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[Off The Record]
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Howard Zinn

Hollywood script pitching is an art form many clever and talented people have tried to master, with varying degrees of success. But Howard Zinn’s new spoken-word CD has to be the first time a self-described radical historian (best known for his controversial tome A People’s History of the United States) has made the attempt. Although AK Press Audio plugs itself as " the finest in audio agit-prop, " this highly informal 1999 lecture might best be described as agit-flop. First, there’s a gratuitous introduction by alterna-radio guru David Barsamian that clocks in at just under 10 minutes — a considerable chunk of the 58-minute CD — while making a dunderheaded attempt to connect Zinn’s work to Sufi philosophy. Yep. From there, Zinn embarks on a slow march across real time in his roaming talk, lamely chastising Hollywood’s glorification of war and its failure to treat episodes like Shays’s Rebellion, the Spanish-American War, and the civil-rights movement from the dissident perspective of average working people and minorities. The gist of Zinn’s quixotic oration is that we don’t — but we should — see films about such little-known events as the Lawrence textile strike and radicals like Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, and Helen Keller. True enough, but hearing Zinn casually express his desire to see more social-realist drama on the big screen is, in a word, underwhelming.


Issue Date: April 12 - 19, 2001

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