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…but the fire is so delightful

December 14, 2007 | Page 11

SOCIALIST WORKER columnists offer their book, music and movie selections for the cold, winter months.

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Dave Zirin | More Than a Game

NOVELIST SCOTT Turow once said, "Michael Jordan plays basketball better than anyone else in the world does anything else."

Well, I would say that the television show The Wire does drama better than anyone else does anything. It looks at Baltimore city through the eyes of teachers, cops, dealers, addicts, lawyers and killers-with many of the aforementioned categories chaotically overlapping. Dominic West's McNutty, Michael K. Williams's Omar, and Amy Ryan's Beadie are indelible characters.

If you have a friend whose musical horizons you want to expand beyond "Umbrella-ella-ella"-check out the compilation CD Line in the Sand. All proceeds benefit Iraq Veterans Against the War, but buying it is more than an act of solidarity.

It's a remarkable collection of resistance music that includes hip-hop artists from Son of Nun and Head-Roc, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, angry folk from Ryan Harvey, and the haunting "For Eli" by Andrea Gibson. It's as diverse and inspiring as the movement we hope to build.

Now let's talk books. Right now, Boston sports has never been hotter. Beantown is home of the World Series champion Red Sox, the dominant Patriots and the Kevin Garnett-fueled Celtics.

Every Red Sox fan should check out the brilliant book Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, and discarded the chance to sign Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and others because of the shade of their skin.

He argues persuasively that racism, not mystical curses, kept the franchise out of the World Series. Bryant's book is more than an exposé of a franchise. It's a brilliant look at the city of Boston-and how it came to be both a cradle of liberal progressivism as well as a masthead of bigotry.

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Sharon Smith | Which Side Are You On?

THE DVD player is fired up, and, now that you've finished watching The Bourne Ultimatum, you're looking for more DVDs of films you missed at the Cineplex over the last year or so-films that preferably stray from standard formulaic Hollywood fare.

Neil Burger's The Illusionist, set in 1900s Vienna, Austria, is a great choice. Edward Norton is outstanding as Eisenheim, a professional magician from humble class origins who defies convention to seek a mutual love relationship with a young duchess named Sophie (Jessica Biel). Unfortunately, Sophie is intended to marry Austria's emperor in waiting, the Crown Prince Leopold.

Eisenheim and Sophie find themselves battling not merely social convention but also the network of royals, police and government bureaucrats who ruthlessly uphold them, embodied brilliantly by Paul Giamatti as Chief Inspector Uhl. Reality and illusion intersect so thoroughly that it is never completely clear which is which until the final moments of this riveting tale.

I also recommend Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond, a thriller set in 1999, in the midst of Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Rhodesian-born former mercenary now engaged in diamond smuggling. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a fisherman whose life is torn apart when rebel troops terrorize his village.

Archer and Vandy are two men with virtually nothing in common-one is devoid of human sentimentality, while the other cares for nothing but reuniting with his loved ones. But when the two find themselves reluctant allies in the war-torn country, they form a bond that forces Archer to develop some real morals.

Martin Scorsese's The Departed, is an engrossing and thoroughly authentic depiction of Boston's Irish mob and its love-hate relation with local law enforcement. This is Scorsese at his best, with a cast headed by Jack Nicholson that is nothing short of awesome.

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Paul D'Amato | Meaning of Marxism and Left Eye on Film

SOMETHING OLD: Haymarket Books recently reprinted the long out-of-print biography of Eugene Debs by Ray Ginger, The Bending Cross.

Reading like a good novel, it tells the story of the America's greatest socialist leader and, at the same time, gives a great introductory history of the early U.S. labor and left-wing movements. It was the first book I ever read on the American labor movement, and it made a big impression.

Something new: Bruce Watson's Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders and the Judgment of Mankind is a brand-new, strong retelling of the story of how two Italians-a "good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler"-were framed for their anarchist beliefs. What struck me was how massive the worldwide fight to save Sacco and Vanzetti was.

Something borrowed: Out of print but worth finding is Sidney Lens' Labor Wars: From the Molly Maguires to the Sitdowns, an excellent short history of the labor movement in the U.S. up through the 1930s. Published in 1973, Lens wrote it specifically for new activists at a time when much of the radical left had become alienated from the labor movement.

Something blue: If you want to sit back, relax and not sweat the holidays, try listening to the two-CD set The Gentle Side of John Coltrane, which collects many of his slower ballads, some of them performed with Duke Ellington on piano and others with vocalist Johnny Hartman. Some of the pieces are flawless, some haunting, others sad and contemplative. All of them are brilliant.

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Lance Selfa | Reading Between the Lines

I'D LIKE to start off the holiday suggestions with a look back to December 2001, when a mass uprising overthrew five successive Argentinian governments and gave birth to a series of popular movements against the immiseration of the population at the hands of the free dogma of the International Monetary Fund.

One of these movements was that of workers who refused to languish on the unemployment line, but who, instead took over their workplaces and made them work. Sin Patrón, the first book-length study of this movement, told by the participants themselves, was published in Argentina in 2004.

It wasn't available in English until earlier this year when Haymarket Books published a translation. A plus is an introduction from Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, the Canadian journalists who did the most to bring story of the Argentinian movement to an English-speaking audience.

My other two suggestions are two television documentaries that aired this year. One, the Nova special titled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, covers the 2006 federal trial stemming from the decision of the Dover, Pa., school board to require science teachers to teach the creationist ideology of "intelligent design" (ID).

Using courtroom reenactments and crystal-clear explanation of the science of evolution, this documentary exposes ID as a fraud and offers a ringing defense of the theory of evolution.

Two, if you haven't seen the tremendous Discovery Channel documentary "Planet Earth," run out and rent (or buy) the 10-part series. The series describes natural processes in the major ecosystems of the world, but its real attraction is the jaw-dropping footage of these processes that took years to film.

Many of the things depicted-from a piranha "feeding frenzy" to courtship rites of birds in Papua New Guinea-have literally never been filmed before. You can watch these episodes over and over and still remain fascinated by them.

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Joe Allen | Left Eye on Film

FOR THOSE who have some extra time on their hands during the holidays, I would recommend watching some films.

The death of Gillo Pontecorvo last year, one of the great revolutionary directors all time, once again brought attention to his classic film The Battle of Algiers, but his other classic Queimada, released as Burn! in the U.S., continues not to receive the attention it should.

Queimada/Burn! stars Marlon Brando as Sir William Walker, an agent of the British Admiralty who is sent to the mythical Portuguese sugar colony of Queimada in the 1830s to steal the island for Britain. To do this, he must foment a slave rebellion, led by the freed Black slave Jose Dolores, while simultaneously convincing the island's businessmen that the future is with wage labor and British protection.

Walker initially succeeds and leaves, and then is called back 10 years later to repress a new revolutionary movement. Queimada/Burn! is a tutorial on the dynamics of historical change.

Another film I would recommend is Norma Rae starring Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her performance as a worker in small Southern textile town fighting to form a union. Norma Rae was directed by McCarthy-era blacklisted director Martin Ritt, who pays great attention to the details of factory and family life, as well as the realities of organizing against all odds.

The last film I would recommend is Tigerland starring Colin Farrell and directed by Joel Schumacher. It takes place in the last years of the Vietnam War as the U.S. Army is falling apart. Farrell stars as Roland Bozz who is in constant rebellion against army discipline, and is hated by some of his platoon and admired by others.

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