I suppose it’s testament to the success of Occupy Wall Street that as late as 2013 there are still filmmakers using the “Occupy” brand as a form of deceptive advertising. “Occupy Love” by the Canadian documentary filmmaker Velcrow Ripper, was released in late 2012. It made a brief appearance in my Twitter feed, got a few reviews on Occupy related websites, and promptly disappeared. Perhaps it’s because the few people who actually saw Occupy Love went in expecting a film about the occupation of Zuccotti Park, and came away feeling duped. Sure, Occupy Wall Street makes an appearance, but it’s more of a cameo, the big star Velcro Ripper gave a few minutes of time so he could put the name on the marquee.
So does Occupy Love work on its own terms?
The central idea of Occupy Love is that the earth is in a state of crisis, that the exploitative and violent nature of not only capitalism, but of hierarchical, “vertical” civilization in general has destroyed the world economy and profoundly damaged the environment Since it threatens, in Ripper’s words, to “turn the whole world into a global ground zero,” the only thing that can save us is its negation, a “non-hierarchical” movement equally as powerful. The global and environmental crisis, he maintains, has to be “transformed into a great love story.” Eros has to confront Thanatos. Love has to banish the death instinct.
Occupy Love presents the global protest movement that began with the Arab Spring in 2010 as the “great love story” that may eventually save the world from what Bell Hooks describes as the “dominator culture.” What all of the various protests and encampments have in common, Ripper argues, what ties the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the Indignatos in Spain is their non-hierarchical form of organization, the fact that they revolution not as a political party or set of demands but as a “process.” It’s a compelling argument. It’s probably what a lot of people in Zuccotti Park in 2011 believed themselves.
But I think Occupy Love fails, and fails badly. I actually don’t like writing this. Velcrow Ripper seems like a nice guy. He seems earnest. He seems like he put a lot of work into Occupy Love, and I agree with much of what he says. But I won’t lie to you. The film bored me out of my skull.
I guess the best explanation as to why Occupy Love is so crushingly dull is that Velcrow Ripper violated his own ideals. Occupy Love is a “vertical,” hierarchical documentary. As we watch him travel the world and ask the question “how can the global crisis become a great love story?” we realize this film isn’t about Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring. It’s all about Velcrow Ripper. What’s more, although there are some decent interviews with Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and Rebecca Solnit, what’s the point of a film about radical, horizontal, anarchistic democracy when elite intellectuals get more time than the movement’s rank and file? There’s too much slow motion, too much ponderous music banging us over the head with the idea that “something important is going on here.” There’s too much voice over narration.
I was excited when I saw the first few minutes of Occupy Love. Ripper is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on September 17th, 2011 to film Occupy’s first day, and I’ve seen precious little good footage of the rally at Bowling Green. At long last, I thought, I’d get to see the original march around the bull. I’d get to see the original occupiers burn money on the steps of The National Museum of the American Indian. But I was disappointed. Ripper jumps right to Zuccotti park, and, as far as I can tell, the footage he uses isn’t even from Day 1.
Later on, we do get some very good documentary footage of an arrest, of the young woman who had her breasts groped by the police in the iconic news photo. We see how violent it the arrest was, just how many cops jumped her. But then Ripper spoils it all by misidentifying the address. He tells us it was at 12th and University, and implies, mistakenly, that it was footage of the pepper sprayings when, in fact, it took place an hour earlier near Broadway. That kind of sloppiness about events I witnessed myself made me mistrust the coverage from Egypt and southern Europe.
If I’m reluctant to attack Occupy Love because Velcrow Ripper seems like a nice enough guy, then I’m even more reluctant to attack Assault on Wall Street because I’m afraid the director might beat me up. Ewe Boll, who’s widely considered to be the worst filmmaker alive, is known for challenging his critics to boxing matches. I suppose I’ll have to risk it. I have to warn people. Assault on Wall Street was recommended to me by a friend, who hadn’t seen it, and, since I always like to have something in common to talk about, I decided okay. I’ll check it out. Maybe it will be an entertaining B-movie about the occupation of Zuccotti Park. At the very least I hoped for an interesting revenge drama against Wall Street. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a maniac with an AR-15 walk into the offices of Goldman Sachs and go Sandy Hook Massacre on some dirtbag bankers?
Don’t waste your time. Boll actually succeeds in making mass slaughter at an investment bank look dull. I think I fell asleep before the last shot was fired.
Then there are all the little details. Everything about this film rings false. There isn’t a single good scene in the whole 98 minutes. It’s nominally set in New York. Boll even flew out to Brooklyn and Queens to get some footage on the J-Train. But nothing about the offices of the Wall Street scumbags who cheated the hero — a block headed armed security guard and combat vet named Jim Baxford — out of his life savings looks like an office in Manhattan. It all looks like some sterile office park in New Jersey, or, to be more specific, suburban Vancouver, where most of Assault on Wall Street was filmed. And Jim Baxford? It’s New York. At least give the guy an Irish or Italian name.
Baxford’s friends, played by old B-movie standbys Michael Pare (the hunk from Streets of Fire looking puffy and old), Keith David (the black guy from They Live) and Edward Furlong (the kid from Terminator 2) all seem out of place. Furlong plays another rent a cop. David and Pare play New York City Police officers. In what might be the most ridiculous scene in the whole movie, Pare gives a long speech about how much he hates Wall Street. “We spend all day busting homeless guys,” he says. “But the real criminals are on Wall Street.”
Come on Ewe. I’m even half prepared to fight you over that one. If you’re going to make a film piggybacking off Occupy Wall Street, don’t make a member of the NYPD sound like a sympathetic liberal. While it’s theoretically possible a New York City police officer might say something like “all the real criminals are on Wall Street,” it’s a lot more likely that he’d be making racist jokes or talking about “those mutts in Zuccotti Park.”
Just about the only thing I like about this film was the actress who played Jim Baxford’s wife, Erin Karplunk. I don’t know if she’s a good actress or not, but she was really cute in an “I’m a Canadian somewhere in Vancouver pretending I’m in New York” sort of way. I can see why Baxford would go on a bloody rampage against the bankers who robbed them of the money for her cancer treatments. Hell, she’s so cute in a “beautiful dying girl” sort of way that seeing her slit her wrists in bed under the covers (then break open a plastic bag full of red food dye to make it look like she bled to death) made me want to walk into Lloyd Blankfein’s office with an AR-15. It’s not like you’d need an excuse anyway. But the payoff, the shooting spree on Wall Street, is so bland, so emotionally uninvolving, and so poorly staged, it just left me pissed off. It’s not even a good Steven Seagal knockoff. Part of it had to do with the filming locations. Once again, we’re obviously in Vancouver. Part of it was the lack of a real budget. I suppose Boll couldn’t afford costumes for more than 5 riot cops. But, for God’s sake, this is New York. If a serial killer were on the loose in downtown Manhattan killing Wall Street bankers, I don’t think he could get away with target practice under the JFK Expressway (some highway in Canada trying to look like the JFK Expressway). The whole city would be an armed camp.
I also hated the actor who played the hero. He kills probably 100 people and never even breaths heavily or breaks a sweat. Come on. We’ve all scene Daniel Day Lewis. When you kill someone and you don’t have any emotions to connect to to make it look real, at least indicate. At least breath heavily to make it look like you’ve got some heightened adrenaline. This actor was so flat and affectless, I half thought he was a cyborg.
About two thirds of the way through Assault on Wall Street, the hero is walking past the Flatiron Building. He looks inside. He sees the corrupt Assistant District Attorney who had earlier revealed himself to be in the pocket of the bankers. He waits. Then he confronts him. DA Scumbag (I forget his name) has had a little too much to drink. He turns to leave, and walks right onto Broadway into the path of a speeding taxicab. For a moment, I felt a brief surge of emotional satisfaction. Who doesn’t want to see an in the pocket of Wall Street ADA get drunk and play in traffic. Boll even shot the scene on location. It’s the real Flatiron Building. Then Jim Baxford escapes. He turns, runs into an ally, and comes out on the other side, in Vancouver.
I couldn’t stop laughing.