their worst impulses–Bateman kills peers and others, Zuckerberg (at least according to the film) exacts revenge on his friends and colleagues by cutting them out of deals through set-ups that lead to seemingly justified firings. The film implies that these are at least partially motivated by jealousy, since Eduardo Saverin was “punched” for a Final Club, while Zuckerberg was not, despite his work on The Facebook. He may have called the police to get Sean Fanning in trouble to create a reason to show him the door. 

The films also share an essential disdain or indifference to women. American Psycho’s women are spoiled caricatures for the most part, except for the somewhat sympathetic portrayals of Patrick’s secretary and a prostitute who meets an unfortunate fate. Aside from Erica, women in The Social Network for the most part are the unattainable prize that motivates, as Napster founder Sean Fanning notes he started the company to get a girl’s attention in high school and, in one scene, shrugs off his Victoria’s Secret model date. Once attained, the women in the film are for the most part seen as unstable or pretty accessories, such as the portrayal of Saverin’s girlfriend. Bateman expresses little more than disdain for his girlfriend and suspects her of infidelity while sleeping with and sometimes murdering whomever he chooses.
By the end of American Psycho, Bateman has murdered many (Harron made this clear in subsequent interviews, despite the somewhat open end that let audiences and critics to question what really happened) and even confessed to his lawyer, but it is evident that no one believes he is capable of such horrific acts. He is too square, too edgeless. He will be able to continue his ways unabated, and with the “This is not an exit” sign (this phrase is the last line of the novel as well) perched above his shoulder in the final monologue, it appears that he will do just that. Zuckerberg’s final action in The Social Network is staring at his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook profile, friend request still pending as he refreshes the page repeatedly. He has been sued by his friends and business partners and has paid out millions in settlements, but overall the damage was characterized by a member of his legal team as a “speeding ticket.”

Bateman’s final internal monologue (“I do not hope for a better world for anyone…but even after admitting this, there is no catharsis…this confession has meant nothing.”) even feels like it could have come from Zuckerberg. At the end of each film, neither has achieved internal peace, in spite of the likelihood that things will continue to go their way for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to imagine Facebook crashing and burning like tumblr or Vine, and it is likely that Bateman will be back to his murderous ways shortly. This is not an exit.

“the best film of the year!” MARTIN EDEN

Based on the 1909 autobiographical novel by Jack London, young Martin Eden is a charming, impoverished, self-taught sailor who dreams of becoming a writer. If he becomes a success, he believes, he might win the affections of a young, wealthy university student. Starring Luca Marinelli. Directed by Pietro Marcello. (2020 / Italy / subtitled / 129 min) Martin Eden opens on Oct 23rd.

Martin Eden might be the BEST FILM OF THE YEAR! The film is a masterpiece, so you should see it any way you can. But it’s also nice to know that even by viewing it at home you can help out a struggling, indispensable [theater].” – Vulture

CRITIC’S PICK! An INGENIOUS adaptation of the Jack London novel. The true miracle of this film is how Marcello translates London’s lush, character-revealing prose into pure cinema.The entirety of the 20th century — its promises, illusions and traumas — sweeps through the AUDACIOUS and THRILLING Martin Eden. – The New York Times

Co-feature: THE MOUTH OF THE WOLF  Pietro Marcello’s debut film won major prizes at the Berlin and Turin film festivals. The Mouth of the Wolf interweaves two love stories: the 20-year romance between a Sicilian tough guy and a transsexual former junkie whom he met in prison, and a poetic reverie of the Italian port town of Genoa, depicted in all its mysterious, fading glory. Commissioned by the Fondazione San Marcellino, a Jesuit order dedicated to helping society’s poor and marginalized, the film masterfully combines documentary with fiction and melancholy home movies from the past century with poetic images, sounds, and music of the waterfront today. Hour of the Wolf opens Oct 30th

Thank you! To everyone who helped make our GoFundMe campaign a success. Your contributions will allow us to publish The Ryder magazine electronically and continue the Film Series into the spring.

black power mixtape: free screening in switchyard park – sAT, oCT 24TH

We are co-hosting a free screening of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, on Sat, Oct 24th at 2pm in the Switchyard Park Pavilion (yes, there will be heat lamps). The screening is co-presented by the City of Bloomington and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and will be followed by a Roundtable  Discussion on Race, Racism and Social Justice.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 mobilizes a treasure trove of 16mm material shot by Swedish journalists who came to the US drawn by stories of urban unrest and revolution. Gaining access to many of the leaders of the Black Power Movement—Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver among them—the filmmakers captured them in intimate moments and remarkably unguarded interviews. Thirty years later, this lush collection was found languishing in the basement of Swedish Television. Director Göran Olsson and co-producer Danny Glover bring this footage to light in a mosaic of images, music and narration chronicling the evolution one of our nation’s most indelible turning points, the Black Power movement. Music by Questlove and Om’Mas Keith, and commentary from prominent African- American artists and activists who were influenced by the struggle — including Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Talib Kweli, and Melvin Van Peebles — give the historical footage a fresh, contemporary resonance and makes the film an exhilarating, unprecedented account of an American revolution.

While the film is free, seating is limited. (Masks are required.) Register here.

The New Issue of The Ryder magazine is on the news stands! You can read The Ryder here.

The Correspondence Club Of Bloomington

◆ by Hannah Waltz

Addison Rogers assumes his station beside an open briefcase stuffed to the brim with postcards, festive stationary, stamps, and writing utensils. A makeshift mailbox labeled “Correspondence Club of Bloomington” sits among the post supplies, announcing the Club’s business. Twice a week Rogers sets up shop in a downtown café—today he’s at Soma—encouraging customers to write a bit of snail mail. A man at a nearby table asks him what he’s doing. Rogers makes his pitch.

Picture 2

Addison Rogers

“This is a correspondence club,” he says. “I’m just trying to get people to write more.” Rogers’ motives are clear and simple, but to what end? Although it’s still getting its wheels turning, the Correspondence Club of Bloomington celebrates snail mail and the underappreciated tangibility of a handwritten letter. “There are people who have said that I’m trying to revive this dying thing, but I don’t think it’s dying. I think it continues. It’s still really cool having something in your hand that someone else had in theirs.”

The Club is held on Tuesdays at different locations where Rogers invites customers to pop a squat and write a postcard or two. “I’ve got about 10 to 15 regulars. It’s been mostly friends so far but I’ve also managed to get a few strangers to sit down and write,” says Rogers. The Club has no regular attendance rules or membership requirements—it’s virtually obligation free. That being said, Rogers does encourage his “members” to make writing and sending snail mail a habitual activity. “I’ve been calling them members. There’s actually a debate as to what makes a member of the Club. I say you’re a member if you drop something in the box.” No hidden fees (except stamps). No cheesy t-shirts. Just written word, from one human to another.

The first “official” meeting in September of 2013 doubled as both a launch party and as a collective birthday gift. “I’d been wanting to do this for years,” says Rogers. “I just kept talking about it, and my friends said they would be into it. So this year I decided it was a good way to mark my birthday, September third. So I said ‘Don’t get me anything for my birthday, just come participate in the Club.’”

Jessika Griffin, friend of Rogers and frequenter of the Club, has never been in the habit of writing or sending things via snail mail, until now. “The only time I ever wrote to anyone was when I was at summer camp, and my mom sent me stationery.” says Griffin.


But Rogers proffers the CCB as a more personalized option for reaching out than what has become the preferred way to communicate, i.e. email. Or Facebook message. Or even Skyping. Alternatively, the Correspondence Club takes the technology-free, time-consuming approach in an almost nostalgic fashion. No, it’s not the most efficient way to correspond; in fact, it’s fairly antiquated. While most participants have shown their fervent support for the Club, Rogers has also encountered those who see his efforts as fruitless. A man at Soma quips that “we already write more than we want to.” Given the age of technology and convenience in which we find ourselves, this less-than-enthusiastic attitude isn’t surprising. Yet it seems to yield more pleasure to both the writer and the recipient of a letter or postcard than, say, an email written in generic Times New Roman.

“I get a nice little zing and a smile when I open my mailbox and see my name handwritten by someone I know and that cares enough to write,” says Rogers. “I don’t disparage people who don’t write. It takes a moment and there are a few steps to the process. But I hope with the Correspondence Club I can show people that the reward far surpasses the effort.”

A mailman walks into Soma, just minutes after we begin the interview, and a chuckling Rogers waves off his arrival as coincidence, but he’s also sipping from a mug that sports the United States Postal Service emblem. They greet each other and Rogers updates him on the goings-on of the Club–two men of similar trades in a small town talking shop. “He’s even given me a couple of tricks to get people writing,” says Rogers. “He sends comics to his nephews in installments, and, if they want the second half to see what happens, they have to send him a letter back.”

Rogers’ own history with the U.S. Postal Service kicked off with his family’s monthly subscription to Radio AHHS, a music magazine for kids. During his childhood he always looked forward to the issue’s delivery straight to his mailbox, an excitement that inspired him to begin a correspondence of handwritten letters to a cousin. “She lived in Arizona and we kept in touch that way. Now she’s like, ‘We wrote each other?’ But it meant a lot to me.”

In a sense, the Club keeps alive Rogers’ childhood affinity for postcards—his briefcase threatens to overflow with them. Having eventually matured into a pretty hefty assemblage, Rogers estimates that about a third of his current stock was acquired in his younger years. “I always collected postcards, I don’t know why,” says Rogers. “They’re just everywhere, or at least they used to be. They aren’t as readily available as they once were.” These days Rogers is in the habit of buying postcards anywhere he can find them. Salvation Army and the Opportunity House are among his favorite places to scavenge. “In the two months before I started the Club, I decided I’d start collecting stationary. It gives me a good excuse to pick up stuff from [the Opportunity House],” says Rogers.

This past October, Rogers promoted the Chicago-based South Side Letter Writing Club’s initiative called “31 Postcards in 31 Days” to encourage Bloomingtonians to hang out and write postcards at his selected locales. “I found this collection with old photos of Indiana from the 1950s that I really wanted people to use. I think people like to write on postcards that are local.”

A handwritten letter or postcard yields more pleasure to both the writer and the recipient than, say, an email written in generic Times New Roman.

Other projects around the world feed into to this snail mail movement that Rogers is supporting. For example, an enterprise similar to the Correspondence Club called Postcrossing specifically facilitates postcard exchanges all around the world from one participant to another random participant. A Google search for “pen pals” provides hundreds of sites in which aspiring pen pals can exchange addresses, even internationally. Clearly Rogers is not alone in his efforts to encourage old-fashioned, handwritten correspondence, no matter how thwarting the Internet may be.

Another week, another CCB meeting, another venue. This week Rogers sets up shop at a booth in the Owlery. His briefcase and plastic red lunchbox advertise his stationery while he waits for people to come write, dressed to the nines in a corduroy blazer, even sporting a pocket square. The waiters come and go, allowing him to do his thing for a couple of hours. Friends and strangers alike pick out stationery from the briefcase or a postcard out of his lunchbox, then deposit them into his mailbox for Rogers to feed into the U.S. mail. The convenience and ease of this seemingly archaic process and Rogers’ jolly personality keep people interested and supportive of his project.

For members who cannot recall any addresses offhand, Rogers has compiled a list of addresses volunteered by willing recipients, to which members can choose to send something in hopes of starting a dialogue with a stranger. Why not send a card to an unknown addressee? “It’s been awesome getting addresses of random people,” says Griffin. “In fact, I just sent something to a stranger.” Rogers nods his head in agreement. “Even if you don’t know who you’re receiving it from, it’s just nice to receive something, that’s not junk mail or a bill.”

Top 5 Pop Songs About Letters

  • The Boxtops The Letter
  • Fats Waller & Billy Williams I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter
  • The Marvelettes Please Mr. Postman
  • Stevie Wonder Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)
  • The Zombies Care of Cell 44
  • Honorable mention: Allan Sherman Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

In 2011 Rogers signed up for a Redditgifts account and has since been sending and receiving small gifts and letters from other users around the world. “It started with a Secret Santa exchange as far as I can tell, and that’s how I got involved,” says Rogers of Redditgifts. “I technically am a Guinness World Record holder through that first exchange I participated in. They set a record that year for the biggest secret Santa exchange to have happened.”

Rogers continued participating in Redditgifts and developed a steady habit of sending packages and letters in the mail. He has also received some cool international knickknacks in his own mailbox. “So far I’ve gotten gifts from China, Singapore, and Canada,” says Rogers. “I got something called a chapthe from Singapore, which the person described as an Asian hackysack with feathers.”

Rogers’ involvement in Redditgifts prompted him to advertise the Club on the Reddit Penpals page, which wound up yielding several international mailing addresses that Club members can choose. The Club recently hit the one hundred mark: one hundred pieces of mail, both letters and postcards, have been sent from Bloomington to recipients all over the country and several internationally to countries including England and Lithuania.

When he’s not running the Correspondence Club or working at Plan Nine Film Emporium, Rogers is all about music. He and his brother Lewis make up the Bloomington-based band Busman’s Holiday, Rogers on the drums, his brother on guitar. They tag-teamed the songwriting process and have played as a duo for the past three years, but in the past the band often performed with accompanying guests. The brothers celebrated ten years of playing together in 2013. Generally the band avoids playing at too many bars; instead they prefer the “DYI scene” at house shows and art spaces. “At one point we were selling the band’s merch out of a suitcase too,” says Rogers. “We would sell cassette tapes and trading cards from Salvation Army and say ‘Even if you don’t like our music, we’re still offering tapes and trading cards!’” Busman’s Holiday will release a new album, A Long Goodbye, in April through the Indianapolis record label Joyful Noise.

Quite the versatile musician, Rogers traveled overseas in 2011 on Jens Lekman’s tour, a Swedish musician signed on Secretly Canadian. During this time he drummed and sang with Lekman for two weeks in the U.S. followed by two more weeks in Europe. No surprise, Rogers collected many postcards in his time abroad, which are now up for grabs in his lunchbox.

While munching on a bowl of french fries and buffalo sauce, Rogers reflects on his personal goals for the Club. “I just want people to write more often and more consistently. Mail is a very personal way to communicate. You feel charmed when you find a piece of mail sent from someone you know. At the very least, your grandmother would love to hear from you. Club members have consistently given their best to their grandmas,” says Rogers. “Oh, and there’s half-price pitchers at the Runcible Spoon on Sunday nights, so don’t drunk-dial. Write a postcard instead. It’s a great way to show people that you’re thinking of them. We should hold on to a piece of this fantastic culture.”

When and Where?

The Club is held twice on Tuesday and Thursday: the afternoon session runs from 2 to 4 p.m., and the late session runs from 8 to 10 p.m., at a variety of locations. The CCB meets at the Rainbow Bakery on the first Tuesday of the month, Soma on the second Tuesday, the Runcible Spoon on the third; on the fourth Tuesday of the month the Correspondence Club could be almost anywhere. The first Sunday night of the month, meetings are held at the Runcible Spoon at 7 p.m. About that fourth Tuesday: the best way to keep current with the Club is on Facebook. The page is public; you can check it without having a fb profile.

The Ryder ◆ February 2014

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