Il telefono squilla. “Pronto?” “Sono cinema dei telefoni bianchi.”
The phone rings. “Hello?” “It’s white telephone films.”
Assia Noris in La casa del peccato
I took Professor Angela Dalle Vache’s European Cinema class at Yale. I had an affection for brainwashing-themed films at the time, previously expressed in a paper on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate. For Professor Dalle Vache* I would turn my attention to Fritz Lang’s Mabuse films (see below), at her recommendation. However, one suggestion she made which I did not get a chance to pursue was to look into the cinema dei telefoni bianchi, the “White Telephone Films.” These were films produced in the late 1930s and early 1940s that were characterized by frivolous plots of rich people in lush settings. A white telephone at this time was seen as a symbol of high luxury, and one was generally worked into the plot. While not directly state-controlled, these films promoted an escapist illusion that all was well in Italy, in keeping with the Fascist government of the time. Neorealism was the film movement that succeeded such fare, where filmmakers took to the streets and made movies showing the actual conditions and difficulties ordinary people were facing.
Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Wikipedia does a great job detailing this 1933 German film. Dr. Mabuse is a psychotic criminal mastermind (Lang had made earlier films with this character) who is somehow able to psychically convey criminal plans. He is a master of the media trappings of modern civilization; after his death his criminal schemes live on. I haven’t seen it in many years. Reading over the plot again, I find it hard to pay attention. Maybe about ten years ago I tried to watch it again but I wasn’t focused enough to take it in. In contrast, I find Lang’s M quite watchable upon repeated viewings.
What is perhaps most interesting about this film to me at this point is that it was banned by Joseph Goebbels, head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. One thing the Nazis were good at was controlling information. Goebbels offered Lang a job working for them in the 1940s, and according to Lang that night he left Germany. He would eventually end up making films in California.**
The propaganda of our time, in our neighborhood.
I am alarmed by the interweaving of the Greater Newburgh Partnership and the City of Newburgh government.
It was not so many years ago that I heard an account of how St. Luke’s Hospital CEO Allan Atzrott delivered an ultimatum to the Architectural Review Commission: let the hospital do as it wished, or he would move it out of the City of Newburgh.
Then, in 2006, there was the Orange County Community College Newburgh campus site-selection circus. Before settling on its current location next to the Key Bank Building overlooking the Hudson, there was a tizzy of lobbying activity for other sites, in particular the “Mid-Broadway” site then gift packaged by the city to developer Robert Carchietta. For many reasons, the original site-selection committee did not recommend the Carchietta site, prefering the Armory site or the ultimate choice, the Key Bank Building. Carchietta’s site would have been the most expensive by many millions, and there were deep structural flaws*** with the choice, such as not enough parking spaces for a mostly car-commuting student body. St. Luke’s Hospital was one of the entities that lobbied for Carchietta’s site. It must have been attractive for them, since it was relatively close to the hospital, and theoretically would improve the neighborhood, even though it would have cost the taxpayers many, many millions more. Was this a crushing disappointment for Mr. Atzrott from which he vowed, “Never Again”?
Fast forward to the formation in 2010 and 2011 of the Greater Newburgh Partnership (GNP), a joining of forces of businesses, nonprofits and trades groups in the city and surrounding area that serves the city, under the leadership of Mr. Atzrott. Three of the four bullet-points of its mission seem innocuous enough and even helpful. It is the fourth that offends:
- Enhancing and complimenting code compliance efforts underway in the city of Newburgh;
- Encouraging private sector investment in Newburgh, through creative planning, market research and change in perception;
- Coordinating public and private sector resources in support of specific projects;
- Pro actively managing the perception of the city of Newburgh through consistent and coordinated messaging. [Emphasis added]
Well, I guess that explains why Stepford Wife/Mayor Judy Kennedy did back flips to prove that “actually everything’s just peachy in the city! We have no financial problems whatsoever!” on a recent YNN segment. So I guess we can have all our streets repaved, and sidewalks improved, and hire 20 new cops for community policing, and some meter maids, and a couple of fire trucks, and a sometimes controversial crime analyst, and fix council chambers so there isn’t that horrible hiss from the speakers, and ALSO we can LOWER the TAX RATE that we had to raise so much a few years ago, and start doing bulk garbage pick up again for free! Yeah, golly gee, you betcha, we can do all that ’cause we don’t have any financial problems AT ALL! We are MOVING FORWARD. We are on the UP AND UP. Have a lollipop, ’cause you’re a sucker!
Special mention goes to the GNP’s bribe to the city of $250,000 in the form of a grant award from the Dyson Foundation to revamp the zoning code. A committee was selected to work on the zoning code, and their meetings and discussion should be open to the public. This is not an auxiliary club for the Hospital–wait, or is it? Meetings have been held at the hospital, and are not announced to the public. Go to the city’s “rezoning” page and you get a Whole Lotta Nothing, even though the process, grant, and meetings have been going on for quite some time now:
On January 8, 2013, I filed an ethics complaint with the City Council regarding what I believe was a breach on the part of City Manager Herbek in contracting with his former company–from whom he received money for new referrals–to update and run the city’s site. GNP was involved here by giving a grant to cover most of the initial charges. I have often wondered why the city council never responded to me, as they are duty bound to do, according to our city’s charter. Why did Mayor Kennedy not see fit to respond to my phone call asking for an update?
What a silly question! I am a peon, and my untidy ethics complaint might paint the city’s Corporate Master Businesses/Hospital Partner in a negative light! Well, we couldn’t have that. We have to keep MOVING FORWARD! We have NO PROBLEMS AND NO FINANCIAL PROBLEMS AT ALL! FURTHERMORE WE HAVE NO POOR PEOPLE, NO DISABLED PEOPLE, NO PEOPLE STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION, NO SOCIAL PROBLEMS, NO HUMAN NEEDS. After all, we aren’t humans you know, we’re Barbie dolls! And we live in perfect little homes with pink turrets and plastic dogs that don’t shit and of course no broken homes, always a partner for Barbie whether it’s Ken or some other Barbie name.
Welcome to the white telephone films of our time.
My humblest attempt to bring on a wave of neorealism to our pathetic, deluded, and utterly codependent city government.
I am not even touching the Land Bank, which I have written about previously, as I missed their meeting this past week. In my opinion the worst part of this is the stranglehold grip the GNP is exercising on the submissive city council.
*I thank Professor Dalle Vache for taking the unusual step of calling me in my dorm room and telling me to finish my Mabuse paper, which made it possible for her to give me an A.
***It is my understanding that Carchietta’s site was contaminated with asbestos due to improper demolition procedures. This has never been properly addressed, and was totally denied by then City Manager Jean-Ann McGrane.